Monday, October 14, 2013

How to Paint Cabinets

Although I didn't take many photos of the process, I'm going to tell you how I painted my kitchen cabinets. I do not guarantee anything about this method and if you decide to follow it, you are doing so at your own risk. I am not a professional and do not claim to be! I am simply telling you how I did mine almost 10 years ago, and they've held up very well!! :)  If in doubt at any point in this process, consult with a professional.



Obviously I did more than just paint the cabinets, but we can talk about those in another blog. For now, let's get our materials and tools list together.

What you will need:
  1. Trisodium Phosphate, also known as TSP. This can usually be found in the paint section of your local hardware store. 
  2. Rubber gloves
  3. An electric hand sander with fine grit sandpaper
  4. Tack cloth
  5. A screwdriver
  6. An oil based primer
  7. Mineral spirits, to clean the oil based primer off your brushes
  8. A high quality paint - I recommend a semi-gloss or a gloss finish
  9. Paint brush
  10. Two small or "mini" foam rollers
  11. Painters tape and a pen or marker 
  12. Woodfiller - if you are replacing the hardware with some of a different size
  13. A face mask and protective glasses
Notice I did NOT put a "liquid deglosser" on this list?  No, I did not.You don't need it and I don't recommend it.

Step 1:
BEFORE you do anything else, go around the kitchen and label each door and drawer with their location. Although it might seem like you'll remember where they go, you won't.  I tore off two pieces of painter's tape and wrote the same number on each, then I stuck one to the inside of the cabinet and one to the door. Trust me, you'll thank me later.

Step 2:
Remove all of the doors and all of the hardware.

Step 3:
Clean! Here is where you use the TSP.  If your kitchen was anything like mine, it has years of grime on it. You need a hard core cleaner to get the years of grease and food splatter off. Follow the directions on the TSP container and make sure you wear gloves. Clean any surface that will be painted.

Step 4:
If you are replacing the hardware with some of a different size, you will want to fill the current holes with wood filler. Follow the instructions on the package. It's easy!

Step 5:
Sand! (Before starting this step, make sure you are not sanding off old lead paint. If you aren't sure - STOP! Go to the store and get a test kit! My cabinets were not previously painted, so I was good to go.)  Put on your mask and glasses, get out the electric hand sander, and go at 'em! I know some people say you can skip this step - but don't! And don't cheat by trying to use that liquid deglosser stuff. Nothing works like a true sanding! If you try to take the easy route here you will regret it later when your paint is chipping and peeling off. Get out the sander and get in some elbow grease! Sand until there is no longer any gloss on the surface. You do not have to sand ALL of the old paint or whatever off - just until the gloss is gone and the surface is nice and smooth.  Once you are done, clean off all of the dust very well with your tack cloth. They must be perfectly CLEAN before you can paint.

NOTE: Before going on to the priming step, here is a cheater if you plan to paint both the front and back of the doors:  Put a very small nail in the corner of each door on the back. When you prime and paint, do the back first and then flip it over. The door will sit up on those nails, allowing you to then paint the front. You will have 4 small nail holes on the back of your door when you are done, but no one will notice them. (If you think you WILL notice them and this will drive you crazy forever and ever, don't do this part. You'll have to take your time and allow one side to thoroughly dry before flipping it over to do the other side! I still recommend starting with the back, though.)

Step 6:
Prime.  I recommend using a high quality oil based primer. You can paint over an oil based primer with either an oil based or a latex based paint, but the oil based primer will create a stronger bond.

When priming, you don't need a thick, solid cover. Just one regular coat with a good quality foam roller is fine. Why foam?  Because it's smooth and won't leave any roller marks or fuzz on your cabinets! Use a brush where you have to, but do everything you can with a roller. You won't have to worry about brush marks this way.

Be sure you are working in a cool, well ventilated area. Do NOT work in the sun! The sun will make the paint dry too quickly and you'll end up with splotches.

I would toss the roller and use a fresh one on the paint. To clean your brush, use the mineral spirits or your cleaner of choice.

Step 7:
After your primer has dried the recommended amount of time listed on the package, it's time to paint! You will need at least two coats of a good latex paint. Depending on the color, you may want a third coat. Make sure you follow the directions on the can for dry time between coats.  Again, use the foam roller for as much as you can. Do NOT do any spot touch ups! If you missed a spot, you can not go back and just touch up that one spot. It will not look right. You must do another full coat over the entire surface. (TRUST ME ON THIS ONE!)

Step 8:
Wait. I know you want to hang them back up right now, but don't. Wait a few days for the paint to fully cure. I know it sucks, but unless you want to risk messing up your masterpiece, you've got to wait.

Step 9:
Rehang those beauties and enjoy!  Here is where you will thank me for numbering the doors. If you are drilling new holes for your hardware, consider making a template out of cardboard to help you ensure you get them all in the exact right place.

I hope this helped! I'd love to see some before and after photos of anyone who has tried this! I did mine in 2004 and they have held up beautifully! 

If you want to see more about my budget kitchen remodel, you can visit here.


  1. This was done so well. I am presently doing my cabinets and your site on this matter helped me a lot with the little details. Thank you for this segment.