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Paint Your Cabinets in Six Steps

Updated on November 18, 2014

Painting Cabinets in Six Steps

Painting your cabinets is not as intimidating as you might think. All you need is the right information and guidance. I found the best and he is generously sharing his step-by-step Kitchen & Bath Cabinet Painting know-how with us.

Six Steps to a new look for your cabinets comprehensively detailed by professional painter and entrepreneur Michael Hudak. All credits for process, method, and recommendations to author.

Authored by:

Michael Hudak

Composed by:

Lori A. Sawaya, The Land of Color & Color Strategies, LLC

Color Strategist | Colorographer

915-490-2921

General Preparation

Complete Tools & Materials List

  • Screwdriver
  • Flexible putty knife (metal)
  • Drill & drill bits
  • Hardware mounting template
  • Heavy spackling paste or wood filler
  • Odorless Mineral Spirits
  • Cotton cloths
  • Jasco TSP No Rinse Substitute (available at Home Depot) 1 st Choice OR
  • Dirtex by Savogran (available at True Value Hardware) 2 nd Choice
  • 2 Buckets
  • Scrubbing sponge
  • Terry towels
  • Aluminum Oxide Sandpaper - 120 grit open coat - 180 grit open coat
  • Tack cloth
  • Vacuum brush
  • Zinsser Bulls Eye 1 2 3 Water Base Primer Sealer
  • Zinsser BIN spray can (optional)
  • 1" Nylon/Polyester paint brush (see list of brushes)
  • 2" Nylon/Polyester paint brush
  • 400 grit wet or dry sandpaper
  • 1" Painter's Tape
  • Acrylic Enamel Paint (see list at end)
  • 1½" nylon/polyester paint brush (see list at end)
  • 2" nylon/polyester paint brush
  • Handy Paint Pail with liner (available at paint stores everywhere) OR empty gallon paint can
  • 7 ¼" nap woven roller cover and frame (optional)

Surface Preparation

Bare Wood - Previously Painted - Varnished - Polyurethaned Wood Surfaces - Formica - Melamine Laminates

All surfaces must be clean, dry and sound, free of wax, dirt and grease. Paint preparation is hard work. You'll be tempted to take short cuts. Remember that the final results will depend on your preparation efforts. Pace yourself and do it right.

How To Get Started - Step by Step

  • I suggest emptying the cabinets before starting the refinishing process. Remove cabinet doors. Remove drawers and empty contents.
  • Move cabinet contents back away from edge to allow for cleaning, sanding and painting.
  • Remove the hardware, knobs, pulls and hinges. If you are going to reposition the hardware or install a different style, drill the new mounting holes and fill the old holes with heavy spackling paste by Zinsser or a wood filler.
  • Inspect cabinet surfaces for any signs of mold or mildew. All mold or mildew must be removed with three parts water and one part bleach prior to surface cleaning. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Mount new hinges and align doors for proper fit to the frame. This will eliminate the need for drilling and will help prevent any accidental scratches or other marring after painting. Once doors are fitted properly, remove the hinges and set aside.

Step 1

Degreasing

Tools/Materials For This Step:

  1. Odorless Mineral Spirits
  2. Cotton cloths

Note: If your cabinets are not greasy or hairspray has not been used, you may skip this step and move to Step 2.

Degreasing - Can you skip to Step 2?

  1. Wipe the surface with a cloth dampened with mineral spirits. This removes grease and grime. Turn the cloth often to avoid reapplying the grime back to the surface.
  2. Let the mineral spirits evaporate 5 minutes.
  3. Examine the surface with your hand. If it feels sticky, wipe again with the mineral spirits. Let dry 5 minutes.

Step 2

Cleaning

Tools/Materials For This Step:

  1. Jasco TSP No Rinse Substitute (available at Home Depot) 1 st Choice
  2. Dirtex by Savogran (available at True Value Hardware) 2 nd Choice
  3. 2 Buckets
  4. Scrubbing sponge
  5. Terry towels

CAUTION: Both of the cleaning products will dull most glossy surfaces. Do not use TSP as a cleaner. Towel dry surfaces before solution dries!

