Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets (The Whole Shebang)

  • Active Time: 4 hours the first week. 2 hours the next 3 weeks each.
  • Total Time: 4 weeks
  • Cost: $250
  • Help Needed?: Nope. It will definitely go faster if you have help, but you can definitely complete this project solo.
  • Difficulty Level: Beginner (the only skills needed are painting, sanding, and using a screwdriver)

Painting your kitchen cabinets can give your kitchen a completely new look for way less money than you think. I detailed the step by step process in a few previous posts, but today I’m condensing those posts a bit to put everything in one place.

This post is SUPER long and I’ve even taken out some of the more detailed information. So, if there’s something you want more info on, go to the link for that step for more in-depth info.

Before You Start

makeshift kitchen while painting the kitchen cabinets
This was our makeshift kitchen storage for 3 weeks

This project is going to take a couple of weeks, with all the drying time. So make sure you are prepared to live in a bit of a mess for a little while.

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 1: Gather Your Supplies

bucket full of supplies
Motivation and storage all in one!

Getting all your supplies ahead of time is key to avoiding any frustration in the future.

Here’s what I used to prepare and paint my cabinets:

  • Degreaser and paper towels (I used Spray Nine )
  • Orbital sander with medium and extra fine sand paper.
    • Note: If you don’t have a sander and don’t want to buy one, you  don’t need to. You can certainly hand sand your entire kitchen  multiple times. But, if you’d like to save a TON of time and a LOT of sanity, invest in a handheld orbital sander. I use the Ryobi one since the rest of my tools are Ryobi and they have  interchangeable batteries. It’s $45, so not a huge investment and  it’s definitely something you’ll use for many projects in the  future. 
    • Another Note: If you’re just buying the sander for this project, look into the Ryobi Corner Cat Sander. It’s $39 and the pointed end will help you get more surface area than the orbital will. 
  • Medium and Fine sandpaper blocks (to help you get the small corners and edges the sander can’t reach)–I used these.
  • Tack cloth (this is something I had to reorder from Amazon AND get more at Home Depot, so you can’t have enough sheets). I went through 12 sheets in my project.
  • Shop Vac–this isn’t needed but it definitely made clean up a breeze and didn’t clog my Dyson with sawdust. I have a hand-me-down version of this one from my dad, but there’s much smaller and less expensive ones if you want to invest in one but don’t want one that big or that expensive
  • Kilz Premium Primer 1 gallon
  • Paint stirring sticks
  • Cabinet paint of choice (see Step 2 for more details)
  • 2.5 inch, high quality angled paint brush
  • 4 inch roller and roller covers (8 covers total)
  • Rolling pan and liners (they make small ones for the small rollers, but I just used the big ones since I had some at home)
  • Blue painters tape
  • Drop cloths
  • Plastic cups (enough for 4 cups per door front or drawer front)
  • Screwdriver or Power driver (the drill that screws and unscrews things for us normal people who call everything a drill)
  • Disposable gloves (to keep your manicure from becoming polka-dotted), eye shields and N95 face masks (to keep sawdust out of your eyes, nose, and mouth)
  • New Cabinet Hardware (only if you’re replacing yours)

I bought a Home Depot orange bucket to store all my supplies in so I could stay organized. It’s $3 and you will always have use for a bucket in the future (and if not, make an emergency kit out of it—check Pinterest out for some fun ideas for this one).

Step 2: Pick Your Cabinet Paint

I chose Sherwin Williams Pro Classic White Dove in satin for our cabinet. One important things I found in my research were to use a better brand than your hardware store paint since you want the best coverage and best quality for your cabinets (they’re less forgiving than walls). I also wanted a self-leveling paint (it helps hide brush strokes after the paint is applied). The Pro Classic paint line is self-leveling and specifically designed to paint cabinets, doors, or trim.

kitchen cabinet paint

Note: If you want to test your paint before committing, you can buy tester sizes of your favorite color. I didn’t, as you aren’t going to know the true color of the paint by trying it on the wall or existing cabinet since you’ll be sanding  it and priming it before applying your final color, and I didn’t have the patience to add time to the project. But, if you do, or you’re really unsure about a color, go for it! Just make sure you test it on a cabinet sanded and primed so you know what the color will truly look like in your kitchen. And, if you don’t go with that color, make sure you sand it off, reprime, and repaint.

