How to paint your kitchen cabinets.

July 14, 2011

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Or at least how I did it.  
There are about 150 tutorials online on painting cabinets and I researched thoroughly the different possibilities and techniques.  Some things I did, some things I threw out the window and there are some points that I wish I did.  But the main goal was achieved.  Our kitchen cabinets went from this:

To this:

Before I give you more before and afters at every angle imaginable, I want you to know I did this project from start to finish solo.  I’m only telling you that to give you any motivation and confidence you need to do it yourself, in YOUR kitchen–even if you have a toddler.  Chris would have helped me, but he was out of town and I wanted to surprise him.  One tutorial I read made this task feel completely impossible and horrible and something she would NEVER EVER do again.  To be real with you, my back hurt a bit during this and I sweat a lot and I would have rather been at the beach (this is pretty true of any time), but if I was faced with the same situation again–I would do it again.  And actually, that negative tutorial I read gave me the push I needed to get started.  I wanted to prove I could do it.  The results are worth it.  You can do it.  I’ll tell you how.

1.)  Get a bucket of soapy water (I just used dish soap) and clean your cabinets.  The tops.  The doors.  The hinges.  The fronts.  I was so grossed out while doing this because I saw how dirty my cabinets were.  There was grime everywhere.  So even if you aren’t planning on painting your cabinets, this might not be a bad idea.

2.)  This is where people tell you to sand your cabinets.  I didn’t.  I didn’t sand my cabinets once this WHOLE process.  So, there you have it.  Why didn’t I sand them?  You can see in the top picture that they weren’t VERY glossy.  I read a couple tutorials where they skipped this step and I felt like I wanted to as well.

2.) Take all of your doors off your cabinet boxes. If you have hardware on your doors, take those off too.  I kept my hinges attached to my doors because they were an ugly dingy gold and I wanted to paint them the same color as my cabinets.  At first, I brought them all upstairs to the extra bedroom.  Mistake.  They really didn’t fit in there.  I mean, they fit, but there was no extra room for maneuvering around the sides of each door. So, I moved them all into the garage and placed them each on their own pedestal (think paint can, bucket, cooler, whatever you got) so that I could paint the sides with ease.  I did not paint the backs of my cabinet doors.  FYI.  Also, it’s not a bad idea to use painter’s tape to number each cabinet door with a corresponding number marked on the cabinet box.  I didn’t do this and there were a few moments of panic when I went to rehang the doors.

3.) Prime Time.  Because I wasn’t going to sand, I wanted to make sure I got a good primer.  And, because of little Greta, I didn’t want my primer to be stinky with tons of fumes.  I found this primer by Zinsser:

Water-based=no stink.  Sticks to all surfaces without sanding.  Seals uniformly.  Blocks stains.  Dries in 1 hour.  Use with any topcoat.  Um okay.  I felt like I hit a gold mine.  Right there in the Walmart paint section, I found gold in primer form.  So, for $17 I took it home with me.  I gave all of the doors and cabinet boxes a coat of primer.  I used a brush for everything.  Looking back, I think I would have done 2 coats of primer, because it ended up taking 3 coats of paint.  However, I probably still would have done 2 coats of paint equaling the same 4 coats, but my paint was more than double the cost of the primer.  So, my suggestion–do 2 coats of primer.

This marks the end of the first day.  Washing and priming everything. Day 2 I gave it my first coat of paint.

4.)  Paint is another thing I researched thoroughly before I started this project.  From what I read, the best thing to use on cabinets is an oil-based paint or alkyd because of its durability and easy-to-clean surface.  Again, I was faced with the issue of VOCs and fumes.  Fortunately, I found a product that mimics oil-based paint, but is water-based.  Benjamin Moore’s Advance.   
It is a waterborn alkyd meaning it has that rock-hard enamel feel when dry, leaving our cabinets with an insane amount of durability and wipe-ability.  I had to drive an hour to get it (or wait for it to be ordered in at a closer store), but it was worth it.  The brushstrokes disappeared a couple minutes after painting leaving everything looking smooth.  The downside is the 16 hour dry time between coats.  The color I went with is Benjamin Moore’s Mountain Peak White.   It was about $46 for a gallon.
5.) Day 3 I did another coat. 
6.) Day 4 I did my final coat.  And I was done.  Remember, I didn’t sand in between.  You can if you want, but this paint left things so smooth, I wouldn’t sand even if I was doing it all over again.
7.) The label on the paint can said wait 3-5 days before hanging. I waited 3.5 days and hung everything back up and patted myself on the back.
More before and afters?? MMkay!  

Insane, right?  And no, I’m not talking about our pink countertops.  Those are a different kind of insane. We couldn’t be more happy with the results.  It feels like a new kitchen.  It feels so bright and open and a part of the rest of the main floor now.  Chris is, of course, breaking it in the “new” kitchen….he promises to share all of those details tomorrow. :)

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What do you think?

  1. Monica says:

    I think you’ve done a wonderful job and I love your honesty and the step by step instructions. Interestingly your kitchen looks like my kitchen right down to the pink countertops. Did you end up refacing those or replacing them altogether?

