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How I painted our kitchen cabinets

As promised, here is my blog post telling you all my not-so-secret tips for painting kitchen cabinets.

This last painting project is the sixth time I’ve done cabinets.

The first time was in our first house in the teensiest kitchen you’ve ever seen. I wish I had pictures of that one but it was way before blogging was in my life. The previous owner had painted the cabinets deep red and decopaged fruit fabric in the center. It was clever, but not the look we were going for. The fabric was removed, the cabinets sanded and given a coat of white paint.  (We also replaced the old laminate counters in that kitchen with wood planks, stained them dark and put thick boat epoxy over it all to seal. Those were cool counters. Someday I’ll try to dig up pictures … What wasn’t cool was the lack of dishwasher and the rodents that broke into our house and freaked me out every night.)

I painted the kitchen cabinets in our next house (the one you might be familiar with if you have been reading the blog for a while). I used oil-based paint (which did yellow over time so it is not necessarily recommended anymore) and spent days adding layer after layer, sanding in between, and getting them as perfect as possible for a diy job. Here’s how that kitchen turned out.

I also painted the laundry room cabinets (which were relocated from the kitchen!):

And I did the master bathroom cabinets in the old house:

When we moved to this new house, I went the total opposite direction of every other set of cabinets I’ve painted and did them super dark:

But they just felt too dark for our house. So I repainted them.

So basically, I am a kitchen cabinet painting pro. Okay, fine. I’m far from it. I’ve just done it a few times :)

Here’s what you should know right from the start:

If you want your kitchen cabinets to have a hard, smooth finish and it is important to you that they are free of brush marks and little imperfections (like drip marks) and if your budget allows, get them professional sprayed. Nothing can beat a professional paint job.

If you are okay with a less perfect paint job (but still totally passable!) and don’t mind a slightly visible brush stroke, occasional drip marks and doing the work yourself, I say go for it.

As with most diy projects, the key is having the right supplies, putting some effort into the boring prep work and investing a handful of hours into transforming your space. You can do it!

Will they be perfect? Probably not.

Will anyone notice the imperfections? Not likely.

Will it make you insanely happy to change the look of your space for very little money? Yep.

Okay, so now for my process for painting the kitchen cabinets.

(Get ready for some very poorly lit photos. I did all of the kitchen work at night so that we didn’t run the risk of bumping into the fresh paint.)

First, remove the hardware.

This hardware is a very budget-friendly option – from the Martha Stewart line at Home Depot. Knobs + Pulls.

Next, label the cabinets. I just wrote a description of what lives in the cabinet and wrote it on masking tape so I could remember which cabinet door went where. When I painted the inside of the cabinet door, I moved the piece of tape to the hinge.

When I painted the kitchen the first time, I did not remove the cabinet doors. I painted just the outside and brushed around the hinges.

This time, I removed all of the doors and painted both sides. It was more work and not totally necessary, so you just choose how you prefer to do yours.

I gave everything a light sanding just to rough up the surface a little. Audrey helped me with the doors out in the garage and I did the same to the drawer fronts and cabinet bases inside.

Once I sanded, Audrey vacuumed the cabinets off and then I went over them again with a damp cloth to remove the rest of the sanding dust.

This is where you could spend a lot of time on prep. You could sand really well. I’m a lazy sander and don’t do and excellent job.

With the cabinet doors prepped (good enough, at least), I propped them up on boxes pulled from the recycle bin and old cans of paint.

Let’s talk about paint real quick. For wipe-ability, most people suggest using semi-gloss or high-gloss paint. I went with semi.

Last time, we used Behr Marquee paint in semi-glass color matched in a Sherwin Williams color.

This time, I asked the paint guy at Home Depot and he recommended the Behr Alkyd Semi-Gloss Enamel. He said it dried slightly harder and went on smoother and I was sold. It is actually a little bit cheaper than the Marquee and specifically formulated for trim, doors and cabinets. I had it color matched to Sherwin Williams Anew Gray.

I know that Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore and other fine paint companies each have their own version of cabinet-grade paint. You will spend more on these and the quality is very likely better than what you’ll get at Home Depot or Lowes. Perhaps I would spend the extra money if we were planning on keeping these cabinets long-term and durability was a big concern, but that was not the case for us. Choose the paint that fits your needs and budget.

