Kitchen Cabinets: Priming and Painting

Hi friends! Today I’m going to tell you how I primed and painted my kitchen cabinets — the last few steps before we get to hang the doors back up and have a beautiful new kitchen! This was the point where I started to really see what I had been envisioning starting to take shape and all the stress and cleaning and sanding start to make sense. If you’re joining A Girl’s Guide for the first time, welcome! If you’re diving into painting your kitchen cabinets, start with our first post about planning the project, then follow with gathering your supplies, and cleaning and sanding your cabinets before jumping on the train with us here.

These are also the steps that take the longest because you need to allow for A LOT of drying time between coats of paint. This definitely isn’t like painting your walls, where you can reapply in 3-4 hours. For at least one coat, my kitchen cabinet doors weren’t ready for the next coat for 3-4 DAYS. So, remember to bring your patience along on these two steps (not something I did well with). It helped to keep thinking about what the final product was going to look like:

white kitchen cabinets
Worth it!

While you’re waiting, you should check out some of my other easy projects, like replacing door knobs. You can knock these out while waiting for the kitchen cabinets to dry and then have accomplished two projects! Go you!

Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you click the link and purchase the item. I’ve only linked items I’ve used in the past and would use again (unless otherwise noted).  

Step 7: Priming (and More Sanding)

Ok, you made it! You finally are about to have a paint brush in your hand and watch your kitchen cabinets transform. Make sure you apply painter’s tape around your cabinet frames on your walls, countertop, and floors before you begin!

But, Lauren, do I have to prime? Isn’t that just extra paint?

Yes, you have to prime! Priming has a few benefits that are really important when painting your cabinets:

  • Primer acts as a stain-blocking agent in two ways–preventing any old stains from marring your new paint color and preventing any new stains from permanently staining your wood.
  • It acts as a base coat, which prevents the paint from soaking into the freshly sanded wood, which would then require you to apply extra coats of your expensive cabinet paint.
  • It provides a neutral background for your chosen paint color to show true. So, all your hard work (and stress) about picking the right shade of white paint with subtle gray undertones doesn’t go to waste when the old cherry stain on your cabinets makes your color look ivory.

But wait–do I paint everything at once, or do the frames then the doors?

This is a total personal preference for each of us, but I chose to complete Steps 7 & 8 (priming and painting) my cabinet frames before starting on my doors and here’s why:

I needed to have my kitchen out of commission for as little amount of time as possible. I figured if I could prime and paint the frames and get them completely done in a week (they required less drying time than the doors did), then I could at least put everything back in the cabinets and use my kitchen, while waiting for the doors to be completed (another 2-3 weeks).

kitchen during renovation

Yes, my kitchen looked like this for 2-3 weeks, but I cooked in it every night without any issue.

How to Prime

If you aren’t super comfortable with painting, the easiest way to do this is to work in sections (instead of doing all brush work and then all roller work). For example, I did one cabinet frame at a time. The reason for this is so the brushed on paint doesn’t dry before you go over the same section with the roller. Otherwise, you’re just putting wet paint on mostly wet paint and it will take FOREVER to dry and it won’t look even when it does finally dry. Got it? Ok, onward!

I know I talked about supplies in an earlier post, but as a reminder I used Kilz Premium Water-Based Primer to prime the cabinets. I only use Kilz primer, as it’s so highly rated and in all my previous painting projects, it has provided amazing stain blocking coverage. You also need a brush, a 4-inch roller, and a rolling pan.

  1. Use your brush to get the edges, the irregularities, and the angled spots. You don’t need to glob the paint on; it just needs to be a nice, light but even coat.
  2. Then, go over the flat surfaces with your roller, again with a light, even coat.
  3. Go over any brush work you can with the roller to help keep the paint from drying with obvious brush strokes. If you get brush strokes even after trying to do this, don’t worry! You can always sand off the brush strokes (there’s more sanding?! . . . don’t hurt me, but yes)
  4. Keep working in sections until you’ve painted everything.
  5. Let everything dry. It’s important to let them be COMPLETELY dry. I waited 24 hours between coats for the frames, but my doors took 5 days to not be tacky when I touched them. Drying time will vary based on where you live, where you’re painting in your home (basement vs garage vs dining room), and the current weather, so here’s where you have to be a little flexible (not something I’m good at–I like a good timeline).
  6. Once everything is dry, break out the sander again. Yay (read this with a ton of false enthusiasm). Using the fine grit sanding block and fine grit sand paper on your orbital sander, lightly go over the frames and doors again, to get rid of any brush strokes and any little globs of paint that may have formed.
  7. After sanding, vacuum up any dust with your shop vac (if you have it and so desire) and use your tack cloth to get up all of the dust (and dog hair if you have this helpful partner.)
black dog
Say hi to Sadie, my pup!

Then, repeat all of the steps if you’re priming with a second coat. If not, yay! You did it! Move on to Painting!

But Lauren–my doors are two-sided! How do I paint those?

Easy peasy! Here’s where those plastic (or paper) cups come in handy!

Place each kitchen cabinet door and drawer front on top of 4-6 plastic cups (depending on how big the door is). This will prop the door up to allow airflow underneath for them to dry faster. It also makes it easier for you to paint the edges.

Paint the back of the doors first. Let them dry to the touch (2-3 hours for most of mine), then flip them over and paint the front.

I only did one coat of primer, since my kitchen cabinets were so light to begin with. But, if you you can still see dark stain through the primer, you may need to do a second coat. Use your best judgement (and a second coat can never hurt, only help)!

You can see my fancy paper cups holding up my doors here. And more importantly, you see how thin the paint goes on. You can still see the stain underneath a little bit.

Step 8: Painting (and More Sanding)

This is what you’ve been waiting for–finally seeing your paint on your cabinets! This step isn’t a whole lot different than priming, except you’re going to want to be a little more precise with your brush strokes and rolling, as well as applying more coats of paint.

  1. Since you sanded and cleaned up all your dust in the last step, you just need to get your painting supplies ready–your cabinet paint, a fresh roller, and a clean angled brush.
  2. Use your brush to get the edges, the irregularities, and the angled spots again. Don’t use a ton of paint, but make sure you pay more attention to details this time and cover the whole spot you’re working on and don’t see any spots that are missing paint.
  3. Then, go over the flat surfaces with your roller, again with a light even coat, just like you did with the primer.
  4. Go over any brush work you can with the roller to help keep the paint from drying with obvious brush strokes. Be a little more careful in these coats, as you don’t want to have to sand off all your priming that you already did! But, if it happens, you know how to fix it!
  5. Keep working in sections until you’ve painted everything. I went over all the surfaces with my roller, very lightly and without any paint, at the end of each section to help even out the paint coats and to help soak up any drops of paint.
  6. Let everything dry. It’s important to let them be COMPLETELY dry.For whatever reason, my paint dried much faster than my primer did. I was able to repaint the frames in 48 hours. For the doors, I flipped them and painted the front after 24 hours but then let them dry 3 days between completed coats. BUT REMEMBER, drying time will vary based on a lot things I mentioned earlier, so here’s where you have to be a little flexible.
  7. Once everything is dry, break out the sander again. Yay (read this with the same false enthusiasm as before). Using the fine grit sanding block and fine grit sand paper on your orbital sander again, lightly go over the frames and doors again, to get rid of any brush strokes and any little globs of paint that may have formed. Be careful not to remove all the paint–you just want to fix any imperfections!
  8. After sanding, clean it all up with your vacuum and tack cloth.
  9. Flip all the doors and drawers back so the inside of the doors are facing up.
  10. Repeat steps 2-6 for your second (and possibly third coat, depending on how well your paint covers). I just needed two coats, but it’s a total judgement call.
One coat of paint down, one to go. . . and a runaway cup trying to escape the mess that this project (and that floor is a story for another day)

Optional Step 9: Sealing

I chose not to seal my kitchen cabinets because sealants can cause a yellowing of the finish and streaking that I didn’t want to risk. But, a lot of bloggers and professionals swear by it. I know I’m going to touch up scratches on the paint probably once a year and I’m ok with that. If you want it to be as hardy as possible (and you are strong enough to overcome your fear of changing the color you worked so hard on), you should definitely consider sealing them. Ask your local painting expert what the best sealant is for your kitchen cabinets

cabinet doors with paint drying
Their prettiness helps distract you from the chaos they caused, for sure.

Guess What?!

You are ALMOST there! Your kitchen cabinets are painted and drying one last time, so now’s the perfect time to make the final decision on if you’re replacing the hardware or not (and the last time you’ll have the perfect excuse to order Mexican food on Uber Eats since your kitchen is “out of commission”).

In my next post, we’ll talk about the FINAL steps for painting your kitchen cabinets: replacing the hardware and hanging the doors and drawers back on the frames.

And then, guess what?! You’ll have BRAND NEW KITCHEN CABINETS! I hope you’re as excited as I was at this point. I had all these hints at how AMAZING the kitchen cabinets were going to be, and I was so anxious to have the doors dry. Then, I could install the new hardware and hang them and admire them for all of my days (insert googley-eyed emoji here)!

~Lauren

6 comments

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  1. Judith Palafoutas

    When painting, either primer or top coat, what nap are you using on the roller?? I’ve seen very smooth or a more shaggy nap. Thanks

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