The Beginner’s Guide to Painting Cabinets

A step-by-step beginner’s guide to painting cabinets including necessary supplies, tips to make the process easier and faster, and how to give them a smooth professional finish. 

Get your happy little bum wiggle on y’all! Dougie, nae nae, or twerk it (or ehhhh…maybe not). But have a victory dance of some kind because our hallway bathroom cabinets are painted!

Anti-cabinet painters, look away. Right now. And please forgive me for these graphic images of cherry stain being destroyed.

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

We’ve been really lucky in the cabinet department. Our basic builder grade package included very nice ones, but the finish wasn’t ideal. Don’t get me wrong; I think cherry wood stained cabinets are beautiful, but why put up with something you feel like isn’t you style?

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

After I painted our master bathroom cabinets, some of y’all started asking me about my cabinet painting process. Because really it’s one of those more-than-one-way-to-skin-a-cat situations. (Random thought: Isn’t that the worst figure of speech ever?)

You get it though. There are 3,547,654,764 tutorials out there for painting cabinets.

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

So it was time I delivered my deets. This really is the beginner’s guide to painting cabinets. Truthfully, I’m a bit of a beginner. As in, this is my second time doing it.

But I’ve admitted before that I research the heck out of some home advice, and this method works! If you find yourself staring at those old cabinets in your house that you hate, or you can’t justify painting your cabinets because they’re fairly new, let me tell ya, one beginner cabinet painter to another, you’ve got this. I believe in you. Don’t live with something you don’t love.

When I hashed out our hall bathroom design plan (which you can see more about design planning tips for your own home here), the very top priority on my list was getting rid of these reddish wood cabinets.

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

So you ready for it? Here’s everything I did, and two things I would have done differently.

Supplies:  (Affiliate links are listed below and noted by asterisks. I only recommend products I trust. For more information, see my full disclosure here.)

Approximate total:  $75.00  (This amount covered cabinets in 2 bathrooms.)

I learn something new after every project, and I wouldn’t be doing this blog justice if I didn’t share my trials and errors. I used Kilz Original Primer on our cabinets, and it worked great. But, next time, I would choose a primer that is low VOC. The fumes of the Kilz Original were intense. I’d rather buy the odorless version in the future.

I used Valspar Reserve semi-gloss paint, and even though the finish turned out beautifully, it took weeks to fully cure and wasn’t self-leveling. I really didn’t see a difference between the pricier Reserve Valspar line versus the cheaper Signature line. I’ve heard excellent reviews about this paint from Ace and this paint from Sherwin Williams. I’m okay with spending more, if the final results are better and faster.

I used the color Winter Gates by Benjamin Moore mixed into Valspar Reserve paint.

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

 The Steps:

1. Remove all of your drawer fronts and cabinet doors. Make sure you label each drawer/door with their matching hinges too. Mixing them up when you’re ready to reattach them later can be a big headache.

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

2. Tape down your drop cloth. I like using a plastic shower curtain liner because they cost less than $1. And, if you’re not confident in your edging abilities, use painter’s tape. (Like me, Shakey McGee, over here.)

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

3. Use chemical resistant gloves to wipe down all cabinet doors, drawers, and box with a rag using liquid deglosser. (I don’t sand all over in the prep process because the liquid deglosser can really handle it, but if you want to take that extra step, go for it.)

I didn’t need to fill any hardware holes with the knobs and handles I’d chosen, but use wood filler to fill any hardware holes after the deglosser is dry. Once the wood filler is dry, sand the old hardware spots until smooth. Wipe away any sanding dust.

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

4. To help with clean-up, and because I don’t want to wash oil-based paint down a drain anywhere, I wrap my painter’s tray in a plastic grocery bag before pouring in my primer.

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

5. Use the economy grade brush to apply primer to any corners, edges, and hard to reach areas. Use a cabinet roller to smooth the primer on the box, drawer, and doors. Start on the backside of the doors first. Sand between coats for a really smooth finish.

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

6. Once the primer has dried and you’ve tossed out your grocery bag, repeat step 5 with the semi-gloss paint, your second roller, and Purdy paint brush. I applied two coats.

7. After the paint has dried, score the edge of your painter’s tape with your utility knife, and slowly peel up the tape. This should preven any paint from peeling up with it.

8. Attach your hardware and admire your handiwork!

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

I found these handles and spigot-looking knobs at Hobby Lobby at 50% off. (I’m hooked on their hardware.)  Aren’t they the cutest?

