How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets. Tips and Design Ideas for a Fresh, Clean Look

Painting your kitchen cabinets is a budget-friendly choice for design change. They usually take up the most visible space in your kitchen, so they should be in best shape. Paint can work wonders and will cost you a fraction of even the cheapest new cabinets. But in order to achieve an effective makeover, you should really have the time and be willing to follow all the preparation steps thoroughly. We’ll show you how to paint your kitchen cabinets to make the effort worthwhile and enjoy that fresh, clean look for a long time.

Allow yourself enough time

Painting your kitchen cabinets isn’t a lazy Sunday project, but can take up one or two weeks. If you aren’t free for that amount of time, you’ll need to block out about three weekends to do a thorough job that isn’t rushed and eat a lot of takeout meals while your kitchen is out of commission. It’s crucial you have the time and patience to do this right.

How to paint your kitchen cabinets. Take down and label

As tempting as it may be to paint your cabinets with the doors and hardware (including hinges) still attached, don’t do it, because your cabinets and hardware will start to chip and show signs of wear within a month. Remove the cabinet doors and drawers, making sure to label where they came from. Also remove hinges and knobs.

If you are replacing the existing hardware with new pieces, drill the holes for it at this stage, filling all other holes and spots in the wood.

How to paint your kitchen cabinets. Clean up

No matter how clean your kitchen is, you need to scrub the cabinet boxes, doors and drawers. Paint will not stick to dirt or grease, so make sure your surfaces are prepped properly.

Mixing one part trisodium phosphate (TSP, found at the hardware store) with four parts water will produce an effective degreaser. Use gloves when handling the cleaner and give your cabinets a good wipe-down. Allow the cabinets to dry completely before moving on.

How to paint your kitchen cabinets. Sanding

Next you need to lightly sand all the painting surfaces so that the paint will stick. If you can wipe spills off your cabinets, paint will wipe off, too. Sand just enough to take the surface from glossy to matte. But if you have painted cabinets with flakes of paint coming off, you will need to get down to bare wood.

After sanding, vacuum away and finish with a tack cloth so no dust remains.

How to paint your kitchen cabinets. Primer

The primer that you select should be high quality and suited for the material of your cabinets (wood, metal, laminate). If you are going to be painting over a dark or stained surface, have your primer tinted to match your desired color. This step is important to keep the original color from showing through your new paint.

You can apply the primer with a small roller, as it saves time on flat surfaces, but you need to use a brush on those architectural details in your cabinetry.

How to paint your kitchen cabinets. Applying paint

Cabinets require a higher-quality paint than you would use for your walls, so don’t go for cheap one.

Follow the same method you used for applying primer to your cabinets, whether roller or paintbrush (or a combination of the two).

Apply a thin coat of paint, making sure to clean up any drips or pooling, and then wait. This may take a few days, depending on your environmental factors.

When the first coat is completely dry, lightly sand your cabinets, paint another thin coat and then wait (again, this may be days). You’ll need at least two coats of paint; depending on your coverage, you might even need a third or fourth coat (and more days of waiting).

How to paint your kitchen cabinets. Color choice

Now this is where the fun begins. There are so many choices, whether it’s a solid color throughout, the popular and trendy two-toned look (upper cabinets are neutral and the pop of color is saved for the lower ones) or a base color with a complementary accent color in strategic places, the options are limitless.

Think of the design elements in your kitchen that you love – it’s easy to coordinate cabinets with something you already own.

Vibrant kitchen cabinets, including rich colors such as cobalt blue and cranberry red, are a design trend evidenced all over the internet.

Pastels work well to brighten up a space, if that palette appeals to you.

If all of these color options make you anxious, white is one of the most common cabinet colors because of its clean, classic look.


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