Painting Kitchen Cabinets For Beautiful Results

Painting kitchen cabinets can be a budget friendly DIY, or it can be a disaster if you don’t have the best paint, primer, sprayer, and tips!

We upgraded our cabinets 4 years ago when we built this house, with every intention of painting them down the road. We used 2 upgrades (we got for free) from the builder to install these cabinets. There was a lot of wood grain involved with the base and upgrade 1 cabinet options, and I didn’t want to deal with that beast, so these maples won on the inlay style door, and because the antique white cabinets I loved were out of the budget (we got a porch instead).  To read all about building the farmhouse, you can pop over here, it has it’s very own about page with it’s whole story and throwback photos.

So, this is the 4-year-old kitchen, in all it’s before glory. The kitchen/family room is in the back of the house, where it’s a bit darker as far as natural light goes, and these cabinets don’t help. Not to mention, they don’t balance at all with the living room (which, is white).

Dishes in my sink, Lilly putting in her child labor hours by making labels for the door hardware to go in, random stuff on the top of my fridge I hide from the kids before I donate it. There are also 2 fishing rods up there behind the hidden donation items, and no paper towels. No, that light is not burnt out, we have no bulbs in the 2nd row of recessed lights because they are as bright as the sun itself. I’m also missing my wreath above the vent with the empty hook.

Let us first discuss many lies people tell you about painting kitchen cabinets:

  • you won’t need to prime them
  • don’t take the doors and drawers off
  • don’t bother sanding them
  • you can do this project in 2 days
  • …3 days
  • …4 days
  • …5 days
  • you don’t need to prep anything

People will tell you anything to make you think you can do such a huge time consuming project, with minimal effort, and get maximum results. Don’t believe everything you hear, because, I am sorry to say, that you do actually have to do it right if you don’t want paint chips to dip in your sadness.

I also need to mention that my friends at HomeRight have sponsored this project, and that there are affiliate links in here, which you can learn more about here. I am only concerned with sharing things that are worth our hard earned dollars, will make your life easier, or your home comfier.

Supplies, Directions, and Tips to preserving your sanity while painting kitchen cabinets

supplies you’ll need:

ammonia (or other cleaner)
Jasco deglosser (or fine grit sanding sponges)
lint-free rags
tack cloth
Insl-X Stix Waterborne Bonding Primer
Benjamin Moore Advanced (satin, we tinted our gallon Alabaster, by Sherwin Williams)
*Both this paint and primer are waterborne alkyd paints; they behave like an oil-based paint, but clean up with soap and water.*
small 4″ roller kit
4″ foam roller covers (10 pack, I just tossed after each coat)
4″ mohair or velour roller covers (1 pack of 2)
HomeRight FinishMax Extra paint sprayer
extra paint stirring sticks
drop cloths
Utility Knife
1″ good quality angle brush

take a deep breath, and let’s begin:

Prep is Mandatory

Label and Bag The Doors and Hardware

Since we know you’re not dropping kids off for 2 weeks at your parents house while you watch paint and primer dry, they can help you stay organized. Lilly helped me by labeling bags for each cabinet door/drawer hardware. As I took off the doors and numbered them according to a little not-to-scale map I made, Lilly bagged the hardware and labeled each bag.

Tape off the walls and floor

Use some painters tape (we use only FrogTape in this house) to block the areas you don’t want to paint, like along your floor, appliances, and the walls or ceiling areas.

1. label doors, 2. label hardware bags, 3. clean, 4. deglosser
Clean the cabinets and de-gloss/sand those things

No matter how clean you think your cabinets are, they’re not. Please do not skip this cleaning step.  Your paint needs a crud-free toothy surface to hang onto. There are a few things you may clean your cabinetry with, but the simplest (yet stinkiest) is ammonia. I’ve researched and lurked evenings away in professional painter message boards, and have found the best advice:

  • Read the can.
  • Clean with ammonia. 

Did y’all know there is so much information on the back of those cans?  I did not use Zinsser, but I do know the back of the can says to not clean with TSP, as these two things do not play well together. Plus, TSP leaves a residue behind, so you’re wiping all that down twice… nope.

I also learned that ammonia completely evaporates like water (leaving no residue behind), so I decided to stick with that, and an open window.

Sanding cabinets should be on your list, however you’re just sanding to rough them up, not get to bare wood. The sheen on my cabinets was pretty much removed with he ammonia (I’m guessing because I scrubbed them while degreasing them), so I opted to use a deglosser instead of sanding everything.

Soak a rag, and rub it in a circular motion on the doors and boxes. Let it dry completely (I left mine sit for a few hours) before priming. I may grow to regret not sanding, or I may not. I roll the dice along with every other DIY blogger out there who hasn’t sanded. Further convincing me, the paint guys told me that Stix primer is super grippy, and deglosser would suffice.

