Is your kitchen dated and sad? Painting cabinets can be one of the best ways to update your kitchen while staying on a budget. Use our steps to learn how to easily paint your kitchen cabinets with a small roller and brush.
Our Oak Kitchen Cabinets
Seven years ago we decided to paint our kitchen cabinets white. If you have been following along with our DIY projects then you know that we have almost gotten rid of all that ’90s construction-grade honey oak.
One of the larger room makeovers we did was painting the kitchen cabinets. Hopefully, our painting tips and tricks will help you learn how to paint your kitchen cabinets without a sprayer.
Please don’t mind our before pictures. This was a DIY project we did without knowing one day we would be writing a DIY blog about all of our projects!
How have we updated our kitchen over the years?
Our kitchen has gone through a few mini-makeovers over the years. We have learned a few things from trying to add a glass backsplash to eventually painting it white and adding color to our kitchen.
Need bold color inspiration? Check out a few green kitchen cabinets (which are totally the new kitchen cabinet trend).
Should you paint your kitchen cabinets? When it might not be worth it.
If your cabinets are in bad shape structurally, adding paint will not make them better. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself.
- Do the doors close nicely?
- Is there water damage on your kitchen cabinets?
- Can all of the drawers slide in and out?
- Do you mind seeing wood grain (if your cabinets are oak)?
- Is your kitchen layout acceptable? You can’t fix a kitchen cabinet layout with paint.
- Are you willing to put the time in to properly paint your cabinets?
For the most part, our oak kitchen cabinets were just dated and ugly. We had a few troublesome areas, but nothing major. Yes, I do still dream of the day of soft-close drawers. However, our painted cabinets have helped us cheaply update our kitchen 7 years ago when that was all we could afford.
Reasons we may have to replace our painted kitchen cabinets in the future
- Sticking drawers
- Water damage in the cabinet under the sink
The reason we eventually will have to replace our cabinets is that one of our drawers continually has started sticking and not coming out. If this was happening in multiple places, we may have to consider another alternative instead of painting.
The cabinet under our sink also had a leak before we moved in. We had to add a new board and a textured shelf liner. This was acceptable for now, but if a lot of our cabinets were like that you would probably want to reconsider just painting.
Painting kitchen cabinets white is such a budget-friendly way to update your kitchen.
The best thing about painting cabinets is that you can easily just touch or repaint when you think you need a little kitchen refresh.
How to modernize oak cabinets without painting them?
We know if you are researching ways to cheaply update your kitchen you are seeing all different cabinet painting posts. However here are a few ways you can modernize oak cabinets without painting the actual cabinets:
- Change the cabinet hardware
- Just clean the current hardware (hinges, handles, etc.)
- Replace countertops or paint those if you are daring
- Redo the backsplash tile
- Paint the current backsplash (I honestly can’t believe how awesome our painted glass tile looks)
- Really clean and degrease your cabinets (especially the lower ones can get really gross)
- Update the paint color around the cabinets
- Add an accent wall in your kitchen
- Add modern accessories to your kitchen decor
- Consider purchasing new appliances to update your kitchen
Obviously, some of these DIY kitchen projects are more expensive than others. We still believe that you can do all the above things to modernize your oak kitchen, but freshly painted cabinets can honestly make your kitchen look brand new.
Our New Recommendation For Paint
We recently repainted our kitchen cabinets to add a two-toned look. We used Sherwin Williams Urethane Trim Enamel paint and will only be using that to paint cabinets and trim from now on.
Also, don’t let the price scare you because:
- You can get these paints on sale most of the time.
- If you are going to do the work, you want the paint finish to last.
Not only did we paint the bottom cabinets a blue green color, but we also repainted the top already white cabinets again 8 years after the original makeover.
While the Proclassic Latex Enamel worked well, this is a new Emerald Urethane Trim product that gave such a great finish due to having more self-leveling properties.
Can you paint over kitchen cabinets?
No, please don’t just use any old paint. The prep, the primer and the type of paint you use are very important.
We highly recommend using latex enamel paint in semi-gloss for trim and cabinets due to ease of application. You can also easily clean it and the paint holds up when done properly. (You will see what our kitchen cabinets look like seven years later).
Can you chalk paint kitchen cabinets?
As far as chalk paint, maybe it would work. Blogging friends of mine have done vanity cabinet makeovers using it, but we will save chalk paint for our furniture makeovers and not cabinets that get a lot of wear and tear.
If you are insistent on not prepping and priming cabinets, I have heard good things about this satin enamel paint. I have not personally used it, but you may want to check it out. Depending on the size of your kitchen, this product may end up being more inexpensive than if you just were to get a good gallon of latex enamel.
Why should I lightly sand my kitchen cabinets?
