posted by Custom Coatings, Inc. on October 15th, 2020

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Can I paint my kitchen cabinets?

commercial and residential painting


If you’ve only got two seconds to read this: The answer is yes. Most cabinets can be painted and when done correctly, they look beautiful and can transform the look of your kitchen or any other cabinet-filled room you may have. You have two options to get it done: DIY or call a professional (like us: Custom Coatings has been painting home and business cabinets since 1991, and we’d be happy to give you an estimate).


If you’re the do-it-yourself-type however, here’s a few tips from our pro craftsmen that will help your painting project go more smoothly.


How to paint your kitchen cabinets:


Step 1: Gather Your Tools

Items you will need include: A screwdriver and drill, dry cloths and a damp cloth, drop cloths, painters’ tape, sandpaper, at least one paintbrush, and a mini paint roller. You can find all of these items at your local or chain hardware store, or at a paint store. (Later in this article we will discuss what type of paint brush and roller you will want to use and how to use these two essential items.)


Step 2: Pick A Color

Before you run to the paint store and complete this fun step, a note: To ensure proper coverage and a lasting finish on your cabinets, you will want to install a full coat of primer and two coats of your color paint of choice. Essentially, you will be painting your cabinets three times. (We know, that’s a lot. But it’s worth it.)

Now, explore the rainbow of options! Think strategically though: This is your space and you will be spending a lot of time in it. Cabinets take up a lot of surface area in a kitchen, so they’re going to be in your field of vision a lot. Think about what other colors are already in your space: What color is your countertop? Your walls? Do you tend to like more neutral colors or bright, bold hues? Would you like one color to cover all your cabinets, or maybe a lighter color on top and a darker color on the bottom? (This is pretty trendy at the moment, BTW.)

Once you have answered these questions and have narrowed down a color that best suits you, it’s time to choose some samples. Here’s the thing: Analysis paralysis is real, so we recommend that you choose no more than three samples you like, then tape them up side-by-side in at least two places on your cabinets and leave them there for a few days. Look at them at different times of the day, during daylight and in different evening lighting. You’ll find your eyes will tend to settle on a specific color, and you’ll have a winner. Decision made, it’s time to choose a paint type.

In choosing paint for a high-touch area like cabinets, the biggest consideration is durability. Cabinets are used multiple times a day, so you’ll want something that will dry hard, but leave a smooth finish. Again you have a couple choices: water or oil-based.

Two products that we recommend are Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel coating and Benjamin Moore Advance Interior Paint. The Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane coating is a water-based product made with an oil resin that allows it to act much like an oil-based paint, but with many of the characteristics of a water-based paint. This product dries extremely hard and is great for areas that are cleaned often. It also comes in almost any Sherwin Williams color and is offered in a satin, semi-gloss or glossy sheen. Alternately, the Advanced paint by Benjamin Moore is also a waterborne, alkyd enamel coating. Depending on the elements, it can take up to 30 days to reach is maximum hardness, but once it’s fully cured, it has excellent durability and cleanability. It also comes in matte, satin, semi-gloss or high-gloss sheens and can be tinted to almost any Benjamin Moore color.


Step 3: Prep Your Surfaces

Before you get to the actual painting, there are several steps you will want to take to make sure your cabinets are in good condition for coating.

First, make sure you’re OK with lots of dust in the area where you’ll be prepping your cabinets. (Taping up plastic wrap in doorways and removing dishes and food from your kitchen are a great start.) You will want to begin by removing the doors and drawers from your cabinet bases (you’ll use your drill and screwdriver for this). Then, remove all hardware (i.e. handles, knobs, hinges). Note: You will want to label each door & drawer so that they go back to their correct spot once finished. An easy way to do this is to just use a small piece of painter’s tape and number each base and its corresponding door and drawer.

Next, you will want to clean the doors, drawer faces, and bases. You can use a product such as Tri-Sodium Phosphate to help remove grease, dirt and other contaminants, but you have a lot of options to choose from. Caution: Be sure not to use an oily substance to clean with however, because it could interfere with adhesion of primer and paint. After cleaning, all these surfaces must be fully sanded. This allows the surface to become porous, giving the new coating something to “bite” into. It is best to keep the sanding light and use a 120-140 grit sandpaper so that the surface doesn’t get damaged, but is simply smoothed out. Following the sanding you will want to wipe down all surfaces with a dry cloth to remove any dust.


Good job! Now that you have completed your prep work, let’s move on to hardware.


Step 4: Change Out Your Hardware

If you’re just replacing your current hardware, you can skip this step, but if you’re considering changing it out for a new look, there’s a few things to know.

Your biggest concern should be whether your current hardware’s screw pattern is the same as the new screw pattern. (For example: Drawer pulls often either have single, central screws, or two screws spaced a few inches apart.) If you choose a different screw pattern from your original, there will be a couple of extra steps you will have to take: (1) Fill all current holes with a filler product, such as Bondo or another wood filler. (2) Allow your filler to dry completely, then sand it. (3) Mark your new hardware’s hole pattern and drill away. (You’ve got this.)


