Can You Paint Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding Them?
The truth about skipping the essential step.
Published May 20, 2020 12:10 AM
You don’t have to be a seasoned DIY-er to know that sanding always precedes painting, especially when kitchen cabinets (easily the most touched surface in our homes) are concerned. The thing is, whether you have an electric tool or are using paper, smoothing down the wood until it’s prime for a fresh coating takes time and a whole lot of patience. So the question, if you don’t have either of those things, then becomes: Can you skip it?
Let’s start with the short answer, which is not really. The risk you run with not sanding is that your new paint job will chip almost immediately after it’s dried. For most experts, like Dan McRorie of Fitzwater Interiors, creating a smooth, even surface is the single most important part of the project—even if you’re going from a stain to a color. “I hate to say there’s only one way to do something, but I personally would never paint cabinets without sanding them first,” he says, noting that a quality primer and an oil-based trim enamel that’s scuff-proof won’t get you far unless they have something to properly adhere to. The experts at Paintzen told us a similar story, but they noted that if you are repainting cabinets where the existing paint is in good condition, you’ll only need minimal sanding to remove any debris or dirt.
Now for the long answer: potentially, but there’s still some prep involved. When Chris and Julia Marcum set out on their $1,000 kitchen renovation, which involved going over the cabinets with a dark green-gray color, they successfully skipped the sanding stage. Their hack? Liquid deglosser, a product that’s also often called liquid sandpaper. The chemical solution can be applied to paint, varnish, enamel, lacquer, polyurethane, and stain, the pro renovators point out in a blog post documenting the process.
After removing all the doors and laying them neatly on a tarp outside, they applied the deglosser to a rag and then to the doors while wearing gloves and a mask. Still, the couple emphasizes coating the cabinets in a super-durable primer (what they call the “glue” of the process) before you move to the painting phase. The one from Zinsser that they used in their space is ready to paint over after 30 minutes of drying time.
All in all, this corner can technically be cut, but if you want to spare yourself the trouble of potential touch-ups down the road, consider putting in the elbow grease.
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