How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

If your budget does not call for a complete kitchen cabinet overhaul, consider painting your existing cabinets. A fresh coat of paint will breathe new life into worn cabinets and will help them to wear well for years to come. The job is one that you can tackle yourself with a little patience and the right tools.

What you'll need:

  • Screw gun/screwdriver
  • Grease-cutting detergent
  • Scrubbing sponge or automotive wet/dry sandpaper
  • 1" masking tape
  • Wood putty
  • Brushes and six-inch roller
  • Caulk and caulking gun
  • 100 grit sandpaper
  • One gallon of primer
  • Paint thinner
  • Premium water-based paint. The higher the sheen, the more washable it will be.
  • Drop cloths, old sheets or newspapers to protect floors and counter tops.

Buy the highest-quality paint and tools. You'll save on time and touching up.

Though a personal preference, painting the inside of the cabinets has very little impact for the amount of extra work involved. Painting both sides of the doors, drawer fronts and the cabinet boxes and frames will give you a beautiful, professional job.

Preparation
Take all the doors off, remove all hinges and pulls. If you have magnetic door closers, remove those too. Put the hardware in a bucket of mild, soapy water to soak. If you have felt or cork door bumpers, scrape them off and discard. They are really inexpensive to buy and it's easier to just get new ones.

Write the door position where the hinge goes, and put a piece of masking paper over it since it won't need to be painted. Once you're done painting you can remove them. Label drawers on the backside. Don't forget to cover the sink disposal; a single screw inadvertently dropped in can destroy it in about 30 seconds.

Cleaning
Mix up a mild solution of any decent grease-cutting detergent. Trisodium phosphate (TSP) works well if the cabinets are very soiled. Using a scrub sponge or automotive wet/dry fine sandpaper, thoroughly clean and rinse all the woodwork. If there are holes or deep gouges, now's the time to fill and sand them.

Mask off and tape your counter tops, range hood, floor and everything you need to protect. Plan on ordering in pizza and Chinese take-out for the next few days.

Priming
Now you are ready to prime. Shellac primers such as original Kilz are best for adhesion. If you really don't want to deal with the mess and smell, it's okay to use a good water-based primer. Ask your local paint dealer for a recommendation.

Brush the areas you can't get to with the roller before rolling. If you want to brush the whole thing, that's fine too. Be careful not to let paint build up on the edges. An even, thin coat is best.

Once your primer is dry, apply a very fine bead of caulk to fill in all the cracks and seams. Smooth it carefully with your wet fingers, being careful to wipe off excess.

Painting
Apply your first coat of paint and let it dry overnight. Then sand everything until it feels smooth, being careful to remove all the dust. A used dryer sheet works wonderfully for this.

Apply the next one or two coats of paint. Remember light, even coats are best. It's okay to dilute the paint a little if it feels too thick.

Leave the final coat on the fronts of the doors for last. You are sure to mar them when you're replacing hardware and rehanging the doors. It's easy to paint the door fronts once they're hung.

Sometimes a hinge's screw hole will be stripped and too large to securely replace the screw. For a simple fix, fill the hole with wood glue and poke pieces of wooden matchsticks or small blunt pieces of scrap wood into the holes. Once it's set, the screw will go in securely.

This is a good time to change your door and drawer pulls. There are so many fun options it would almost be a shame to put your old ones back on.

You're done. Remember that latex paints take about a month to reach maximum hardness, so take care when cleaning at first. An advantage of latex paint is that it can be touched up later without leaving visible brush marks, unlike oil-based paints. Store the leftover paint so you can fix little dings and scratches.

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