  2. Shari says:

    How have your cabinets held up? Would you do anything differently today?

  3. Sara says:

    Did you paint the insides,the shelves and walls?

  4. Bryant says:

    If I’m not mistaken, you mentioned that you painted over the hinges. And it looks like that is the case in these pics. But when I look at the more completed reno of the entire kitchen, the hinges look new/unpainted? Where they eventually replaced or did you paint around them? BTW, cabinets looks great!

  5. ada says:

    thank-you for all your hard work it’s going to make my job easier. thank-you again.

  6. alastair says:

    they look really nice! I am currently doing something similar with the paint, but i didnt sand between the coats of advance. dont put any tape on the surface now…. the 2nd layer peels right off. :-( the directions say to sand between coats :-(

  7. Anonymous says:

    awesome results!!!

  8. Alicia Ann says:

    Did you paint the TOP of your cabinets? I have space between my ceiling and cabinets so I was wondering if I should paint the tops or leave it the wood color?

  9. Chemain says:

    Thanks so much for this, Julia! I’m taking on my kitchen when it warms up just a bit and am excited for WHITE cabinets! Wish I could just replace, but that’s not in the budget, so paint it is. Oh, and so excited to learn you can PAINT countertops. Yours turned out really well and give me hope!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I have oak all over the place on my office cabinets and want to paint them…do you notice the grain a lot? I’m worried that I won’t like that and then I would want to replace a ton of cabinets. They look amazing in your pictures and if that is how they turn out then I know I would be thrilled.

  11. Diana says:

    Awesome, thanks!! That sounds like a great plan. I really appreciate your help and advice. I guess I know what I’ll be doing this weekend! ; )

  12. Hi Diana,

    Thanks so much for being such a fan. Primer dries MUCH faster than paint–especially Benjamin Moore Advance, so you can definitely get in 2 or even 3 coats in a day. I would, for sure, do two coats-waiting about 2 hours in between. I wouldn’t worry about sanding if your cabinets are similar to ours. Just a good wash down to remove any grease that has built up. Our cabinets are still in great shape. Just make sure you give them plenty of time to cure after you are done. You don’t want anything sticking together. :)

  13. Diana says:

    Hi Julia! Your blog is so inspiring and uplifting; thanks for being such a great source of encouragement!!! Your kitchen and cabinets look fantastic!!! So I am about to embark on the cabinet painting adventure (just narrowing down my color choices) and I will be using the same primer and paint as you. I think my cabinets have a similar sheen as what yours used to have prior to painting…I’m just hoping I can avoid the sanding step like you did. Have you had any chips or bubbling on your cabinets now that some time has passed? Is the sanding step mainly for cabinets that have a high gloss finish? Also, you mentioned that in hindsight you would do two coats of primer; if you did that, how long would you wait between primer coats? Do you think I could do two coats of primer in one day or should I spread it out to one coat per day? : )
    Thanks so much!!

  14. Dre says:

    Thanks for the advice, everyone! I’ve been wondering whether not painting the insides would bother the Type “A” in me… and this would be a long-term upgrade for us. I just don’t want to pull everything out of my cabinets for a week and live in total chaos for a week! Decisions, decisions!

  15. Pam says:

    Wow, what a difference! It looks amazing. Great work!

  16. RAUL says:


  17. Thanks Val,

    I read a handful that didn’t sand and the common theme were cabinets that weren’t SUPER shiny. I was relieved!

  18. I looked into that, as well. Would love to see pictures when you are done, Jami!

  19. Jami says:

    That seriously looks great! I actually am going to use Rustoleums cabinet transformation soon and I fell so motivated! You did a wonderful job!

  20. Sorry for the confusion. Thanks Kelly!

  21. Great Job Julie! Especially that you did yourself with a little one home. Looks very beautiful, what a big difference! Thanks for sharing.

  22. I think the pink countertops are going against your IKEA theory. But I am TOTALLY flattered just the same. Thanks, Amy.

  23. Hahaha! I would have to agree, Pam.

  24. Pam Foltz says:

    Dramatic and wonderful change. Paint is a little miracle in a can….

  25. Val says:

    Love the fact that you did not have to sand..what a huge time saver. That is all I have ever read, and to know that you don’t have to sand is great news. Thanks for sharing, looks great!

  26. Stacy Saathoff says:

    What a huge difference. I need to do mine too, but I’ve been scared. Plus, I have some funky hinges that I want to get rid of. I may need to get new doors, but I’m so glad I saw this…I had no idea what kind of paint to use so they were durable and looked decent! Thank you!!!

  27. aly says:

    Great job Jules! I’m living vicariously through your home makeovers since we’re still apartment dwellers

  28. Jen says:

    When I painted my cabinets 18 months ago, I did both sides of the doors but not the insides of the cabinet boxes…and this was more of a long-term upgrade for me rather than a quick fix. I agree that the painting process (to say nothing of the wear and tear) would be a nightmare to do the insides. For what it’s worth, when my parents put new painted maple Kraftmaid cabinets in their kitchen, the inside of the boxes is wood-toned and the doors and frames are white. It doesn’t seem like it’s completely crazy to not have the insides match.

