How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets, From Unfinished Wood to Tricky IKEA Laminate
Including what to look for in a primer.
Updated Oct 12, 2018 5:45 AM
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The simplest way to update your kitchen cabinets without replacing them is to paint them. The thing is, just because it’s not complicated doesn’t mean it’s cheap. According to HomeAdvisor’s latest 2021 data, it will run you an average of $700, with labor costing between $20 and $50 per hour. The only real way to avoid that expense is to tackle the job yourself.
So we are looking back to all the expert advice we’ve received, plus some fresh intel from Paul Baik, product manager for Behr Ultra and the company’s specialty products. Here’s a few quick tips for how to paint kitchen cabinets like an absolute pro, from the best sealers to the must-have tools.
The Best Primers for Painting Kitchen Cabinets
Priming is essential in creating a smooth, uniform surface that is ready to accept a top coat, so you definitely don’t want to skip the step or skimp on a lackluster product. For wood cabinets, Baik suggests starting with a stain-blocking primer that is acrylic based (so it adheres nicely) and mildew resistant.
When it comes to tricky laminate cupboards, opt for a primer that’s designed for intense bonding, like Behr’s Bonding Primer or Sherwin-Williams’s Extreme Bond Primer—picks that are made for tough-to-paint surfaces. It’s important to use an undercoat in the same tone as the door color to get a saturated result, especially if you’re going from light to dark.
The Best Paint for Unfinished Wood Cabinets
For wood cupboards, be it ply or oak that have yet to be treated, Baik recommends an oil-based enamel option in either a semigloss or satin finish, which offers even flow and leveling for a clean look that’s super-durable. Two coats, depending on the color you’re going with, should do the trick.
The Best Paint for Laminate and IKEA Cabinets
Avoid full gloss in this case (as it will cause imperfections to shine). For her recent IKEA cabinet hack, Rebecca Plumb went with a semigloss enamel finish. You can also use a matte Chalk Paint product for these types of doors after you’ve given them a good sanding and cleaned off any debris.
The Best Sealer for Painting Kitchen Cabinets
The same primer Behr sells that’s stain blocking can also be used as the final top coat, meaning you can save yourself an extra trip to the hardware store. Water-based polyurethane products dry quickly and remain clear.
The Best Paint Brands for Kitchen Cabinets
According to designers, Farrow & Ball’s modern eggshell options are a must-try for kitchen cabinets. If you’re staining natural wood, consider Rubio Monocoat’s VOC-free, plant-based application. Get a rundown on other top brands here.
How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets
First, remove all the hardware and take the doors off the hinges before cleaning them thoroughly, so they’re ready to sand (this helps get you an even consistency, especially with tricky laminate doors). Wipe away any dust and apply a fast-drying primer, which will conceal imperfections. Once that’s done, you can move onto the fun part: paint! Here are some tools to have on hand, according to Baik:
- A fine-bristle brush (100 percent high-quality nylon works best)
- A mini ¼-inch roller
- An airless sprayer: .013-inch to 015-inch spray tip, 60-mesh filter
- Optional: deglossing prepaint wipes (to prepare surfaces for painting)
- Optional: 400- to 600-grit sandpaper to use in between coats to allow the next layer to adhere smoothly
Use the brush for small corners and details, and the roller for the main face of the panels. (Just be sure to follow that up with a brush to get rid of roller marks.) Let each coat dry thoroughly (about 24 hours), before lightly sanding and applying the second round.
That’s a brief breakdown of how to paint kitchen cabinets, but you can catch all the directions here.
More ideas for your kitchen cabinets: These Two-Tone Kitchen Cabinets Give You the Best of Both Worlds The 5 White Wall Paints That Go Best With White Cabinets 8 Kitchens With Light Gray Cabinets That Soothe the Soul