Painting Kitchen Cabinets – What I Learned

Thinking about painting your kitchen cabinets?  It can feel very overwhelming.  While I was thinking about it, I talked myself in and out of actually doing it no less than 20 times.  If this sounds familiar, do not fear.  That feeling won’t go away.  At all.  Until you are finally finished painting your cabinets.  ha.

I recently finished painting my cabinets.  yeah!  While I am super happy with the finished project, it was by no means a perfectly-executed project.  I learned a lot during the process.  So I thought it might be helpful to anyone else that is considering this undertaking to put together a small list of tips and dos or don’ts.  Mostly dont’s.

If you’re looking for a detailed tutorial, this is probably not it.  There are some great tutorials out there.  Unfortunately, I didn’t read any of them before I painted.  Go figure.  At the very least, I hope this tip list prevents you from repeating my mistakes.  Now that you’ve read the disclaimer, here you go…

Select your color:

I showed you this pic in my cabinet reveal post.

Seriously – sample quarts are a must.  You HAVE to see the actual paint, not just a swatch on paper, in your kitchen to really know if you’ll like it or not.  The sample quarts are reasonably priced, and I bought most of mine during sales or with coupons so it was even more affordable.  So much more affordable than ultimately being unhappy with your choice.

I started out painting the sample colors on scrap pieces of wood.  Sometimes I knew right away that a color wasn’t the right one.  Funny how those swatches can be so misleading!  I was able to narrow down quite a few of my choices this way.

I finally decided to use one of my actual cabinet doors as a test cabinet.  I didn’t take the door off of the cabinet, and I didn’t even prime it first.  I used four of my top choices and painted a quarter of the door.  I kept painting the door over and over until I found my color.

Once I made my decision, I painted the entire door with the color.  Then I lived with it for a few days.  I stared at it morning, noon, and night to make sure that I liked it no matter what light was hitting it.  I even stared at it from outside of the house to make sure that I liked the look of it from there!

I strongly encourage you to use a very visible cabinet for this – one that you can easily see from other rooms in the house.  I chose a cabinet that can be seen as soon as I walk into my house.  I can also see it from the living room and dining room.  When I said I stared at it morning, noon, and night I was not exaggerating!

Prepare the Cabinets:

Remove the doors from the cabinet and remove all hardware.  Don’t be tempted to try to paint around the hinges.  Just take ‘em off.  It’s not that bad!  I know some people that have only painted the fronts of their cabinets.  Also tempting, but I would be so bummed every time I opened a cabinet door if I had chosen that route!

I chose to work in sections.  I removed only four doors at a time – as many that would fit on my work table.  It was easier for me to live with small sections being gone at a time.  I thrive on tidy.  I think it’s a small-house thing.

Wash everything you plan to paint.  I admit that many times when I paint, I skip this step.  Not this time.  Too much grease and other dirt accumulates on kitchen surfaces.  I used a de-greasing product from Dollar General – it wasn’t a name brand.  I have read that general household cleaners work just as well.  Even dish soap. I believe this to be true.  You’ll know if they are clean when you’re done.  If you feel a greasy residue, try again.

Oh – and while you’re at it, go ahead and clean the inside of those cabinets!  You will be so glad that you did.  I even put some pretty Contact paper under the sink and in some of the drawers.  I love it.



I don’t have a paint sprayer.  I don’t really want a paint sprayer.  (I say that only because I don’t want to buy one.  I would gladly accept one as a gift.  But not for my birthday, anniversary or Christmas.  Kevin.)  I realize that it gives you a smooth, professional finish.  If that is what you require, then by all means buy, rent, or borrow a paint sprayer.  I can’t give any guidance here because I have no knowledge of them whatsoever.

But here is one thing I learned – and it’s a big one.  A big DON’T.  DON’T use just any foam roller!  I have always heard that using a foam roller on wood surfaces will give you a smooth finish with no brush lines.  I don’t know why I was worried about brush lines – I honestly don’t mind them.  I think it’s because my style is a bit vintage and weathered, and I think brush lines kind of add to that vibe.  That’s just me.  (I will get to the foam roller results in a bit.)  If you are like me and don’t mind the brush lines, I recommend buying a good quality brush like Purdy and going to town with it!