  29. amy says:

    WOW. toooootal awesome change!! makes it look like a different kitchen! seriously- i had to double-check the first two pictures because i thought the second one looked straight out of the IKEA catalog. and by yourself- impressive.

  30. Nicole,

    I think the paint I used (Benjamin Moore Advance) really helped keep things smooth. What color are you planning??!?!?! Don’t leave me hanging like this.

  31. Nicole says:

    Wow, I LOVE it!!! And you really didn’t have to sand???? It’s smooth as smooth can be??? Because that’s my biggest fear with this project… sticky, tacky, non-smooth surfaces from not sanding. But you’ve gotten me super excited and now I feel like I can actually DO it!! Yay! I’m a little nervous about the color I want to do, but I’m going to try it anyways. Thanks!

  32. I used a brush for the whole thing–the paint really levels out nicely so there are no lines at all. However, I have heard really great things about using a small roller and then going over it lightly with a brush. It might be a little quicker. Have fun!

  33. Tessa Lynch says:

    Hi Julie – My friend bought a foreclosed house, and we need to redo ALL the paint and the cabinet colors. We are wondering if you used brushes or rollers (or both) to do yours? They look great!

  34. Brittany Long says:

    Hey, just wondering how the paint on the hinges is holding up? I am thinking of painting mine (as opposed to replacing them) and was wondering if the paint would wear off over time?

  35. Julieeeee I’m so proud of you! I’m catching up on blog reading today (long layover in Dallas) and I had a smile on my face the whole time reading this! You’re a machine, and nothing stops you! And you did it all solo! And you have Greta at home! And you think it out, you do your homework, you are becoming more and more of a legit expert everyday.

    DoublClik Photo Blog

  36. You know, they are already showing some wear. If you plan on having your cabinets in a prominent place (these cabinets will most likely end up in a storage room when we begin our kitchen reno), I would just spend the money to replace them. Hope it helps.

  37. The paint is holding up really great, Jennifer! No complaints at all. Besides the fact that my 19 month’s dirty fingers show up a lot more on the white! Haha. But, the paint is super wipeable so even that hasn’t been too bad. :)

  38. Jennifer says:

    I’m thinking of using BM Advance on my kitchen cabinets. Now that your kitchen has been done for a while how has the paint been wearing?

  39. Kate says:

    I love it! It looks so great! Your tutorial is really helpful too. I’ve had “paint kitchen cabinets” on my to do list FOREVER and I love seeing other people’s results. Great job!

  40. Something to consider for sure. My suggestion would be to paint the backs FIRST, then wait 3-5 days for them to dry and then flip the cabinet doors over and paint the fronts. That way, if they do happen to get a few dings in them in the process, it will all be on the backside.

    Good luck!

  41. Dre says:

    Good to know! I can’t decide whether to paint the inside or not- I can see it bothering me if I don’t- BUT UGH- the extra work that’s involved terrifies me! My hubby always leaves cabinets open, so I think I will DEFINITELY be painting the backs of the doors.

  42. looks awesome. well done!

  43. Wow, great job. It’s amazing what a bit of paint can do to refresh a room.

  44. Thanks Patty. Super cheap, especially in comparison to buying all new cabinets.

  45. Greta did her Tongan dance of approval. So, she definitely noticed. We decided to go all handles because Chris is pretty set on that and he lets me make almost EVERY other decision, so I’m happy to let him have handles. As far as punches of color, I can’t wait to find some fun towels and make a roman shade. And OF COURSE change that countertop…..eventually.

  46. Dre says:

    I am looking to paint my kitchen cabinets white too! What made you decide to not paint the insides of the cabinets? Any regrets?

    Looks fantastic! I think you’ve convinced me not to sand!

  47. Patty you Cappy says:

    It’s incredible. What a transformation. I should have done this in my kitchen years ago! I thought redoing kitchen cabinets was a really expensive job- but this seems really economical…and BEAUTIFUL!

  48. Meagan Briggs says:

    It looks ah-maz-inggggggggg!!! I can’t wait to see the punches of color you decide on, and some day, replace those countertops. Doing that, will 100% change your kitchen look again! I am so thrilled for you. I wanna know if you guys decided on knobs or handles, or a bit of both? I love the contrast of the white cabinets and the beautiful grey walls. It is perfect. Did Greta notice anything different??

  49. I just wrote a post about my own cabinet painting experience/disaster. :) I think mine is more along the lines of the “negative post” you mentioned, however, not because it wasn’t worth doing, but because I made so many mistakes. The end result is wonderful and I am glad I did it. Yours look great, too! The white is so classic. :)

  50. Brilliant, brilliant! I cannot believe how bright and updated with only white paint. Lots of work, indeed, but i know any cook would enjoy a bright kitchen : ) Great job!

  51. What a great job Julia! Especially that you did alone with a little one at home. I love before and after pictures- great, great job! Thanks for sharing! (whoops- I did not think first comment went through)

  52. Anne Villemure says:

    Thanks for the tips!! I was just you tubing this today then found this :-)

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