We don’t even really count the sanding we did when painting our cabinets. However, you will have to “roughen” up the surface of your cabinet so that the primer can adhere properly. Fine sandpaper and a deglosser really help make sure that your painted cabinets will last for years to come.
Should you use a deglosser on oak cabinets before painting?
A deglosser helps fully clean the paint surface. The deglosser allows the primer to adhere to the varnish or cabinet surface more easily and this will help prevent your paint from chipping.
We always have used this brand. Once you buy a large container, it will last you. You just keep where you store your paints.
Is it better to roll or use a paintbrush on cabinets?
We love using both a paintbrush and a small foam roller to paint these oak cabinets. Our cabinets had a small groove that only a brush could fit and then the small roller works faster and smoother on the flat areas.
What about using a paint sprayer?
If you have space and the means, you can also consider a paint sprayer. I purchased this one recently to try for future projects. The biggest issue for your kitchen is you would really have to prep your kitchen to make sure that overspray doesn’t occur.
If I were to be using a sprayer, I would probably spray the drawers and doors and hand paint the frames so that I didn’t have to worry about that. Once the doors are on, any difference in texture would probably not be that noticeable.
And if you are that picky, you probably should just replace your whole kitchen completely.
How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets White
- 220 Fine Sandpaper
- Old Rag
- Latex Enamel Paint in Semi-Gloss: We love Sherwin Williams Emerald Trim Urethane Enamel in a white paint of your choice
- Latex Primer*
- Brush– We like using Purdy 2 ½” Angular Trim Brush or equivalent from Wooster
- Small High-Density Foam Roller: This roller will give you the smoothest finish when used properly.
- Roller Handle
- Mini Paint Trays: These paint trays are so easy to move around and use.
- Painter’s Tape: I used this brand meant for delicate surfaces, but I actually should have used the classic multi-surface tape)
- Hardware Pulls or Knobs: This is an optional finishing touch. Sometimes just cleaning your old hardware can work out really well.
- Spray paint or new hinges: You can either purchase new hardware, or you can spray paint your current hinges and hardware to fit the new style of your kitchen.
Make sure you use a stain-blocking primer on your oak cabinets first. We used Sherwin Williams Latex Primer and had pretty good success, but a few spots did have some tannin bleed through over the years on the doors.
The good news is that the few discolored spots went away when I repainted these cabinets with SW Emerald Urethane Trim Paint.
*When painting kitchen cabinets white using the right primer is one of the most important things. To prime these oak cabinets we used the SW Multi-Purpose Latex Primer. I accidentally got rid of the primer can before taking a picture so it is not pictured.
Latex Primer Recommendation
Now we like using Zinsser Stainblocking primer (still the waterbased one). I have a hard time with fumes from the oil-based products that really claim to be stain blockers.
We know people like using oil-based primers with a lot of success. However, we have had great success with latex-based primers and paints and really have not had the need to stink up the whole house!
This is a repeated message about our oak painting technique from our other DIY projects that we have done to show how we got rid of honey oak in our home.
All of these supplies are still super true for these cabinets (if not more so). Do not skimp on the priming and deglossing!
Best Paint For Kitchen Cabinets
In 2014, we used Proclassic Latex Enamel: We did not have ours tinted. I honestly didn’t even know that you could tint all different whites at the time and this was also the same white latex enamel we used. The non-tinted Proclassic is Pure White.
Proclassic was our favorite paint until we recently used a new line from Sherwin Williams. I am not even sure this new paint line existed when we first painted our cabinets.
Now we recommend using Sherwin Williams Urethane Trim Enamel. We recently completely updated our kitchen cabinets using this line of paint. While Proclassic Latex Enamel is still great the Emerald Urethane is just another step up.
We loved its self-leveling abilities. It truly made our repainted cabinets look new again!
Best White Paint Colors For Cabinets
Our DIY friends have a lot of opinions on the best. Here are some of the most popular white colors people swear by for kitchen cabinets.
- Benjamin Moore Simply White OC-117
- Benjamin Moore White Dove OC-17
- Sherwin Williams Alabaster SW 7008: A creamy and softer white color
- Sherwin Williams Pure White SW 7005: We actually used this color in our basement craft room to brighten a small space)
- Sherwin Williams High Reflective White SW 7757: Our upper cabinets are now this color.
Want to try a less expensive white kitchen cabinet paint?
What about a cheaper latex enamel paint?
Now we just used this Behr paint in Charcoal Blue for our bathroom vanity and staircase railing. If you are looking for a more economical paint, this may be the way to go.
We also painted our bathroom vanity cabinets and oak stair railing trying a more inexpensive latex enamel. So far it has held up, but I don’t have 7 years to compare to our normal Sherwin Williams pick.
Do you need help deciding what color of paint to use?
