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. Margot says

    Hi there! You guys are great. I have a very open ~30 yr old kitchen that needs to be spruced up – especially the dark brown wood cabinets that I want to paint and I LOVE this tutorial (thank you!). My problem is that the laminate counter tops and backsplash are this yellow/cream pock marked design and the floor is a similar yellowish cream. I don’t want the color to be too washed out as the accent wall is a very light peachy brown. The kitchen leads to the family room (a burgundy color) and also out to the living room ( a creamy beige color). We have new satin chrome handles to complement the stainless steel dishwasher we recently installed. What color or shade would you recommend I paint the cabinets or should I just stick with the tried and true glossy white?

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Margot,

      You usually can’t go wrong with glossy white, but your cabinets would look particularly lovely in a light cream or ivory color (a warmer color than stark white). I wouldn’t go for anything with too much yellow in it (you don’t want to step back after painting to see a totally yellow kitchen (since the backsplash and laminate counter are already yellow), but a creamy white or a warm ivory tone will work seamlessly with the other colors in the space for a softer look than the jarring bright white that might be the kitchen cabinet default in most cases. Hope it helps! Happy painting…


  2. Sara says

    Hi! I have painted cabinets in my older home which I really like, but the paint is starting to peel and I suspect that they weren’t primed because nothing else in my house was! That being said, to touch up the paint could I just prime over the paint? Or should I strip, sand, prime, then paint? I have been putting it off because I suspect the latter would be best.

    By the way, my cabinets are a nice light/bluish gray color that looks great in a ktchen if anyone is looking for ideas.


    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Sara,

      Yup, you guessed right. It’s definitely best to sand down any peeling paint because priming and painting over it will still show the difference in thickness where the paint peeled off- ack! Ideally you’ll get your cabinets down to one even plane again with sandpaper and then you can prime and paint ’em. It’ll be worth it I promise!


  3. Sue says

    Hi – Just stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago and have been following ever since! :) My fiance and I are considering repainting our kitchen cabinets and hoping to get some insight. How do your kitchen cabinets look up close after they were painted? Do the cabinets look like it’s been repainted or do they look like they were purchased that color? The reason why I ask is because we have painted some drawers before and they were looked strange (had a weird texture and super shiny and items I placed on top of the drawer sometimes got stuck to the paint).

    Thanks so much!

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Sue,

      Our cabinets looked smooth and consistent up close- no brush strokes or dents from things getting stuck to the paint. They certainly didn’t look like a shiny new car (which is obviously paint that has been applied by a sprayer) but it looked even and consistent, just a bit less slick and hard if that makes sense (it looks warmer and a bit more casual since it’s not super sleek and new-car shiny).

      Your description of your experience with the drawers makes me wonder if you used one thin coat of oil-based primer followed by two thin coats of latex primer. That really is a key combination. And ensuring that each coat is dry (waiting ample time between applications to be sure that there’s nothing that’s still wet- which creates instant brush strokes and makes things stick to them since they weren’t allowed to thoroughly dry between coats- is the answer)! And of course waiting at least five days after the project to start hanging and using the cabinets again really does the trick (no loading stuff in right away or you’ll definitely get fingerprints and smudges). Hope it helps. Happy painting…


  4. Audra says

    Hi! I’ve been a closet blog stalker for a long time. I love all you have done to your home and it’s so motivating to see the fun changes you have made. Plus I love all of your great ideas. I want to paint my kitchen cabinets… they have already been painted but they are an off-white color and they don’t really match my new decor. I was thinking either a pure white or Atmosphere blue by Restoration Hardware but do you think light blue for cabinets is a little too much? The walls are brown and the back splash is Shore by restoration hardware. Also, because they are already painted and not wood, do you think I still need to prime? Thanks again for all of your advice. I’m saving some money for some more serious renovations then I will be coming to you for some design dilemma advice! Love you guys!


    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Audra,

      I am a huuuge fan of blue but I actually think you’ll be happier if you go with the pure white cabinet color for the long haul (it’s better for resale and it’s definitely a color you’ll be able to live with for a looong looong time). Plus it works with practically any accent color known to man, so you can change things up more easily than in a kitchen with blue cabinets. As for your second question, I would definitely definitely still suggest priming your kitchen cabinets, even if they’re already painted. Grease can build up in a kitchen like you wouldn’t believe, and just one coat of oil-based primer will create a much more durable and polished looking end product. Hope it helps! Happy painting…


  5. Becca says

    Great job!! The kitchen looks great and your article gives me the courage to try and paint my kitchen cabinets. Thanks so much.