In addition to the paint, I picked up a new 1 1/2″ angled brush, small foam roller and paint tray.

Audrey was so excited to help, so as I brushed the first coat of paint around the edges and grooves, she went behind me and rolled the center of the cabinets.

She did fine, but after seeing how uneven they dried, I decided it was better if I didn’t let my 8 year old paint the cabinets :)

I did a quick sanding of any rough spots and added another coat. I actually found that I liked how the paint went on better with a brush and mostly stuck to just brushing it on.

P.S. My back hurt like crazy when I was done doing the doors. I had to bend over to paint the whole time and it was mildly painful. #nopainnogain

Back inside, the kitchen looked like this for a week or so:

And then after some more painting, it looked like this:

I removed the drawers to paint the bases, then carefully set them back in (keeping them pulled out a bit) and painted the drawer fronts.

Random fact about me: one of my pet peeves is drawers that are not all the way pushed in. Therefore, the kitchen with all these drawers left open drove me just a little batty.

For the larger areas of cabinetry, I taped off the perimeter, used a brush for the edges and rolled the center.

All of the cabinet bases, doors and drawers received two coats of paint.

I’m guessing the painting took me around 15-ish hours total. That’s a very rough estimate. I just did a little bit each night and listened to one million podcasts. It was actually quite a wonderful way to spend those hours.

I let the cabinets dry for 24 hours before putting the doors back on (a total pain!) and then adding the hardware (my worst job ever).

But all that work paid off and the kitchen is now much lighter and brighter with its new gray color.

So, to recap:

  1. remove hardware
  2. label cabinet doors
  3. remove cabinet doors (or skip this step)
  4. lightly sand + remove all dust
  5. brush or roll two coats (sanding in between coats if you wish)
  6. let dry at least 24 hours
  7. put doors back on
  8. add hardware
  9. step back and enjoy!

Painting your kitchen cabinets (or laundry room or bathroom) can totally transform your space. Don’t be afraid to do it!

Any questions? Let’s chat in the comments.

36 Responses to How I painted our kitchen cabinets

  1. Ginny Rust June 14, 2018 at 8:58 am #

    I love both of your kitchens. What paint colors may I ask did you use for the initial dark gray color cabinets, and then for your most recent lighter (white) cabinets?

    • emily June 14, 2018 at 9:40 pm #

      The dark color is Iron Ore and the new color is Anew Gray (both by sherwin williams).

  2. Jamie June 8, 2018 at 11:01 pm #

    Love this, Emily! I linked to it in a post I just did sharing pictures of our painted kitchen before-and-after! :)

  3. Mandy June 5, 2018 at 6:58 pm #

    Non-painting question: Where did you purchase the gingham hampers in the laundry room photo? Love them! Thanks!

    • emily June 6, 2018 at 9:50 pm #

      They came from the container store several years ago :)

  4. Angie June 4, 2018 at 12:14 pm #

    Silly question here, but do you not have a microwave? I want to tear down our cabinets but we have an over-the-range microwave & I’m not sure what we would do with it if the cabinets come down. Love both colors, btw!

    • emily June 6, 2018 at 9:50 pm #

      We keep our microwave in the pantry (same in the last house, too). It keeps it off the counter and out of the way, but still accessible when needed.

  5. Rose Evans May 31, 2018 at 7:08 pm #

    I also turned my ‘90’s cozy U-shaped to the ceiling Oak Cabinets Antique White! Wish I could show you the before and after! Looks fabulous! Well, I think so anyway! Really brightens up the small kitchen and makes it look a bit larger! Now, we’re waiting on a grayish marble countertop that will just complete the look! Note: Since painting my cabinets, I have found a wonderful paint called Break-Through that only requires one coat! Made to paint over wood! Wished I’d known about it when I did this project!

  6. Jane May 31, 2018 at 6:45 pm #

    It looks great! I have IKEA Stat white cabinets. The white thermofoil finish with a press board base has yellowed and even chipped in corners. If I had to do all over with an IKEA kitchen, I would choose plain wood and nothing with a finish. Any suggestions on how to paint over that kind of surface? We want to upgrade the house one day so I don’t want to replace the kitchen!

  7. Buddy E Hatfield May 31, 2018 at 5:22 am #

    It’s obvious that you ended the job with the cabinets you want, and they look great. I prefer the darker color you chose before your finished cabinets. Both choices are nice but the dark grey is a standout with your countertop. Congratulations and thank you for sharing your hard work.

  8. Donna Boetscher May 31, 2018 at 4:04 am #

    Congrats on the kitchen. We are at the end of our year long kitchen remodel. (Only worked on it on the weekend) After a lot of investigating, I too chose the same paint brand. Loved it. My husband loves woodworking so we added a shaker style to our plain cabinets. He brushed and foam rolled them. We replace all the hardware to hidden soft close hinges and added new handles. I did medium grey paint on the bottom cabinets and white on top. It looks awesome. Now just left will be countertop and new flooring. I’d love to share a photo.

  9. RubberChickenGirl May 30, 2018 at 7:59 pm #

    Just a heads up, but technically you should NOT paint Alkyd (Oil-based) paint over latex without priming. Assuming that is what you did. The other bummer about oil based paint is that it tends to yellow with time so I avoid it in white. I know you aren’t planning on keeping them long-term, but just to let readers know.

  10. Vaden May 30, 2018 at 7:49 pm #

    Great job! Your kitchen looks beautiful! Your cabinets are Anew Gray – what are your wall and trim colors?

    • emily June 1, 2018 at 12:05 pm #

      Wall color is Shoji White and trim is Iron Ore.

  11. Christy May 30, 2018 at 2:14 pm #

    Thanks for the tips, Emily! We just moved, and I can’t wait to repaint the kitchen cabinets over the summer since other major projects around the house take precedence over a full-kitchen remodel right now. It’s amazing how a little paint can transform a space!

  12. Marilyn Kay May 30, 2018 at 12:12 pm #

    Always love your work and your energy. We have done cabinets 3 times and I say never again!. and then I do it again. My only suggestion is to use a really good primer after sanding. It makes the job look so much more finished.

  13. Colleen Wisniewski May 30, 2018 at 12:05 pm #

    This is so helpful + I love seeing the behind the scenes of this process. (And how excited Audrey was to help, soooo sweet!) I’m in the midst of painting a huge china cabinet I recently thrifted + this tutorial is helpful for that too! XOXO

  14. Stephanie May 30, 2018 at 11:29 am #

    Hi Emily! Thank you so much for the tutorial! I was wondering if this method would work on builder grade oak cabinets or if there would be another step in between? I would love to paint them a gray or white but am worried that the oak would show through and it would look terrible. What do you think?

    • emily May 30, 2018 at 1:17 pm #

      Your best bet is to take a cabinet door with you to the paint store and ask the salesperson if they have any suggestions. All cabinets have different finishes, so it’s hard to say if yours will take paint the same as ours did … you may need to sand extra or use a primer before painting.

  15. Amy Lamphere May 30, 2018 at 11:21 am #

    VERY nice! Brava! Question for The Expert: ever hear of anyone painting IKEA cabinets? My guess is they are some sort of laminate, not a sandable wood….hmmm?

    • emily May 30, 2018 at 1:18 pm #

      Oooh, I’m not sure! I’m guessing there is a tutorial somewhere out there on the internet … and I’m also guessing that it will need a primer to help the paint adhere.

  16. Gaela Renee May 30, 2018 at 11:19 am #

    Super excited about this paint recommendation! When I did my kitchen cabinets last year I went back and forth between using oil or latex as I was told I needed to do an oil primer before using a latex paint. Sadly, I didn’t know about this paint even though I bought my paint from HD. I did the whole sanding, oil primer, and then 2 coats of latex paint. Have you run into this issue before? I would love to try this on my bathroom vanity, but then having to address the whole oil vs. latex dilemma again.

  17. Michelle W. May 30, 2018 at 11:11 am #

    How did you avoid painting the hinges? Pet peeve, those painted hinges!

