How to repaint kitchen cabinets

Quick home fixups: Refinish your kitchen cabinets with new hardware and paint

a bright, orange, modern kitchen island with a steel countertop sits in the middle of this updated, vintage style kitchen

By Joanne Liebeler

I once bought a house whose kitchen was darker than a Chekhov play. The cabinets were dirty brown. The wallpaper was faded and spotted with grease. I knew I had to lighten up that space before I moved in a single dish. So I painted the cabinets―instant transformation!

Step-by-step guide:  How to repaint kitchen cabinets

Many of us have cabinets in good condition, but the finish is cringe-inducing. Fortunately, there’s an easy, albeit time-consuming, fix that doesn’t involve taking a sledgehammer to the room. You can paint the cabinets any color you like and top them off with new hardware.

Before you get too excited, you need to make sure your cabinets are paintable.

Solid wood, wood veneer, and metal cabinets take paint well, but laminate and melamine finishes do not.

If this is what you have, there is still a way to give them a face-lift, but it’s best done by a professional. Look in the yellow pages for cabinet resurfacing companies. They will sell you new doors and drawer fronts, and put a veneer (a thin outer layer of higher-quality wood) over your current cabinet frames and sides.

You need high-quality paint for this project. The last thing you want is to invest this much time and effort only to have your paint peel a couple of months later.

Satin or semigloss paint is the most scrubbable, but you should choose a finish you like. Using a paintbrush will leave visible marks, which may or may not bother you.

A spray gun will create the cleanest finish. If you decide to rent one for this project, practice on some scrap wood first and make sure you cover all the surfaces you don't want to paint with plastic sheeting.

The microscopic overspray will get all over the room. The quickest and easiest way to paint cabinets is with a foam roller, which leaves a very light pattern on the surface. Use a 4-inch or 6-inch roller to paint the frames and doors.

What you need to paint cabinets

  • Screwdriver or drill
  • Ziplock bags, pencil, and paper
  • Work tables or sawhorses
  • Rubber gloves
  • Trisodium phosphate cleaner (TSP)
  • Bucket of water
  • Sponge
  • Wood putty (if necessary)
  • Small putty knife (if necessary)
  • 150-grit sandpaper
  • Vacuum
  • Cotton rags
  • Painter ’s tape
  • Drop cloths
  • Primer/sealer
  • 4” or 6” paint roller with foam roller cover and paint tray, or spray gun
  • Paintbrush (if necessary)
  • Plastic sheeting and scrap wood (if using spray gun)
  • Paint
  • 220-grit wet/dry sandpaper

Time and talent

You’ll need to remove the items from your cabinets and set up a work area for painting doors and drawers.

Your kitchen will be unusable during this time, so you’ll want to work as quickly as possible. But depending on how large your kitchen is, it may take you a couple of days just to apply the first coat.

Set aside at least 4 days, including drying time. 

Photos: Step-by-step guide to refinishing cabinets

From Sunset Books | Joanne Liebeler's Do It Herself 

More: Inspiring kitchen makeovers


  • How to paint cabinets

    How to refinish kitchen cabinets

    Give your cabinets a makeover with new hardware and paint

  • How to paint cabinets

     Step 1

    Remove all the hardware with a screwdriver or drill. If you’re reusing the hinges or pulls, store them in ziplock bags with a note indicating where each set came from.

  • How to paint cabinets

     Step 2

    Lightly sand the surfaces with 150-grit sandpaper and then vacuum to remove the dust. Wipe any residual dust off with a slightly damp cloth.

  • How to paint cabinets

     Step 3

    Start with a coat of primer/sealer. If you’re painting the cabinets a color other than white, ask the paint store to tint the primer to match your top coat. That way, you might be able to get by with just one finish coat.

  • How to paint cabinets

     Step 4

    Paint one side of the doors and the edges. While that side dries, paint the drawer faces; then paint the other side of the doors and edges.

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