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

Yay! We’re getting there! Sorry about the icky lighting in this bathroom, but this space has no natural light at all.

Beginner's Guide to Painting Cabinets | Bless'er House

Have you painted any cabinets lately that you’re booty-shaking-excited about? Or do you have any good-to-know tips you’ve learned in your own process? I’d love to hear them! That cherry wood kitchen of ours is asking for it.

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94 Comments

    1. Glad it could help, Natalie! Have you tried chalk paint or Fusion Mineral Paint? I love using that the most on furniture makeovers. Much less prep work and it’s still very durable.

        1. Thanks, Diane! I personally wouldn’t recommend it just because I know other people who have experience horrible results with chalk paint on cabinets, especially in kitchens. On the flipside, I know some people who absolutely loved their experience with it. But I didn’t want to chance it, so I chose a tried and true latex. I’m currently painting our kitchen cabinets using Benjamin Moore Advance which is formulated specifically for cabinets and it’s worth every penny. I can already tell it’s going to be durable for many many years just by the way it’s drying.

  1. I have a couple questions –
    1) did you follow the same process for the end piece that is almost never made out of real wood?
    2) for kitchens, I read another comment where you said that process is a little different, for example using TSP first to clean and then degloss. After that step, how much would you recommend sanding and with what grit sand paper? Would this be absolutely necessary or can we trust the deglosser?

      1. ahhh!!! My bathroom cabinets are midway through and so far, so god EXCEPT that a small portion pealed off when I took the tape off. Luckily it is a spot where it won’t see much traffic so I touched it up but I plan to do my master bathroom and kitchen cabinets. What do you think I did wrong? Not enough deglosser?

        1. Oh no! I usually peel off the painter’s tape immediately when the paint is still wet and that eliminates the peeling problem. (Learned the hard way on our master bathroom cabinets.) The paint also takes sometimes up to a month to completely cure. It will be dry within a few hours but you’ll still be able to press with your fingernail into the paint and see an indention for up to a month. Just be careful around it for a couple weeks until it’s fully hardened. Hope that helps! Glad it’s only one spot though.

          1. OK, good to know. For the rest, I will likely do a light sanding with the D Glosser just to make sure I’ve got everything and I’ll probably run a razor blade along the tape before I peel it off. Sounds like that should solve my problems. Thanks!!

  2. Thanks for sharing the cherry cabinets in my kitchen are sucking up the lighting on that end of my kitchen. My windows are on the opposite end of the kitchen so I need to do something soon. The cabinets are a good quality.

    1. I have the EXACT same problem. I’m dreading painting our cabinets, but that dark wood with very little sunlight is like a cave. Glad it could help!

  3. I really want to tackle my kitchen…I have those old honey gold oak cabinets from the 70’s and want to change them to an antique white with black hardware. I’ll be reading this over and over, making lists to make sure I get all the supplies required. I just wanted to Thank You for these instructions.

  4. Wow!!!
    What a fabulous job!!! I LOVE the hardware too!
    It is encouraging to witness a “newbie” turning out such a good result ??

    We are in the midst of our own Masterbath remodel and we’ve decided to save the cash and simply paint our stock cabinets too.

    You really did a great job!

    Glad to have found your blog!

    1. Thank you so much, Jerica! It’s been almost a year since I painted our cabinets in our master bathroom, and they have held up PERFECTLY using this method. The cure time is a pain (as it is with all paints when doing cabinets), but it’s soooo worth it. You can totally do it! I promise.

  5. hi Vanessa, i just finished a small bathroom cabinet. how long did it take for your paint to cure? i put on the primer plus 2 coats of paint letting each dry for a day. I used Sherwin Willians Ovation paint.
    also have you every heard of putting a sealer on paint like you do when you stain wood?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Caroll! It really depends on the weather conditions, I’ve found. I like to paint in little to no humidity and mild temperatures in the fall and spring because extreme heat and rain outside can cause problems with paint curing. I let all of it dry for 24 hours before screwing the doors and drawer fronts back on. We were really gentle with it while it continued to cure, which took close to a month. Maybe see how yours do after 3-4 weeks. I haven’t done a sealer on mine before though. If you have white painted cabinets and use a polyurethane or polycrylic sealer though, it can sometimes cause yellowing.

