A complete step-by-step tutorial for how to paint kitchen cabinets to make them as durable as possible for as quickly and easily as possible.
I spent a week painting kitchen cabinets. Almost exactly to the minute.
And it was worth every Pandora karaoke jam sesh / paint brush dance party.
Just in case you don’t remember where our cabinets started though, our kitchen looked like this just a couple of weeks ago.
Even though I’d already painted our bathroom cabinets last year, and they’ve held up perfectly, I felt like the kitchen cabinets were a little bit of a different story.
We’re rough on these things. As in a three year-old slamming her tricycle into them on a daily basis and our bacon loving family cooking up all kinds of yummy but greasy goodness on the regular. These needed to be Hulk strength.
So I read through as many tutorials and articles and professional cabinet painter tips as I could find to come up with my method to make them as durable as possible for as quickly and easily as possible.
(Affiliate links are provided in this post for convenience. For more information, see my full disclosure here.)
- Sander Deglosser
- Krud Kutter Cleaner
- Zinsser Primer (If you have laminate cabinets, use this shellac based primer instead)
- Benjamin Moore Advance in satin finish (I used the color Simply White)
- HomeRight Finish Max Paint Sprayer
- Cabinet paint roller
- 4 inch roller covers
- 2 inch angled brush
- Wood filler
- Fine grit sandpaper
- Rubber gloves
- Power drill/driver
- Cup pulls
- Cabinet and drawer template
- Drop cloth
- Painter’s tape
- Sandwich zipper bags (optional)
- Clean, lint free rags
- Utility knife
The Best Cabinet Paint and Primer
In all of the researching I could dig up, nearly every professional cabinet painter’s recommendation was Benjamin Moore Advance.
It acts like an oil base by self-leveling, blocking stains, reducing wood grain raise, and sealing for durability while also acting like a water base with easy soap and water cleanup, low odor, low VOC, and not yellowing.
Since we were working with white paint, that non-yellowing bit was really important to me.
It’s not the cheapest paint on the market, but the quality makes it worth every penny. Cabinet paint is definitely not a project supply I would want to save money on if it means sacrificing durability.
I decided on this Zinsser Primer for the prep work since it had most of those same performance qualities as the paint did too. The only drawback is it wasn’t self-leveling, so in hindsight, I probably would have chosen the Benjamin Moore Advance Primer.
But the Zinsser Primer was still great. (Hey, that’s why I’m the guinea pig.)
1. Remove doors, hardware, and label everything
Before I went all door removal crazy with the drill, I had to develop a system to keep track of which doors belonged to which cabinets since they can be tricky to put back up later when they’re finished if they’re not on the correct frames.
So I sketched a very sophisticated high-tech illustration. (Haha! Not.) But it did the job.
That “1BR” was code for Column 1, Bottom Right Cabinet Door, just in case you don’t speak that language. Wink wink.
I labeled each door with a correlating number to my sketch as well as a sandwich bag for the hardware, so I could match them up later.
And then our garage became Door Painting Central for several days.
2. Clean Cabinet Doors and Cabinet Frames with Krud Kutter
Wipe down everything with Krud Kutter first (follow the instructions on the bottle) to remove any cooking grease or residue. Be sure to wear chemical resistant gloves.
3. Wipe Cabinet Doors and Cabinet Frames with Deglosser
At first, I sanded a few of the doors, but truthfully, it was a giant pain, and after talking with a lot of others who’d painted cabinets successfully before without sanding, I decided it wasn’t really necessary. The degreaser and deglosser can do the job all on their own.
Let the deglosser dry for at least 30 minutes.
4. Fill Knob/Pull Holes with Wood Filler (if necessary)
If you plan on using knobs and pulls that need different placements from your existing ones, your first step would be to fill those holes with wood filler.
Once the wood filler is completely dry, sand smooth with fine grit sandpaper.
Tip: Use a Sprayer for a Smooth, Even Finish in Half the Time
To make the painting process as fast and professional looking as possible, my HomeRight sprayer was the BEST! I don’t even want to know how long it would have taken me to paint our cabinets without this thing.
I’d probably still be painting, truthfully, because what would have taken me about 10-15 minutes per door on a coat of paint with a brush and roller, took all of about 60 seconds with the sprayer.
And we had 42 doors and drawers to paint, so you can imagine how exhausting that would have been.
5. Apply 1 Coat of Primer on the Backs of the Doors First
I primed the backs of the doors first by thinning the Zinnser Primer with about 10% tap water into the sprayer reservoir and stirred well.
You can watch this video if you want a visual on how to use the sprayer, but it’s pretty straight forward. Just go easy and don’t apply too thick of a coat or the primer could start puddling.
Prime the cabinet frames after priming the doors. (See Step 9.)