Let the games begin: priming and painting

By far, the worst part of this undertaking (and any other paint project), is the prep. Once you have this done, the rest is a waiting game of logistics. This specific primer is able to recoat in 4-6 hours, while the BM Advanced may recoat in 14-16 hours. Sixteen hours.

We have 3 kids, so that meant painting and priming in the evenings mostly, so your logistics are key. Our full timeline is down at the end of this post, but I basically did one coat of primer or paint each evening when the kids went to bed.

Priming Boxes and Doors:

I used the angled brush to paint the primer on the boxes, and smoothed it out with a foam roller. I did the same on the cabinet doors, making sure to get in all the grooves. This primer went on beautifully. Let this first coat dry for 4-6 hours.

Priming the doors is a slow form of torture. I did not want to spray this primer on, but I have heard both yay and nay from various pros about spraying this primer. I chickened out and used the angled brush and roller to do 2 coats on the fronts and backs of the doors. Once you have 2 coats, let these chill for 24 hours.

Painting Boxes and Doors:

This is where the secret weapon comes in. The HomeRight FinishMax Extra sprayer to smoothly coat the doors with 2 coats of Alabaster gorgeousness. My favorite thing about this sprayer that makes it the perfect sprayer for painting kitchen cabinets, or anything for that matter, is that there’s no need to thin out the paint. All you need to do it change a nozzle to accommodate different consistencies of paint, and you’re set.

There’s also a lid!  You can put a lid on the paint cup!!

Check Andrew and I out on Facebook Live on my page to see how it works, and see our little set up!  And also, listen to me ramblin’ on and on and on…

We set up our recycling bin, put a board on it to catch the overspray, put 2 pieces of wood (like runners) on top, spray the door, then Andrew would gently move the door in the garage to dry on the little runners.

Repeat for the second coat, leaving it dry for 16 hours in between coats.

For painting the boxes, I used the paint brush and mohair roller – the mohair is amazing and gives the smoothest finish!

Home Stretch: Curing and Reassembly

Paint takes time to cure and harden. All paint does, sometimes more or sometimes less. Follow the instructions on the can you have, but this paint takes 5-7 days to cure. The boxes had cured a full 5-7 days before I put the doors back on, and the doors got to bake in the 95-degree garage for about 4 full days. Gasp.

The visual clutter from the open cabinets (not the fishing rods) was sending me over the edge, so I put the kitchen back together (gently) in the evening.

When you go to reassemble and tear down that tape…  please score the tape and paint gently with a utility knife just in case. 4 coats of paint can be pretty thick, and all your hard work is worth the extra 3 minutes of scoring.

I really used to dislike our counters and floors with the old cabinets, but now I rather enjoy the flooring. The counters… I still am not a fan, but I don’t wince when I look at it! You may be wondering what’s with the half-finished backsplash. Friends, it is purely me, being very meh about the white SmartTiles (they’re beautiful and are holding up amazingly), I just want a real tile, or a printed tile, or some other tile. Marinating on that.

The vent hood is getting an upgrade with a faux barn wood mantle, the cabinets will eventually get moulding, and there shall be feet added to the rest of the cabinets, and chunky legs to the island.

Andrew doesn’t know this yet, so thanks for keeping a secret.

This was our realistic, moderately efficient, schedule for painting kitchen cabinets. Kids at school, activities, and life happening around our curing time bumped us out a few days longer than we’d have liked:

day 1: prepping
day 2: primed boxes at bedtime
day 3: 2nd coat primer on boxes at bed time
day 4: prime backs of doors (nap time)
day 5: prime front of doors (nap time), 1st coat paint on boxes (bed time)
day 6: 2nd coat of primer on door fronts and backs, 2nd coat on boxes (bedtime)
day 7: 1st coat of paint sprayed on door backs (we opted to do one coat on the backs because the coverage was fabulous)
day 8: 1st coat of paint sprayed on door fronts
day 9: 2nd coat of paint sprayed on door fronts
days 9-13: doors relaxing in the garage for curing (this paint cures in 5-7 days)
day 14: reassemble cabinets and regain sanity

At the minimum, with maximum efficiency, you’ll need 1 day to prep, 1 to prime, 4 days to paint (if you do the boxes and doors together), and 7 to cure fully… totaling about 13 days.

What I would do differently if I found myself painting kitchen cabinets again:
  • prep and prime in one mega starting-at-dawn work day
  • paint the doors and boxes on the same days, rather than basically doing the boxes first, and doors later
  • left the doors to cure for the full 7 days
That fishing rod, though!

I am obsessed with how these turned out, and am so glad we upgraded the cabinets 4 years ago. Those antique white cabinets will be out of the budget until these cabinets fall off the walls!

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