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Painting Kitchen Cabinets: A Guide

Painting Kitchen Cabinets: A Guide

Most kitchen cabinet door manufacturers offer unfinished paint-grade doors, and you can easily paint them yourself with a few inexpensive supplies. Here’s a list of the things you’ll need and a brief overview of how to get the job done right

Latex Vs. Oil Paint

Check out the paint selection at any home center and you’ll see a wide variety of latex and oil-based paints. You can use either for kitchen cabinet doors, but one might be better for your situation than another. When painting with latex, you can clean your brushes, rollers and trays with soap and water. There’s no need for any kind of solvent. If you can’t stand the smell of paint thinner, latex is a good choice. The downside is that you can’t sand latex paint, so you’ll have a harder time fixing little mistakes or smoothing out rough spots.

For a professional quality finish, consider using oil-based paint. You don’t need to thin it before applying, so you shouldn’t have to deal with a lot of solvent fumes until the job is done and it’s time to clean up. To get the best results, sand each coat lightly with #320-grit paper before applying the next coat. Two light coats will work for most new doors, but you can apply more if necessary. When you’re done painting, clean your brushes in a well-ventilated area with paint thinner or mineral spirits.

Painter’s Corners

One of the most frustrating parts of painting your own cabinet doors is waiting for the paint to dry. If you have to paint one face of your doors, let the paint dry, flip the doors and then paint the other faces, you could be looking at a lot of waiting. To speed things up, get yourself some painter’s pyramids. The small tips of these little work supports let you paint both sides of a door without the wait. Just apply the first coat, flip the doors, set them onto the pyramids and paint the second side. Because the tips are so small, they won’t ruin the paint on the first side, unless you move the doors around while they’re sitting on the supports. You can easily touch up any imperfections when the paint is dry with a small artist’s brush.


You don’t need to use primer when painting new cabinet doors that have never been finished. A good paint will easily adhere to the raw wood. Most manufacturers use poplar or maple for paint-grade door frames and MDF for the inset panels. These materials readily accept paint and have grain that is easily hidden by a single coat, although you should apply at least two coats for a more durable finish.

Matte Finish Vs. Satin Or Semi-Gloss

Because kitchen cabinet doors are exposed to splattering and spills, you want them to be easy to clean. Always use satin, semi-gloss or gloss paint on kitchen cabinet doors so that you’ll be able to wipe off any messes. Food stains can be difficult or impossible to remove from matte or eggshell paints.

Brush Vs. Roller

If you’ve never painted kitchen cabinet doors before, you might be wondering whether you should use a brush or a roller. The truth is that you need both. A roller is excellent at covering a lot of surface area quickly, while a brush is the ideal tool for detail work. Use a smooth-finish roller instead of a brush wherever you can. That means the flat surfaces of door frames and panels. Paint corners and decorative edges with a small brush.

Tack Cloth

A tack cloth is a piece of cloth with a sticky coating. Before applying the first coat of paint and after sanding between coats, wipe down your doors with a tack cloth. Dust and dirt will stick to the cloth and leave you with a smooth surface that’s ready for paint.


Most manufacturers sand their doors before shipping to the customer, so you won’t need to do any sanding up front. But you will want to have sandpaper on hand for sanding between coats when using oil-based paint. It’s also helpful for touching up any scratches or dings you might accidentally put in a door while working with it. Get a fine grit sandpaper like #320 grit.

Protect Your Work Area

Painting is messy and drips happen, no matter how careful you are. Flatten an old cardboard box and place it on your work surface to protect it from spills, or use an inexpensive drop cloth. The plastic kind works great. You may also want to pick up a roll of blue painter’s tape to mask off other areas you want to keep clean and paint-free.

Aerosol Paint Cans (Spray Paint)

You may be tempted to use spray paint on your new cabinet doors, but don’t do it. Spray paint isn’t made for this kind of painting and won’t produce good results. You’ll get runs, drips and inconsistent coats. Many professionals use spray systems to apply paint to cabinet doors, but these systems involve expensive equipment that’s nothing like the rattle cans at the hardware store.

The Painting Process

If you’re not confident about the process of painting your own cabinet doors, don’t worry. Just follow the steps below and you’re sure to succeed.

  1. Set up a work area with a drop cloth and/or piece of flat cardboard.
  2. Unbox your doors and place them on the work surface.
  3. Stir the paint and pour it into a roller tray.
  4. Wipe the doors with a tack cloth.
  5. Apply the first coat of paint.
  6. Flip the doors over and place them on painter’s pyramids.
  7. Paint the other side.
  8. Let the paint dry and sand both sides lightly with #320-grit sandpaper.
  9. Wipe the doors with a tack cloth and apply another coat of paint. Apply as many coats as necessary, sanding between each coat.
  10. Clean your brushes. Let the paint dry and install your new kitchen cabinet doors.