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How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Revitalize your kitchen's look with newly painted cabinets

By Jan Soults Walker

Apply fresh color to cabinets and say goodbye to a dull or outdated finish. Learn how to paint kitchen cabinets here!

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Homey Transitional Kitchen by Andrea Schumacher
Andrea Schumacher
If your wooden kitchen cabinet boxes are still sturdy, and the drawers and doors aren't warped, they're good candidates for fresh paint. You can save on labor costs by painting cabinets yourself; the job doesn't require a lot of skill, but it can be time-consuming. Your kitchen will be disorderly for several days, maybe even a few weeks, depending on the number of cabinets you have to paint, how humid it is (which affects drying time), and how quickly you work. The trade-off is a dramatic difference in the look of your kitchen—and for very little cost.

This method works with laminate cabinets as well, as long as the veneer isn't peeling or tacky. Otherwise, you may want to consider new door and drawer fronts, which you can order through a home improvement store.

If you don't have the spare time or have physical limitations, you may want to consider hiring a pro to paint your cabinets—but if you're up to the task, read on.

Painting Kitchen Cabinets, Step by Step

1. Remove the cabinet doors and drawer fronts.You probably don't need to paint the insides of most cabinets, so you can leave the contents on the shelves and only empty the drawers. For cabinets with glass door inserts, empty them of the contents and plan to paint those interiors.  

2. Remove knobs and pulls from drawers and doors, and consider replacing them with updated hardware to really freshen the look of your cabinets. Read Design Problem, Solved: Dated Kitchen Cabinet Hardware.

For exposed hinges (say you want to switch dated brass for brushed nickel), make sure you have a suitable replacement first. Hinge replacement can be a bit tricky. Test the new hinges to make sure the doors fit as they should and will swing correctly before removing all of the old hinges.
Elegant Contemporary Kitchen by Tineke Triggs
Tineke Triggs

3. Lay doors and drawers flat on sawhorses or on covered work surfaces. 

4. Clean the doors and drawer fronts as well
 as the cabinet boxes to remove all traces of grime and grease so that primer will adhere later. (Don't use a product with ammonia in it because it can cause the paint to not adhere well.) TSP, or trisodium phosphate, is a recommended cleaner found in hardware stores and home centers, but it isn't available in some areas. (TSP can be associated with accidental poisoning; follow directions carefully.) 

If you can't find TSP, try a substitute. Then rinse surfaces thoroughly. 

5. Fill holes and cracks with wood filler. Let dry. Lightly sand all surfaces with 120- or 150-grit sandpaper. Wipe away all traces of sanding dust.

6. Apply high-quality primer using a foam roller or brush. Let dry. Prime the reverse sides of the doors and drawer fronts too. Let dry. 

7. Finish with two coats of high-quality paint. Oil (alkyd) paints provide the best durability and clean up well but are being phased out due to environmental issues. Latex paints are now formulated to hold up better on surfaces that receive lots of abuse, such as cabinets. For recommendations, ask the experts at your paint store or in the paint department of a home improvement or hardware store. 

Check out How to Choose a Paint Finish and Find the Perfect Color Palette for Your Kitchen.

8. Allow painted and sealed doors and drawers to dry thoroughly for several days so that no tackiness remains. Reinstall with new hardware.

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