How To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets

Update: We have a much newer cabinet-painting post with more photos, details, and even a video for you here

If you can paint a wall (and even if you can’t) you can paint your kitchen cabinets. There are just a few tried and true rules when attempting this project, so if you follow the simple steps outlined below it’ll be pretty hard to screw things up. And although you’ve all seen our newly renovated kitchen, we actually painted our previous 50-year-old knotty pine cabinets right after we moved in (to tide us over until we had the funds to replace them altogether). Check out the dark and dingy kitchen that we inherited with the house:

And the refreshing “after” thanks to only a few hours of prepping and painting:

So how did we do it? Easy peasy.

Step 1: Figure out what you want. Bring home paint swatches and select the perfect palette, and if you’re planning to replace your hardware, purchase some before you move on to the next step. Because most old hardware is a different size than newer hardware (the holes are further apart or closer together), it’s important to know if your new door and drawer bling is spaced differently than your current hardware before you begin. Then it’s nice to wash everything down with a little soap and water to cut the grease and the spills that have built up on the doors and drawers over the years. Nothin’ like a little sponge bath to get you in the mood to makeover your kitchen…

Step 2: Take it off, baby. Now it’s time to remove all of your hardware and your hinges (regardless of whether you’ll be reusing it or replacing it- and it helps to store everything in a big ziplock bag so you’re never short a screw). Of course by removing the hinges you’ll be removing all the doors, so finding a place that you can lay out a big fabric or plastic drop cloth (which are about $2 from Home Depot or Lowe’s) is a good idea. Once you have your drop cloth in place, lay out all your cabinet doors and drawers so you can paint them all together in one convenient spot (and have full access to the frames of the cabinets in the kitchen).

Step 3: Fill ‘er up. Then if you’re replacing your hardware with something that won’t fit the existing holes in your doors and drawers, you’ll want to pick up some wood filler (it’s around $6 a tube, which is all ya need) and fill those existing hardware holes in all of the doors and drawers. There are many different colors of wood fill, but since you’re painting your cabinets, matching the tone isn’t really a big deal (although it can’t hurt to grab the one that most closely resembles the color of your current cabinets).

Step 4: Get sandy. The sanding process isn’t always necessary (for example, our cabinets weren’t glossy so we skipped it and went straight to priming) but for some people with super shiny cabinets (aka: lots of polyurethane) it can’t hurt to run an electric sander over everything- or take a bit more time to hand sand things- with fine grit paper to rough everything up for maximum paint stickage. Not sure if yours need to be sanded? If they feel matte like a cutting board (a little absorbent) then they shouldn’t need it, but if they feel shiny like a laminated piece of paper or a glossy credit card then sanding is your best bet. Note: lead paint is a serious health risk when sanding, so if you have an older home with already-painted cabinets that look decades old it’s worth testing for lead with a $6 lead test kit from Home Depot. Safety first!

Step 5: It’s prime time. Due to all the grease and even just the wood stain that often coats kitchen cabinets, it’s über important to get down and dirty with oil-based primer (even if the water-based equivalent claims that it works just as well on cabinet surfaces, we’ve seen stains seep right through that stuff, so oil-based is the better-safe-than-sorry alternative). One coat of primer applied with a decent quality roller should do the trick (then just use a brush to get into those tigher spaces and the grooves in the doors). We prefer wool or polyester rollers (Purdy’s a great brand) over foam ones as we’ve found that they rile up the paint and cause bubbles. Oh and it doesn’t matter if you can still see the wood tone underneath after one coat, the primer’s main job is to make your cabinets sticky and the paint will do the rest. You’ll probably want to snag an extra brush just for priming since they’re usually pretty messed up afterwords (it’s best to toss it or save it for other priming projects and use a pristine new one for painting). And ditto with the roller. We usually don’t even try washing the oil-based paint out of it- and prefer to replace it with a fresh new one before painting for a seamless result (reused rollers and brushes can often compromise the smooth finish that you’re going for when it comes to your cabinets).

Step 6: Get your paint on. You’re in the home stretch, so just two coats of latex paint (in a semi gloss finish for easy wipe-ability) are next on the agenda. You’ll definitely want to wait a few hours after applying primer, but I actually primed and painted my cabinets (two coats!) all in the same day. When it comes to applying the paint, a high quality wool or polyester roller makes for the sleekest application. A mini foam roller can also help since it’s smaller and easy to control. You’ll also probably need to use a brush sparingly, just to get into those little cracks and crevices that your roller can’t reach. Do yourself a favor by buying an angle-tipped brush as opposed to a flat-tipped one- they make staying in the lines a lot easier.

Note: We didn’t prime or paint the inside of the doors, but our approach would be to prime/paint them first and then wait five days and turn them over and prime/paint the outside (that way if anything got a bit imperfect after being flipped face down, it would be on the inside- an therefore less noticeable).

