How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Like a Pro

Want to make a major impact in your kitchen? Consider learning how to paint kitchen cabinets. Though a pricy kitchen renovation may be out of the question, cabinet painting can lighten, brighten, and give your space a completely new feel. Painting kitchen cabinets is a straightforward DIY makeover, albeit a time-consuming one, that most determined DIY-loving homeowners should feel confident taking on.

Another benefit: It’s relatively inexpensive (especially when you consider how much new cabinets cost), totally transformative, and is likely to make you feel incredibly proud of your DIY cabinet painting job. Since the kitchen is often referred to as the heart of the home, maintaining its aesthetic and creating a space that you and your family and friends want to gather in has the potential to offer a large return on investment. Here’s what you should consider before getting started.

Why should I consider painting my kitchen cabinets?

You’ve seen how a fresh coat of paint can do wonders to a room or an old bookshelf. Your kitchen cabinets are no different. Color trends change over time, and while the dark wood that you first fell in love with for your kitchen may still be in excellent condition, it may not evoke the light, bright space that you want to emulate from more contemporary designs you see daily in your Pinterest or Instagram feed. And when you consider that painting cabinets is a few hundred dollars, not the thousands that it would take to replace them, this project becomes an appealing fix for someone who isn’t ready to tackle a complete kitchen remodel.

Can I really paint kitchen cabinets myself?

Painting kitchen cabinets is not hard, but follow all the steps in the process to ensure the paint job will get satisfying results. This isn’t the time to take shortcuts. As with most projects, a buddy is helpful, but having one isn’t necessary. If you’re particularly motivated and savvy with a paint brush, this could even be a doable weekend DIY project—depending on the size of your kitchen and how quickly you work.

The more kitchen cabinets you have, of course, the more time-intensive the paint job will be. You’ll also need a significant amount of space to lay out your cabinet doors for sanding, priming, painting, and drying in between applying the first and second coat. More patience means a smoother finish too.

Can I just paint over my kitchen cabinets?

As Opera singer Beverly Sills famously said, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” Painting cabinets when there’s already a paint coating on them is no exception. “While painting over existing cabinet colors may seem like a way to save time, it can create challenges or issues in achieving the desired aesthetic. The original color has the potential to shift or affect the look of the new color, even with several coats of paint,” says Sarah Barnard, LEED- and WELL AP–certified interior designer. “Even if the original color is white or neutral, the added layers can disrupt even coating, and create challenges with adhesion, increasing the opportunity for chipping in the future,” she continues, adding that the added layers can also create textural issues resulting in a less smooth, even finish.

“Painting over existing paint on kitchen cabinets is tempting but can lead to problems down the line,” echoes Moe Soloff, kitchen specialist at Fabuwood, a cabinet manufacturer. For one thing, per Soloff, multiple layers can make the doors too thick, leading to potential alignment and functionality issues. “Additionally, without cleaning and removing the initial color, residual oils or grime can jeopardize the adhesion of the new paint, leading to peeling or an uneven finish,” he continues.

What kind of paint do you use on kitchen cabinets?

When it comes to cabinet painting, it’s important to use the right kind of paint. Think about functionality first and your desired aesthetic second, says Stephanie Calderon, owner and principal designer at Stephanie Calderon Interiors in Charlotte, North Carolina. Calderon shares that her design firm tends to lean towards an oil-based enamel paint because it goes on smoothly and is often the most stain-resistant once in use. “You can achieve most design aesthetics using an oil-based paint,” she offers, elaborating that for a more decorative option, you can choose an acrylic enamel paint for a slicker finish or a chalk paint for a more distressed look.

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