    • emily May 30, 2018 at 1:19 pm #

      Mine are not perfect. I painted around them with a brush trying to keep the paint off of them as much as possible. The good thing is that the paint does scrape off of the metal hinges.

  18. Karen May 30, 2018 at 10:49 am #

    My painting “uniform” is almost identical to yours, right down to the splotches of paint that were wiped from hands to black leggings. I have painted my old kitchen cabinets three times over 25 years. Next time I will hire someone. Your kitchen looks great!

    • emily May 30, 2018 at 1:19 pm #

      Ha! My best outfit …

  19. Sharon May 30, 2018 at 10:38 am #

    We are at the tail end of a two month long kitchen redo, forced by a leak under the sink. Complete gut, dry out, mold remediation, etc. We did keep the upper, original-to-the-1950-house upper cabinets. Since we (my daughter and I) chose light grey lower cabinets and a black and white checkerboard floor, we decided to sand and repaint the upper cabinets white, as contrast. We took off the doors (13 of them) and worked on the cabinets first. We had to strip and sand them, because there turned out to be six layers of paint on them! White, pink, yellow, pink, green and white again! Except in the area directly over the sink, where the underside of the cabinets had been painted red at some point! It was a LOT of work, especially the decorative scroll trim at the very top of the cabinets, but we did it. Painting was a breeze by comparision! We used a paint formulated for cabinets, small rollers and a small brush, as well. Haven’t done the doors yet. Considering leaving some of them off to create open shelving. Haven’t fully decided yet. One thing we did use a LOT of was disposable gloves. Since we were still in the middle of the remodel, the only sink we had was the bathroom and using gloves saved us from lots and lots of washing up! I also recommend drop clothes and painters tape!

    • Mickey W. May 30, 2018 at 11:34 am #

      The sure sign of a “DIY” kitchen cabinet paint job is the tell-tale painted hinge. How did you avoid this?

      • emily May 30, 2018 at 1:16 pm #

        Mine are not perfect. I didn’t tape them off because often paint leaks under the paint, so I just painted around them as closely and carefully as I could.

    • emily May 30, 2018 at 1:20 pm #

      I wore rubber gloves for most of the painting as well – mostly to keep my painted nails looking decent :)

  20. Ginny May 30, 2018 at 10:15 am #

    Thank you so much! I am hoping to do this. One more question. How do you keep your home so lovely with a big old dog. How do you handle the hair, everywhere? Just wondering as we have a new dog how lives in our house.

    • emily May 30, 2018 at 1:22 pm #

      Our dog is a labradoodle who is supposed to not shed. He does actually shed, but less than a regular lab :) I just try to vacuum a few times per week and that keeps the hair at bay. My sister in law just bought a robot vacuum that she runs for an hour or so every night to pick up stray dog hair – I thought that was a great idea!

  21. Aileen May 30, 2018 at 10:02 am #

    Love this, thanks for sharing your DIY!! For the cabinet bases, did you also sand that down before you painted it? Did you have to remove all the contents of your cabinets before doing that so the dust didn’t get on all your dishes? Or did you just add a coat of paint on top

    • emily May 30, 2018 at 1:23 pm #

      I wiped the bases all down and did not sand. I figured it was just going over top of the paint and I wasn’t too worried about it sticking. When I did the cabinets originally, I did sand everything. You could place towels over the contents in the cabinets to avoid all the dust. It’s a pain, for sure!

  22. Stacey May 30, 2018 at 10:02 am #

    I have painted our kitchen cabinets and we have completed all these steps including multiple coats and sanding between each coat…but two years in, the paint is chipping and ripping off in places. I don’t know if we didn’t use the right paint (we used enamel semi-gloss), or if we’re just really hard on our kitchen but I’m definitely not happy with the results. Next time I think we’ll go with the professional spray unless I can figure out what steps would make it better for us!

    • Melissa June 1, 2018 at 8:09 am #

      Stacey, the same thing has happened with the kitchen cabinets I painted. I even used the expensive Sherwin Williams paint, but it is peeling off and rubbing off on the most used drawers and cabinet doors. Around the hardware wherever our hands seem to touch the paint is where it is the worst.

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