6. Prime the Door Fronts After 24 Hours of Dry Time
I let the primer on the door backs dry for 24 hours before flipping them over to prime the fronts.
I let the door fronts dry for another 24 hours as well. Make sure to thoroughly clean your sprayer with a hose between each coat to keep it working properly.
It’s a lot of wait time for drying, but this is a part of the job you do not want to rush.
Tip: Be sure you’re painting in low humidity weather conditions! High humidity can have a negative effect on your paint curing.
7. Apply Paint to Door Backs
Then, I just repeated the whole process with the sprayer using the Benjamin Moore Advance paint.
I thinned it with about 5% water and flipped the doors back over to spray the backs. I followed with a second coat on the backs 12 hours later and let dry for a full 24 hours.
Paint the cabinet frames after painting doors. (See Step 9.)
8. Apply Paint to Door Fronts
For the fronts, I repeated the process again- spraying one thin coat on the fronts, followed by a second coat 12 hours later, and letting dry for a full 24 hours.
I painted the backs first just in case the finish would get messed up when I flipped them, but both sides ended up looking great with that 24 hour drying time.
In between coats and waiting for the paint to dry on the doors in the garage, I went to work on the frames in the kitchen repeating the same process as the doors.
9. Apply Painters Tape Around Cabinet Frames and Repeat the Process
I taped the edges with painter’s tape and put down a plastic drop cloth on our new concrete countertops since I’m not exactly the most accident-proof painter in the world. Then…
- Spray with Krud Kutter and wipe down
- Wipe with Jasco Deglosser and let dry for 30 minutes
- Prime with 1 coat of Zinsser Smart Prime using an angled brush and foam roller and let dry 24 hours (You could use the sprayer on the frames too, but I didn’t feel like rigging up all of the plastic and floor coverings and creating a Dexter scene in our kitchen.)
- Paint with 2 coats of Benjamin Moore Advance using the angled brush and foam roller, letting dry 24 hours between coats
To make the job go faster, I would complete a step on the doors in the garage, then run inside to complete the same step on the cabinet frames as the doors dried, worked on the doors as the frames dried, and so on.
10. Score Painter’s Tape Before Removing
When the frames were all dry, I scored the painter’s tape with a utility knife before removing the tape to prevent any peeling.
11. Drill for Hardware Using a Template
I added the hardware using a cabinet and drawer template, but I was a bad blogger and didn’t get a chance to photograph that step. Oops. I think I was eager to get this project done!
12. Add Knobs and Pulls and Hang Doors Onto Frames
Robert pitched in with me to help out with attaching the doors back on the frames with the drill and then we did a victory dance smack in the middle of our newly bright white kitchen. Ahhhhhh!
Literally 4 hours after hanging our last cabinet doors, we hosted a massive Memorial Day cookout. Because apparently we like to live on the edge.
I am absolutely amazed at the difference in here. Since this space has no windows, it desperately needed a brightening up.
We still have just a couple of little things to do in here like adding a runner rug and buying new counter stools (or making over thrift finds but I doubt I’ll get that lucky).
I’m hoping we’ll be able to add under cabinet lighting soon too, but the jury’s still out on that one. We’ll see if the budget has any wiggle room later.
We’re swapping out our black range for a stainless steel one too, so that’s coming.
You can see how we installed our DIY whitewashed brick backsplash too. It was only $75 for our entire kitchen!
One of the very first projects we ever did in this house though was this chalkboard wall; it still comes in handy every day for planning out our weekly menu. (And keeping the kiddo entertained for drawing on while I’m cooking dinner.)
Next week, we’ll be adding reclaimed wood to the stool side of our bar to tie in with our DIY wood beam doorway. I’m so ready to replace that black range with a stainless steel one that will be arriving soon.
But in case you’re wondering, while snapping pictures of our fancy schmancy paint job in here, the watermelon slices didn’t last long. This girl can pretty much eat her weight in melon.
We are soooooo close to this kitchen being finished! This one project was a huge leap from where we were before. Paint is magical like that, right?
If you ever attempt to paint your own cabinets, I hope this one comes in handy. I’m sure I’ll be back in 6 months or so to share how they’re holding up, but I’m already really confident that they’re going to last for a very long time. It’s only been two days since we finished them and the paint has already dried to a rock solid finish. Woo to the hoo!
UPDATE: We have since moved out of this house, but the cabinets were still looking absolutely perfect a year after painting them! The new homeowners have reported that the painted cabinets are still holding up perfectly 3 years later too. This method works!
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Absolutely! Just be sure to clean them with a degreaser and wipe them down with deglosser, and you’ll be all set without the need to sand.
Benjamin Moore Advance is the best to use on cabinets and trim, but if you prefer a different brand, stick with a waterbourne alkyd enamel base.
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