Step 7: Wait for it. After two coats of latex paint you now have to practice patience. Most experts advise waiting at least three days to rehang or begin using your doors and drawers (especially since the rehanging process involves lots of holding and pressing and drilling which can muck up anything that’s not 100% dry). We actually advise waiting five days if ya can (it beats doing the whole thing all over again and guarantees a totally seamless finish even in high humidity).

Step 8: Hang in there. Then all you have to do is rehang your doors (either using your existing hinges or new ones), slip in your drawers, and add your hardware. If the hardware is new, take time to measure twice before you drill to avoid any annoying mistakes that will make you want to putty and repaint, which never looks as good as the flawless finish that you get the first time around. John actually took his sweet time drilling all of our holes for the new hardware (to the tune of about two hours) but it was well worth the assurance that everything was perfectly centered and right where it should be. In this case slow and steady wins the race.

*Oh and it bears noting that if your cabinets are anything but solid wood (laminate, veneered, etc) you should definitely take off a door or a drawer and bring it with you to your local hardware store and ask the paint pro there what they recommend. There are some great oil-based primers and enamel paints out there so it might be possible to get a semi-durable finish (although none as long-lasting as solid wood paint jobs). The key is really roughing up the surface so it’s less glossy and then priming and painting with the best stuff they have (usually oil or enamel based). Oh and don’t forget to let everything dry for a while so things can cure up and get super durable for the long haul.

So that about does it for our cabinet painting and refinishing tutorial. Of course Step 9 is to invite all of your friends over for celebratory margaritas or to do the happy dance every time you walk into your amazing new space. We hope this will help you completely transform your kitch on a dime and in a flash. And just in case you need a few more before & after pictures to convince you, here are two clients of ours that we helped transform their rooms with painted cabinets:

Here’s Kim’s crazy blue kitchen that she inherited with her home:


And here’s her two-tone masterpiece after a quick paint makeover (we suggested slightly different colors for her upper and lower cabinets):



And here’s Carla’s kitchen before she came to us for help:



And here it is after we encouraged her to paint her cabinets a crisp glossy white tone (along with her dining room chairs) while the dining table went black to mimic the backsplash:



Amazing what a little paint can do, eh? And if they can do it you can to! So if you have a spare weekend or even a few week nights you’ll be well on your way to a totally new room. Happy painting…

In need of a furniture painting tutorial? Fret not, we’ve gotcha covered.

Update: We have a much newer cabinet-painting post with more photos, details, and even a video for you here.


  1. Colleen says

    Hi Sherry,

    We just moved into a 70 year old home with a TINY kitchen with a horrible paint job, paneling and white appliances (which are not that old). We want to gut the entire kitchen and breakfast room, but we don’t have the money yet. We want to paint the cabients and paneling and keep the kitchen bright and airy, since its sooo small. The countertops are a black formica (we may replace) The cabinet doors are flat with nothing on the front, would painting them white be too stark? The floor is black vinyl marble look, its fine for now. What color would you paint the cabinents and paneling? We will replace the knobs with something brushed nickle. We like black, white some shade of steel/blue-grey ish with accents of dark redish/cranberry….what do you think? Or do we do a tan or taupe insead? Thanks! Love what you did to your house.


    • says

      Good question! You could definitely do white cabinets for a high contrast chic black and white kitchen (Benjamin Moore’s Decorators White). You could also go with a light pewter gray (Benjamin Moore’s Light Pewter) on the top cabinets and a deeper medium cloud gray for the bottom cabinets (Benjamin Moore’s Nimbus) for a bit more dimension and interest. Hope it helps!


  2. Erin says

    We are considering painting the cabinets in our new house. the are circa 1984 plain oak. Our contractor/handy man has talked to us about the job, but he said we couldn’t do white because the grain of the oak would come through and not look good. Have you found this to be true? I would think after priming and 2 coats you wouldn’t be able to see. I wanted to do white because it’s neautral and our whole house has this beautiful crown molding throughout that is white,white, white. The guy talked me into dark chocolate brown cabinets. I know it’s trendy right now, but is it too trendy to not last? HELP!!!

    • says

      White is definitely the perfect solution for 80s oak cabinets! As long as there’s no physical bumping out of the knots and things, they shouldn’t show through at all with oil-based primer and two coats of thin latex paint (and if they do feel a bit recessed, some sanding will solve that). Hope it helps!


  3. says

    Hi Sherry –
    I love your blog! I have a question for you. My kitchen has incredibly old, cheap cabinets that are completely flat (no molding or dimension at all) and very long. They are painted white with brown and gold speckled granite countertops and a wall painted red. It is in desperate need of a makeover but I can’t decide what to do. I love white in everyone else’s kitchens but to me the white just doesn’t look right in ours. What are some other colors that you would consider painting cabinets if you had the countertops we have with the red wall?
    Thanks in advance!

