How to Paint Cabinets | Expert 10 Tips on Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets

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These days many new homeowners are opting to paint their dated kitchen cabinets rather than replace them.  It’s much less expensive and way faster as you don’t need to worry about the cost of new cabinets, rip up nor ordering materials and living without a kitchen for 8 to 12 weeks.  I’m going to show you how to paint your cabinets the right way.

Painting your cabinets can have a huge impact on your kitchen, which for most families is the most used room in the house and the gathering spot for guests.  It can make your space look nicer, larger and more up to date.

While painting your cabinets can have a dramatic effect on your space, it’s important to paint them the RIGHT WAY.  And, I’ve been finding that there is a LOT of poor and misleading info in the Big Box stores and on the internet (especially on pinterest and some of the DIY sites).  By the way, I love these sites and use them often, but most of the info provided about painting cabinets is incorrect.  They make it sound easier than it really is, imply that you can paint with just one coat (and this is ABSOLUTELY WRONG), and recommend inferior products and methods.

So, I’m not here to tell you to hire a professional (although if you live locally in Westchester County, we’d be more than happy to help you (call 914-953-6409 and ask for Izzy)) or to do-it-yourself. Either way is fine, and only you can make the call on which is better for you based on your skills and budget.  Regardless, I want to help you get this done the right way and with the right products, regardless of who is doing the work.

So, I’m going to provide tips on the best methods, best equipment/tools and best products for painting your kitchen cabinets.  This is how the professionals paint cabinets (and I’ve been working with professional painters for the last 10 months), and yes, I’m spilling the insider secrets.
Please note that this article may contain affiliate links.  You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.

Most popular colors and finishes for painted kitchen cabinets


White cabinets are the most popular, followed by gray, but truthfully, you can choose whatever color you choose.  You also have the option to do one color for the island and a different color for the perimeter of the room; or one color for the bottom part of the cabinets and a different one for top shelves.  The world is your oyster.

Currently, satin finishes are the most popular for kitchen cabinets (just as they are for floors).  Satin is stylish and shows dirt less.  This is followed by matte (less shiny) and then semi gloss (more shiny). Those looking for super shiny use glossy, but please be aware that these show every bit of dust and are very taste specific and will show every brush stroke.

If you are looking to sell your house in the next few years, I’d recommend you simply choose the most popular and stylish – white with a satin finish.

Some myths and warnings before we get started:


  • No, you can NOT paint your cabinets with just 1 coat of paint!  In fact, you usually need 3 coats – primer + 2 coats of paint.  Products or tutorials that claim one coat is sufficient (e.g. chalk paints) will not come out right…and if you are in fact able to make them “look” right, I can guarantee you that they will not hold up.
  • There’s a reason that cheap products are cheap.  They are not durable.  It’s as simple as that.  And, most of these cheap products will not hold up to every day use nor every day cleaning products.
And, many of these products actually cause damage to your cabinets, and you will find that you need to fully replace them.  So, don’t fall for these gimmicks.  (Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish…after all, the paint is NOT the major cost for the product; the labor is.  So, if you want to save money, do it yourself.  But, at least use the right products).
  • There are no short cuts.  Do not get a paint and primer in one product.  There’s a reason you need primer…and that is for proper penetration and adhesion.  2 in 1 products do not work well.  They generally neither adhere well nor are thick enough.  So you will need to do an additional coat any way.  So just do it right the first time.
  • Do not be misled by chalk paint claims.  They seem to claim that you don’t need to sand the cabinets (which is completely false), and they they often claim only 1 coat is needed (also false).  You do need to sand the cabinets…that’s how the paint adheres (in the same way that you need to sand the floors for the stain to properly penetrate).  And, you do need multiple coats of paint (at least 2 coats, but usually 3….and yes, I know people that have done it and some of them even needed 3-5 coats).
And, these products do not hold up well (just read the reviews…most are 2 stars out of 5 and that is pretty bad). While chalk paint is can be great for an antique look and can work on furniture (in fact, it’s often great for that), it will not hold up to use in the kitchen!  Nor will they hold up to cleaning products. So don’t fall for this either.

Best methods for kitchen cabinet painting


There are really 2 methods for painting cabinets:  1) use a sprayer or 2) use a paint brush.
The better method (which is the one usually used by the pros) is to spray them.  When you spray them, they come out smoother and you can use the higher quality lacquer paint.  The lacquer paint is stronger and more durable.  It holds up MUCH better to cleaning products and chemicals.  And, lacquers dry much faster.

The issue with this method is the cost of the equipment.  A sprayer is expensive, so usually only professional painters or contractors have these and most do-it-yourselfers don’t (and don’t want to invest in one). Sometimes, there is an option to rent one locally, and if you can, that’s ideal so you can use the best paint possible.  

If you are going to buy one, we recommend this one from Titan
So, that brings us to Method 2 – the brush method.  This is what most DIYers choose to do (and most handymen and non professional painters will do).  The brush method isn’t bad, but it’s not as durable as the spray option as you can not use the lacquer paint.

When you’re using a brush, we recommend this Corona Chinex 2.5 inch bristle brush.  This is the right size and type of bristles for cabinets.  Please note that you CAN’T use the lacquer paint with the brush method as the lacquer dries super quick, so as soon as you are ready to brush upwards, the paint is dry/partially dry and will get all gunky.  So, use either a water borne or oil based paint for this method (see below section).