For everyone else in the world – I ran across this (of course after my cabinets were painted) on Keeping it Cozy.  Here is what I found when I Googled it…

What??!!!! It’s a foam roller!!  OK, so I apparently used the wrong type of foam roller.  You should try this one.  Please let me know how it works!

Priming:  Nope – I didn’t sand my cabinents.  But priming is A MUST (I have more to say about that later.)  Kevin was heading to Home Depot so I asked him to pick up Kilz primer for me.  He came back with this Glidden primer.

The Home Depot guy told him it sticks to everything and works well.  I was skeptical, but was anxious to get started, so I used it.  At first I wasn’t sure that I agreed with Mr. HD.  I always use the nail test – I try to scrape it with my fingernail to see if it has adhered well or not.  It was not passing the nail test.  I know that paint takes time to cure, so I assured myself it just needed to cure.

I let each coat dry for at least an hour.  I used at least 2 coats of primer.  Doors and drawer fronts that get the most wear and tear got 3 coats of primer.  I did sand a bit between coats.  Sometimes there were raised areas or drips and I tried my best to get rid of them.  (At this point I started to notice a bumpiness in the finish that was caused by the roller that I used.  Now that I’ve researched a little, I think it was due to too much paint.  I didn’t change tools yet because the paint that I bought is supposed to be a self-leveling paint, and I thought it would go on much smoother, and level out the bumpiness.)

I didn’t paint the insides of the cabinets.  I painted the outer-rim of the inside of the cabinet.

I didn’t paint the sides of the drawers.  But I did paint the back of the drawer-front.  That makes no sense.  Here’s a picture.



I used Sherwin Williams ProClassic paint, specifically made for trim and doors, in a satin finish.  The color is called Rain.

I used 2 coats of paint on each cabinet door and drawer.  Remember the nail test I told you about earlier?  I continued to test the paint/primer adherence, and I continued to be disappointed.  Patience has never been my strong suit.  Curing paint takes time.  Please remember this!

So here is where I convince you that priming is a NECESSITY…

I noticed that the cabinet door that I used for my color selection process (see Color Selection, above :)) easily passed the nail test.  I never primed this door.  I just painted the sample paint right on the door (I didn’t even clean it first, and the paint was not scraping off!)  I had myself convinced that the primer (since it wasn’t the brand I had asked for) was the reason that I was able to scrape the surface of everything I had painted so far.  I didn’t use primer on the color-selection cabinet, and that paint was sticking.  I used primer everywhere else, and that paint was scraping off.  What was I supposed to think??  (Again – curing paint takes time.  Let that be your mantra for cabinet painting.)

So I thought I would be tricky and not prime the last couple of cabinet doors.  Big mistake.  Especially since the last doors happened to be the under-the-sink doors that get lots of abuse.  I realized soon after painting and putting them back on the cabinets that I would have to re-do the doors.  Not only did it fail the nail test (my oh-so-scientific nail test), it failed the bump into it with a stuffed bunny test.  OK.  Maybe I exaggerate.  But it was not good.  I removed the doors and their hinges again, scraped and sanded them, and then primed and painted them.

Now – about that bumpiness from the foam roller that I used.  I was wrong in thinking that the self-leveling paint would smooth out the surface.  It kind of just made it worse.  Here is a close-up of a bumpy cabinet…

I eventually got smart (wow – am I a slow learner or what?), and used my trusty old brush.  Here is a close up of the brush lines!

