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What’s the best way to paint kitchen cabinets?

Giving your kitchen cabinets a fresh coat of paint can transform them from dated to stylish for a small fraction of the cost of a new kitchen. Before you get started, it’s natural to ask what you need to paint kitchen cabinets. 

You don’t need all that much, and if you already have a decent supply of DIY goods, you’ll probably only need to buy paint and primer. Before you get started with painting, you’ll also need to prep your cupboards. Luckily, the whole process is simple enough that even inexperienced DIYers can do it. 

How to prepare kitchen cabinets before painting

Before you paint your cupboards, you’ll need to prepare them. Without doing the relevant prep work, your new finish won’t last and is likely to look uneven. 


Dr. Bronner’s Organic Sugar Soap

First, you need to thoroughly clean your cabinets, as you don’t want to paint over dirt. Kitchen cabinets are particularly prone to picking up grease from cooking, so we’d recommend using sugar soap for its natural degreasing properties. Dr. Bronner’s Organic Sugar Soap is a mild yet effective option that comes in a range of pleasant scents. You only really need to clean any parts of the cabinets that you’re painting, but this is a good opportunity to give your cabinets a proper scrub, inside and out. 

Remove doors and hardware 

Stanley 1/4 in. x 4 in. Slotted Screwdriver

For the best results, you should remove the cabinet doors before painting them. You’re much more likely to get drips if you paint your cabinet doors hanging vertically rather than lying flat. You should also remove handles and any other hardware on the front of your cabinets. For most kitchen cabinets, you’ll only need a flathead screwdriver to remove the doors and hardware. Label each door so you know where it goes back when you rehang it, and make sure to keep the hardware safe. 

If you really don’t want to remove the doors from your cabinets, you don’t have to. Just make sure to cover the hinges with painting tape and avoid using paint especially prone to dripping, such as gloss paint. 


3M Hover Image to Zoom Top Rated Pro Grade Precision 9 in. x 11 in. 120 Grit Medium Faster Sanding Sanding Sheets

You don’t need to completely sand back your cabinets to bare wood or particleboard, but you do need to lightly sand the surface to roughen it up just enough for the paint or primer to adhere to it well. Without this step, the finish won’t last as long and could appear uneven. Use medium 100 to 120 grit sandpaper and rub it all over the front and sides of the cabinets — basically anywhere that you intend to paint. You don’t need to get rid of all the old finish, just create a matte surface. When you’re finished, wipe the cabinets with a damp cloth to remove dust and leave them to dry completely before moving on. 

What you need to paint kitchen cabinets

Now let’s discuss what you need to paint kitchen cabinets. You don’t need a huge amount of gear, but you shouldn’t cut corners with a paint job as important as your kitchen cabinets. If you consider how much it would cost you to replace your cabinets completely, spending out on the best quality paint and painting supplies will seem like a bargain. 

Masking tape

FROGTAPE 1358463 Multi-Surface Painter's Tape

It might not be glamorous, but either painter’s or masking tape is essential when painting kitchen cabinets to get a clean, professional finish. Ideally, you should remove the cabinet doors and hardware, but if you have any issues with this, use tape to cover them. You’ll also use tape where the sides of the cabinets meet the wall and on any glass parts of cabinet doors, preventing paint from bleeding. 


Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer Sealer

For best results, start with a coat of primer before you apply the paint. Some people believe that primer isn’t important and they might as well use an extra coat of paint, but paint and primer aren’t the same thing. Using primer helps paint adhere to the surface of the cabinet better and increases the durability of the paint so it’s less likely to chip. An oil-based primer such as Zinsser Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer is a good choice for painting cabinets. It covers old wood stains so effectively that you may not need to sand some old cabinets before application, though we’d always recommend sanding cabinets with a high-gloss finish. 

You may, however, come across some specialty cabinet paints that don’t require a primer. These are a good choice if you want to save time, but you’re still likely to get better results by using a primer. 


Now comes the fun part: choosing the paint you want to use on your kitchen cabinets. You have two main decisions to make here. You must decide what type of paint you want to use on your kitchen cabinets and the color of said paint. 

Ultimately, the harder the finish of the paint you use, the more durable it will be and the longer it will last on your cabinets. Gloss paint has the hardest finish of all interior paints, but it’s tough to work with if you aren’t an experienced painter and is prone to running and dripping. Semi-gloss paint is a little less shiny than gloss but still reflects light. It’s almost as hard but is a little easier to paint with. Satin is slightly shiny but closer to matte than gloss. It isn’t as hard as gloss or semi-gloss but is much less likely to run or drip, and it’s still hard enough to withstand general use. 

Behr Premium Plus Low Odor Interior Paint

Behr Premium Plus Low Odor Interior Paint is a great choice with gloss, semi-gloss and satin options. You can find it in a wide range of colors. You can also buy dedicated cabinet paint, such as the NuVo Deco Cabinet Paint Kit


3M 19015ES-CC 3-2/3 by 9-Inch Fine Grit Aluminum Oxide Paint

You should have a plentiful supply of fine grit sandpaper on hand when painting kitchen cabinets. It’s essential to sand after each coat of primer or paint to get a perfectly smooth finish. 

Brushes and rollers

Wooster Paint Brush Set

You’ll want a selection of brushes and small rollers to get the job done. The Wooster Paint Brush Set has all the brushes you’ll need to paint the nooks and crannies of your cabinets. For larger, flatter areas, however, a high-density foam roller gives you a flatter finish.


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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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