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. I see that you used semi gloss paint, I have tons of grey paint left over from painting our house but its in a satin . eggshell finish. Do you think this would work for bathroom cabinets or should i just go out and get some semi gloss?

    1. You could get away with using satin, but I wouldn’t use anything for cabinets except semi gloss or satin. Eggshell would be too matte for that kind of project.

  2. My husband used a Rust- Oleum Cabinet transformation from Home Depot they told us it was very good he worked on this for about 2 1/2 to 3 weeks trying to make it perfect and it’s more of a chocolate color. Well we have spots where the paint came off on all the cabinets it looks horrible and I know it also had a glaze on top is there anything we can do to get this paint off and redo like on your article here I just saw I can’t afford all new cabinets. Mine were fine before we did this just wanted a different color

  3. In New Jersey, we can’t use oil based paint indoors. Is the paint you used petroleum based or water?

  4. Thank you for sharing. I love the paint color. Question, did you just add the gray color to the valspar or did you have a whole gallon of the valspar made to match the Benjamin Moore color? I was a little confused when you said you added the winter gates “mixed in” to the valspar. Thank you

  5. Such a useful guide, thanks for sharing! Love how detailed this post is, it will definitely help me a ton. Can’t wait to get started on my own bathroom cabinet next week.

    1. Yes! We numbered our hinges and put them in little labeled sandwich baggies for each separate cabinet door.

  6. I’m in the middle of doing my bathroom cabinets right now and I’ve done all your steps but with 2 layers of primer and now 2 layers of white satin finish paint but I can still see the cherry finish. What am I doing wrong?!? I’m worried I’ve totally screwed it up!

    1. Oh, I think I know what’s going on. It sounds like you have some bleed-through. I would have thought primer would have solved that issue, but some primers don’t work as well as others. You can brush on a thin coat of shellac and paint two coats of white paint on top of it, and that should fix it. I’m so sorry you’re going through that! I’ve run into the same problem painting cherry stained furniture before and it’s a total pain!

  7. Just a clarification, so you added your paint color, Winter Gates by Benjamin Moore, into Valspar Reserve paint? Equal halves? Obviously a paint newbie over here! Trying to prepare for my first project as I tackle my guest bathroom.

    1. Sorry for the confusion, Alyssa. So you can actually get any color from any brand mixed into whatever other brand of paint you want. So for instance, I don’t live close to a Benjamin Moore paint store, so instead, I can go to Lowe’s and tell them I want a gallon of Valspar Reserve paint in the color Benjamin Moore Winter Gates. They can search the color in their system and just have that Benjamin Moore color formula in their Valspar base so that it’s essentially the exact same color of paint as what I would have gotten at Benjamin Moore, only cheaper.

  8. We painted our “golden oak” kitchen cabinets. I did all the bottom cabinets with a roller and brush and my hubs used a sprayer on the upper cabinets. The roller and brush is definitely worth the extra time it takes. Also, we used the Sherwin Williams water borne alkyd paint – it’s like the finish of an oil based paint with water clean up – THE BEST. I used an oil based primer when I did the bottom, my husband didn’t prime (oops!) and we can tell zero difference. We’ll see if there’s a difference in durability as time passes, but I doubt it. For my island, I bought a Behr satin finish low VOC paint + primer and it went on beautifully. No extra primer, just used the paint.

    We did a lot of prep work before we painted. We sanded the finish off as best we could using a pretty coarse sand paper, then finished with a fine grit. I think that’s the secret. That and really good quality paint.

  9. I absolutely love what you have done!! What is the wall color and trim color you used? It all looks wonderful together!

    1. Thanks, Julie! The wall color is Sherwin Williams Sea Salt and the cabinets are Benjamin Moore Winter Gates. 🙂

    1. Hi Anna! It took a full week from start to finish. There’s definitely not many shortcuts you can take to make the process much faster except using the paint sprayer, which helped cut down the time a good bit.

  10. I am about to start a bathroom makeover! I really loved your wood and silver mirrors…mind sharing where you found those??? I would like to replace the builders huge plain mirror in my bathroom. I was thinking of either framing it out with molding or totally replacing it if I can find 2 mirrors for a good price…
    Thanks!

    1. Hi, Kate! We found our mirrors at Kirkland’s. It’s my FAVORITE place for inexpensive mirrors. Here’s the link to them: http://fave.co/21oAiD2 Sometimes you can combine a coupon with them to get them even cheaper too.

  11. I would do everything possible to just prime and paint. You could try giving them a good sanding first if there are any hardened paint drips or bad brush strokes. Paint removal is not an easy feat at all. 😉

  12. I love the information you have provided. I think I will start with the bathrooms, and then build up enough courage to attempt our kitchen. It is huge, and has a ton of cabinets. I love the color and think it will brighten up the room. Did you use Valspar Signature BM Winter Gates in bathroom, and Valspar Advanced latex in the kitchen? Thanks!

    1. So glad it could help, Stephanie! I did the same thing. I started in the bathrooms for a couple of practice rounds too. For the bathrooms, yes, I used Valspar Signature paint in the color Winter Gates by Benjamin Moore. For our kitchen though, I used Benjamin Moore Advance Paint in the BM color Simply White. Out of the two, I would highly suggest the Benjamin Moore just because the application was much better and it didn’t take long to cure at all and has a very hard finish. The Valspar is still good though if you want a little cheaper. Just be careful around it for about a month while it cures.

  13. Hi Lauren,
    I love your remodels, both bathrooms are amazing. We are attempting to paint our kitchen cabinets wish me luck! Did you use Valspar enamel paint? or just the simple Valspar signature base?

    1. Thank you, Corinne! I just used the Valspar Signature in our bathrooms, and it’s been great. It took a week or two to fully cure, so be gentle with it at first until the paint can fully harden. In our kitchen though, we’re using Benjamin Moore Advance paint and it is by far the #1 paint I would recommend from the others I’ve tried. It dried to a very hard enamel-like finish so it’s very durable.

  14. Thank you for your great advice. Just moved into a house with the worst bathroom cabinet paint job ever. It’s a huge bathroom with lots of drawers in addition to the two under the sink cabinets. I barely bumped a gray cabinet door with a box and managed to scratch off a four inch line which informed me that the previous color was robin’s egg blue and that the cabinets hadn’t been primed. The gray paint job was mediocre to begin with. Not even smooth to the touch. I knew I’d be doing something to it but the scratch has me motivated. Once we’re unpacked and I finish another painting project I’ve started, I’ll be tackling the cabinets.

    1. Oh no! What a pain! Hopefully, since it came off so easily with you just bumping into it that the paint job will come right off. Congrats on your new house!

  15. I bought a house that has painted cabinets and I hate the ugly brown. What should I do? Do I have to get the brown paint off first? I am a total Rookie! 😉

    1. Oh no! If the paint job itself isn’t too bad so it’s not peeling and the texture is okay, you can just paint over them. I would still prep them with sanding and a good primer. I avoid stripping paint at all costs if I can help it. It can get expensive, messy, and the fumes are awful.

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