Are you thinking right now that this chick has absolutely no clue what she’s doing?  Me too.  But here’s the thing.  While I’m not happy with the bumpiness of some of the cabinets, I am in L.O.V.E. with the overall look of my kitchen.  Seriously.  And the bumpiness in only noticeable when you look closely in bright light.  ha

And… remember how ‘curing paint takes time’?  It’s been almost a month since I finished painting.  Every single cabinet and drawer now passes the nail test.  Patience, grasshopper.  Also – I noticed a lot of small chips happened before I put the hardware back on the doors and drawers.  Once I put the hardware on, I noticed very few new chips in the paint.  The hardware helps to  protect the cabinets from dings.  So don’t take too much time to return your hardware!  (Mine was off for a while, because I spray painted all of the pulls and handles 5 different times.  Honestly.)

I would definitely recommend the Glidden primer and the SW paint.  I am still not sure about that self-leveling thing, but the paint is nice and thick and has hardened to a really durable finish.

I hope that my list of tips was a least a little helpful.  I would love to hear your stories, and please feel free to add any tips or suggestions in a Comment.

Happy painting!







  1. Cheryl in Wisconsin says:

    I enthusiastically second the use of S-W paints. They are an integral part of my painting obsession.

    I don’t prime everything before painting but cabinets are a must.

    When I bought my house 15 years ago, the 60’s-replaced cabinets were an odd mustard color inside so re-doing them was necessary in my mind. I used a very neutral light grey and I haven’t had to touch the INsides again.

    I respect your method of 4 doors at a time. It makes way more sense than my hail mary approach.

    • Hi Cheryl! I rarely use anything but SW paints too. Thank goodness for their sales and coupons!
      You said that you never had to repaint the inside of your cabinets again – what have you done with the outsides since?? As a fellow serial painter, I’d love to know how many different colors they’ve been in 15 years!
      Thanks for your comment! Stop back again-

  2. Brenda your kitchen cabinets look beautiful! I love the advice about quart size paint samples…I painted the exterior trim on our house 7 times!!! Not one area, no…I painted every inch of the trim completely before I found a color I loved. Ironically it was the color I started with! Guess you just don’t know until you see it in every color, ha ha.

    Great tips. I love the faint brush lines too, it looks cozy country.


  3. Lots of good information here Brenda! Your process should work for any type of installed cabinetry such as in the bathroom or built-in bookcases too. I truly marvel that you painted the entire kitchen yourself. The two painting tips I’d add are: 1) when using latex paint you can wrap your paintbrush or roller tightly in plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge overnight … lack of oxygen and lower temps will keep the paint soft … nightly cleaning of tools not necessary if you’re going to paint in a couple of days (I’ve pushed it for a couple of weeks) 2) baby wipes are the best paint spill / drip clean up tool … super absorbent, no lint left behind, always moistened and immediately ready. Kitchen looks great!

    • Robin – your suggestions are spot on!!! Thanks for adding these fantastic tips. I really feel like I need to add this to the post so that no one misses them. I also wrap my brushes (and rollers!). I have never put them in the refrigerator, but I certainly will from now on – your explanation makes perfect sense.
      And the baby wipes suggestion is awesome too. I am going to put a box of them in the bin with all of my painting supplies so that I’m ready the next time I paint. (That’s actually not a bad idea for a post – all of the supplies that you should have on-hand for any painting job. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to paint something and not had a roller cover, or a paint tray liner, etc.)
      Thanks so much Robin!

  4. Great tutorial Brenda! I just referred a friend to your post – she’s contemplating tackling some cabinets and your steps are similar to the ones I use to paint cabinets. I’m considering painting my cabinets (again!) with Paris Grey Chalk Paint… just have to find the time to do it!

    • Thanks Holly! I will definitely be watching to see whether you paint your cabinets with chalk paint. I wondered about doing that – I was kind of intimidated by waxing all of them afterwards though. But I guess you either prime before or wax after! :)

  5. Deb Claytor says:

    Can you share more information about psinting the hardware! Did you use steel wool to rough up the finish? Did you use enamel paint? Just painted my cabinets, next is the hardware!