Mix the Cleaning Solution - Follow Label Directions Carefully

  1. Mix the cleaning solution in one bucket. Fill the second bucket with a gallon of clean warm water.
  2. Use a scrubbing sponge like SOS or equivalent. Apply the cleaning solution with the scrubber side of the sponge. Wash vigorously, especially in corners and on edges and around knob and pull areas.
  3. Rinse sponge in clean water before applying cleaning solution to adjacent area.
  4. Important step: Towel dry the surface before solution dries.
  5. Repeat until all surfaces are clean.
  6. Allow all surfaces to dry a minimum of one hour before proceeding.

Step 3

Sanding

Tools/Materials For This Step:

  1. Aluminum Oxide Sandpaper – 120 grit open coat – 180 grit open coat
  2. Tack cloth
  3. Vacuum brush
  4. Odorless Mineral Spirits

SANDING IS A MUST! - Sand WITH the Grain

Next to cleaning, sanding will prepare the surface for a long-lasting durable finish.

Begin with #120 grit open coat, and finish sanding with #180 grit open coat sandpaper.

  1. Sand lightly, but thoroughly.
  2. Pay particular attention to edges and corners.
  3. Make sure these surfaces are smooth and clean. Examine all surfaces before moving on to next step. Make sure that all surfaces to be painted are smooth.
  4. When sanding is complete, vacuum all dust from the surfaces, crevices, corners etc.
  5. Wipe the surfaces with a tack cloth followed by a cloth dampened with mineral spirits.
  6. Let dry.
  7. Vacuum the work area to pick up residual sanding dust from floors and appliances, etc.

Step 4

Primer

Tools/Materials For This Step:

  1. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1 2 3 Water Base Primer Sealer
  2. Zinsser BIN spray can (optional)
  3. 1 ½" Nylon/Polyester paint brush (see list of brushes)
  4. 2" Nylon/Polyester paint brush
  5. 400 grit wet or dry sandpaper
  6. 1" Painter's Tape

I personally use and recommend Zinsser Bulls Eye 1 2 3 Water Base Primer Sealer. If there are knots or tannin bleeds, use Zinsser BIN spray primer to spot prime those areas. Zinsser primers seal stains, knots, and porous surfaces. It also levels nicely and has great enamel-hold-out.

Let's Brush On The Primer!

Time to apply Primer.

  • Doors. Use a block of wood or empty boxes (shirt boxes work great) to elevate the doors off the worktable so you can paint the edges easily. Using the 2" brush apply primer to back sides of doors and edges. After 2 hours of drying time, turn door over and prime the front of the doors. Be sure all edges, lips, etc. are primed.
  • Drawers. You may want to mask along the drawer box to maintain a clean, straight edge between the drawer box and drawer fronts. (You can leave this tape on until you're finished with the final painting) Apply primer to drawer fronts, edges and inside lip of drawer front. If you're good with a brush, go for it without masking it!
  • Cabinet frame. Mask along bottom rail and cabinet box, top rail and headboard and other areas as required to maintain a clean straight edge. With the 1 ½" brush apply the primer to the inside edges of vertical stiles then to the face of vertical stiles. Prime horizontal rails starting with the inside edge then the face of the horizontal rails.
  • Remove the masking tape before proceeding to the next step!
  • End panels (returns). Use masking tape if needed. Prime end panels (returns) with 2" brush or small roller.

    Note : If you use a roller, a slight stipple pattern may appear on the surface when dry. If you want it smooth, use the brush only.

  • Allow primer to dry for at least one hour.
  • Remove the masking tape.
  • For a super smooth surface, apply a second coat of primer and let dry overnight or 8 hours. (If you are using this step, you can remove masking tape after second coat of primer is brushed on.) After primer has dried for 8 hours, lightly sand the primed surfaces with #400 sandpaper. Sand as if you're buffing the surface, gently.

Step 5

Painting

Tools/Materials For This Step:

  1. Acrylic Enamel Paint (paint recommendations below)
  2. 1 ½" nylon/polyester paint brush (see list below)
  3. 2" nylon/polyester paint brush
  4. Handy Paint Pail with liner (available at paint stores everywhere) OR empty gallon paint can
  5. 7 ¼" nap woven roller cover and frame (optional)

PAINTING!
This is what you've been preparing for.
A luxurious, bright clean finish on your cabinets.

Painting - Find a place to layout the doors and drawer fronts.

  1. A clean dust free environment is preferred.
  2. Use a block of wood or empty boxes (shirt boxes work great) to elevate the doors off the table so you can paint the edges with the fronts.
  3. Stir the paint slowly and thoroughly.
  4. Pour one quart of the paint into the Handy Paint Pail or an empty gallon paint can.

Doors & Drawers - Notes:

  • If you use a roller, a slight stipple pattern may appear on the surface when dry. If you want it smooth, use the brush only. Using a roller on the backside of the door is fine since it's hidden.
  • If you feel more comfortable with a 1 ½" brush on the drawer fronts, use it.

  1. DO NOT APPLY A HEAVY COAT. Two thin coats are much better than a heavy coat. Heavy coats will run or sag . Practice your brushing skills on a scrap piece to get the hang of it . Remember to paint doors with vertical brush strokes and drawers with horizontal brush strokes.
  2. Using the 2" brush OR a 7 ¼" nap woven roller cover apply the first coat of your chosen acrylic enamel paint on the backside of door.
  3. Dip 1/3 of the brush into the paint. Lightly tap the sides of the brush against the can or paint pail. Don't scrape off the paint! Do not "over brush" the paint; it will level to a smooth finish as it dries.
  4. Begin brushing out the paint in 8" to 12" sections. Brush out to a uniform film maintaining a wet edge (paint from an unpainted area into the wet paint film).
  5. Finish with brush strokes in one direction from end to end of door and move to next section.
  6. After the required drying time (4 hours minimum) you can turn the door over and paint the front and any edges, lips, etc.

Cabinet Frame

Note: When painting near an inside corner, paint out of the corner, not into it. This will help prevent paint build-up in corners. If you see paint build-up in a corner, scrape the brush several times and use the tip to lightly dab (tip-off) excess paint build-up out of corner.

  1. Apply painter’s masking tape as you did in " Step 4: Primer".
  2. Using the 1 ½" brush apply a thin coat of paint to the inside edge of each vertical stile and then the face of the vertical stile. Brush it out 4 to 6 inches. Finish with brush stroke in one direction.
  3. Paint inside edges of horizontal rails and then the face of horizontal rails. Brush it out 4 to 6 inches. Finish with brush stroke in one direction. Painting it this way will help avoid runs and drips at edges and corners.
  4. Remove the masking tape before proceeding to next step.

End Panels (returns) - Use Masking Tape if Needed

Note: Removing the masking tape after each process will help prevent accidentally lifting the drying film of the primer or paint. Leave it on at your own risk.

Note : If you use a roller, a slight stipple pattern may appear on the surface when dry. If you want it smooth, use the brush. When using brush, finish each section (brush width) with an upward brush stroke to prevent runs and sags.

  1. Paint end panels (returns) with 2" brush or roller.
  2. Remove the masking tape.
  3. Allow paint to dry according to label instructions.
  4. Apply second coat of paint in the same manner as the first coat.

Step 6 - Optional but highly recommended.

Sanding Between Coats

To achieve an ultra smooth finish on doors and drawers, you may want to sand between coats of the acrylic enamel.

A #220 to #240 grit sandpaper is used for this purpose.

  1. Allow the first coat to dry for at least 8 hours.
  2. Keeping the paper flat against the surface, very lightly "buff" the paint. Do not apply pressure!
  3. After sanding, vacuum with a brush attachment and wipe clean with a tack cloth.
  4. Apply second coat of paint in the same manner as the first coat.

Sealer Coat - This step is not required when using a high quality acrylic enamel.

If you wish to seal your newly finished cabinets and make the finish more durable, you can apply a Polycrylic ä sealer by Minwax. It can be sprayed or brushed. Follow manufacturers directions carefully. A minimum of 2 coats should be applied if you choose this option.

Returning To Service

Allow 72 hours before returning the cabinets to full service.

Install new pulls, hinges and handles after this time. Step back and enjoy the great job!

Paint Samples - How To - Use Swatch Right Paint-Peel-and-Stick Color Sample Decals

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About:

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  1. THE COLOR! Swatch Right Grey is a neutral color boost that works for you to achieve opacity faster. Especially helpful with deep or vibrant colors that require multiple coats.
  2. THE TAB! You have something to hold on to when applying paint and also someplace to write the paint color name, number.
  3. REMOVABLE, repositionable, and flexible.

Why Swatch Right works better than a board:

YOUR OBJECTIVE IS TO PREVIEW AND EVALUATE COLOR. NOT WALLBOARD.

Swatch Right mimics the behavior of paint film. It's completely flexible and conforms to shapes and contours - walls, ceilings, trim, corners. . . just about anywhere!

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Paint Recommendations - I have used these paints and achieved successful results

  • Cabinet Coat by Insl-x

  • Satin Impervo Waterborne by Benjamin Moore

  • Pro Classic Satin Waterborne by Sherwin Williams

  • You can also use Semi-gloss enamel if you like

Professional Brushes for Professional Results - Purchase and use the style of brush you are most comfortable with.

There is no advantage to either a sash brush or a flat brush. Both work well when used properly. You should have at least 2 of each, a 1½" and a 2" Nylon/Polyester brush. If you can afford it, buy a brush set for primer and a brush set for the acrylic enamel. Be prepared to spend $15 - $20 for a quality brush.

Recommendations are in order of my personal preference:

Corona Brush:

  • Angle Sash – Cortez
  • Flat Brush - Tacoma

Wooster Brand:

  • Angle Sash – Ultra Pro Soft Willow # 4167
  • Flat Brush – Ultra Pro Soft Mink # 4172

Purdy Brand:

  • Glide Elite

Helpful Products and Tools - For Your Home

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    • profile image

      yourcondoqueen 7 years ago

      What color is the silver sage called and what brand of paint?

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 6 years ago

      I have been looking for these instructions and am glad they are on squidoo...what a great lens! 5 * and a ~"Squid Angel Blessing"~

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 6 years ago

      These kitchens look beautiful. I need to re-paint mine again to freshen what I did a few years ago. Thanks for the good info!

    • Lori Sawaya profile image
      Author

      Lori Sawaya 6 years ago from The Land of Color

      @yourcondoqueen: Benjamin Moore's Gray Wisp would give you that look. Be sure to buy a sample and test in your own kitchen, light.

    • Lori Sawaya profile image
      Author

      Lori Sawaya 6 years ago from The Land of Color

      @delia-delia: Thanks, d-artist!

    • Lori Sawaya profile image
      Author

      Lori Sawaya 6 years ago from The Land of Color

      @GuyB LM: Hunter Green and Kelly Green are very hot colors right now. I don't really *do* trends but you can't ignore the colors people are gravitating toward -- and the greens are attractive right now.

    • Lori Sawaya profile image
      Author

      Lori Sawaya 6 years ago from The Land of Color

      @RinchenChodron: You're welcome. Thanks for stopping by!

    • profile image

      babba123 6 years ago

      I have wood file cabinets ... what is the best way to paint it ??

    • Lori Sawaya profile image
      Author

      Lori Sawaya 6 years ago from The Land of Color

      @babba123: Same process would apply to a file cabinet as it would to kitchen cabinetry. Just follow instructions above for your file cabinet too.