  6. Shawna says

    I recently discovered your blog through The Nest and absolutely love it. You’ve inspired me to tackle so many projects around my house, especially painting my kitchen cabinets. I do have a few questions for you:
    1) Our cabinets are currently painted red, and to me they appear to have been coated with a high gloss finish vs. a semi-gloss. My husband disagrees. Irrespective of the glossiness, would you recommend sanding prior to applying primer coats?

    2) We are terrified of white kitchen cabinets, due to what upkeep they may require to keep them pristine(we have black countertops that will stay for now). We’ve thought of a blue-grey color, but google provides only a few images. Is this something you’ve seen in your design career and would you recommend it?

    I apologize for being so lengthy.

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Shawna,

      1. Sanding is always extra credit, so if you’re willing to put in the time it’s a great way to ensure than any surface is ready to go. Primer (especially oil-based) is really great these days, though- so even if you skipped right to priming you’d probably end up with a flawless finish.

      2. White cabinets are super easy to maintain (semi-gloss paint makes them very wipe-able and a little Magic Eraser can save the day for any horrendous stains). That being said, we love love love the idea of blue-gray cabinets and would totally recommend that you give it a whirl! You could even do darker blue-gray cabinets on the bottom and a lighter tone from the same paint swatch on the upper cabinets. We’d love to see your before and after pics! Good luck and happy painting…


  7. richardb says

    What a great job! Just a quick suggestion on the hardware part. A template for the drill holes, either handmade or store-bought will really speed up that process. Just decide on one cabinet door the precise hardware placement, and cut a piece of cardboard that you can line up with the lower corner of the door, and put a hole in it where you put it on the first door. Then you can just line it up with the subsequent doors and make perfect marks without all the measuring. Be sure to flip your template over for doors where the hardware goes in the opposite direction (ie, doors that meet in the middle). Make another for your drawers, and get to enjoying your new kitchen that much faster!

  8. Jay says

    My wife and I are getting ready to paint our kitchen cabinets. They are old cabinets that have a nice layer of paint. I am definitely planning on sanding, priming and then painting them. Two questions, first should I strip the paint before sanding? Secondly, I was planning on using a small foam roller to appply the paint. What do you recommend, brush or foam roller? I truly appreciate the help. Have a good one and take it easy…Jay

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Jay,

      You’ll probably be ok if you thoroughly sand without stripping the paint first. It should rough things up and even them out for some great adhesion (while stripping could leave things less even and create divots and imperfections). As for the roller we would suggest a high quality wool or polyester roller (we like Prudy) over foam as foam can rile up the paint and cause little bubbles and prickles in the finish. As you apply paint with any type or roller it will look a bit imperfect but once it dries (assuming you take your time and apply thin, even coats and wait for them to thoroughly dry between coats) it’ll look a lot more smooth and lovely. Oh and you can use a paint brush to cut in and get into the small angles and details on the doors that a roller might gloss over. Hope it helps! Happy painting…


  9. Melisa says

    I am hoping to paint our “Builder Oak” kitchen cabinets. They are a nice orangy shade…. I have printed out your tutorial I have a couple questions…..How important is it to sand the existing doors? They are about 8 years old. Also what about spraying the doors? Rather then rolling. Any advice is appreciated.

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Melisa,

      Good questions! Sanding can usually be described as extra credit. It’s usually not necessary since oil-based primer does a great job of making sure the paint will stick, but if you have super glossy cabinets or some splintered or rough edges, sanding before priming is definitely recommended. As for spraying, if you know what you’re doing with a sprayer than by all means go that route. It definitely goes on faster and can potentially turn our smooth as a baby’s bum if you’re an expert sprayer (if you’re not it can be a drippy, uneven nightmare). For most people using a roller (and a brush to get into any nooks and crannies) is usually a more controlled method and the outcome is still smooth and fabulous if you take your time and apply thin even coats (two or even three thin coats are waaay better than one goopy thick one, and it’s always important to wait for each coat to thoroughly dry before moving onto the next coat). Hope it helps! Happy painting…


