How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

December 29, 2014Sarah Khandjian

Learn the tips and tricks of painting kitchen cabinets the right way!

Several months ago I shared how we were going to embark on a DIY kitchen update. Well here we are, a few months later and in the thick of it. After tons of travel in the fall we needed to hold off on the project until mid November. Two and a half weeks before Thanksgiving to be exact. And yes, we hosted Thanksgiving too (more on that later). So today I’m sharing our kitchen update and how we’re in the process of transforming our old kitchen with a little—ok, a lot—of elbow grease.

See how this 1960's galley kitchen was transformed by painting the cabinets a bright white.

Let’s start with a little refresher. Here’s our kitchen before. Dark brown stained cabinets with warm yellow walls AND a yellow ceiling. Our tiny galley windowless kitchen felt narrow and dark.

And here’s what it looks like now… still very much in process, but it’s already a huge transformation.

Learn the tips and tricks of painting kitchen cabinets the right way!

Our house was built in 1967 and the cabinets were surprisingly in pretty good shape so we opted to paint them. Since we were losing the space that was previously below the stove, we made up for it by creating a larger, 36″ wide lower cabinet to the left of the range. We hired a cabinet maker to build and install this cabinet and another narrow one to go on either side of the range. After a bit of research, we found that ready-made cabinets aren’t available in the same dimensions and door style as ours so we needed to have customs ones made.

Though I still dream of white shaker cabinets, we opted to modify our current kitchen rather than shell out a ton of money for new cabinets and granite countertops. Our priority and most of our budget went towards a new range because our previous cooktop/wall oven combo wasn’t cutting it. It was over 40 years old! We also replaced the stainless sink with a gigantic white sink and new faucet, which you’ll see a peek of in the photos below. I’ll share more about those in later post.

See how this old galley kitchen was transformed by painting the cabinets white. Post includes everything you need to know about how to paint your own cabinets.

Here’s what I used to paint the cabinets:

– Sherwin-Williams All Surface Enamel Oil Primer
– Sherwin-Williams ProClassic Interior Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd Enamel, in Pure White (satin)
– 4 inch foam mini paint roller
– Disposable foam brushes, for the edges and corners when using the primer
– Angled brush
– 60 grit sandpaper sheets (used about 25 sheets)
– 220 grit sandpaper sheets (used about 50 sheets)
– Power sheet sander

Here’s how to paint kitchen cabinets:

1. Remove everything from the kitchen. Seems obvious but if you don’t everything will be covered in a thick layer of dust.

This post goes over everything you need to refinish and paint your kitchen cabinets yourself.

2. Use 60 grit sandpaper and a power sander to remove the stain and varnish from your cabinets. This includes doors, drawer fronts, and the cabinet frames. You don’t need to sand them all the way down to the original wood finish, but you want to sand enough so the stain/varnish is removed. Then vacuum everything you sanded. Yep, everything, including the interior of cabinets because the dust gets everywhere.

Use oil-based primer for the best adhesion when painting your kitchen cabinets. Click through for more tips on DIY cabinet makeovers.

3.  Use the All Surface Enamel Oil Primer to prime the cabinet doors, drawers and frames. Use the foam roller wherever you can and use the brush only where it’s necessary (like corners and edges). The foam roller creates a very smooth service. I like using a separate foam roller and disposable paint tray for this step so I can just throw it away when I’m done and not have to mess with mineral spirits to clean it up. But if you get some of the oil based primer on your hands, you can use nail polish remover to get it off.

4. Wait at least 3 days for the primer to dry. The oil based primer is a bit sticky, and if you’re in a humid place like Florida, it takes some time to dry. I found it needed a full 3 days to dry.

5. Use 220 grit sandpaper to lightly sand all the primed doors, cabinets, and frames. Yes, this seems counter-intuitive but it’s a necessary step to get the paint to adhere to the wood. Once everything is sanded, vacuum or wipe down everything. Swiffer cloths are great for getting the dust off the doors. My sandpaper kept getting clogged even though the primer felt dry. But because we were in a time crunch, I kept going and used a new sheet of sandpaper on every door/drawer.

6. Paint the first coat of ProClassic Interior Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd Enamel on all the doors, drawer fronts, and frames. I painted the door fronts one day, let them dry for 24 hours, then flipped them over and painted the edges and backs. Allow the paint to dry for 24 hours.

7. Sand everything again using one sheet of 220 grit sandpaper per door/drawer. Then wipe and vacuum everything off again. Why? Because you really want the paint to stick! You don’t need to sand much, you’re just scoring the painted surface so the next coat of paint has something to grab onto.

Learn how to paint kitchen cabinets the right way! This post is loaded with great tips.

