The Do’s & Dont’s of Painting the Kitchen Cabinets

*This post was originally written in 2017 on my old blog*
I honestly think I’ve been putting off writing about the Kitchen Reno solely because I have no desire to look back on all of my photos of painting the kitchen cabinets. Before I started the project, I googled a lot of similar blog posts and talked to my mom about the techniques she used when she painted her cabinets years ago. She warned me that it was an awful job, and to only do it when I was fully prepared. It’s really one of those weird jobs where it’s not necessarily hard to do, it’s extremely hard to stay motivated and finish all of the coats/ commit to drying times. It ended up taking me almost two months to completely finish the job (and if we’re being honest here, I’m not actually done yet – I still have touch-ups and some small areas that I missed to paint). So what I’m trying to say is, don’t be afraid to do this job! But do know that it’s highly likely you may lose motivation part way through, or if you’re really good at powering through these kinds of things, then know that it will take you a full week and a LOT of painting space to do all of your cabinets.

When we were deciding on the ‘design’ aspect of our reno, I knew there were a few things that were high on the list of what our kitchen was lacking:

  1. It was too dark. You can’t really tell in the photo below, but I really had to bump up my flash settings to get this photo to appear bright. That fan didn’t give off enough light, and the kitchen window faces the North, as well as our covered front porch, so there wasn’t a whole lot of natural light streaming in either.
  2. The grey/beige walls weren’t helping reflect light into the room, and made it feel a bit dingy and dirty.
  3. The whole kitchen felt stunted, for lack of a better word. It felt closed in, and not as welcoming as I like a kitchen to feel.


So I wanted something bright and clean that made our kitchen feel bigger, but still welcoming and cozy: two-toned cabinets. A little bit risky, since this is probably a bit of a fad and might go out of style quicker than painting your cabinets all the same colour, but it fit the bill for what I was trying to accomplish in our kitchen.

We went with a darker grey on the bottom cabinets to keep that cozy, welcoming feeling. They also get the most wear and tear in our house, so the darker paint tends to hide more dirt. For example, our friend (he felt awful) accidentally spilled two glasses of red wine all over the kitchen the other weekend, but it only hit the grey cabinets and wiped off super easy. I’m talking tidal wives of red wine. Everywhere. It would probably come off of white cabinets too, but it would definitely take some more elbow grease.

Moving on. I chose a cool white for the top cabinets to create the illusion of height and openness. Putting a lighter colour on top makes the room appear taller and less “stunted”, and reflects more natural light back into the room. I hesitated for a couple minutes before I went to buy the paint, and considered just doing it all grey, but I knew I wanted that big, open feeling – so glad I went with my gut!

I think it’s really important to sit down and think about what  you really want from a space, and what aspects of it aren’t making you happy before you start a renovation. I believe renovations should be about adding functionality and beauty to your space – don’t get focused on big ticket items and wowing “the internet” or your friends. It has to be suitable to you and your family, and make sense in your house. There are two areas that I always feel like need to be clean and bright – the kitchen and the bathroom. It makes the spaces feel welcoming to me, and puts me at ease.

Ok! On to the actual painting of the cabinets. Could you tell I was procrastinating again?

Here is what I did to paint my cabinets in short step-by-step form:
1. Remove all of the existing hardware

2. Fill the hardware holes with Wood Filler, let dry, and sand/wipe to create smooth surface

3. Remove the doors from the hinges and place all screws in a ziploc bag

4. Set up your painting space – a flat surface on sawhorses, garage floor, outside – wherever you’re going to do it, make sure you have enough room to do a significant amount of doors at a time

5. Wipe down doors with hot water mixed with TSP (found at local hardware store)

6. Prime! Yup, I skipped sanding completely. Tsk, tsk. 

If you can, just leave your drawers in place and prime/paint them where they are. This is so much easier than lugging those drawers around and standing them up to paint. I recommend making sure your kitchen floor is relatively clean and vacuumed before painting each coat though – little hairs and fibres can easily pop up from the floor and stick to your paint before it dries.

7. Paint. 

By now, I was completely painting by hand with only a brush. I believe this isn’t recommended, and everyone warned against it since you can usually see the brush strokes after, but I’m stubborn so I painted the entire door with a brush, and didn’t use a roller for these. I did all the creases first, then the sides, and then the middle. Super fast. One thing you should know about me is that I will cut corners wherever possible as long as it doesn’t affect the overall integrity of the project. I know that I’m super fast with a brush, and that I was procrastinating way too hard on this painting project, so I just went for it. I suppose if you want to do it the right way, make sure you sand after wiping down your cabinets, and then spray them or roll them. But who wants to do the right thing all the time?

I made sure I stacked my doors carefully, or left them on the sawhorses drying, for at least 3-4 days before moving them. This really extended the time of the project, but I wanted to be sure that the paint cured before hanging them to avoid any chance of peeling the paint. As for the cabinets, I waited about a week after painting them before I hung any doors on them. Our cabinets are not real wood, and the crown moulding on the tops are actually plastic, so I wanted to be absolutely sure that the paint was on thick and fully dried before re-attaching the wooden cabinet doors.

The last step was adding the new hardware! We bought our handles from IKEA, and it cost us about $150 total to buy all new handles. Hardware is expensive, but it makes such a big difference. A more budget-friendly option would have been spray-painting our existing knobs and handles – don’t be afraid to think outside the box and do what works for your budget and household. 

And here are the end results:


As always, if you have any questions or you’ve done your own renovations, feel free to share! 

Products Used:
Primer: Zinsser Bulls Eye Primer for All Surfaces (walls and cabinets).
Paint: Standard Latex Paint Semi-Gloss
Cleaner: TSP for prepping surfaces