As far as kitchen and bathroom projects go, painting cabinets is one of the most affordable ways to transform your space. Once you’re ready to graduate from DIY projects like accent walls and painted doors — it requires a bit more time and skill — this simple color refresh can have your space looking brand new in just one weekend.
With the right tools and a durable paint formula, anyone can successfully revamp their cabinets, no matter if you’re a seasoned pro or just dipping a toe into DIY decor. The first step is selecting a color. Then it all comes down to elbow grease, attention to detail and a little patience.
Customer Rachel J. chronicled her kitchen cabinet makeover on Instagram, sharing before photos of the kitchen's original, dark cabinetry.
Using our deep green paint color, Current Mood, Rachel transformed her kitchen into a bolder, brighter space perfect for cooking, gathering and entertaining in style.
So if you’re spending more time at home and looking for a great project to refresh your space, learning how to paint cabinets is a worthwhile pursuit. Ahead, we’re breaking down how to paint cabinets in five simple steps — featuring our customer Rachel’s inspiring kitchen transformation with Current Mood.
Step 1: Select your paint color
Because painting cabinets requires more time and steps than painting a wall, it's important to pick a shade you’ll love for 10-plus years (no pressure!). While that reality may nudge you toward a neutral, don’t be afraid to go bold — we love the deep ocean vibe of Make Waves or the soft aqua hue of Headspace. Finally, be sure to choose the right finish. Our subtle semi-gloss Trim Paint is durable and can withstand wear-and-tear, making it a great choice for painting cabinets.
While you upgrade the color of your cabinets with paint, not refresh your hardware, too? Here, Rachel shows the process of soaking her hardware to help it look cleaner and brighter.
Step 2: Prep your workstation
When learning how to paint cabinets, prep is the most important step. First, remove all inner shelving, cabinet doors and hardware, giving them (plus your cabinet frames) a thorough cleaning. Refresh hardware by soaking it in an acidic-based solution like vinegar overnight. Drape newspaper or a drop cloth over any vulnerable surfaces, like your countertops and floors, and use painter’s tape for the hard-to-reach corners. Finally, use caulk to fill in any dents or cracks in your cabinetry and let it dry completely before moving onto step three.
Kitchen cabinet doors in the sanding process — an essential step to ensure the paint color adheres to the surface.
Step 3: Sand your cabinets
Sanding is extremely important to ensure smooth layers of paint. Take a sheet of 120-grit sandpaper to your cabinets and cabinet frame, going with the grain, to lightly smooth down the finish. If you have hardwood cabinets, sand down to the bare wood, and if you’re working with engineered wood, sand enough to slightly rough up the surface for primer.
Step 4: Prime cabinets for painting
Finally, here’s where the paint comes in. First and foremost, priming sets the foundation for a flawless paint job. Go with a fast-drying, multi-surface paint primer to conceal imperfections and set the stage for smooth application. Once your base coat dries, softly sand the cabinets again — this admittedly annoying step will help your color adhere to the surface. Wait for your primer to dry completely before moving onto step five.
Freshly-painted cabinet doors drying with a coat of Current Mood.
Step 5: Paint cabinets with semi-gloss paint
With color, it’s all about nailing that perfect, pristine finish — sans brush or roller marks. While an advanced airless paint sprayer is the best option for cabinets, a two-inch angled brush and a fine, mini microfiber roller (which minimizes texture in your finish) will get the job done.
Don't forget to paint your door frames!
Once you’ve assembled your tools, give your cabinet frame two solid coats before moving onto the doors. Full disclosure: doors can take a long time because you have to paint both sides and let each dry in between coats. Paint the backside of the doors first, and let that first coat dry for at least 24 hours before applying the second. Let that layer dry completely for another 24-plus hours. Finally, flip the doors over and paint the front of the cabinet doors. Wait 24 more hours, and apply the final coat. For added durability, consider a satin polyurethane top coat, which ensures your paint will dry to a hard, enamel-like finish.
Finally, let your freshly-painted cabinets sit undisturbed for at least 48 hours before reattaching your doors and hardware. Pour yourself a glass of wine and toast to your brand-new cabinets.
The impressive final product!
Related: Now that you know how to paint cabinets, get some inspiration to help you find a color you'll love. Read: Upgrade your kitchen with these cabinet color ideas.