I only bought one gallon of paint, but if your kitchen is any bigger than mine (8’x12′) or if you want some for touch ups for when you scratch the utensil drawer when you make your first dinner in your fancy new kitchen, you’ll need more than 1 gallon. After 3 coats, I don’t have any left for touch ups in the future, and I’m waiting for a 30% sale at Sherwin Williams to buy some to have on hand.

Step 3: Setup Your Space

This is a super important step that I didn’t take enough time on. This is where you prepare yourself for taking everything out of the kitchen and putting things in other rooms until you are done. You also need to clear out wherever you’re keeping your doors and drawer fronts as you paint them. Think about what you need access to every day, once a week, and rarely, and use that to help place your items in your new ‘kitchen’.

makeshift kitchen while painting kitchen cabinets
Not trying to stress you out with another messy picture, but anything we used every day is on this table, but so is our grilling equipment (it was January when I painted), some painting supplies, and a dog nerf gun. If I had thought things through a little better, I would have just kept our every day kitchen supplies here (knives, pots, tinfoil).

Step 4: Take the Drawers and Doors Down and Remove the Hardware

removing the cabinet drawers
Get ready for your kitchen to look like this for a few weeks

It took me about an hour to take down all the doors and take off the drawer fronts. Make sure you take off all the hardware (knobs, pulls, and hinges). And, a great tip I learned–make sure you label the hinges from where you took them down from, especially if you have older cabinets. Hinges warp slightly with use and if you try to put the wrong one back on a door when you’re done, the door may never close right. An easy way to do that would be to put them in sandwich bags and label them with numbers or letters.

Step 5: Cleaning your Cabinets

Cleaning was definitely my least favorite step of this whole process (but definitely the most important). I cleaned the drawers and doors first, then the frames, but either way works. Here’s where I used my Spray Nine and a ton of paper towels (yes, I’m sure there’s something more environmentally friendly, but this stuff worked better than bleach in getting the grease off and sometimes I prefer to be able to through all the grime away, rather than washing it off in my washer).

Cleaning is so important because:

  1. You have no idea how much grease there is on your cabinets (like I’m talking A LOT.
  2. You don’t want to have to work harder to sand off all the extra grease on your cabinets and
  3. You don’t want to be painting over grease.

Make sure you clean both sides of the doors and drawers, and all the nooks and crannies of the frames. And after you’re done, drink a nice glass of wine to celebrate your super human cleaning skills!

Step 6: Sanding

handheld sanding tool

And, on to my second least favorite step–sanding. The good news is is that painting your kitchen cabinets is like a half marathon—the middle is by far the worst part and then even though there’s so much more to do (and it ain’t always fun), it all seems to be ok because you’re getting closer and closer to the finish line!

Containing the Dust

This is the messiest part of the whole process. I taped up plastic drop cloths to contain the dust to just the kitchen when sanding the frames, but for some reason I didn’t think of that when sanding the drawers and doors in the basement, so even after cleaning, I have this lovely sheen of dust over the whole basement.

This is after cleaning twice in 2 days.

So, word of advice. Try to contain the dust by doing this step outside if you can, or sanding the doors in the kitchen when you have the drop cloth hanging.

And, the healthcare professional in me has to remind you to wear your eye protectors and N95 face masks whenever you’re sanding. The last thing you want is saw dust in your eyes or lungs. Yes, N95 masks can be a little pricey (and a little hard to find in COVID times), but they’re reusable so buy a few and save them for your future projects.

How to Sand

Sanding the cabinet doors and frames is hard work, but pretty straightforward. I used my orbital sander on all the flat surfaces (basically anything it could reach), and used the sanding blocks for the smaller, harder to reach moldings and corners. The key here is to sand some of the existing finish off and rough up the surface so the primer sticks, but you don’t need to get the whole finish off (unless you’re staining your cabinets–then you need to take all the old stain or paint off). When I say some of the finish, I don’t mean a little bit here and there. I mean a thin layer of the finish from every inch of the door. If you don’t get the finish off, the primer won’t stick well, which means your new paint won’t stick well, and then you have not pretty cabinets and what’s the point of all that?

Make sure you sand both sides of the doors and any part of the frame you plan on painting (don’t forget the toe kicks and any parts inside the cabinet frames that you’re painting!)

I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of this step, friends (again, the whole, I didn’t know I was starting a blog thing).

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 cabinets transform. Make sure you apply painters tape around your cabinet frames on your walls, countertop, and floors before you begin painting your kitchen cabinets!

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).

cabinet doors off the kitchen cabinets

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

How to Prime

primed kitchen cabinets
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.

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!

  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, 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 one) and use your tack cloth to get up all of the dust.

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 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 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)!

Step 8: Painting (and More Sanding)

painting kitchen cabinets

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. Don’t use a ton of paint; it just needs to be a nice, light but even coat.
  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 where you live, where you’re painting, 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).
  7. 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. Be careful not to remove 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.
painting kitchen cabinets
One coat of paint down, one to go. . . and a runaway cup trying to escape the mess that this project made my basement (and that floor is a story for another day)

Optional Step 9: Sealing

I chose not to seal my 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.

Step 10: Rehang Your Doors and Drawers (Or Step 11 then 10)

wrong cabinet door
Make sure you hang the right door in the right place. I did not lol

We’re so close at this point! I let my cabinet doors dry for 3 days before I put them back in place, but some blogs I read recommended waiting anywhere from just 24 hours to up to 2 weeks (that’s a huge range, right?) I went with three days, because the doors weren’t tacky and easy to handle at that point (and it was losing my patience with not having a functioning kitchen). Look at how great they look off my basement floor and where they belong—in the kitchen!

newly painted kitchen cabinet
That’s much better!

For your drawer fronts, you’ll need to replace those just as you took them down. I found it easiest to do a top screw first and then the opposite bottom screw 2nd.

replacing cabinet drawer fronts

And, tighten the screws 80% of the way at first go. Once you have all the screws in place, you can tighten them all the way.

replacing cabinet drawer fronts

Step 11: Replace Your Hardware

Replacing the knobs is easy, since you just use the existing hole from your old hardware Just place the screw in the back of the door, and line the knob up on the screw on the front of the door. Holding the knob in your hand, turn the screw with your screwdriver until the knob is tight.

replacing cabinet hardware

But, for the handles, you’ll need to make an additional hole in each door. Normally, I’d be super nervous about drilling into something (especially something that I can’t just throw some spackle on and paint over if I mess up). But, my dad gave me this handy dandy tool to guide where you drill your holes.

cabinet hardware templates

You just choose the correct distance between the holes you need by comparing it to your new handles, place it on your door, and mark where the hole should be. If you’re only using one size handle, my dad had this great tip of taping over the other holes on the tool with painters tape, so you don’t accidentally drill a hole in the wrong place (which is definitely something I’d do).

Once you have your new holes drilled, follow the same steps as the knobs to screw the new hardware in place. And, voila!

newly installed cabinet hardware

Step 12: Celebrate in Your Beautiful New Kitchen Cabinets!

What was so great about this project is that skill-wise, this project was actually relatively easy. You don’t need to be super handy or experienced for painting your kitchen cabinets–you just need to be organized and have the patience to live in a messy kitchen for a few weeks. And, for a few hundred bucks (and way less if you don’t replace the hardware, like I did), you can have kitchen cabinets that look COMPLETELY different than when you started.

~Lauren

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