How to Prep and Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Feb 5, 2022 | Cabinets

Knowing how to paint kitchen cabinets may seem like a no-brainer. Buy paint, brush it on, and then done, right?

Of course, nothing about home improvement is ever that simple.

Painting your kitchen cabinets isn’t an easy weekend DIY project. You’re looking at up to a week or more in time investment. You’ll also need far more tools and supplies than just some paint and a brush. Unless you’re an experienced painter, the project may end up bringing more headaches than happiness to your life.

In those cases, best to call in the professionals—especially a local, family-owned company like Robinson Painting that will not only do a premium job for you but who will offer you a fair price and treat your TLC.

The Cost/Benefits of DIY vs. Hiring a Professional Cabinet Painter

Unsure whether you should learn how to paint kitchen cabinets by completing a DIY project, or hire a pro? Here are three things to consider about the cabinet-painting process:

Doing the Job Right Takes Time

You’re going to need a couple of days just for prep work, at least a day for the actual painting job, and another few days to let your cabinets dry before finishing up. That means taking at least a week—if all goes well—away from your family, career, and hobbies. On the other hand, if you’re single, retired, have plenty of time on your hands, or hope home improvement could be a new hobby, you may enjoy the DIY.

Paint and Tools Can Get Expensive

Buying the right equipment to paint your cabinets and purchasing paint at retail prices can add up. You’ll pay top dollar for high-quality paint and spend money on equipment you’ll only use once. That said, if you anticipate that this will be just the first of many DIY projects, now is as good a time as any to start building your toolkit.

Results Don’t Lie

Professionally done work looks professional, while most DIY jobs look like amateurs did it themselves. (If you plan to put your home on the market, your handiwork may affect a buyer’s perception.) However, if you like to learn by doing and think flaws add whimsy, this may not be a bad tradeoff.

Still interested in painting your cabinets instead of hiring a professional? Read on for cabinet-painting tips and tricks.

Choosing the Right Paint for Your Cabinets

Robinson Painting - kitchen floor

Before you jump into learning how to paint kitchen cabinets, take a crash course on picking cabinet paint. Avoid oil-based paint, and opt for high-quality waterborne or latex paint instead. Don’t forget primer, especially if you’re painting laminate instead of wood.

Your paint color should complement your existing décor or serve as the starting point for an updated look. If your walls are a neutral, solid color, you might want a bold, dark hue to stand out. If you have darker walls, try a paler shade of cabinet paint.

The color schemes at the paint stores and designs you can find for kitchens, bathrooms, and other rooms in magazines and on the web, can help you with your color choices. 

Prepping Your Kitchen Cabinets for Repainting

Start by removing all of the hardware from your cabinet doors and drawers. Put each set in a different zip-up plastic bag or small jar and label it, so you will know where it goes. This step will make putting the hardware back on much more manageable.

Take off the cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Again, labeling is your friend and can save you hours of frustration later. Draw a diagram of your cabinet, label each piece on the drawing, and label each piece as you remove it.

If your cabinets are wood painted after 1978, you can use a commercial paint stripper to remove the old paint. Brush the stripper on, let it sit until the paint lifts, and then scrape it off with a plastic scraper. Beware—this is a dirty job that even Mike Rowe would find distasteful! Fill dents, chips, or holes with putty and then sand well to prepare the paint’s surface.

If your house pre-dates 1978, you might need professional help. Old paint can contain toxic lead, and you’ll need to handle it with extreme care. Don’t take the chance of anyone in your family getting lead poisoning.
If your cabinets are laminate, you’ll need to sand them properly before moving to the next step.

Always prime your cabinets before painting. If you are going from a dark color to a lighter color, you can use a tinted primer to enhance the final result. Laminate cabinets require a special primer that will bond firmly to their surface.

How to Get a Smooth Finish When Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Robinson Painting - kitchen floor

Getting a smooth finish can be one of the biggest challenges when it comes to repainting cabinets. Invest in foam rollers of different sizes to use immediately after brushing on a layer of paint. This method can help prevent brush strokes from showing up on the finished project.

Paint the cabinet frames first, marking screw holes with a pencil’s point, as you go, to leave indentations. 

Next, paint the insides of cabinet doors and drawer fronts, let them dry, then flip them to paint the front-facing sides. Every surface will need two coats of paint on top of the primer coat.

Refinishing Cabinet Hardware

If you choose to keep your old cabinet hardware, it probably needs to be refinished or refurbished. You can rejuvenate aged brass, copper, or stainless steel hardware with a high-quality metal cleaner and polish it to a shine. Other metals can be cleaned with a mixture of baking soda and water, dried, and spray painted with a metallic finish for an updated look.

Alternately, choosing new hardware can update the look of your kitchen or bathroom. Explore the options available.

Reassembling Your Cabinets

Resist the urge to reassemble your cabinetry prematurely. The slightest tackiness of the surface can result in cabinet doors sticking to the framework and tearing off paint sections. Ensure that everything is dry, and then wait an extra day if possible, especially if the weather is cold, humid, or both.

Knowing how to paint kitchen cabinets doesn’t hold a candle to learning how to reassemble them after painting. This step is where your time spent meticulously labeling every door, drawer, and hardware will pay off. Use your drawing to guide you as you painstakingly put every piece back in place and secure them.

Take care in leveling your drawer fronts and cabinet doors so that their edges are even. If you followed the directions above for marking old screw holes in the cabinet frames as you painted, it should be easy to get everything to line up as before. You can add small felt stoppers to prevent cabinet doors from banging shut.

Call in the Pros if You Need Us

Not sure you want to DIY things, after all? If you’re uncertain about how to paint kitchen cabinets, that’s understandable. Call us at Robinson Painting of Colorado for a free, no-commitment-required cabinet painting estimate.


Call Us at 970-587-3686. Our business hours are from 7 AM to 5 PM, Mon-Fri.


Click here to Request and Schedule Your Free Estimate with Adam Robinson. It only takes about two minutes to complete the form.