We recently just tried Samplize and it totally beats having to buy individual paint samples. These 9″ x 14.75″ samples will get shipped directly to you and save the hassle of clean-up (we loved that).
DIY Kitchen Cabinet Makeover
Honey Oak Cabinet Painting Steps
Before beginning, you want to decide where you are going to paint doors and drawers. Having your painting station set up will make your life easier.
Step 1: Remove All Doors and Drawers
Take all doors and drawers out. Take off hardware (hinges as well). Place in a bag and label clearly.
You also want to put a piece of painter’s tape inside the drawers and doors labeling where they came from. We left items in our kitchen cabinets because we were only painting the outside/ wooden frame part.
Draw A Map
If you have a large kitchen, you may want to draw a little map of how you labeled the doors. The last thing you want is not being able to remember where things go back when you are done.
Step 2: Roughen Up Cabinet Surface With Sandpaper
Lightly sand with fine sandpaper or fine sandpaper block to rough up the gloss on our current surface. You do not need to go overboard with this. Just a little scuffing up will do.
Step 3: Wipe Down All Surfaces With A Deglosser
Use a deglossing agent with a rag to wipe down cabinet frames, drawers and doors. Make sure to completely clean all parts. You do not want anything greasy left over.
Wear a latex glove for this, especially if you have sensitive skin. Make sure to read all safety guidelines when using new products.
Step 4: Prep With Painter’s Tape
If you don’t think you can be careful, you may want to tape the inside of your cabinet inside the “lip”. You also may want to tape around the front of the drawers so that you have a clean look when you are finished.
Step 5: Prime All Surfaces With A Brush and Small Foam Roller
Completely prime all oak. Setting up a paint station for your drawers and doors will really help you. We normally paint on 2 x 4’s in our basement and will even have 2 x 4’s on a sawhorse and rotate the doors that way.
The great thing about the drawers is that they can just be propped upright. Also, you can almost roll the primer and paint on without too much brushwork.
Step 6: Continue With Primer and Check For Drips
Make sure to cover all oak with primer. Use a brush for the grooves and a small roller for all the flat areas. Don’t forget about the edges of the doors and drawers.
Pro Tip: Looking at them from multiple angles will ensure you have covered all surfaces and make sure that you have cleaned up any drips that may have occurred.
If any drips happen and you missed them, you will have to sand them down (unless you want a bumpy cabinet). So it is always easier to spend a little extra time just checking for drips on each step.
Step 7: Use Primer On Both Sides Of Doors
The front and back of the front of the drawers should be able to be painted/primed at the same time because you should be able to prop them up. Once the primer is dry, you will have to flip the door over and do the front side.
We recommend starting to paint the backside of the doors first to ensure the smoothest finish and longest dry time on the front.
Easy Brush and Roller Idea To Save Time
Use a gallon-sized Ziploc bag to store your brush and roller when not in use. Make sure to squeeze on the air, but make sure you keep your brush’s shape. You can also use clear plastic wrap and painter’s tape to keep your brush fresh between paintings without cleaning.
Obviously, make sure you clean your brushes and use a new roller when transitioning from the primer to the paint. The brushes would last a few days like this, but any more than that make sure to wash completely or it will just be harder to clean then (plus you may ruin your brush).
Step 8: Continue With Primer & Let Primer Completely Dry
The primer should be dry in a few hours. Read the can for the dry time.
I always continue the next step the next day. The last thing you want to do is flip a door over and ruin the work you just did because it wasn’t fully dry.
While you are waiting for doors and drawers to dry, start to prime the cabinet boxes.
Step 9: Begin Using Latex Urethane Trim Enamel White Paint
Following the same brush and roller procedure, apply the latex enamel paint. Let dry and then add a second coat to the drawers, doors, and cabinet base.
Step 10: Let Dry and Paint Second Coat
Make sure that you evenly paint the sides and all parts of the drawers, doors and cabinet frame. It is very easy to miss a spot.
Looking at your cabinet and box parts from all angles, helps you see if you missed any spots. Even asking for another set of eyes to check is always helpful.
Optional Step: Add Third Coat Of Paint
If you think you need a third coat, feel free.
Step 11: Let Paint Cure Fully & Add Hardware
Once the paint is cured, reattach doors with either new hardware or old hardware. We have sprayed paint hinges and hardware before, but for this kitchen makeover, we bought all new hinges, pulls, and knobs.
Please note that if you have previous holes in your doors and drawers, then it is just easiest to find hardware that matches the distance. We were lucky and our cabinets had only knobs so we were able to get any sized pulls and drill a new hole where we wanted.
If you are changing the dimensions of your hardware, you will need to fill those holes before the whole painting process begins.