8. Paint the second coat on everything. Same process and step 6. Let everything dry for 24 hours.

9. May not be necessary but since I was started with very dark cabinets and going to pure white, I had to paint a third, and sometimes even a fourth coat on everything. I opted to not sand between these coats because I didn’t want to remove too much.

10. Allow the doors and drawers to dry for 1 week before putting them back up. This part is so important! If you don’t, you run the risk of having your doors stick to your freshly painted cabinets and the paint peeling up. You’ll also most likely need to caulk along the ceiling and the cabinet molding to close up any visible gaps. This is kinda tedious but it makes the room look so much more finished.

Though it took a ton of work and many hours I’m so so happy with the results. This was my first time using Sherwin-Williams paints and I’m really happy with the results. The combination of the Acrylic-Alkyd Enamel paint and the foam rollers means there is very little texture on the cabinets—which is a good thing!

Along the way I painted the yellow walls a slightly warm, light gray color and I’m in love. I used Sherwin-Williams Emerald Interior Acrylic Latex in matte and it went on like a dream. It covered so well—I didn’t use a primer and only had to do two coats. The walls are now a lovely matte finish. No more of that shinny semi-gloss! I also pained the ceiling, which was also the same yellow, pure white using the Emerald paint. I plan to paint over the wood paneling on the ceiling once we install the new pendant light fixture.

Loving this gray wall color in this kitchen. It's Sherwin Williams Sedate Gray.

I really had my heart set on open shelving if we completely redid the kitchen so I didn’t want to miss out on that feature just because we were keeping our old cabinets. I removed the doors from the first upper cabinet, patched the holes, and painted the inside of that cabinet (using the same process as outlined above). Now my collection of white dinnerware and colorful Pantone dishes is accessible and pretty. I think down the road I may wallpaper the inside wall of the cabinet.

Love this open shelving looks! It was created by just removing the existing cabinet doors and patching the holes.

The next thing on our list is the countertops, backsplash, and new light fixture. I’ll be sure to update date you on the process and share any tricks I learn along the way. Oh and don’t mind those open lower cabinet doors in the photo below. All the holes for the hinges need to be redrilled and realigned but that will happen after the holidays.

Here's a helpful tutorial on how to paint your kitchen cabinets. I'd love to do this to my kitchen!

Have you tackled painting your kitchen cabinets? If so, I’d love to hear your tips and tricks!

All paint used was provided by Sherwin-Williams. All thoughts an opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that help me keep Sarah Hearts going!

9 Comments

  • Erin

    December 29, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Ooh, lovely! We just painted ours white as well–I have a few photos on instagram but will be doing a blog post soon. We used pretty much the same process as you, though we didn’t use oil-based primer.
    Did you sand your final coat at all? We didn’t but a few tutorials I’ve seen said to sand the final coat if you use satin paint–but I feel like they’re pretty smooth anyhow!

    1. Sarah

      December 29, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      Thanks so much! Can’t wait to see your big reveal! I didn’t sand the final coat. Using the foam rollers gave it a really smooth finish and didn’t feel it was necessary.

  • Carrie

    December 29, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Looks beautiful Sarah!! You worked so hard and the payoff looks like it was worth it =) Happy holidays!

    1. Sarah

      December 29, 2014 at 9:58 pm

      Thanks so much Carrie! It’s very much a work in progress 🙂

  • Carissa

    January 10, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    fabulous job! In your research, did you read anything about needing a separate lacquer coat as protection on top of the paint?

    1. Sarah

      January 12, 2015 at 9:33 am

      Thanks Carissa! I only found that a clear coat was recommended if you were using chalk paint and in that case it would be a clear wax. Most people said that a clear coat over white paint has a chance of yellowing over time. I’ve only had one chip in the paint it was where a drawer stuck to the cabinet.

  • Taylor

    January 29, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    I want this kitchen. You clearly do not live in LA, because part of the bargain we signed with the devil excludes lavish setups like this. Unless that lotto ticket comes through… come one, lotto. I believe in you. *claps hands very hard

  • Jenn

    July 14, 2015 at 10:28 am

    How is this holding up? Would you change anything about your process if you had it to do again? I have my cabinet doors off and have my SW paint and primer and am about to start sanding today! If you have any advice for a petrified diy-er, let me have ’em! 🙂

    1. Sarah

      July 14, 2015 at 11:54 am

      It’s held up so great! We have gotten tiny two chips in the paint because we accidentally knocked a plate and knife into it, but other than that it’s been great. The white cabinets do get a little dirty (in areas like under the sink) but they clean up easily with a damp paper towel. The satin paint is more matte than most other brands (I’d consider it more egg shell) so if you want your cabinets to have more of a shine, I’d go with the semi-gloss. Happy painting! And let me know if you have any other questions 🙂

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