Painting - A Guide to Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Using a palm sander to remove old finish from kitchen cupboards

Painting your cabinets tops the list of fastest and most affordable ways to freshen up your kitchen. While it may seem like a breeze, there are a few crucial steps to follow for smooth, long-lasting results.


Is Your Kitchen a Candidate?

Most cabinets will do well with the right preparation, but laminate cabinets are the exception to the rule. The smooth surface of laminate resists paint adhesion, so this kitchen upgrade is recommended only for homes with wood cabinets. Any type of wood (including MDF) will do well, but keep in mind that stained or glossy cabinets should be stripped before jumping in.

Protect the area

No matter how careful you are, accidents still happen, so you should cover your countertops and floor with a drop cloth, a tarp or masking paper to protect them from paint drips and splatter. Also, tape off the wall around your cabinet and any other surface that should not be painted, like range hoods and backsplashes.

Prep: A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

While it’s tempting to start by cracking open the paint can and pulling out the brushes, preparation is the most important step – but it can also be the most time consuming. To start, label each cabinet door and drawer before removing so that you can easily reinstall them without it feeling like a puzzle. Prepare a work area that will allow doors to lay flat while working. Remove hinges and hardware and store them in a bin or a bag nearby so that no small parts are lost. Once you are organized, all surfaces that will be painted need to be cleaned thoroughly. If your cabinets need a facelift, chances are they have years of grit, grime, oil and wax hidden on the surface or clinging to crevices. Use a clean rag and scrub thoroughly with a degreasing cleaner, which will help with pristine paint adhesion later on. While you’re cleaning, keep an eye out for any holes or flaws. Fill with wood filler and let fully dry.

Sand Once

Grab your orbital sander and some medium grit sandpaper. You can sand by hand if you would like, but your arms will probably get pretty tired. Painted cabinets should get a thorough sanding with 120-grit paper, but no matter the finish, do a final pass with 220-grit. Use a sanding sponge to dig into any tough areas that need special attention or corners that are hard to get with your sander. Check on wood filler repairs and sand those areas to match. Wipe everything down with a soft rag to remove sanding dust.

Using an orbital sander to remove old finish from kitchen cupboards

Prime Time

Choose an appropriate primer and give your doors and drawers a coat. Wait until surfaces are dry to the touch before painting the reverse side. While you wait for your primer to dry on the doors and drawers you can prime the cabinet boxes and avoid down-time.

Sand Twice

This step should be quick and easy: after cabinets have had a few hours to fully dry, grab that orbital sander again and give each cabinet a much lighter sanding with a fine-grit sand paper. Use a fine grit sanding sponge to make sure trim grooves or door edges haven’t collected any excess paint.

Your cabinets may need a second round of priming and sanding to achieve a smooth finish.

An orbital sander with a vacuum paper disc attached

Paint Your Masterpiece

Choose a high-quality paint with a hard finish for best results. Satin, semi-gloss and gloss are all good options, and will allow for easy cleaning in the future. Apply paint to the center first, finishing with the rails and stiles. [2] Paint should be dry to the touch before tackling the back. Keep all surfaces flat while allowing paint to dry for at least two hours, and follow these steps again for a second coat. While you’re waiting for your doors and drawers to dry, work on cabinet boxes.


It may take up to two days for paint to fully dry depending on your weather and climate. While it is tempting to reinstall your doors and admire your finished product, we recommend waiting until the paint has time to dry fully so you don’t get flaws in the finish. After you have reinstalled your cabinets and hardware, step back and admire your handiwork!