How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets Yourself

Do your kitchen cabinets need a makeover? Read our guide to learn how to disassemble, sand, and paint your cabinets with your own two hands.

Joe Roberts
Updated Nov 18, 2022
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13 min read

Giving your cabinets a fresh coat of paint is a relatively quick and easy DIY project, and it’s a great way to bring a crisp new look to your kitchen. Image source: Lowe’s Home Improvement

Has your kitchen’s decor become stale or bland? Well, you don’t need to undergo a full remodel to make it feel like a brand-new kitchen. Sometimes a fresh paint job on the cabinets is all you need to liven things up. 

The best part of repainting your cabinets is that it’s relatively easy, so you can probably do it yourself with no major problems. If you’d rather leave this job to professionals, though, that’s understandable. Painting projects can get messy, and mistakes might make the cabinets look worse than when you started. 

If you want to go the budget-friendly DIY route, follow this step-by-step kitchen cabinet painting tutorial to ensure success. We’ll teach you what materials to pick up, how to prepare your cabinets, proper brush stroke techniques, and more.

Want to hire a professional painter for your cabinets? Find a local pro today
 

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How much does professional cabinet painting cost?

The cost to hire a professional kitchen painter to repaint your cabinets varies depending on the size of your cabinets, what they’re made from, and what type of paint the painter uses. On average, you should expect to pay somewhere between $3 to $12 per square foot of your cabinetry.

Your price will likely be on the low end of this range if you have plywood or laminate cabinets instead of hardwood. Similarly, water-based paints tend to be cheaper than oil-based options, though they aren’t as durable.

To get the full breakdown, check out our kitchen painting cost guide.

What you will need

The first step of any successful painting project is a trip to the hardware or paint store to pick up the various tools and materials the project will require. Here’s a list of everything you’ll need to repaint your kitchen cabinets: 

Tools

  • A screwdriver or power drill
  • Paintbrushes of a few different sizes
  • A foam roller or rental paint-spraying machine
  • A putty knife
  • A rental shop vacuum

Materials

  • Paint
  • Primer
  • Dish soap or TSP degreaser
  • Deglosser or medium- and fine-grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Painter’s tape
  • Plastic bags or sheets
  • Dropcloth
  • Face masks
  • Wood filler
  • New cabinet hardware (if you want to replace the old hardware)

Picking your paint

You’ve probably already got your new paint color picked out, but choosing the best paint for your kitchen is about more than just pigment. You also need to choose a paint that will withstand years of use and protect your cabinetry. 

For best results, you’ll either want to use an oil-based paint or a water-based latex paint. Choosing the right type of paint between these options means balancing various priorities, and both options have different strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a quick breakdown to help you choose:

Oil-based paint vs. latex paint

Oil-based paint

Latex paint

  • More expensive
  • More durable
  • Smooth finish
  • Stain-resistant
  • Quicker curing time
  • Cheaper
  • Less durable
  • Quicker drying time
  • Easier to clean up
  • Takes more time to fully cure

If you often cook at home or your cabinets get a lot of use, then oil-based paint will perform better over time. Oil gives wood a tighter seal than latex, so it can keep your cabinets free of stains, heat damage, and cracks for much longer.

If, on the other hand, you need something a little more budget-friendly and easier to clean (better for amateurs), then latex paint is probably a better paint choice for you. Just know that it won’t last as long and it leaves your cabinets more vulnerable to damage. 

Whichever option you choose, be sure to fully read the label on the can and follow the drying and curing instructions to the letter. Using your cabinets before the fresh paint has fully cured to a durable finish can result in unsightly damage you’ll need to start over and repaint to fix. 

Both oil and latex paints come in high-gloss, semi-gloss, and matte finishes, so you can get the sheen you want for your cabinets no matter which type of paint you pick up. 

Picking your applicator tools

There are two ways to paint your cabinets: paintbrushes and foam rollers or you can use a rental paint-spraying machine. 

Spray painting your cabinets will result in the smoothest finish, and it’s much quicker than painting everything by hand. However, it’s a lot more difficult to wield a paint sprayer than a roller or brush, and a sprayer's speedy application means it’s easier to make big mistakes before you’ve noticed. 

For these reasons, we recommend that homeowners who don’t have a lot of painting experience use brushes and rollers instead of paint sprayers. On the plus side, this will probably be cheaper for you since renting a spray machine can be fairly costly.