And the biggest place that needs to be touched up currently is on our kitchen island where the bar stools scrape up against. From a distance, it wasn’t as bad as this picture makes it seem.
Other DIY Projects Using These Painting Steps
Guess what? In 2021, I finally repainted our kitchen island. You can see what it looks like now! I absolutely love it.
Here is an image of it before painting our backsplash as well.
Recap Of How To Update Your Kitchen Cheaply
- Spray paint or replace old hardware and hinges. We chose to replace our hinges and buy new hardware. You wouldn’t believe the difference a new hinge makes.
- Set-up a proper painting station. Kitchens have way more cabinets than a bathroom, etc. Setting up 2 x 4’s will help you keep the cabinets off the ground or better yet on sawhorses to save your back.
- Properly prep and paint your kitchen cabinets. Do not skimp on the prep. You will be sad in the future.
- Let the paint cure. Do not rush trying to put on new hardware or allow those crazy kids to run around your kitchen too soon.
- Save extra paint for touch-ups over the years. The utensil drawer or places where furniture rubs up against will most likely need a little love over the years.
- Clean old appliances really well. I am always amazed at the dust and gunk that can accumulate on top of that fridge.
Things We Would Have Done Differently
As far as the kitchen cabinet painting goes, I would not have changed a thing about the painting process we used.
- Use a stain-blocking primer
- Use Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel instead of Pro-Classic
- Painting the bottom cabinets a color sooner. We just love having a darker color on the bottom.
A few doors needed more coats of paint and maybe a stain-blocking primer would have worked better. However, then I would have dealt with the smell (and I don’t do good with fumes). In a few painting forums or other DIY blogs, a lot of people recommend this stain-blocking primer.
Some of you may notice that we also have new countertops. Putting in granite countertops and extending our island truly made our kitchen more functional. It was definitely a splurge at the time.
I wish we would have waited to do our backsplash but at the time we did our glass tile backsplash to update before we decided to take on the kitchen cabinet painting.
My husband still loves our granite, but just like anything, countertop trends keep changing. If I were doing a kitchen makeover now, I would still paint the cabinets (maybe not white) and get more uniform-looking quartz. And obviously a new backsplash.
For now, we still love that we were able to completely update our kitchen without breaking the bank.
Before and After
Current Painted White Kitchen Cabinets
We have used a similar painting method to completely do another DIY kitchen remodel again only using paint on the lower cabinets and backsplash. Make sure you check out those posts for all our painting ideas!
As far as the wear and tear, I am pleasantly surprised that I really just take a brush around once a year and touch up areas. Mainly the silverware drawer and cabinets under the sink need the most love.
Only once in 7 years, have I lightly sanded a corner and added primer to three spots before adding a new layer of latex enamel.
If your cabinets are in good shape then painting may be a great option. If there are structural problems or you don’t like your cabinet layout then painting may not be worth it to you.
We recommend Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel paint for cabinet painting.
Consider really cleaning the current doors, hardware or hinges. Changing the surrounding things, like painting your walls a bright airy color or adding a new backsplash will give your kitchen a modern feel without painting cabinets.
You can follow similar steps listed here if your paint is in good condition. If you are just changing the color you may not need to prime or sand.
We like using a small high-density foam roller and a 2.5″ angled paint brush to paint cabinets. For best results, use the roller in all places you can. Only use the brush in areas the roller can’t reach.
We did not use a product to fill the grain beforehand. If you do not like the look of some texture then we recommend using a product like Aqua Coat before you prep for painting.
We just love our what our kitchen looks like now after repainting the kitchen island and lower cabinets green. You also can get more DIY cabinet painting questions answered in this post.
- Find out what light fixtures we added in this space to go along with our capiz shell chandelier.
- 50 DIY Home Projects You Could Try This Weekend
We are still loving how we painted our kitchen cabinets 8 years later! We hope we inspired your next DIY kitchen makeover.
How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets White
- Remove all doors, drawers, hinges and hardware from your cabinets.
- Label doors and draw map of where doors and drawers came from.
- Roughen all cabinet surfaces with 220 sandpaper.
- Wipe down all surfaces with a deglosser on a rag.
- Use painter's tape to prep areas. Consider taping where drawer front meets the box, walls and small lip of wood inside the frames.
- Primer all surfaces with a stain-blocking primer. Use a 2.5" brush for grooves and areas that a small foam roller can't reach.
- Keep priming all surfaces including the cabinet boxes, fronts and backs or doors and drawer fronts & backs. We did not paint the inside of our cabinets or drawers.
- Following the same brush and roller procedures using Sherwin Williams Urethane Trim Enamel.
- Repeat a 2nd coat when first layer of paitn has fully dried. Add a 3rd coat if necessary.
- Let cabinets fully cure for as long as possible (at least 7 days) before adding back on hardware.