  6. Hi there! I just had a couple of questions.
    How many coats of primer did you apply, and how long did it take to dry?
    & also how did you position the doors and drawers while they were drying?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Vanessa! I only did one coat of primer. I can’t remember how long I let it dry, but I just followed the drying time on the back of the can. For the doors and drawers, I layed them out on a plastic drop cloth and made sure they were very dry before flipping them over to do the other side. But I primed and painted the backs first so if something happened to the finish when I flipped them, the fronts would still be nice and smooth. I’ve seen people use push pins on the four corners on the backs too to elevate them.

  7. Great job. I’m on a landlord forum and one of the tricks they use is putting sheet formica on the bottom of a vanity, and under a kitchen sink. Helps with the occasional plumbing leak.

  8. I just painted the cabinets in two bathrooms and I really love the Benjamin Moore Advance paint. I decided to use it after painting a huge wall of closet doors with it. It goes on a little odd, it appears slightly streaky, but it contains a self leveler and slowly and completely flatens out leaving a super smooth finish. It does take a couple of weeks to fully cure, but once it does, it is a super solid surface that is very waterproof. Nice feature for baths and kitchens…the other bonus is that you can paint vertical surfaces and even though it is thick paint, it doesn’t slide or drip. Love the stuff.

  9. A great reference Lauren! Featured you at Be Inspired this morning. Thanks so much for sharing. Always love your projects!

  10. Wow, I absolutely love that color. I would give anything to not be renting right now so I could find some cabinets to do this with. 🙂 I’m pinning so I can save it for when I get to design my mom’s house in October!

    1. I know the feeling. I would have loved to paint our cabinets in our apartment several years ago. Just makes you appreciate future possibilities even more. 🙂 Thanks for the pin! So exciting that you get to design your mom’s house!

    1. Thanks girl! It really is a great feeling. Amazing what paint can do. I was so excited when I found those handles too. So stinkin’ cute!

  11. They look great, Lauren! And good for you for deciding to only live with things you love! 😀 I’m currently banishing all the orange woodwork in the upstairs of our house — my only recommendation would be before you tackle your kitchen, get a sprayer — it’ll change your world. Promise! 😀

    1. Yes! I’m definitely wanting to invest in a sprayer. Our kitchen is big, which is good. But definitely tough for painting. Thanks, Cynthia. 🙂

  12. Your cabinets are fabulous! Love the handles, and the color! And thanks for the tutorial! I’ve not gotten the courage to paint my cabinets yet, but I’m slowly getting there! 🙂 ~Rhonda

    1. Thanks, Rhonda! It was so worth it. I had to drum up the courage too, but now that it’s finished, I’m so glad I did it.

  13. We used a paint from Home Depot for our kitchen cabinets that is just for cabinets. My husband painted them a chocolate color and the paint is wearing off looks really bad. What can we do?

    1. Oh no! Do you remember the name of the paint you used? I do know that enamel paint is supposed to work the best because it dries to a harder, more durable finish than latex. Even if primer is built in to the paint, I still use a good primer as a base. Kitchen cabinets require more prep work too because of the grease and grime that can collect from cooking, so they need a deep cleaning beforehand using something like TSP. Then, degloss, sand, prime, paint. We haven’t tackled our kitchen yet, but I’ve been gathering as much information as possible about it.

      1. Oh no! So sorry you’re having such a bad time, Jessica! I know from the cabinet painting I’ve done, the secret has all been in the prep work. It’s a total pain to take a day to properly prep them, but it’s so worth it. Our bathroom cabinets and kitchen cabinets have held up perfectly. I wrote about the process for our kitchen cabinets here too, if that helps, and found a cabinet paint I love even more since it takes hardly any time to cure: https://www.blesserhouse.com/2016/06/paint-kitchen-cabinets-like-pro.html

  14. Hello Lauren! I love love this tutorial! You did an amazing job transforming the entire room! I am stopping by to invite you to share this project (and others hopefully) over on my blog! I am hosting my first ever linky party exclusive to furniture this coming Thursday August 6 starting at 6:00pm (MST). I would be honoured if you would join in! Please come and share your talent!

    Smiles!
    Terry
    http://thecuratorscollection.wordpress.com

  15. They look great, I love that color and the hardware pairs perfectly with it! I’ve painted my kitchen cabinets twice within the last year but I did it all with a brush and it was the most daunting task ever. When I tackle our bathrooms I am for sure using a foam roller!! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Angela! Yes, definitely invest in a foam roller. Saves a ton of time and energy, and the paint ends up much smoother. I think my whole roller kit was only $5.

    1. Thank you for reminding me I didn’t mention the color! I just went back to add it to the post. I used Benjamin Moore Winter Gates. It’s the same color on our master bathroom cabinets too. Love it!

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