The Rozy Home's Guide to Painting Cabinets

How To paint cabinets - Main

You guys are awesome! Seriously. I received so much amazing feedback from all of you on my kitchen reveal - more than I ever expected. Among the praise, though, there was one question that kept coming up over and over - do you have any tips for painting cabinets? I had thought about putting together a tutorial in the past but there are already so many out there that I thought it would be overkill. My favorite response to that statement (from a follower on FB) was "there are but I want to know how you do it." That not only made me laugh but made me realize that there really are different ways to do things and y'all know me - I do things my own quirky way.

A note about color: There were some questions on FB about choosing the right color so I thought I would share a little trick with all of you. I actually bought a few pieces of oak strips and painted them the colors I was thinking about. I left them in my kitchen for a few days to see which color I liked best. It's a good way to figure out the color you want without having to keep repainting your cabinets.

With that, here are my general guidelines when painting cabinets:

Prep your area.

So first things first, take the cabinet doors off and remove the hinges. Common sense, I know, but I have seen people try to paint the doors with them still hanging. 

Side note: Since I don't have any pics of painting the cabinet frame, I thought I would see if I could find one on an image service. Guess what I found? Someone painting their cabinets with the doors still on! DON'T DO THIS!! :-)

If you aren't 100% comfortable with your painting skills, tape off the wall area around the cabinet frames (I usually just free hand it, but I've been painting for a very long time).

When it comes to where to paint the cabinets, I usually work outside or in the garage. I place furring strips under the cabinet doors to keep them elevated.

Give everything a good sanding

Whether your cabinets doors, drawers and frames are painted or covered in stain, you will need to sand them. Most people recommend degreasing them first. I have never degreased a cabinet in my life before painting them. My reasoning? Any dirt or grime will be on top of the stain. Sanding takes off the stain ergo, no need to degrease them. I know there are a lot of people who will tell you otherwise, but this is just the way I do it. 

I sand with 100 grit sandpaper and then move on to 120. That is as high as I go. I use my orbital sander on what I can and do the rest by hand. 

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Remove the dust

my favorite dust removing tool? A Swiffer!

my favorite dust removing tool? A Swiffer!

After you have sanded everything you will need to clean them. The frames are easy since they are just frames, but doors and drawers can be tricky. Dust will ruin your paint job and you will find yourself working way harder than you wanted to having to sand out specks and reapplying. I start by simply turning my cabinet door or drawer over and patting the back so most of the dust falls out. Next, I grab the old Swiffer duster and get the crevices. If you haven't seen my wildly (unexpectedly) pinned article on the cabinet painting tool you have to have one thing I swear by for cleaning cabinet dust is a Swiffer duster. I'm embarrassed to admit it took me two decades of painting to figure this one out but it was a game changer. I've had a reader tell me they use a feather duster with the same results. I like the Swiffer duster because I can ball it up and really get into the crevices.

Fix any gouges or dents

If you have deep scratches or dents, you can fill them in with wood filler, let it dry and then sand it out. Easy peasy.

Prime the cabinets/drawers/frames

When I first began priming I used Kilz or BIN. That was before I discovered Sherwin William's primers. I use SW's Premium Wall & Wood latex primer. Does it cost more? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely! It goes on so smooth and does an amazing job covering any flaws in the wood. Kilz and BIN do a good job also, but once I stumbled on SW's primers, I never went back.

I put my primer on with a 2 inch paint brush. Let me go on record as saying I only use Purdy brushes. Period. I have used Purdy brushes since I began DIYing almost 15 years ago. I am a firm believer that if you use inferior products, you will get inferior results. Besides, they are only an extra $10 and in the grand scheme, is that $10 going to hurt you that much? :-) A note about primer color. You will see in my pictures that I used a gray primer. I almost always have the primer tinted to match the color of the cabinets. I have found doing this acts not only to prime the items, but it also acts as a 2nd layer of color (translation: if it does get dinged or lightly scratched, the color underneath will be a close match).

I always begin by priming the back of the cabinet. I start with the center panel section. There is no reason other than years of painting have shown me that painting the panel first is always best for me. If you get paint on the stiles or rails, make sure you brush them out so they don't leave a blotchy finish.

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Next, I paint the rails and then the stiles. I do not paint the edges of the cabinets on this part. 

After painting the cabinet doors, I move on to painting the drawers. Since drawers only have a front, I paint the entire drawer (edges included).

