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Painting 101

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Give your kitchen a fresh look by painting wood-stained cabinets.

More in Painting

Kitchen cabinets Watch Video
  • Time


  • Price Range

    $50 - $100

  • Difficulty

    Easy to Moderate


Step 1: Remove Cabinet Doors

  • The first thing you should do is take off the cabinet doors, removing any screws and hardware and placing them where you can locate them when you're ready to reassemble the cabinets.

  • Carefully sand off any rough areas on the doors and the cabinet base and wipe away any dust or sawdust from the surface.

    Painted kitchen cabinet

    Courtesy of Lucie Rowe

Step 2: Clean the Cabinets

  • Thoroughly clean the cabinets with a sponge and denatured alcohol to remove any traces of dirt and grease, getting into any nooks and crannies.
    Denatured alcohol emits fumes, so be sure the room is well ventilated.

  • Let the surface air-dry.

    Denatured alcohol

    Courtesy of Lucie Rowe

  • Step 3: Apply the Primer-Sealer

  • Using a disposable foam brush, apply an even coat of primer-sealer to the doors, beginning in the center and following the grain of the wood. (Primer-sealer eliminates the need to sand down and degloss the wood before painting.) It will dry in about an hour.

    Applying primer sealer to cabinet doors

    Courtesy of Lucie Rowe

  • Step 4: Apply the Paint

  • Use a good nondisposable brush to apply the paint: the better the brush, the better the finish. Add as smooth a finish as possible. Start at the center as you did in the previous step and follow the grain. Don't rush this part -- you'll need two or three thin coats in order to achieve a fine finish. Thin coats create fewer brushstrokes and give better drying time and adhesion. Allow the paint to dry for four hours between coats.

    Another advantage to using a primer-sealer is that you can apply a water-based paint over it. High-gloss paint is often recommended for cabinets, but I think semigloss adds a richer finish.

    Painting kitchen cabinets

    Courtesy of Lucie Rowe

  • Step 5: Paint the Cabinet Base

  • Once all the doors are painted, start on the bases. Follow the same steps you did for the doors: sand, clean, seal, then paint. Don't worry about doing the inside of the cabinets -- just tape off the edges for a clean finish and leave them as they are.

  • Step 6: Apply Color-Glazing (Optional)

    You may also want to try color-glazing on the cabinet. It adds a touch of color while allowing the wood grain to show through. It works especially well on the center panels of cabinet doors.

  • Make a one-to-one mixture of paint and glaze The glaze makes the paint more transparent and slows the drying time.

  • Tape off any areas that you don't want color-glazed, then apply the mixture with a disposable bristle brush (first pull out any loose bristles or you'll have some not-so-pleasant surprises in the finish), following the grain.
  • Step 7: Remove Excess Pigment

    Use a second, clean brush to remove excess pigment -- you can remove as little or as much as you want. (This is called a negative technique.) Wipe off the brush with paper towels as you work. That's all there is to it!

    Removing excess pigment

    Courtesy of Lucie Rowe