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How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Paint cabinets to brighten a shabby kitchen. Choose an oil-based paint or a water-borne acrylic enamel. Both create tough, durable surfaces that'll take hard wear.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Paint options for cabinets

If you want to give new life to old wooden kitchen cabinets, painting is a great choice. You have several good paint options. For the best adhesion and a harder, more durable finish, an oil-based (alkyd) paint is tough to beat. But you must be willing to put up with the strong odor and solvent cleanup, along with a longer drying and curing time than you’d get if you used an ordinary water-based paint. Plus, the color may yellow over time.

The best solution to avoid the hassle of oil-based paint is a new-technology waterborne acrylic enamel paint (such as Satin Impervo by Benjamin Moore) that delivers the good flow, leveling and hardening characteristics of an oil-based paint without the odor and long drying time. These new paints dry fast and clean up with soap and water. The main challenge is a smooth finish, but pros say that if the waterborne acrylic enamel is applied heavily enough and worked in small sections, it will flatten out nicely. Avoid a dry brush and going over sections already starting to dry.

Don’t forget other keys to success when painting cabinets—surface preparation (degreasing, cleaning and sanding), priming (use a top-quality primer), brushing (use the best-quality brush for the type of paint) and drying (follow label directions).

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Comments from DIY Community Members

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August 17, 10:55 PM [GMT -5]

I have my own decorating business and remodel kitchens to give a more cost effective update to help my customers to help keep them within budget, I highly recommend you use milk paint. I prefer General Finishes. Woodcraft is where I purchase my paint. It's more expensive than latex paint you find at local hardware stores. Unlike latex paint, milk paint adheres to wood surface much better and the longer its on the cabinets the more durable the cabinet becomes. It's non-toxic, however has a low odor. You can use a top coat made by General Finishes also. I like to use a sprayer when painting cabinets and furniture. Make sure to strain milk paint if you plan on taking the same approach. If using a brush to paint cabinets, than this step is not necessary. Good luck!!

July 17, 1:24 PM [GMT -5]

I did a huge remodel with the contractor from h_ _ _. I had custom kitchen cabinets built for my "dream" (nightmare now) kitchen and the cabinet guy painted them white using lacquer. Bottom line is that the paint is lifting and peeling.. this began about 3 weeks after paint was applied I.have had them painted twice by the same cabinet guy and have the same problem. Contractor, cabinet maker and painter have all left my state and I am left with a very stressful kitchen remodel. Additionally (no pun intended) the white painted cabinet in one of our bathrooms is now cracking like a spider web...someone PLEASE advise me how to repaint them. I would appreciate the help! Thanks

September 27, 10:28 AM [GMT -5]

I should have read this before starting! So now I'm at a decision-making point. I used two coats of a paint and primer (in one) on my kitchen cabinets and left them to dry. Two days later, I pulled them away from the appliances they were leaning against and the new paint/primer peeled away. I took a closer look at the paint/primer I used and it is 100% acrylic. The peeled parts aren't very large and are on the internal side of the cabinet doors. So...

Can I try to touch up the newly-peeled areas and then cover everything with polyurethane? If so, what kind is most suggested? Is there a better recommendation?

Or should I start over with an appropriate product, and note this down as a lesson learned in trying to save time?

Thank you!
Sarah

August 30, 12:49 PM [GMT -5]

I have cabinets that the doors are wood but the frames are laminate or even a adhesive paper. How would I prep and paint them?

February 19, 7:26 PM [GMT -5]

I painted my kitchen cabinets BEFORE reading these great tips. Big mistake :) Trust me, the prep work and good brushes/rollers mean everything!

February 21, 5:40 PM [GMT -5]

The step by step really doesn't give us much info i.e. suggested clener, sand paper grit or even info on how to make the four board with the four nails. What gives

February 07, 10:08 PM [GMT -5]

Jack, milk paint is a good choice for durability and a country finish appearance. The issue with milk paint is lack of stain resistance, it needs a topcoat to be safe. I would use General Finishes Milk Paint and Waterborne Polyurethane since they are the only company I know that make both and they are completely compatable together which is a concern when you try to use other manufacturers products together. It is a nice finish.

February 07, 3:50 PM [GMT -5]

My wife wants to paint our beautifully varnished kitchen cabinets. I hate the idea, but we agreed years ago that she is in charge of the inside of the house. I have told her to degrease, clean carefully, scuff with 150 grit sandpaper, prime with good primer, and then paint her top coat. She wants an antique look, our house is a cabin style in the woods. I think milk paint would look good. Any comments?

February 07, 2:45 PM [GMT -5]

Jamie, in order to repair your cabinets I would use touch-up on any small chips that can been easily repaired. Then I would put a protective coat of waterborne polyurethane (satin finish) on top of your existing paint. This will do 2 things, it will put a furniture finish on the cabinet doors and the polyurethane will protect the paint finish underneath and prevent it from likely chipping more in the future. A good easy finish to apply is General Finishes Waterborne Polyurethane available at Woodcraft and Rockler, its more expense than the big box store brands, but worth every penny as it is very easy to work with and is extremely durable.
Good luck on your repair.

February 07, 2:34 PM [GMT -5]

I love the good practical advice from TFH on this project, it is invaluable to those doing this for the 1st time. I have done this professionally and have learned a few tricks that can really make this a great finish.
First, build small nail-boards with 4 nails to enable you to finish both sides at once flat so you eliminate drips and runs caused by hanging the doors, simply start with back facing up and spray and flip.
Second, please do not use either oil or waterborne latex paint, they are not a furniture grade quality finish. You need to use a pigmented laquer. The best and easiest one to work with is ML Campbell Agualente, it is a very tough and durable waterborne (no odor) that is made specifically for high end furniture finishing... and can be matched in any color. Spray minimum of 2-3 coats lightly sanding in between.
Lastly, buy the little HVLP tubine sprayer from Harbor Freight or Woodcraft, the one with the long hose ($50-$90). STAY AWAY from the cheap sprayers that have a turbine on top of a cup, they will absolutely break your heart.
One more thing, if you old finish is really nasty or if you have repaired with wood filler, spray a primer coat of BIN 123 Shellac Based Primer and sand when dry before finish coats.

November 12, 3:21 PM [GMT -5]

Curious, I took on this project last fall. I took two full weeks to make sure I did every step from degreasing, sanding, cleaning prep, to priming and painting. My hardware stores have quit carrying Oil based paint stating a new OH law. So I used a water based paint. As I feared, it is already starting to chip, as we have a computer that the kids use daily and they sit up right next to the cabinets getting extra wear.

My question is, do you think I could, clean, & lightly sand & use your recommendations in the article using the enamel paint, to remedy what's occuring, or am i going to have to start from scratch?

Any advice or direction you could supply would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks in advance,
Jamie

November 12, 3:21 PM [GMT -5]

Curious, I took on this project last fall. I took two full weeks to make sure I did every step from degreasing, sanding, cleaning prep, to priming and painting. My hardware stores have quit carrying Oil based paint stating a new OH law. So I used a water based paint. As I feared, it is already starting to chip, as we have a computer that the kids use daily and they sit up right next to the cabinets getting extra wear.

My question is, do you think I could, clean, & lightly sand & use your recommendations in the article using the enamel paint, to remedy what's occuring, or am i going to have to start from scratch?

Any advice or direction you could supply would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks in advance,
Jamie

June 10, 12:54 AM [GMT -5]

the best way is to sand the cabnets lightly just rough them up a little, the start by applying a good cabnet paint with a primer in it, use a water base paint, there are plenty, i perfer valspar, apply thin coats, it will take you longer, but the end results will be worth the wait, always allow to dry over night before putting your next coat on, two coats will be a plenty, in some cases three coats are needed, always use a good quality paint brush.i like a high glose, our cabnrts look new when i finashed, also replaced them with new handles, which gave the cabnets a new look, hope this helps, happy painting, tony

May 25, 10:06 AM [GMT -5]

You can make your home spectacular with the convenience and beauty of Wood_Kitchen_Cabinet . Whether you want to paint them or put other finishing touches, wood cabinets are the perfect canvas for your masterpiece. Color and style are the real characteristics that to speak to your guests when they enter your home. Delight your guests with new cabinets and it will guarantee that they will get a good first impression of your home. Why worry about an entire kitchen makeover when new cabinetry is all you need? With the money you save on this project, you can invest in other places around your home.

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