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How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets (Our Best Tips & Tricks)

Budget-friendly DIY kitchen makeover ideas

Seven years ago (yes you read that right way before this blog existed), 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 90’s 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.

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!

paint your kitchen cabinets so they last with oak kitchen before and white kitchen cabinets after

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 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?

*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Read our full privacy policy here. 

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, but our painted cabinets have helped us cheaply update our kitchen 7 years ago when that was all we could afford.

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.

Here are some questions we hope to answer throughout this kitchen cabinet painting  tutorial

  • How to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding?
  • What kind of paint to use on kitchen cabinets so they last?
  • How cheaply can update your kitchen cabinets?
  • What is the best way to repaint kitchen cabinets?
  • Is it better to roll or use a paintbrush on cabinets?
  • How to easily add hardware?
  • Is it worth painting my kitchen cabinets? 

Redoing your kitchen cabinets with paint is the most budget-friendly kitchen makeover.

You will see how we are still happy with our outcome 7 years later at the end of this. While we have a fun problem areas, we have had three kids over this time running around. So you will have to see how our cabinets have held up…

Can you just paint over kitchen cabinets?

No, please don’t just use any old paint. The prep, the primer and type of paint you use are very important. We highly recommend using latex enamel paint in semi-gloss for trim and cabinets. You can easily clean, it is easy to apply and holds up when done properly. (You will see what our kitchen cabinets look like seven years later).

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 insistented 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 to “rough” 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 wil last for years to come.

Why 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 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 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.

If you have space and the means, you can also consider a paint sprayer. I have 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.

Our kitchen cabinet makeover

ugly kitchen cabinets before makeover
Here we thought putting a glass tile backsplash 7 years ago would help makeover our kitchen. Well, it did a little, we knew we needed more.

Supplies

Deglosser

Old Rag

Latex Enamel Paint in Semi-Gloss

*Latex Primer-We use Multi-Purpose Latex Sherwin WIlliams Primer

Brush- We like using Purdy 2 ½” Angular Trim Brush or equivalent from Wooster

Small High-Density Foam Roller

Roller

Mini Paint Trays (makes it so much easier to move around)

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

Spray paint or new hinges (unless you like your current hinges)

Fine Sandpaper

krud kutter and proclassic Enamel white paint used to paint white kitchen cabinets

IMPORTANT!

*Using the right primer one of the most important things. We normally only use this primer for all of our projects, so I cannot attest to other latex primers. I accidentally got rid of the primer can before taking a picture so it is not pictured.

This is also not an affiliate link as we just love using SW products. I have also read about people 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 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 white paint colors for kitchen cabinets

We used Proclassic 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. 

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 (creamy and softer white)

Sherwin Williams Pure White SW 7005 (we actually used this in our homeschool room to brighten a small space)

Sherwin Williams High Reflective White SW 7757

Want to try a less expensive white kitchen cabinet paint? 

Behr Polar Bear

Behr Pure White

Now we just used this Behr paint in Charcoal Blue for our bathroom vanity and staircase railing. I don’t have 7 years to compare, but if you are looking for a more economical paint, this may be the way to go.

Recently, we also painted our bathroom vanity and oak 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 for your cabinets or walls?

We recently just tried Samplize and it totally beats having to buy individual paint samples. These 12″ x 12″ samples will get shipped directly to you and save the hassle of clean-up (we loved that). Check out the brands you can get here.

Finally, let’s get to our kitchen cabinet makeover and our “before kitchen”

dated oak kitchen cabinets before painting white

How to paint honey oak kitchen cabinets

1. 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.

kitchen island with doors and drawers removed

Since your kitchen is larger than say a bathroom, 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.

2. 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 scuff up will do.

sandpaper block used to prep oak cabinets before painting

3. Use a deglossing agent with a rag to wipe down cabinet frame, drawers and doors. Make sure to completely clean all parts. You do not want anything greasy leftover. You may want to wear a latex glove for this, especially if you have sensitive skin. Make sure to read all safety guidelines when using new products.

4. 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 drawers front so that you have a clean look when you are finished.

painter's tape on drawers

5. 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 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. 

oak kitchen drawers before painting

6. Make sure to cover all oak with primer. Using a brush for the grooves and small roller for all the flat areas. Don’t forget about the edges of the doors and drawers. 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.

oak kitchen cabinets being primed before being painted white

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.

7. Let your primer dry. 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 backside. 

small foam roller applying latex primer to oak cabinet door

Ideas for not cleaning paintbrush or roller between painting sessions

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 brushes shape. You can also use clear plastic wrap and painter’s tape to keep your brushed fresh between painting without cleaning.

Obviously, make sure you clean your brushes and use a new roller when transitioning from the primer to 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).

8. Primer should be dry in a few hours (I believe Sherwin Williams says 4 hours). However, I just always continue the next step next day. The last thing you want to do is flip a door over and ruin you work you just did because it wasn’t fully dry.

9. 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. 

10. 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 vanity parts from all angles, helps you see if you missed any spots. Even asking another set of eyes to check is always helpful.

11. If you think you need a third coat, feel free.

12. Once the paint is cured, reattach doors with either new hardware or old hardware. We have sprayed paint these hinges before, but for this kitchen makeover, we bought all new hinges, pulls, and knobs. 

white painted kitchen cabinets

12. Add 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.

kitchen island painted white with latex enamel paint

So how have our painted kitchen cabinets held up over the 7 years?

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 must love.

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, you really don’t notice.

wear and tear on painted kitchen island 7 years later
Biggest place of wear after 7 years (where bar stools always touch when pushed in on the kitchen island)

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. 

Yes, you read this correctly. I finally took pictures of our kitchen. Way before we started this blog, my father and I painted these kitchen cabinets together. 

We decided that our techniques have worked so well that we should share them. From our basement molding to fireplace makeover, this painting oak method has truly helped us modernize our home.

white painted kitchen island with bar stools
We love our industrial bar stools and they weren’t too expensive!

Here is a recap of how to update your kitchen cheaply

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. Properly prep and paint your kitchen cabinets. Do not skimp on the prep. You will be sad in the future.
  4. 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.
  5. Save extra paint for touch-up over the years. The utensil drawer or places where furniture rubs up against will most likely need a little love over the years. 
  6. Clean old appliances really well. I am always amazed at the dust and gunk that can accumulate on top of that fridge.

What would I have done differently in our kitchen makeover and when painting our kitchen cabinets?

As far as the kitchen cabinet painting goes, I would not have changed a thing about the painting process we used. 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).

white kitchen painted cabinet with pull

In 2021, I am considering painting at least our kitchen island cabinets a different color. As well as our bottom kitchen cabinets. I love the idea of a darker and fun color to help hide the drips that occur in a kitchen. We will see if I make this plunge sometime this year. 

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 a more uniform-looking quartz. And obviously a new backsplash.

(future project may be coming)…

For now, we still love that we were able to completely update our kitchen without breaking the bank.

One last picture of our ugly dark and oak kitchen cabinets

dated oak kitchen cabinets before painting white

The after painted kitchen cabinets (7 years later)

White painted kitchen cabinets
We love our light fixture! A few years ago we added it after painting our kitchen cabinets white and it really modernized our kitchen.

Related Posts

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

Follow us on Pinterest or Facebook for more DIY inspiration!

We are still loving how we painted our kitchen cabinets 7 years later! We hope we inspired your next DIY kitchen makeover.

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