How to paint your own kitchen cabinets

Once you’ve got all your materials and tools on hand, it’s time to get started. Pick a weekend for this project to give yourself plenty of time, and make sure everyone in your household knows not to enter the kitchen—or at least not go near the cabinets—while you’re working.

Step 1: Make a painting station in a separate room

First, you’ll want to set up a paint station in your garage, a spare room, or your basement. This is where you’ll sand and paint the removable parts of your cabinets. Whichever room you choose, make sure you can properly ventilate it by opening a window or door. 

Lay plastic sheets across the floor in this room and secure them with painter's tape, then build a makeshift jig—or workbench—above the sheets. You can build a jig by suspending two planks of wood between two level stepping stools, ladders, chairs, or buckets. The jig will serve as a workstation for painting and drying.

Make sure you give yourself enough room on the jig to hold every door and drawer front you’re going to be painting. This might mean setting up multiple jigs side-by-side. 

With your painting station ready, it’s time to start the real work. 

Step 2: Prepare your cabinets and kitchen

Remove your cabinet doors, shelves, and hardware

Remove every plate, cup, and appliance in your cabinets and put these items somewhere safe and out of the way. You don’t want them in the room while you’re painting or they might get hit by paint drips and splatters. Once you’ve got everything out of your cabinets, remove the shelves if they can be taken out and put them in the same place you put the dishes. 

Next, find the hinges of your cabinets and use your screwdriver or power drill to unscrew them so you can remove the doors. You want to fully remove each hinge from both your cabinet frames and the cabinet doors since you’ll be painting them both. Ask a partner to hold the doors while you unscrew them. Going at it alone can result in drops, cracks in the wood, and even injury. 

In addition to removing the hinges from your cabinet doors, you should also take off the handles and knobs. Basically, anything that isn’t wood should be removed. Just make sure you hold onto every piece unless you plan to replace them with new hardware that better matches the new paint color. If your cabinetry also has drawers you want to repaint, you should remove the drawer fronts and the drawer pulls in the same way. 

Once you’ve taken off the doors and drawer fronts and removed all of their hardware, take them to the painting station you prepared earlier. Lay each one across the planks of your jig. This is where they’ll stay throughout the rest of the process. 

Clean the cabinetry

It’s time to deep clean. Vacuum out your cabinet boxes as well as you can, then use a washcloth, warm water, and dish soap to scrub the cabinet boxes thoroughly. If your cabinets are especially grimy and caked with ancient cooking grease, you may need to use a TSP degreaser instead of dish soap. 

While you work, have your partner clean the cabinetry doors the same way in the other room. If you don’t have a partner, you can just clean the doors after you finish with the boxes. 

Err on the side of being too thorough here. Any grease, dust, or oils that remain on your cabinets after you’re done can prevent proper paint adhesion later. When you’re satisfied that you’ve removed all the built-up grease and dust from your cabinetry, you can move on. 

Lay down protective sheets and painter’s tape

While your cabinetry dries from its scrubbing, take steps to protect your kitchen from the mess you’re about to make. Like you did in the other room, lay plastic sheets down across the entire floor of your kitchen and secure them in place with your painter’s tape. Alternatively, you can spread drop cloths across the floor.

You’ll also want to tape protective sheets over every countertop, backsplash, wall, and appliance in the room. The goal is to securely cover everything but the cabinets.

Once your kitchen is tightly wrapped in its plastic armor, you’re ready to begin sanding. 

Step 3: Sand and prepare your cabinets

Repair any damage with wood filler

If you noticed any scrapes, dents, or gouges in your cabinets while you were cleaning them, now is the time to use your wood filler and a putty knife to plug them up. You’ll be sanding the cabinets soon, so don’t worry about making the applied filler perfectly flush with the wood. Wood filler tends to shrink as it dries, anyway, so apply liberally. 

Also, if you’re putting new hardware into your cabinet doors instead of reusing the old hardware, you should plug up the old screw holes with your wood filler. You’ll have to drill new holes since the new handles likely won’t line up with the old holes.

Once you’ve filled all the dents and holes in your cabinetry, follow the drying instructions on your tub of wood filler before moving on. 

Sand the cabinets 

After your wood filler has dried, it’s time to break out the sandpaper. Alternatively, if you’re using a de-glossing agent instead of sanding, skip ahead. 

Open a window for ventilation, don one of your protective masks, and use your medium grit sandpaper to completely remove the finish from your cabinet boxes. 