  10. Dezaree says

    Your website is awsome…me and my husband just got our first “real” place…and we can decorate how ever we please which makes me soooo happy! Our house too is very small (the kitchen mostly) I mean you can’t even open the fridge and the oven at the same time! I have been trying so hard to find the right colors to paint…and our kitchen cabinets keep throwing me off. There ugly old wood that i hate! I asked my husband about painting them and he looked at me like i was crazy…guess he thinks you cant paint them. But now I know I can and I’m soo excited! Thanks so much for the help…picking a color for the walls is going to be much easier and fun!

  11. says

    Hi again! We are on the verge of doing this project ourselves, but I’m just curious: do you get a better finished product by rolling the paint or using one of those paint sprayers (outside/in the garage, of course!)? If roller, what type so you get a nice sleek finish?

    Also, our island has what looks like wood paneling around the bottom; it’s not real wood like the cabinets. Do we sand that and paint it like we will the cabinets? Or do we need to pull it off and buy white paneling?


    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Sarah,

      First for the not-real-wood paneling, that was all over our den and we just primed (oil-based of course) and painted it with gorgeous results so you might not even have to sand it but don’t forget to prime! As for the roller vs. sprayer question, this is an age old debate and it really depends on whoever’s doing the project. If you’re good at spraying and know how to keep the nozzle far enough away and moving fast enough to avoid drips (applying thin even coats and letting them dry fully before going back for a second coat) you’ll get a fabulous result but if you’re a novice it’s a lot harder to control so we would wholeheartedly suggest a good quality wool or polyester roller instead (not foam as it causes bubbles!) . We like the brand Purdy when it comes to rollers, but you can ask you paint professional at Lowe’s or Home Depot which one they recommend and go with that if you’re standing there scratching your head. Then of course stick to the thin and even coats and wait for them to fully dry before going in for the next one and you should have a lovely finished product. Hope it helps!


  12. Joy says

    Hi, I just stumbled on your website and I am hooked! We’re about to close on our first house (fingers crossed!) but I have many design projects I’d like to work on. I would love to renovate my kitchen, but don’t have the funds right now. But now that I’ve seen your painting tutorial, I may try painting my cabinets for now until I am able to get my dream kitchen. Any thoughts on what colors might go well with white tile countertops and laminate floors?

    Would love any suggestions. THANKS!

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Joy,

      So glad you found us! We think a soft creamy sand tone would look lovely with your rich laminate flooring and your white cabinets. Of course you could also go pure white for a white on white kitchen (always classic and soothing) but a bit of tone on the cabinets might make the counters look brighter and more “new” by comparison. Benjamin Moore’s Ashen Tan is a great starting point, and if you want something a bit lighter/creamier you can try Benjamin Moore’s Moccasin. Hope it helps! Happy painting…


    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Melissa,

      I would take home a bunch of light beige & grey tones and hold them up to your walls and your counters to see which ones really work with both colors. The idea is that you cabinets won’t be the same grey-beige as the counters, but a shade or two lighter or darker so they complement but don’t exactly match them (and also work with the existing wall color). Hope it helps! Happy hunting…


  13. Julie says

    Is i recommended to paint the whole interior of the cabinets too? shelves, walls, etc? that’s tons of work so I need to mentally prepare!

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Julie,

      When it comes to painting the interiors of the cabinets, it’s definitely a great idea with glass fronted ones (in fact we painted the back of our white glass fronted cabinet in the same pale blue wall color as the rest of the kitchen for a nice subtle pop behind the glass). As for whether you have to paint inside the doors when they’re not glass, it’s totally up to you (we only did the fronts of our doors and drawers but if we weren’t planning to replace them down the line we probably would have done the insides and the backs of the doors for resale). Hope that helps!


  14. Nancy says

    I stumbled across your web page, too, and I am totally inspired by the “Blue Kitchen” makeover. I was pouring over paint samples and didn’t know what color to go with. After seeing that kitchen,”La Chateau” is the exact color I want to paint my cabinets.
    Your house looks amazing, you guys really have a talent for redecorating! We just moved into a new house that needs a little paint and TLC, and I’m so excited to have found you guys!

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