    • says

      Hmm, what about a mocha color (Benjamin Moore’s Baja Dunes) on the upper cabinets and a chocolate color on the base cabinets (Benjamin Moore’s Cabor Trail)? It’ll look rich with the red wall and really work with the warm gold-speckled counters too. Hope it helps!


  4. Amanda says

    Do you have any advice for refinishing cabinet doors that aren’t quite wood? My house was built circa 1984, and I believe the cabinet doors are thermofoil or laminate. How do I determine what they are made of and have to paint them white?


    • says

      Hey Amanda,

      We would recommend taking a door or drawer to a home improvement store and asking the paint professionals what they would recommend. The primer and latex paint method above should work pretty well (although not as long-term as it would on wood) but they might have some even newer products and ideas to make yours even more durable. Hope it helps!


  5. joanna sim says

    Hi there,

    I just came across your blog – LOVE IT!!! I am in a similar situation… just bought a house, doing lots of fix-ups and and want to paint our kitchen cabinets white. i’m curious what the inside of your cabinets look like since you mentioned you didn’t paint the inside. Do you have a picture to share?

    Thanks for all this helpful information!!!

    p.s. here’s a picture of our kitchen cabinets:

    • says

      Hey Joanna,

      If you check out the House Tour tab under the header you’ll see that we’ve since gutted our kitchen and replaced it with white cabinets (that we didn’t paint) so we’re afraid we don’t have photos of the inside of our old cabinets. Just picture the fronts painted and the insides remaining the same wood tone they were in the before. Hope it helps!


  6. joanna says

    got it, thanks!!!

    i finally went through a lot of the stuff on your site – loved your wedding pics and everything you did for it. Such an inspiration you are!

  7. Kelly Mitchell says

    Have you any experience with trying to paint the classic Home Depot melamine(or whatever that finish is) cabinets? Any suggestions?

    Love the site by the way!!!

    • says

      We would recommend bringing a door or drawer to Home Depot to see what the paint professionals suggest. The method above should work but they might even have more durable solutions. Hope it helps!


  8. Beth says

    We have Santa Cecilia granite that we are keeping. We have the honey oak cabinets with cathedral raised panels on the top, and rectangle raised panels on the bottom. We are either painting our kitchen cabinets cream or white, and I want the walls to either be a light blue or beige. What do you think would look better?

    Thanks for any advice you can give!

    • says

      Hey Beth,

      As people with a soft blue grey kitchen with white cabinets that would be what we prefer. Try Ben Moore’s Decorator’s White for the cabinets and Quiet Moments on the walls. Hope it helps!


  9. Beth says

    Thanks for your feedback! My husband keeps saying that the blue colors will not bode well with the brown/cream/yellow granite, so I wasn’t sure!

  10. Jenny says

    Hi,we want to paint our knotty pine cabinetes but after considering white or cream, we are not sure because the floor is white and the appliances are cream color and so are the countertops and back splash. Is it too much of a good thing? What color do you suggest. The walls are a nice green. Thank you! Jen

    • says

      Hey Jen,

      I would definitely bring a bunch of tan and cream and ivory and white swatches home and try to select something a bit different yet complementary to the other tones going on (you don’t want anything that matches exactly, just something a shade darker or lighter than the things next to them). You’ll have a nice airy and open kitchen in the end. Especially with those nice green walls. Hope it helps!


  11. Carol says

    Okay, obviously I’m confused. You use an oil-based primer under two latex coats of color? Isn’t that a major no-no? Also, the end panels of my cabinets are not actually wood but a fake wood laminate. Can I use the same process on them?

    • says

      Hey Carol,

      Oil-based PAINT under latex paint is a major no no, but oil-based primer under latex paint is the industry standard (and it works like a charm!). As for laminate, the process above should work but won’t be as durable and long-lasting as solid wood. You might want to take a door or drawer from your kitchen into the home improvement store to ask the paint professionals there if they have any tips and tricks for painting laminate. Hope it helps!


  12. Christine Marie says

    I really wish I had read this before I painted the cabinets in our kitchen! Half of the cabinets in our kitchen were original to the house and had a glossy yellowy/off-white finish. The other cabinets we got for free (made them into an island) and were finished wood. I sanded and primed the wood ones and then painted all of them with white semi-gloss latex paint.

    Now we’re having some problems. The original cabinets (that started off with the glossy off-white paint) are now peeling chunks of the new paint, and ALL the cabinets in the kitchen stick really bad. I thought at first they just needed more time to cure, but I painted them nearly 3 months ago and there’s been no change.

    Is there anything I can do to fix this mess without re-doing everything?

    • says

      Good question! We’ve actually heard that baby power helps to keep things from sticking so maybe dusting some on will help your uncured cabinets? As for the peeling ones, I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do but sand them down to a smooth surface and start over with our tutorial above. Hope it helps! Good luck!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *