kitchen lifestyle photography

How to Repaint Kitchen Cabinets the Right Way

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Painting your kitchen cabinets instead of replacing them is an inexpensive and amazing way to transform your entire kitchen!

That’s what I did when we first moved into our 70’s home almost 4 years ago. Though I’ve posted before and after pictures, I never did any tutorial because truthfully, I didn’t know what I was doing and I did it all wrong! I mean, you don’t know what you don’t know, and though the color transformed the kitchen and house, I was pretty frustrated with the cabinets.

They got dirty quickly and were really hard to keep clean. They seemed a little lackluster as well. Then into further research, I realized I made a lot of mistakes including using the wrong paint….woops!

Well, ya live and ya learn! Now 4 years later I’m ready to tackle it again, this time with the right equipment and knowledge that I want to pass on to those that are feeling up to tackling the same project too! So, here’s how to repaint kitchen cabinets the right way!

How to Repaint Kitchen Cabinets the Right Way

If you are starting from scratch, you can still get some good info out of this post, as well as learn about some big no-nos. You may just have to add a couple of extra steps, but I’ll note them as they come up. Also, I gotta say I’m no expert or professional painter, so do it at your risk!

Oh, and I will probably be flipping back and forth from saying “I” and “we”. “We” is Titus, my husband, who worked on this project with me. No, I don’t have multiple personalities! Though that could be more fun…Probably not for Titus though. Haha. Anyways. Moving on.

I’m warning you now that this post is long. I just didn’t want to leave anything out!

And on that note, let’s get started!

Remove all cabinet doors, hinges, & hardware

One of the big mistakes I did way back when was thinking I could have it look professional while painting them as they were still hanging up. Nope. Can’t happen.

When we first moved into our house there was just SO much to do that I think know I rushed some steps. But if you try to paint without removing them it will not look as clean, even, or finished.

And please, don’t paint over your hinges or try to paint your hinges (without a high-quality spray paint at least), because they will peel and crack and look amateurish.

Keep your hinges and hardware if you plan on reusing them. We kept our pulls and knobs because we love them! Also, find a way to remember where cabinets should go so they hang correctly when finished. Labeling with masking tape works.

Clean everything super well

Even if things look okay, you will not believe the amount of grease that can build up. Sanding with grease on the cabinets will gunk up your sanding paper, so you’ll want to make sure you do this well. Many people use TSP as a degreaser, but I opted for a borax mix instead.

Sand

I sanded after cleaning because there were old lumps of wood filler that didn’t look super smooth as well as gobs of paint where the hinges were.

If this is your first time painting your kitchen cabinets, you will probably just need to fill in holes and then sand. Then you’re going to want to sand, sand, and sand before priming. You most likely have a glossy finish that will need to be gone before trying to paint. Some people have reported good luck with using a deglosser. That makes it so they sand less or not at all. Your call.

I had actually sanded my first time around (yay- did something right!), so I didn’t purposefully try to go down to the bare wood, but instead, do it so new paint could stick as well as sanding down any dried paint drips. I used a medium grit.

Clean/vacuum

I did another round of light cleaning/vacuuming to get rid of sawdust before filling in holes. Many people say they like tack cloth for getting rid of sawdust.

Fill in holes w/ wood filler

There were some old hardware holes that didn’t get covered perfectly the first time around, so I filled them in with wood filler as well as fixing any nicks and dents. I also covered the old spots from the hinges because I decided I wanted to go with hidden ones for a cleaner look.

Sand down the wood filler

Another quick round of sanding and cleaning to have everything ready to go. Maybe it’s overkill, but I wanted to give my cabinets the best chance this time!

Caulk

If you have any gaps or seams, now would be a good time to caulk them for a seamless finish, if you haven’t already.

Prime

I went back and forth in my mind on if we should prime or not because I had already done it and well, I didn’t want another step if I didn’t have to do it. In the end, I decided to take the time to prime because A.) when we were sanding, the original brown of the cabinet did start to show through and B.) I figured it couldn’t hurt and I didn’t want to regret not doing it.

So, whether this is your first or third time, definitely prime!

Paint!

Finally ready to paint! Everything is filled in, sanded, smooth, and clean!

Now here are some additional paint things that can make or break your project:

You do not want to skimp when it comes to your paint. It’s (almost) funny now, but 4 years ago I didn’t know that there were different paints for different projects. I used a matte…which is the last paint you would want to use. I know, so embarrassing, right?

After a lot of research, I decided to go with Benjamin Moore Advance Paint in Simply White and even though it’s pricier ($56 a gallon), it’s high quality, made for cabinets, self-leveling, and dries to a furniture-like finish. A topcoat is not required with this paint either!

Earlier I said that matte is not a good finish. Same with flat and eggshell. Instead, you’d want to get satin, semi-gloss, or high gloss. The higher the gloss the easier it is to clean, but it can also show more imperfections. We went in the middle with a semi-gloss. Out of all of these options, satin will show the least amount of imperfections. This is a good option if your cabinets are already in decent shape.

After all my extensive research, I read over and over again that a paint sprayer was going to give you the most professional finish for your cabinets. After all, it’s what the professional painters use! And if you want it to look as good as it can, I recommend doing what they do.

While many people go the brush and foam roller route and report good results, I highly recommend you invest in a sprayer. I did the brush route my first time around and though I may not have done it perfectly, I definitely noticed the difference a sprayer makes!

A sprayer definitely takes some getting used to at first. Practice and get the technique down before you start and soon you’ll find a good rhythm and what works for you! For us, we painted the backs first and liked just spraying one at a time on a sawhorse to get all edges.

But however you do it, it’s going to save you a lot of time and it’s really an investment because you can use the sprayer for other projects. Wagner gifted me the paint sprayer to try out for this post and I love the finish and time saved by using it!

Next, a high-quality paintbrush is necessary. We usually go cheap and this was my first time buying a Purdy, which a lot of people recommend. And though it seemed a little unnecessary to spend that much on one paintbrush, I will now tell you I’m a huge believer!

We decided not to use the sprayer on the front of the cabinets, so that’s where the paintbrush came in handy. Ideally, you don’t want any brush marks so it looks like it came from the factory.

Make sure to use painters tape to get clean lines for the insides of the cabinet.

So, you finally made it through all the grunt work. Your cabinets are painted and they dried overnight and you just can’t wait to put them back up!

Not so fast…

Sadly, cabinets shouldn’t go up as soon as they dry. They need to cure, so make sure you read your paint can to know for how long. Ideally, you’d want to be patient and follow this timeline so you don’t risk any dents or scratches messing up all your hard work!

Reattach doors, hardware, & hinges

Yay! Do you see the end is near? We’re getting closer! Now it’s time to put everything back together.

Admire all your hard work & enjoy!

mother and son family kitchen lifestyle photography

As you can see from the before & after, we actually did more than just the cabinets! You know how it goes. You start one project then see a million other things you want to do! This post took longer to get out than I thought because of that, but I’m glad we tackled these things because it makes for some better “afters!” But we are only going to be focusing on the cabinets in this post!

kitchen lifestyle photography

Going from cream to white is not that drastic, so the results are not crazy different big picture, but if you examine it more closely, the paint job looks way better! Plus, I’m really glad I went with white. I don’t think I’d recommend cream in the kitchen because it can yellow and look old.

The cabinets are just so clean, shiny, and smooth. It makes the whole kitchen look way bigger and brighter. It’s amazing!

mother and son family kitchen lifestyle photography
mother and son family kitchen lifestyle photography
mother and son family kitchen lifestyle photography
mother and son family kitchen lifestyle photography
mother and son family kitchen lifestyle photography

Here are the original cabinets from the listing photo of the house and believe it or not, there’s still more we want to do in this kitchen. But we’re getting closer and closer to feeling done!

There are certainly a lot of steps in this post, and I may have done a bit more cleaning and sanding and then cleaning again than necessary haha, but I didn’t want to make any mistakes this time. Or not the super obvious ones at least haha!

Despite our best efforts, the cabinets aren’t completely perfect. There are a couple of paint runs that we missed that we’ll have to go and fix, but overall the paint job is 1000% better and they are so shiny, smooth, and clean now! Plus, I’ve already spilled coffee on them and they are soo much easier to clean. I feel confident that they will last too because we used a high-quality paint this time!

Though this process is hard, it’s not hard in the way where I think only a professional could do it. It is time-consuming and takes a lot of work, but as long as you are willing to put in the work, do the right steps, and be patient, I think you can have results that will transform your kitchen and be something that you can be proud of while bringing joy for years to come! All the while saving thousands in the alternatives of getting them gutted or paying someone to do it for you!

Let’s just do a quick recap on materials and price!

Time expectancy– about 4 days to a week. I don’t know if I think it’s possible to do in a long weekend or not. You just can’t rush drying, sadly.

  • Primer- One gallon of Kilz primer- $18
  • Paint- One gallon of Benjamin Moore Advance Simply White in Semi-gloss- $56
  • Sander & sanding paper– Already had
  • Painters tape– Already had
  • Purdy Paintbrush– $15
  • Borax– $10
  • Hinges $45
  • Paint Sprayer– courtesy of Wagner

Total: approx $144

Not a bad price for “new” cabinets, am I right?

If you’re looking for more kitchen inspiration, then check out the final reveal of our current French Country inspired home!
Up Next: Our Budget-Friendly French Country Inspired Kitchen Reveal

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how to repaint kitchen cabinets the right way
Carolyn Arentson
Carolyn is the founder and creator behind My Chic Obsession. When she's not dreaming up new content, you can find her watching a funny tv show with her husband, raising her two boys, or planning her next trip to Paris.