Painting Cabinets – Do’s and Don’ts!!

Many people these days are choosing to upgrade their 70’s, 80’s or 90’s style cabinets by painting them in a modern color. Painting cabinets has been around for a long time, but recently brought back into the spotlight by Chip and Joanna Gains, Property Brothers, etc.

Although few disagree that the end result is beautiful and sleek, there are many myths out there about how to achieve a professional result that will LAST!

Myth #1: I can paint my cabinets with whatever paint I have laying around the garage.

WRONG!! Many well-meaning Do-It-Yourselfers have made this mistake. They have some trim paint laying around, have a wild-hair idea to paint the cabinets, grab a brush and Voila! A disaster in the making. After proper preparation to the surface, use a high quality bonding primer to ensure long lasting results.  Talk to your paint store to recommend a high quality enamel to use as a finish coat.  Remember that lots of fingernails will be scratching cabinet surfaces for years to come.  Most regular wall paints or even latex acrylic trim paints will not hold up to the wear-and-tear of cabinet usage.

Myth #2: With a good quality enamel I don’t have to prep the surface before painting cabinets.

Cabinet doors

Sorry, wrong again. Like any good paint job, prep is priority over finish coats. To the professional, the primer is the most important layer when painting hard surfaces like cabinetry and doors.

  • First, you must sand through the clear shiny protective layer found on just about all cabinetry. You don’t have to take the stain off, or get down to bare wood, but you must de-gloss and remove all shiny varnish or polyurethane before priming.
  • Second, apply an excellent quality adhesion primer.  One coat of primer should be adequate even if it doesn’t cover completely.

Myth #3: I can tackle painting cabinets on a Saturday.

Well, maybe? If you have a team of helpful friends, free food, and a LOT of energy! It’s more likely you will need 2-3 weekends to tackle an entire kitchen. We recommend removing all hardware and hinges, (label the doors in numerical order for quick re-install times, or you’ll have a giant jigsaw puzzle on your hands at the end.)

The sanding can take an entire day. Be sure to put down plastic or drop-cloths to catch the dust.

The primer layer isn’t too bad. Be sure you purchase a good quality mohair or very fine roller cover for extremely low stipple affect on the surfaces of your door. Most paint stores have a product they recommend for smooth finishes like doors and cabinets. When using a brush, watch for heavy lines or drips before it dries!

Most of the problem with timing is waiting on coats to dry properly before adding another coat. It may feel dry after 1 hour, but don’t be fooled! If the primer is not properly cured, it will cause adhesion issues in 2-3 months and you will be unhappy with your work. Read the labels on the can of primers and enamels you are using for proper curing times between coats.

After primer, you will likely need to apply at least two coats of final enamel in your desired color to achieve a uniform and finished look.

Most people end up having cabinet doors spread out over the whole garage in various states of drying, so plan ahead and think where would be a good place for your ongoing project.

Myth #4: Hiring a professional to paint cabinets is too expensive.

Cost is a major reason homeowners choose to tackle even difficult projects like this on their own. The national average for cabinet painting is $75-$100 per door. This is not the actual charge, but is a quick way to get an idea of what your cabinet project might cost. Count the number of doors and multiply. This includes all labor and material to do your whole kitchen system. While not cheap, you may find it is worth your while to invest in a professional look with little to no mess in your house.

Only you can decide if the cost of a professional is outweighed by the time savings and peace of mind it will bring knowing that the job was completed by pros that know the system inside and out.

Cabinet before and afterAt Men In White Painting, we use furniture grade conversion varnishes to achieve an extremely durable, factory finished look to your cabinets. All doors and drawers faces are sprayed so there are no brush or roller marks. We can fill old hardware holes, and even drill new holes for your upgraded hardware before re-installation. We prefer to start our projects on a Monday, so everything can be put back by Friday. The best part is, your cabinets and drawers do not have to be emptied, and your kitchen is fully operational during the week!


Mark Black


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *