If your kitchen needs an update, but you’re not ready to tear it down to the studs and start over, painting your existing cabinets can be a great way to create that fresh new look you’re looking for. Gone are the days when kitchen cabinets had to be stained a natural wood colour. The movement towards white cabinets has, in fact, been prevalent, particularly in more modern designs. A modern, white look, however, is far from your only choice if you’ve decided to paint your cabinets. With the right design choices, you’ll find a colour that matches the rest of the décor in your home, and your personal style.

red cabinets

If you’re taking on the project yourself, knowing what you’re getting into and what pitfalls to avoid will help bring your results from average to awesome! Simply plan your project, set aside the appropriate amount of time (and then add a little extra for the unexpected) and bring your kitchen from lifeless to spectacular.


Set Expectations

wood grainYour existing cabinets have certain characteristics that paint alone can not change. If you’re unhappy with design of the doors, for example, including mouldings and/or engravings, you may want to consider other options. The grain of the wood is also something you’re going to have to address. If the wood had visible grain, it will most likely remain visible after the paint has been applied. Your options are to fill the grain with wood putty, which can be a time consuming, laborious process, or embrace the grain; make it part of the design. It won’t be as prominent as before you painted, but it can be toned down so that it adds character without being overpowering.





Remove and Label Doors, Drawers and Hardwareremoving doors

Your kitchen cabinetry includes a number of moving parts and trying to paint everything in place will almost certainly lead to  failure. Anything that moves will start to peel and chip within a short time of you completing the paint job. Instead, remove all the doors. A screwdriver or drill set to reverse are the only tools you will need. Then, remove all the hinges and handles from the doors. Likewise for the drawers, pull them out and remove the drawer pulls. Equally as important, label everything. You’ll have a much easier time reassembling your painted kitchen if you simply affix a piece of masking tape to the back of each piece, write a number on it and a corresponding number on the inside of the cabinet it belongs to.


Sand Every Surface

sanding doorsCarefully inspect your newly disassembled cabinets, including the pieces you removed and sand every surface that will be painted. This is a requirement even if your cabinets are in perfect condition. The purpose is to prep the surface so that the paint will adhere better. You do not need to expose bare wood across the entire surface. Simply use a 120 – 150 grit sandpaper and buff the surface. A hand-held power sander will save time and wear and tear on your arms, but it is not required.




Sanding, while a vital step, also generates a large amount of dust. Just a few dust particles can make an otherwise quality paint job look gritty and bumpy. Vacuum the surfaces to be painted and remove as much dusts as possible from the rest of the room as possible so that stray particles are not flying around while you paint.




Clean the Wood

cleaningYou may think you’re done prepping, but you’re not quite ready for paint yet. You’ll need to clean the wood with a quality degreaser. The point of this step is as much to neutralize the effects of any remaining stain, varnish or paint as it is to clean the surface. Without a degreaser, the new coat of paint will not adhere properly to the surface.




Don’t Skip the Primerprimer

Now that you’ve put so much work into your cabinets, it’s tempting to get your chosen colour on there and see how it looks. A primer coat, however, is vitally important, particularly when painting wood. Without it, your cabinets will look beautiful for a few months, but over time, the knots in the wood will show through and other stains, whether from the natural oils of the wood itself or from the prior coats of stain, varnish or paint, will make themselves known. A high quality stain-blocking primer is well worth the investment of time and money.


Pick the Right Colour

Colour2OK, we’re finally ready to get the colour on the cabinets. It’s an exciting moment. Caution, once again, however, will lead to better, longer-lasting results. Assuming you don’t want to redo this project in a few months, let’s make sure you’re happy with the colour. Purchase a sample of the paint you want to use (most paint stores make them available inexpensively). Side note: Choosing a quality paint is worth it. It will give you a smoother finish and the typical kitchen requires less than two gallons of paint, so the overall expense is not astronomical.

Purchase a sample of the paint you want to use (most paint stores make them available inexpensively). Paint a large piece of poster board.  Hold the poster board up against your countertops, backsplash, flooring and walls. Take a look at the light hits it at various times of day and with different lights in the kitchen turned on and off. Keep in mind that paints are available in different finishes from flat to high gloss. The peace-of-mind you get in taking this step will give you confidence as you apply the actual paint to the cabinets and a higher degree of certainty that you’ll be happy with the results.


Time to Paint!Colour

A paint brush and roller will produce high quality results. If you’re confident with a sprayer, that’s another option. Assuming you’re going with brushes and rollers, paint any recessed or raised areas, such as mouldings, first with a brush. Then, go back and paint the remaining surface with a roller. If you’re using a sprayer, make sure to work in a well-ventilated area, mask off any adjacent areas that you don’t want to paint and apply an even coat across all surfaces. Once all coats have fully cured, reassemble the cabinets, reinstall the knobs and pulls (new ones if you want to change the look even more) and you’ve successfully painted your cabinets!


Want to read more?

HGTV: Best Way to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Good Housekeeping: 11 Big Mistakes You Make Painting Kitchen Cabinets