I have been sharing some snippets here and there of the process of painting my built-ins and kitchen cabinets on my Instagram Stories and I’ve been getting tons of questions about the process and products I’m using, so now I’m sharing the details on how to paint cabinets here on the blog.
First off, I know painting cabinets is intimidating and understandably so! They are a fixture in your home and costly to replace if you “mess them up”. It is also a big project that causes upheaval in what is arguably the most used room in the house.
Here are my tips on painting cabinets, starting with the prep work. You’ll want to follow these steps if your cabinets have a poly or painted finish and no matter which kind of paint you’re using.
how to paint cabinets | work in sections
In my last two kitchens, I painted all of the cabinets at the same time and it was overwhelming. There were so many doors and it seemed to take forever. All the while, the kitchen was ripped apart.
In this kitchen, I am painting the cabinets in four sections – the uppers, the lowers, the cabinets around the fridge, and the island.
This way, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel as sections are being finished and put back together again. It also gives you a chance to fix mistakes or perfect your technique and do a better job on the next set of cabinets.
Small victories are motivating!
how to paint cabinets | remove the doors
Believe it or not, I didn’t do this when I painted the cabinets in our first townhouse. I just painted them where they hung and it all turned out okay, but there are so many benefits to removing the doors and drawer fronts.
First of all, the doors can be painted with a sprayer, if you have one. If you don’t, at least the doors can be laid flat, which will help the paint level and minimize drips. It also gives you better access to paint the cabinet frames.
When you do remove the doors, leave the hinges on the cabinets. Those have been adjusted, so the doors will sit level. If you remove the screws that go into the cabinet, they’ll have to be readjusted, which is a pain!
how to paint cabinets | clean the cabinets
This part isn’t glamorous or fun, but it is totally necessary. In every kitchen, even the nicest, neatest, tidiest kitchen, there is airborne grease from cooking that sticks to the cabinets. And then, more often than not, dust sticks to the grease in places you don’t see or can’t reach to wipe down regularly.
So, the cabinets need to be cleaned thoroughly with a degreasing soap. TSP is a popular choice and there are many TSP alternatives, like KrudKutter. I used KrudKutter on my last cabinets, but I forgot to pick some up before I started painting this time, so I actually used the SOS Scour Pads I had on hand!
No matter what you use, the key is to give them a good scrub until they feel clean when you rub your hand across the surface. The cabinets should also be dry prior to moving on to the next step.
how to paint cabinets | sand the surface
This step isn’t about stripping the finish off the cabinets, but it’s about roughing up the surface to allow the primer to get a better grip on the slick surface.
I didn’t take a picture of this step, but I used 80 grit sandpaper attached to an orbital palm sander. This is the one I use…
This is another benefit to removing the doors. You can keep the dust outside! For the cabinets themselves, lightly sand them by hand to minimize the dust.
I just hit the flat surfaces with the palm sander and stay away from the crevices and details. I’ll then take a piece of 80 grit and sand those details by hand…just run the paper over it quickly to get the bulk of the cabinet sanded. You don’t have to hit every nook and cranny. If you use a quality primer, the paint is going to adhere just fine.
Wipe off the dust with a damp paper towel, microfiber cloth, or tack cloth.
Again, use your hands to feel the cabinets and doors. They can tell you a lot more than your eyes can! If you still feel dust, dirt, stuck-on food, grease, etc, you need to revisit those places before priming.
The prepping process can take a while, so you may want to plan to do the prep one day and start the priming/painting the next.
Now, your cabinets and doors are ready for primer and/or paint!
You can find the second post on how to paint cabinets (priming is the next step) HERE.
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