Step 5: Choose a Primer and Get Painting!

Why prime before you paint, you may ask? Several reasons: First, primer helps stop your current cabinet’s finish or natural wood from bleeding through your paint. Primer also helps to block odors such as pet smells and smoke; things that are sometimes hard to get rid of during cleaning. But primer’s main purpose is to act as a glue and help ensure your final two coats of paint adhere properly to create the smooth, uniform finish you want. There are several types of primers that you can use, but the main ones include: oil-based primer, water-based primer, and hybrid and shellac-based primer. Read our primer on primer below for in-depth information on each.

Once you’ve chosen all your coatings, it’s finally time to paint! To install your primer and paint onto your cabinets, you will want to use a 1” or 1.5” angled nylon/polyester blend brush and a mini paint roller. The brand Purdy makes all of these products, and they can easily be found at your local paint or hardware store. To get started, you will want to paint any creases or detailed areas using your brush. (This is called “cutting in.”) After you have cut in those areas, grab your mini roller and use it to paint the remaining larger flat areas. This will help you blend out any overlapping brush strokes or paint drips (and the job moves quicker when you’re covering ground with the roller).


         A Bonus Primer on Primer

Here’s the scoop on primer:

Water-based primers are versatile and can be applied to almost any surface. They also dry a bit more quickly and have less of an odor than oil-based ones. They clean up easily (with just water), and are lower cost than other types. They are, however, not as great at blocking stains and you’ll need to be aware of the temperature of your room – if things are too hot or too cold, these products won’t cure properly. So, choose wisely based on your situation. Our pick: 1-2-3 Water Based primer by Zinsser is a great go-to. You can topcoat this primer with either an oil or water-based paint topcoat.

While they tend to have a stronger odor, oil-based primers are also known for their hard-drying toughness. You can paint over an oil-based primer in about 2 hours, but the longer you give it to dry, the better the product will penetrate. You will need a solvent like paint thinner to clean up when using an oil-based primer, and over time, they do tend to yellow. Our pick: XIM Bonding Primer Sealer made by Rust-Oleum is a great one; you can topcoat this brand with a water-based or an oil-based paint.

Hybrid primers are a newer product on the market. These are waterborne and alkyd-based primers that are good options if you are wanting to use the best water-based primer out there. While a hybrid primer might not dry as hard as a completely oil-based one, it is still considered to be a durable alternative. However, hybrid primers might not be the best choice if you’re worried about stain or odor bleed, and they tend to work best under a glossy topcoat. They’re also only for interior surfaces. Cleanup is easy (just soap and warm water, though if you’re flushing out spray equipment, you’ll want to use a solvent), and you can topcoat this type of primer with an oil or water-based product. Our pick: Sherwin Williams Multi-Purpose Water-Based Acrylic Alkyd Primer.

Shellac-based primer are the most expensive of all primers, but they’re also the hardest and most durable. This type of primer is best used on interior surfaces (though it can be used on exteriors, only just as a spot primer), can be applied in freezing temperatures, softens with warmer temperatures, and will cover any and all stains or odors, no matter how bad they are. This denatured alcohol-based product can have oil-based or water-based topcoat applied to it and for clean-up you will need some denatured alcohol and water. Our pick: BIN Shellac-Base by Zinsser.

Our final tip on choosing a primer: Consider what your cabinets are already painted with. If you are unsure whether you have an oil-based product or a water-based product already on them, here’s a simple test: Carefully soak an old cloth in denatured alcohol and then wipe it on a small spot on your cabinet for several seconds. If the paint comes off onto the cloth, you have an acrylic/latex paint on your cabinets. If the paint does not come off onto the cloth, you have an oil-based paint on your cabinets. Here’s why this is important: If you put a water-based or acrylic paint directly only to an oil-based paint you will almost always experience coating failure. If you currently have oil-based painted cabinets and you want to continue with oil-based products, you can use a primer such as Zinsser 123 Cover Stain. This primer is an oil-based product that will adhere to currently painted oil-based surfaces. If you are wanting to go from and oil-based paint to a water-based paint, we recommend a product such as XIM Bonding Primer.

Although most primers can be painted within 1-2 hours, we recommend that you wait up to 24 hours before applying your paint. Once you have let your primer completely dry, you should lightly sand them once more with a very find grit sand paper. After they have been sanded, wipe them down with a dry cloth to remove all the dust.


Recap: To Paint or Not To Paint?

Armed with our detailed step by step, you’ve got all the information you need to decide for yourself. Done with the proper equipment, good prep, smart priming, and top-quality paint, you’re on the road to a whole new look for your kitchen that will look fresh for years.

Have additional questions? We’re here to help. Contact us at or visit our website to fill out a contact form.

Happy painting!




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Tell us a little about yourself and your project, and a real human will get in touch within one business day (but probably sooner).