Be careful not to sand too much. The goal is just to roughen up the old paint and remove the finish, not to smooth away the edges of your molding. You don’t even need to sand down to the bare wood. Just sand lightly until the cabinets are no longer glossy and you can see the hint of the wood grain.

Once you’ve finished sanding, use your shop vacuum to suck away all the sawdust. The vacuum won’t be able to completely remove it all, though, so you should also wipe everything down with a tack cloth after you finish. 

De-gloss the cabinets (sanding alternative)

If you decide to use a de-glosser to remove the finish from your cabinets instead of sanding them, don your protective gloves, open up a few windows, and apply it now. The primary benefit of this method is that it doesn't result in a lot of sawdust, but de-glosser is a toxic chemical, so handle it carefully. 

Following the directions on your can of de-glosser, scrub the solvent onto your cabinetry with an abrasive sponge or scouring pad. After you’ve fully scrubbed a surface with your de-glosser, use a damp washcloth to quickly wipe it away. You don’t want the applied de-glosser to fully dry, you just want to give it time to break down the finish, which it will do very quickly.

After de-glossing your cabinet boxes, move on to the cabinet doors if you don’t have a partner working with you. 

Once everything is de-glossed and dry, it’s time to prime the cabinets. 

Apply primer

With your paintbrush or spraying machine, apply a thin coat of primer to every surface of your cabinets. The primer will ensure that the paint properly adheres, and it will also help seal up the wood to better protect it from grease and damage.

You want to ensure complete coverage with your primer, so hit every nook and cranny in the molding and the corners where pieces meet. You don’t want the cabinets to look completely finished after you’re done priming, though. Primer is just an undercoat to help the topcoat adhere, so it’s okay if your cabinets don’t look fantastic after you’ve applied the primer.

Once your primer is completely dry (follow the instructions on the can), it’s time for the main event. 

Step 4: Paint your cabinets

Whether you’re using a paint sprayer, a paintbrush, or a foam roller, your painting technique should be essentially the same. Paint slowly in the direction of the wood grain. If your wood grain runs vertically, for example, paint from the bottom to the top of every surface. It’s important to work slowly because applying paint too quickly can result in bubbles and streaks. 

Paint from the inside out, working from the inner walls or edges of your cabinet frames (if you’re not fully painting each cabinet’s interior) outward to the faces of the boxes and around their walls. You may have to use a thin paintbrush to hit the corners. 

Make the first coat thin and light to avoid leaving noticeable streaks or brushstrokes. And as you make each pass with your roller, brush, or sprayer, slightly overlap the swathes to ensure complete coverage.

After you get the first coat down on the cabinet boxes, let them dry. This will usually take a few hours, so it’s the perfect time to paint the doors and drawer fronts exactly like you did the frames. The doors will probably take longer to paint than the boxes because you’ll have to flip them on your jig between coats and dryings. 

Once the first coat of paint is dry to the touch, use your fine-grit sandpaper to sand each surface very lightly. You’re not really trying to remove any paint here. You’re just trying to rough up the first coat to help it adhere properly with the next coat.

After sanding, wipe every surface off with a tack cloth to remove the paint dust, then apply a second coat of paint exactly like the first. Two coats are usually sufficient for cabinets, but you can always apply additional coats for extra protection if you want. Just make sure you sand lightly between coats but don’t sand the final coat. 

Step 5: Put everything back together

If you can, let the paint cure completely before you reassemble your cabinets. Dried but uncured paint is soft and vulnerable, so using freshly painted cabinetry too soon can botch an otherwise perfect paint job. 

That said, some paints take weeks to cure, and you probably have to use your kitchen during that time. If you can’t wait the full time recommended on your paint can before using your cabinets, at least let them dry fully and be careful with them until they’ve finished curing. 

When you’re ready, use your screwdriver or power drill to reinstall the door hinges, handles, and other hardware, then get a partner to help you put the doors and drawer fronts back exactly how they were before. With this done, you can put all your dishes back where you had them and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. 

Your kitchen cabinets: reimagined

Your cabinets aren’t just a functional piece of your kitchen. They’re also a foundational piece of its style and color scheme, so you want to ensure their paint job looks as good as it can. Hiring pros is the best way to beautify your cabinetry, but you can save a lot of money doing it yourself. By carefully following the steps we’ve laid out—as well as the instructions on your materials and equipment—you can make your cabinets look every bit as beautiful as a pro would.

Find a local pro to paint your cabinets for you