What’s The Best Paint For Kitchen Cabinets?

I am so, so excited to share today’s post! We’ve always wanted to know the secret between professionally painted kitchen cabinets and DIY that gets tacky or chips off quickly.

In this post, we teamed up with Asa Davis, owner of the Nashville painting company Davis Custom Finishes to teach you how to paint your cabinets like a true pro! I learned so much from Asa about how to paint your cabinets in a way that holds up over time and looks professional!

OK, I am passing the baton to Asa now …

Painting your kitchen cabinets can make a huge difference in the appearance of the room. However, if not done properly, the results can be disastrous. When armed with the right knowledge, you can paint your cabinets and know that the end results will be beautiful and durable. Here are the steps to properly (DIY) paint those kitchen cabinets.

Step 1. Remove the doors and drawers from the cabinet boxes. Take off any hinges, handles, or any other hardware that may be in the way of painting. (Pro Tip: Number the doors with a sharpie underneath the place where the hinges go and cover with a small piece of painters tape. This will make it easier when rehanging the doors.)

Step 2. Clean your cabinets. Possibly the most important step in the process is ensuring that all grease, grime, and gunk is removed from all of your cabinets. If there are any especially greasy cabinets, I recommend spraying the surface with Krud Kutter Degreaser.

After excessive grease is removed, wet a clean rag with Liquid Sandpaper/Deglosser and wipe down thoroughly. (We recommend wearing rubber gloves when using liquid sandpaper.)

Step 3. Sand. All surfaces must be thoroughly sanded using a fine grit sandpaper (180 or 220 grit). If you have one, you can also use an electric sander to help speed up the process. There is no need to sand the surfaces down to the bare wood—you just want to make sure that the surfaces are thoroughly scuffed.

Step 4. Remove dust from all cabinet surfaces. To remove the bulk of the dust, you can dust off with an old paint brush. If you have an air compressor, you can blow the dust off with a blower nozzle.

Next, while wearing rubber gloves, get a clean rag and apply some denatured alcohol to it. Wipe the remaining dust off the surfaces with the rag.

Step 5. Cover up the floor, counter tops, backsplash, and walls as you deem necessary. To do this, you can use painters tape, plastic, paper, canvas drop cloths, or a combination of all.

Step 6. Prime the cabinets. Now that the cabinets are prepped, it’s time for a coat of primer. If you have a paint sprayer and are comfortable using it, the most durable primer is shellac. The downside to this primer is that it needs to be sprayed using a respirator, as it is very odorous. T

he product can be cleaned up with either denatured alcohol or an ammonia and water mixture. For all the DIYers out there that are using a brush instead of a sprayer, the second best product to use on your cabinets is a high quality water-based bonding primer.

Do your research on this and be sure you purchase a primer that will bond well to high traffic surfaces.

A paint sprayer gives the smoothest finish, however, you can brush or roll on the paint. A rolled and a brushed finish can turn out very nice as well. There is no difference in durability between spraying or hand painting.

Here are some recommended sprayers:
TrueCoat Airless Paint Sprayer
Pro Cordless Airless Paint Sprayer

When spraying, I recommend using a Graco 308 FFLP or a 410 FFLP size tip.

Step 7. Lightly sand. After the primer is fully dry, lightly sand the surfaces with 220 or 320 grit sandpaper. Remove any dust and then you are ready for paint.

Step 8. Paint. Once you have prepped and primed, the cabinets are ready for the first and second coat of paint. Do not cut costs on your cabinet paint. It is very important to purchase a high quality and hard drying paint that will withstand daily usage.

I prefer urethane alkyd enamels. Be sure to allow plenty of dry time between coats of paint. Most paints recommend 2-4 hours of dry time between coats. Dry time can be sped up by using fans and being in a low humidity environment.

Step 9. Remove all masking and tape.

Step 10. Reinstall doors and drawers. Most modern hinges can be adjusted if necessary to ensure the doors are hanging properly.

What not to do: 

I see many sets of kitchen cabinets that have been painted previously and the paint is not holding up. There are several things that may cause your paint job to not last.

-Not cleaning and sanding your cabinets properly or thoroughly. I can’t stress this step enough. Prep is key to long-term durability.

-Not using a bonding primer before painting.

-Using a latex paint instead of a urethane enhanced enamel. Traditional latex/water based paint will never dry hard enough to withstand constant touch and will become sticky and will eventually start peeling off.

Don’t let this overwhelm you—the project will be very rewarding in the end! Follow the steps outlined above and you can be sure your newly painted cabinets will look great and last for years.

Thank you so much to Asa Davis of Davis Custom Finishes in Nashville for contributing your expertise to this blog post!

Looking for more painting tips?
How to Paint Windowsills
How to Paint Brick and Stone
Tips for Painting Exterior Brick

Credits // Author: Elsie Larson and Asa Davis. Photography: Amber Ulmer. Photo edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • I gel stained my cabinets about 8 years ago is there anything special I should do before painting that you didn’t already say?

