Man with a paint roller standing in a messy kitchen.

Painting Kitchen Cabinets: Everything You Need To Know

11-Minute Read
Published on October 24, 2019

Painting your cabinets is a great way to transform the look of your kitchen without having to spend a ton of money on a complete renovation. In this article, we’ll discuss the pros, cons and associated costs of hiring professionals to paint your kitchen cabinets. We’ll also provide a step-by-step guide for painting your cabinets yourself to give your kitchen a whole new look.

Hiring Professionals For Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Hiring professionals to paint your kitchen cabinets is, obviously, going to be more expensive than doing it yourself. Depending on your situation and skill level, it may be the option that makes the most sense for you. Let’s take a look at some things to consider.

Pros And Cons

If money isn’t a barrier to hiring professionals to complete this project, you might find that the pros are worth what they charge.

Painting kitchen cabinets, while a relatively simple renovation project, involves quite a bit of work and can take some time to complete. This is especially true if you’re busy with work or kids and can only take on the project during the weekends or at the end of the day.

Professionals should be able to get the job done within a matter of days, while an amateur could take a week or more, depending on time constraints. Having your kitchen at least partly out of commission for even a day or two can be highly inconvenient, so consider what your ideal timeline looks like when considering hiring a pro vs. doing it yourself.

Hiring professionals also guarantees professional quality. Don’t underestimate the impact of a well-done paint job. Cabinets that have been properly prepped, primed and painted can look great for years with little maintenance and few touch-ups required. Cabinets are in a highly visible area and can be a selling point for potential buyers if you decide to sell your home down the road. If you’re worried your skills aren’t up to task, hiring a professional guarantees that paint job will be high quality.

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Average Cost Of Hiring Pros To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets

How expensive is it to hire professionals, exactly?

On average, you can expect to spend $1,000 or more to have your cabinets professionally painted, according to Home Advisor. Prices will vary depending on your area. The size of your kitchen and how your contractor charges for work will factor in as well. Some will charge by linear foot, while others may charge per cabinet.

If you’re interested in having a professional do a job but aren’t sure you could afford it, reach out to one or two contractors and have them give you an estimate, then compare that to what you’d spend doing it yourself.

Close up of a half painted white cabinet door.

DIY Kitchen Cabinet Painting

While many renovation projects call for a professional, painting cabinets is one of those things that amateurs can do with relative ease.

Because of this, it’s a great project to take on if you’re looking to make a significant change to the look of your kitchen without having to pay someone to do it. The bulk of the cost of professional painting jobs generally comes from the cost of labor, so if you can do that yourself, you’ll save a significant chunk of change.

Pros And Cons

The main benefit of painting kitchen cabinets yourself is the money you’ll save from not hiring professionals. Plus, if you have something specific in mind, such as using multiple colors, you have more control over the project to ensure you get exactly what you want.

Of course, when you do it yourself, you’re limited by your own abilities, and doing a sub-par job can leave unsightly results. Kitchen cabinets are in a highly visible, high-traffic spot of the home. This means that not only do they take a lot of wear and tear, but every little ding and chip in the paint is on display for everyone to see.

The durability of your paint job depends a lot on how much effort you put into it. If you’re not willing or able to put in the time to get it right, you’ll end up with cabinets that will look old and worn just a few weeks or months after you painted them.

You’ll need to take some time to educate yourself on how to paint cabinets properly. Then, you’ll be responsible for not just the painting, but the setup and clean up as well. Think about whether you’re willing to dedicate yourself to what is a fairly time-consuming, labor-heavy task.

Cost Savings Of DIY Kitchen Cabinet Painting

While painting your cabinets yourself is cheaper, it’s not free. You’ll still have some costs that come with the project.

Assuming you don’t have cabinet-painting supplies laying around, you’ll need to pick up a few tools and materials to be able to successfully complete your project. While you won’t have to pay for labor if you go the DIY route, here are some basic things you will have to buy:

  • Good quality paint: $30-$50 per gallon
  • Bonding primer: $25 per gallon
  • Fine grit sandpaper: $5 for a pack
  • Paint tray and liners: $15
  • Brushes: $10-$15 each
  • