Painting Kitchen Cabinets

When we moved into our house one of the rooms that we “liked but didn’t love” was the kitchen. It has green walls, white subway tiles, and really ugly brown cabinets. There is a big post in the middle that make the room look smaller and more cramped. We loved the subway tile, liked the green paint, but hated the cabinets. We have grand plans to eventually renovate, get new countertops, appliances (fix our broken stovetop), and knock down the offending post. However, in the meantime one thing I figured I could do myself for a (much) more affordable price, was to paint the cabinets!

Painting is a great way to change the whole feel of a room, and it’s fairly cheap, quick, and easy. Painting cabinets, however, is a bit more complicated. But I figured I had the time to do it and it would give us a whole new kitchen. After doing some online research and talking to my dad, the Original Mr. Fix It, I went for it.

The main thing is to do it right it takes time and you need to be patient (which was hard for me) and do all the steps right. You can still see some brush strokes if you look really closely but overall you can’t tell.

Here are the cabinets before: you can see the subway tile but it’s overpowered by ugly brown! Also notice the offending post blocking the kitchen.


Sandpaper, 150 grit and 220 grit

2 brushes: 1.5 inches and 2 inches (good quality)

Primer: Kilz water based primer.

Paint: Benjamin Moore Advance Interior Paint.**you really need to use good quality paint and Ben Moore is better than Home Depot Water based, semi gloss

Murphy’s soap

Tack cloth (It’s like mesh cloth and feels like there is honey on it, so it’s kinda sticky, you can find it at Home Depot, or any other store like that.)

Regular cloth/duster

Paint tape and plastic floor covering


1. Take off all the cabinets and their handles. I don’t think it really mattered since ours were all the same, but I put them all in plastic bags and labeled which handles went to which cabinet or drawer.

cabinets during 5 cabinets during 6

2. Wash the cabinets really well with Murphy’s soap.

3. Use 150 grit sandpaper and sand the cabinets. Not a TON but just get the shine from the wood off.

4. Wipe sanded dust off cabinets with duster, THEN wipe off with tack cloth. *This is really important, you don’t want any fine dust on the cabinets when you start painting. It’s tedious, but worth it.

5. Use primer to prime cabinets. Wait at LEAST two hours (sometimes I waited overnight)

6. Use 220 grit sandpaper to sand over primer. Wipe with cloth, then wipe with tack cloth.

7. PAINT! Finally! First coat.


9. Use 220 grit sandpaper to sand over first coat, wipe with cloth, wipe with tack cloth, paint second coat.


11. Use 220 grit sandpaper to sand over second coat, wipe with cloth, wipe with tack cloth, paint third and final coat.


13. Wash cabinet handles (unless you get new ones) and put them back on and then put cabinets back.

14. Repeat for the next section of cabinets you do. I did 3 coats. I wanted to be done at 2 but 3 made a difference and looks so much better.

All done!

cabinets done 4

Some tips:

I’ve read it’s best to use oil based paint on wood in a kitchen. I used water based paint because oil based is a hassle to clean up. It seemed to work fine. I’m noticing it does chip a bit over time, so if you want to use oil based it might be worth it? I think it depends on your tolerance for chipping and how well you’d prep your kitchen and clean up. I just touch up every once in awhile, especially the trash drawer which gets the most use.

It’s also recommended to use a chemical cleaner called TSP to clean cabinets before you paint them. The chemicals seemed too intense and I didn’t want to have to deal with Kermit around them so I just used Murphy’s soap instead and it worked fine.

Be careful putting cabinets back. My first time I kept scraping the cabinet wall with the door and I scratched off some paint. It was small and I touched it up but it was annoying. Once cabinets are on they don’t touch when they open so it’ll be fine.

Make sure you sand in one direction, and then paint in that same direction.

Paint in one direction. To minimize brush strokes get a good amount of paint on your brush then spread the paint quickly. When it feels like it’s hard to spread around then stop brushing. If you have too many strokes they show up more.

You can wash your brushes really well then put them in plastic bags so they stay damp between coats. I would make sure that they are damp but not wet before you start painting.

Try not to get TOO much paint on the other side of the cabinet doors or on the edges of the cabinets you don’t paint or you’ll get paint drippings. But if you do just use 150 grit sandpaper and sand the paint off.

Start with a section that people won’t really see for your first one to get the hang of it. Like above the fridge or close to the floor.

Really make sure nothing is on the cabinets when you paint, which is why I really went overboard with dusting it then using tack cloth to get all the dust and hair or whatever off.

You can sand and do a second coat after 16 hours but the paint doesn’t REALLY set in fully until about 2 weeks later, so don’t wipe the cabinets down/scrub them until 2 weeks after you finish painting.


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