    • Hi Deb! I spray-primed all of the hardware first. I used Rustoleum primer. It’s called Ultra Cover 2x. I probably used 3 coats (at least 2). Then I sprayed 3 coats of (I used dark bronze) Rustoleum Metallic Finish paint. I used Rustoleum for the color spray simply because it was the color that I wanted.
      I didn’t rough it up first, and didn’t use enamel. (I checked the can – it didn’t say enamel anywhere). The hardware seems to be holding up very well. I noticed one small nick on a cup pull, but I think that I was too quick to put it back on the drawer, and I scraped it during that process.
      Thanks for your questions!
      Good luck with your painting.

  6. Was your Purdy a nylon or natural bristle brush?

    Had your cabinets been painted previously?

    • Hi Bill – I used a nylon brush (I had to go back and look!). My cabinets were not painted before. They had a maple-colored finish – not glossy, but a little bit of sheen.

  7. Just another note on wet brush storage. I put mine in the freezer (wrapped, of course). I just leave them set 10-15 minutes until thawed and use them again.

    • Great tip Stephanie. Thank you for sharing!!
      I can’t believe that I’ve never used the fridge/freezer storage method. I’m starting a new painting project this weekend. I will be using cold storage for sure!

  8. Oh my goodness, your cabinets look fabulous! I love the color you chose… it’s just perfect. I laughed when I read about the overwhelming feeling not going away until you’re finished… how TRUE! I really love the cabinet door foam roller (it was sweet of you to link to my blog)… it worked amazing and saved a lot of time. That is all I will use now on flat surfaces like cabinets and doors.

    • Thanks so much!
      I couldn’t believe that I found your recommendation on the roller AFTER I painted my cabinets. I am going to be painting a hutch soon, and I will certainly be trying out the roller.
      PS – my fingers are crossed for you with Country Living!

  9. With so much painting on my brain (and in my posts) lately, I was captivated with your post. I read every word. Love the cabinets! They turned out great. Beautiful shade of blue. Rain. I’m making a mental note to check that out. Thanks for your comment on my list of paint colors tonight! It did take forever – like most of the day. Whew! But, maybe it will be helpful to some… That’s always what I hope. Thanks for sharing all your tips! P.S. Natural bristles on paint brushes are usually for oil based paints rather than latex. Someone asked about that…

    • Kristy – your list of paint suggestions will be helpful to many!!! I know that I will be referring to it frequently.
      I am glad that you mentioned that natural bristles are usually for oil-based. I was racking my brain as to why I chose one over the other. When you said that I realized that I always just follow the recommendation on the brush cover.
      Thanks for you kind comment!

  10. Lovely cabinets. Just another note on wrapping your paint brushes and rollers. I just stick them in a wal-mart bag and wrap it up really tight,and just leave it sitting where I’m painting. Never had a problem with it drying out unless the bag has a hole in it.

    • Thanks for your comment Elizabeth. I have used the shopping bag method for rollers as well! It’s such a savings if you can keep the rollers from drying out.

  11. They are gorgeous! I am in love with the color, and unless you had them professionally spray painted, no way they would be absolutely perfect, mine sure aren’t! So glad I met you this weekend, even if it was on the way to the airport!

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence. I never really looked at it that way (regarding a professional) – we always tend to be hardest on ourselves. Always expecting perfection! lol.

  12. Love them! Did you have any trouble getting your husband to go along with painting them?

    • Thank you, Eva.
      Surprisingly, no. He is so used to my projects. More than that though, they aren’t top of the line cabinets, and we have so few of them. So he didn’t really argue much. Not everything is that easy though!!

  13. Congrats on the Bob Villa

  14. Charlotte Des Fleurs says:

    Love the look of your painted kitchen. We have a rental house with the hideous, orangish oak cabinets. Haven’t had time to re-do all the cabinets. However, the ones in the master bath had been ruined by some very sloppy tenants. I took the doors and drawers back to my house and repainted them. Yes. Did “everything” right – cleaned, sanded, primied twice (with Kilz) and applied 3 coats of acrylic paint with a high quality synthetic brush. On one drawer I tried a “baked on” finish. Put it in the oven with the lowest temp possible which was around 160 degrees. DON”T! Even though the drawer had dried for 2 days, the solvents in the paint made the finish bubble.