      Good luck!

    • profile image

      Wilkes-Barre_Painter 6 years ago

      Fantastic useful info, thanks!

    • profile image

      HappyPainter 5 years ago

      @Lori Sawaya: Very explicit instructions for painting kitchen cupboards. I was told that using a primer was not necessary with Cabinet Coat; just clean, sand and paint. Has anyone else heard this? I'll be printing off these instructions, just the same. Better to be safe than sorry.

    • profile image

      HappyPainter 5 years ago

      @HappyPainter: Yes, I've heard exactly the same thing. Clean, sand and paint. The salesperson I talked to at BM told me she did her kitchen cupboards this way and they turned out great. She showed me pictures and they did look wonderful.

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 5 years ago from West Virginia

      Wow, so many more steps than seen on home improvement shows.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 5 years ago from Land of Aloha

      Top shelf information here to paint your cabinets the RIGHT way. Great lens!

    • Lori Sawaya profile image
      Author

      Lori Sawaya 5 years ago from The Land of Color

      @HappyPainter: That's true, Cabinet Coat says no primer necessary. You can choose to skip the primer but it's only one extra step for something that will last at minimum a decade. I'd say prime - better safe than sorry.

    • Sensitive Fern profile image

      Sensitive Fern 5 years ago

      I think about painting my cabinets sometimes but immediately get intimidated. This lens helps a lot!

    • Lori Sawaya profile image
      Author

      Lori Sawaya 5 years ago from The Land of Color

      @Sensitive Fern: Yep, all will be well if you follow these instructions. Just add time and patience and it's the perfect recipe!

    • profile image

      jennifertaylor91 5 years ago

      Thanks for advice a how to easy repaint cabinet...Entire process is quite useful and easy to utilize.. I inspired to re décor of my cabinet at the living room and try to make awesome..

      --------------------------

      Curio cabinet lights

    • profile image

      StudyMaster 4 years ago

      I recently undertook this project. Your step by step instructions are amazing. Before this project I had never painted anything! My kitchen looks great. Since then I Have done 3 bedrooms and after this post I am painting the sun room. Now if I could learn to stain floors!

    • Lori Sawaya profile image
      Author

      Lori Sawaya 4 years ago from The Land of Color

      @StudyMaster: StudyMaster, thank you so much for your feedback! Congratulations on the success of all your projects!

    • Justinleon LM profile image

      Justinleon LM 4 years ago

      All the steps has given it a great look in the end.

    • profile image

      greytdogz 3 years ago

      I've wanted to do the kitchen cabinetry in our motor home simply to brighten things up. I was never sure how to go about it but now I do. Thanks.

    • rattie lm profile image

      rattie lm 3 years ago

      I have actually done this successfully. Here in Australia, we have a product called ESP (easy surface preparation) and I swear if you use it, you paint will not chip. Just love the idea of the swatches.

    • Lori Sawaya profile image
      Author

      Lori Sawaya 3 years ago from The Land of Color

      @rattie lm: Thanks for your comment, rattie. Swatch Right is only available in the states right now. Maybe some day we'll get to Australia! That would be awesome.

    • leibwood profile image

      leibwood 3 years ago

      Around five years ago, I painted our 10-year old cabinet all by myself just to prove to hubby that I can do some DIY painting without his assistance. When I got through with it, I was proud of my work, although it wasn't that superb. Nonetheless, hubby was quite impressed with my work. Probably next year, we've another cabinet that would be up for a painting job, and with these great tips, I'm very confident that I can do a much better painting job than before. Thanks for this lens.

    • seodress profile image

      seodress 3 years ago

      Very useful information. Great lens.

    • seodress profile image

      seodress 3 years ago

      Very useful information. Great lens.

    • profile image

      Jen 19 months ago

      is there any way to fill the deep grain on oak cabinets?

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