  • Hi, thank you for the great advice! I have a question. If you are painting cabinets that don’t already have hardware, do you recommend pre-drilling the holes prior to painting, or drilling after the paint is dry? Thank you!

  • Great tutorial! I’ve been using this method for decades!! everything we have painted has held up great in high traffic. One thing I would point out is the Shellac paint does not need to be solely used with a sprayer. It can be brushed or rolled on, but it would have to be done very quickly. It’s not for entry level DIYers, but seasoned DIY vet. 😉

  • Did you paint inside your cabinets too? I’m going back and forth about this step ?

  • What brand of paint was used on your cabinets? I’ve been trying to read up but there is so much out there, good and bad. I’ve found Benjamin Moore Advance, PPG Breakthrough, Valspar Cabinet Enamel, etc. Looking for some real world advice and usage.

  • So beautiful and great post! I am going to be painting my laundry cabinets but they have a plastic-like veneer finish. Would this process work on those?

  • The best paint for kitchen cabinets and any surface is PPG BREAKTHROUGH. An enamel paint dries in 15 to 20 mins, all water base and excellent adhesion.
    Sq ft 400 sq ft. I used this all the time and any left, there are always other area that I can this on , regardless of its concrete, metal, aluminium, decking pan and more.

  • Hi there! I love your insta and podcast!!!! L.O.V.E. You both are so fun and creative.

    We are just about to refinish our floors and paint our cabinates. We’d like to go white. Do you have any pait color recommendations? Friends have told me now to go pure white … dove?

  • I love the look of those white kitchen cabinets! My wife and I are considering a remodel and can’t make up our minds between resurfacing our existing cabinets or having a profession install new ones.

    This is helpful – thank you

  • I searched for some kinds of cabinet paints in the market and I am pretty like line products of Nuvo and Rust but I am confused to make a decision. I am not sure what is better. Do you have any suggestions for me?

  • I’m a little confused about the shellac primer needing to be sprayed and not painted or rolled. I used a tiny, high quality roller to roll on my Zinsser B-i-n shellac primer (while wearing a respirator). It turned out great.

    • How long after you paint do you wait to put stuff back in n the cupboards?

    • Hi! Asa says spraying is the smoothest, but that does not mean you can’t apply it other ways. 🙂

  • oops one more comment. how do you know whether to purchase new doors or DIY paint the cabinets

  • would you estimate the cost of having a professional paint the cabinets instead of DIY

  • Great instructions! My husband and I painted our kitchen cabinets 2 years ago and they’ve held up great—the only additional step we did was strip the cabinets of the old varnish before we sanded…and that was almost 75% of the work!

  • Elsie, thanks for outlining all the necessary steps. My question is can you use this process on lower budget cabinets that are of the compressed wood type, and get the same results? Thanks!

      • Hi did you use a wax such as Anne Sloan to finish the cabinets? How well did the paint hold up from gouges and chips?

  • I am SO grateful to have this detailed information! We bought our house in February and I have been waiting for this post ever since you mentioned it on the podcast for the first time a few months ago. Can’t wait to put this great guidance to work in our kitchen!

  • Thank you for sharing such great info! What are your thoughts on painting the inside of the cabinets? The previous owner of our house put contact paper inside and we would like to cover that up when we paint our cabinets soon.

  • I’d love to hear thoughts on Mandi’s kitchen cabinet painting approach on the blog from a couple years ago v. this one, as I’m debating which way to go this summer!

    • Love this! Does the primer take out wood grain or would a filler still need to be applied?

      • The primer will not change the texture of your cabinets. If you don’t like the texture you’d have to take care of that beforehand. XX!

      • I filled the wood grain on mine. According to a number of diy guides, the Shellac primer, which I used, is supposed to help reduce the appearance under the paint, but that’s either not true or it’s just not enough to make a difference if you don’t want to see a prominent oak grain (especially if you’re using a white finish.) This step is a pain… the thing I found worked best by far was diluted wood putty. It requires two or three coats of working the diluted putty into the grain with a credit card or putty knife. The various grain fillers I tried (Aqua Coat) did not work well at all and were taking four or five coats to start to make a difference! Good luck.

    • Mandi knows what she’s doing, so I would trust her method as well. The thing about this one though is you can use any finish of paint- glossy to matte. So pick what is best for you!

      • Are the kitchen cabinets truly painted in White Mocha by Behr? I definitely want to copy this color but can’t find where Elsie posted the color! Thanks!

        • Yes! We haven’t posted it yet, but it’s mentioned in her kitchen tour.

  • Amazing before and after! Do you have info on the cabinet hardware?

  • Is your ceiling same color as cabinets? I’m trying to decide and wasn’t sure about trim, cabinets and ceiling all being the same….

    • Hi- we didn’t paint the ceiling, so no it is not the same color. My preference for a kitchen is usually for the cabinets and trim to all match. 🙂

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.