The RIGHT way to paint kitchen cabinets and how to do it yourself

These days many new homeowners are opting to paint their dated kitchen cabinets rather than replace them.  It’s much less expensive and way faster as you don’t need to worry about the cost of new cabinets, rip up nor ordering materials and living without a kitchen for 8 to 12 weeks.  I’m going to show you how to paint your cabinets the right way.

How to paint cabinets the RIGHT way. How to paint kitchen cabinets.

Painting your cabinets can have a huge impact on your kitchen, which for most families is the most used room in the house and the gathering spot for guests.  It can make your space look nicer, larger and more up to date.


how to paint cabinets the right way - DIY cabinet paintingWhile painting your cabinets can have a dramatic effect on your space, it’s important to paint them the RIGHT WAY.  And, I’ve been finding that there is a LOT of poor and misleading info in the Big Box stores and on the internet (especially on pinterest and some of the DIY sites).  By the way, I love these sites and use them often, but most of the info provided about painting cabinets is incorrect.  They make it sound easier than it really is, imply that you can paint with just one coat (and this is ABSOLUTELY WRONG), and recommend inferior products and methods.


So, I’m not here to tell you to hire a professional (although if you live locally in Westchester County, we’d be more than happy to help you (call 914-953-6409 and ask for Izzy)) or to do-it-yourself. Either way is fine, and only you can make the call on which is better for you based on your skills and budget.  Regardless, I want to help you get this done the right way and with the right products, regardless of who is doing the work.


So, I’m going to provide tips on the best methods, best equipment/tools and best products for painting your kitchen cabinets.  This is how the professionals paint cabinets (and I’ve been working with professional painters for the last 10 months), and yes, I’m spilling the insider secrets.


Please note that this article may contain affiliate links.  You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.


✅ Check out these tools you can paint your cabinets.


Most popular colors and finishes for painted kitchen cabinets

How to paint kitchen cabinets yourself - DIYWhite cabinets are the most popular, followed by gray, but truthfully, you can choose whatever color you choose.  You also have the option to do one color for the island and a different color for the perimeter of the room; or one color for the bottom part of the cabinets and a different one for top shelves.  The world is your oyster.


Currently, satin finishes are the most popular for kitchen cabinets (just as they are for floors).  Satin is stylish and shows dirt less.  This is followed by matte (less shiny) and then semi gloss (more shiny). Those looking for super shiny use glossy, but please be aware that these show every bit of dust and are very taste specific and will show every brush stroke.


If you are looking to sell your house in the next few years, I’d recommend you simply choose the most popular and stylish – white with a satin finish.


Some myths and warnings before we get started:

  • diy kitchen cabinet painting | paint cabinets the right wayNo, you can NOT paint your cabinets with just 1 coat of paint!  In fact, you usually need 3 coats – primer + 2 coats of paint.  Products or tutorials that claim one coat is sufficient (e.g. chalk paints) will not come out right…and if you are in fact able to make them “look” right, I can guarantee you that they will not hold up.


  • There’s a reason that cheap products are cheap.  They are not durable.  It’s as simple as that.  And, most of these cheap products will not hold up to every day use nor every day cleaning products.

painting kitchen cabinets and open shelving

agreeable gray walls and gray area rug

And, many of these products actually cause damage to your cabinets, and you will find that you need to fully replace them.  So, don’t fall for these gimmicks.  (Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish…after all, the paint is NOT the major cost for the product; the labor is.  So, if you want to save money, do it yourself.  But, at least use the right products).


  • There are no short cuts.  Do not get a paint and primer in one product.  There’s a reason you need primer…and that is for proper penetration and adhesion.  2 in 1 products do not work well.  They generally neither adhere well nor are thick enough.  So you will need to do an additional coat any way.  So just do it right the first time.

kitchen island in turquoise or aqua

agreeable gray walls and gray area rug

  • Do not be misled by chalk paint claims.  They seem to claim that you don’t need to sand the cabinets (which is completely false), and they they often claim only 1 coat is needed (also false).  You do need to sand the cabinets…that’s how the paint adheres (in the same way that you need to sand the floors for the stain to properly penetrate).  And, you do need multiple coats of paint (at least 2 coats, but usually 3….and yes, I know people that have done it and some of them even needed 3-5 coats).