    One tip for a smooth finish – use “Floetrol”. This is a “paint conditioner” used in paint sprayers to provide a smooth finish. It works equally well with brushed finishes. If you use oil-based paints (the kind you cannot clean up with water), there is a Floetrol for Oil-based paint as well.

    By the way, Floetrol is exactly the same product as “glazing” medium except that you get twice as much for half the price. At Home Depot the “glazing” medium with a fancy label in the girlie section with the faux finishes and decorator paints was almost $10 for a pint. In the “manly” section a few aisles away, the Floetrol was only $5 for a quart.

    Smiles from My Slice of Provence, Charlotte Des Fleurs

  15. Chris c. says:

    Your cabinets look lovely. I did mine 18 months ago using a product called “Cabinet Coat”. I couldn’t be happier. The paint was indeed self leveling and everyone thought I got new cabinets. The slight sheen is perfect. Amazing the things you can do with paint!

  16. Stumbled here after I googled “did I use the wrong primer?” The Home Depot gal recommended the Glidden Gripper to us, too, and them someone told us we should have used oil-based. We have only primed a quarter of the kitchen. Are you happy with the cabinets’ durability now that its been a year? Should we switch primers for the rest? Should we strip the ones we’ve already done and switch? Or are you still happy? I hope you see this and respond! :) love your kitchen by the way!

  17. Wow… you just made me feel a whole lot better. I decided to paint my cabinets a month ago and while I am super happy with the difference it is making (I am still not done… 3 kids and life keep getting in the way lol). My cabinets are solid oak, dark, woodmode, and my kitchen was very dark and dated and did not go with the rest of my home which was built in 1840. While I am more than half way done I recentley started to worry that not sanding them was a mistake. This is a lot of work!! I didn’t want to have to redone all that has been done so I am sooooo happy to here that you did the same and are overall happy with the results. I am a benjamin moore girl, so I used their top line Fresh Start primer, and the finish coat is Satin Impervo Dove White. I used two to three coats of primer and then finish coat. I painted everything with a brush and so far have been extremely happy with the results. But now I am even happier after reading your story!! Thank you so much for sharing your story! Your kitchen looks great!

  18. I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your blog.
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  19. I LOVE your kitchen! It is so refreshing to see a kitchen that looks cozy and home like instead of sleek and industrial! I love the color you chose for your cabinets. My house is older too and white just doesn’t seem to fit and my appliances are white. I am going to pick up a sample of the Rain shade–so far I’ve been leaning to Benjamin Moore’s Hollingsworth green which is very light and subdued in their historic line, but I’m just not sure! I am going to use Benjamin Moore Advance paint for my cabinets because I have tested several sample cans. It has a velvet smooth finish. I love many of the Sherwin Williams colors and thankfully, my Benjamin Moore paint dealer can mix all the formulas. Melissa of The Inspired Home said she has used SW and BM paints in her home, and the BM definitely held up the best.

  20. Amy Stice says:

    What a great share! Getting tray to paint out kitchen cabinets with this same paint.
    I love hearing of someone else who is both particular yet impatient while “projecting”.
    I have been reading about the spray painting option. I too like a more rustic lived in look. I may stick with my good paint brushes as well. I really liked the look of your drawer that purely had paint stroke marks.
    Thanks for the great tips! Looking forward to starting our project.

  21. Did you sand the primer before the first coat of paint? and did you sand 1st coat of paint before adding the 2nd coat?

    And did you use Floetrol (or penetrol for oil) paint conditioner?

    These two steps would have smoothed out the texture (brush marks/ roller “orange peel”) on cabinets/trim.

  22. Love the cabinet doors as well as the back door. Am so going to do this! What colors did you use? Undercoat as well as the top coat? And is the “undercoat” simply one coat of latex? Thanks

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