After painting all of the doors and drawers, I move on to the cabinet frames. I've been asked if I paint the inside of the cabinets. If they have glass on them, yes. If not, no. It doesn't bother me that they are wood on the inside. If it bothers you, paint them. If not, don't. That's an easy way to decide, isn't it. :-)

Those who have followed me for a bit know I'm a little (lot) Type A about certain things and painting cabinets is one of them. I prime each cabinet door back, the frames and the drawer fronts and then let is sit at least 24 hours. Not 23 hours. At least 24 hours. Again, it's just something that I do. Here in Texas with the constant humidity I have found that allowing them to cure for 24 hours seems to help the entire process.

After 24 hours, I lightly sand the front and back with a 300 grit sandpaper. Nothing too strong, just enough to remove any imperfections or random pieces of dust that may have fallen on them while still wet. Take note here: I only use one coat of primer. When you use a primer as good as SW, one coat is all that you need.

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Next, I turn the cabinet doors over to the front and repeat the entire process (including allowing them to sit for 24 hours). The only difference when it comes to priming the front is that I prime the edges. Make sure you lightly paint them to ensure there are no drips.

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Get ready to paint!

After the primed pieces have allowed to sit for 24 hours, I begin painting. Update: It has been brought to my attention that I didn't mention what paint I prefer! SW Duration paint all the way! Different SW employees have different opinions about which paint to use, but this stuff goes on like butter. It's so creamy and smooth and leaves a beautiful finish! 

Painting is really no different than priming. I always begin by painting the back of the cabinet door first. I start with the center panel section and then move onto the stiles and rails. Again, I do not paint the edges at this point.

After painting the back of the cabinet door, I paint the drawers and cabinet frames. I allow them to sit for 24 hours and then repeat the entire process. That is a total of two coats.

After the second coat has been allowed to sit for 24 hours, I move on to painting the front of the cabinet doors. Again, same process as above. Panel, rails, stiles but now also the edges. I allow it to sit for 24 hours then repeat the entire process.

At this point you can do two things. You can go ahead and polyurethane the drawers and frames or you can wait 2 days while finishing the doors and poly all at the same time (I usually go ahead and do the drawers and frames because I am tired of having my kitchen destroyed).

Add the polyurethane

Before actually adding the poly, I use the 300 grit sandpaper again and lightly sand the door. It just smoothes out the finish. I apply the polyurethane with a foam brush. I suggest a total of 3 coats. Don't worry - you can apply a coat every 2 hours. I do not sand in between coats unless there are specks of dust. As far as what brand I use - Rustoleum. I've used dozens of poly and their's is my favorite. After it dries, you are finished!

You might be wondering....

Is using a paint sprayer better? For some, maybe. I actually bought one the last time I painted the cabinets and hated the finish. I ended up redoing them because I was not pleased with the results. Plus, masking off the entire kitchen so you can paint the frames was tedious work and not something I really wanted to mess with. I found it took less time to paint with a brush then it did to mask off everything in prep for using a paint sprayer. But that was just my experience. Others love using the paint sprayer.

Has the finish lasted? I painted my cabinets white roughly three years ago. I have gotten paint stain on them, had coffee stains from who knows how long ago, bumped them, hit them - you name it. They have held up with no problem. Part of that is the paint, but a large part is the poly. Never underestimate the power of poly! While doing the countertops I must have dripped a bit of stain on them. I don't know when it happened, but I didn't notice it for awhile. I grabbed a non-abrasive sponge, wet it, scrubbed a bit and voila! The stain was gone. Fingerprints from dirty kiddos come right off. The color has stayed true. I took my time painting them and used superior products. That makes all the difference in the world.


The biggest concern most people seem to have with painting their cabinets are brush marks. I cannot emphasize enough that inferior products are one of the biggest reasons this occurs. If you use high quality primer, paint and brushes you should not have brush marks. The other biggest reason for brush marks is applying the paint too heavy. Painting cabinets is a marathon, not a sprint. If you think "oh I will just put more paint on so I only have to paint them once" chances are, you will get brush marks. Believe me - been there, done that. The first time I painted my cabinets was in an apartment I was renting. I used cheap brushes, cheap paint and I put the paint on thick - then I had to sand it all off and start over. The next time, I purchased better materials (Purdy brushes and paint from Lowe's) and did two thin coats and the results were much better. By the time I bought my first house, I was using Purdy and Ben Moore paint and the results were far superior. With my kitchen in my current home, I used SW and it has been the best finish to date.

The other problem has to do with dust specks. If you clean the items with a duster and sand lightly before applying the poly, this should not be a problem. If it is, sand with a 300 grit sandpaper and reapply the poly.

That's it in a nutshell. If I haven't addressed something, please feel free to contact me. I am happy to help with any questions or concerns. And remember, don't be afraid to paint your cabinets. It can be done with beautiful results - just remember to take your time and use great products and you will love your results. Good luck and you got this!