And, these products do not hold up well (just read the reviews…most are 2 stars out of 5 and that is pretty bad). While chalk paint is can be great for an antique look and can work on furniture (in fact, it’s often great for that), it will not hold up to use in the kitchen!  Nor will they hold up to cleaning products. So don’t fall for this either.


Best methods for kitchen cabinet painting

painting kitchen cabinets farmhouse styleThere are really 2 methods for painting cabinets:  1) use a sprayer or 2) use a paint brush.


The better method (which is the one usually used by the pros) is to spray them.  When you spray them, they come out smoother and you can use the higher quality lacquer paint.  The lacquer paint is stronger and more durable.  It holds up MUCH better to cleaning products and chemicals.  And, lacquers dry much faster.


agreeable gray walls and gray area rug


how to paint cabinets right way - paint sprayThe issue with this method is the cost of the equipment.  A sprayer is expensive, so usually only professional painters or contractors have these and most do-it-yourselfers don’t (and don’t want to invest in one). Sometimes, there is an option to rent one locally, and if you can, that’s ideal so you can use the best paint possible.  If you are going to buy one, we recommend this one from Titan

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So, that brings us to Method 2 – the brush method.  This is what most DIYers choose to do (and most handymen and non professional painters will do).  The brush method isn’t bad, but it’s not as durable as the spray option as you can not use the lacquer paint.


When you’re using a brush, we recommend this Corona Chinex 2.5 inch bristle brush.  This is the right size and type of bristles for cabinets.  Please note that you CAN’T use the lacquer paint with the brush method as the lacquer dries super quick, so as soon as you are ready to brush upwards, the paint is dry/partially dry and will get all gunky.  So, use either a water borne or oil based paint for this method (see below section).


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Best paints for kitchen cabinets by method

The type of paint you use depends on the method you use for painting.

For the spray method:

If you are going to spray the cabinets, you can use the best type of paint – lacquer – and we’d recommend Mohawk Duracoat Pre-Catalyzed Lacquer.  It come in satin, semi-gloss, gloss and flat.

precatalyzed paint for kitchen cabinets


For the brush method:

If you’re using the brush method, you can either do an oil based paint or a water borne paint.  Most people prefer water borne as it has lower VOC’s, doesn’t smell as much and dries faster.  (Also, oil based paint costs more and tends to yellow a bit over time).  Waterborne paint is also better for those with allergies or asthma.


painting kitchen cabinets with the brush methodFor the paint, I’d recommend using Benjamin Moore Advance Waterborne Alkyd Paint.  It’s highly durable and low VOC’s.  Alkyd means that they have resins and the good duraility properties of oil based paint (but without the smell, VOC’s and yellowing properties). This paint is available online in white or in any custom color.

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oil based primer for painting cabinetsNow, please note that even though you’ll be using a water based paint, you still need to get an oil based primer.  I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but that’s what best for proper penetration and adhesion.  Here’s a great oil based primer that you can get on Amazon.


How to paint your kitchen cabinets – step by step

The steps for painting the cabinets are similar in both the spray and brush method.  Drying times between coats vary a bit, though based on the type of paint you’re using.


The general flow for painting kitchen cabinets goes as follows:

  1. the best way to paint kitchen cabinetsPrep
  2. Sand, then Prime
  3. Buff, then 1st coat paint
  4. Buff, then 2nd coat paint
  5. Replace cabinets/clean up


1.  Prep the cabinets

  • Remove all the hardware


  • Remove all doors and drawers.  Be sure to label each one so you’ll know which one goes where afterwards.  (You can usually use a pencil and number these and place the number in the hole where the hardware was.


  • Move all doors/drawers to a clean staging area where you’ll be painting (usually a garage – set up a table or bench for the painting.).  Make sure the area is clean and you have plastic down beneath and plastic all around so that dust won’t blow.


  • Also, cover all areas in the kitchen that won’t be painted.  Use plastic and double sided tape.


  • You will then need to use a degreaser to clean the cabinets.  We use Krud Kutter.  You can get this on Amazon.


2.  Sand and prime

This is a step many would prefer to skip, but it’s probably the most important and most overlooked step.  (And, many DIY tutorials tell you it’s not necessary).  I’m here to tell you that you NEED to do this step.  It’s important for proper penetration and adhesion.  And, if you don’t do it or don’t do it properly, everything else will fail.


This is the foundation of you work.  If the foundation of your house isn’t even, not on top of it will be…and it’s the same here.  So don’t skip this critical step.


orbital sander for cabinetsFirst, sand the cabinets.  This will be much faster and easier (as well as even) if you use a hand sander.  You want an orbital sander – one that’s round and spins in place, and I’d recommend this one from DeWalt that is very reasonably priced.  (Please note that if you find one for much less, it most likely doesn’t spin in place and that will make your life very difficult.

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For this step, you’ll want to sand with 120 grit sand paper.  (For later steps, you’ll need 220 and 600 grits).  Note: the 600 grit for the final buffing needs to be done by hand as it’s a very fine buff.

dewalt hand sander and sand paper for kitchen cabinetsrandom orbital sand papersanding cabinets so you can paint them


After you sand, you will want to vacuum the dust. Any shop vacuum will work, including this one that you can buy inexpensively on Amazon.


Then, you will need some tack cloth (we use Super Tuff) to clean off the finer particles.  You will use this in the next 2 steps as well.


Add the primer.  Start with the back first.  Then, flip over and do the front. For most primers, you will need to wait 24 hours drying time for each side.  (Check the label on the primer you use, and remember that there is never a danger of waiting longer, especially if it’s humid). Generally 24 hours is sufficient.




3.  Buff and apply the 1st coat of paint

Before you add the 1st coat of paint, buff the doors using your hand sander and 220 grit sand paper.  Then, use the tack cloth to remove the fine dust particles. Then paint.  Paint the back first.  Then, if you are using the brush method, you’ll want to wait 24 hrs before flipping the door to paint the front.  (Note: the paint can may tell you that it will dry faster, but it’s safer to wait 24 hours.


If you are using the spray method with lacquer, you can flip the doors sooner – often in a few minutes to 30 minutes per side.




4.  Buff and apply the 2nd coat of paint

DIY: How to paint cabinets yourself. paint cabinets the right wayBefore you add the 2nd coat of paint, do a super light buffing the doors using 600 grit sand paper.  You will need to do this by hand  Then, use the tack cloth to remove the fine dust particles. Then paint.  Paint the back first.  Then, if you are using the brush method, you’ll want to wait 24 hrs before flipping the door to paint the front.  (Note: the paint can may tell you that it will dry faster, but it’s safer to wait 24 hours.


If you are using the spray method with lacquer, you can flip the doors sooner – often in a few minutes to 30 minutes per side.


Note:  You do NOT need a sealer after this.  Chalk paint requires a sealer, but this is high durability paint and you do not use a sealer with this (just as you don’t seal the walls).  Generally, these paints take 7 to 10 days to fully dry and cure, but generally after 24 hours, they are good to reinstall and use in your kitchen.  (But, do be careful during the 1st week and try to wait 7 to 10 days before cleaning them).


This curing process for paint is very similar to the polyurethane curing process for hardwood floors (except it doesn’t take quite as long).  You can read more about the curing time for hardwood floors here to better understand the difference between drying and curing).



5.  Reassemble and Clean up

After waiting 24 hours, you’ll want to reinstall the cabinet doors and the hardware, or more likely new replace with new and updated hardware (see below for some hardware ideas).  And, of course, you will also want to clean up.


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Kitchen cabinet fixtures

Here are a few suggestions for kitchen cabinet fixtures and hardware. You can find many similar options (e.g. different colors and finishes) on Amazon.


Summary of materials and tools needed for painting cabinets the right way

So there you have it.  Voila.  Your kitchen cabinets now look good as new.  Here’s a summary of the tools, paint and other accessories for painting cabinets yourself.







Do you need any paint shade fan decks?

Amazon can help with that. It’s so much easier when you have the full color wheels and can see all of these in your own home (vs. going back and forth to the store MULTIPLE times).

Sherwin Williams           Benjamin Moore

Are you ready to paint your kitchen cabinets in Westchester County?

This is a big job.  It takes patience and time.  Some handy do-it-yourselfers love this, and it’s a perfect project for them.  Others would prefer to have a professional handle this project so it’s done right and much faster.  If you live in Westchester, we’d be happy to help you with your painted cabinet project.


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The RIGHT way to paint kitchen cabinets and how to do it yourself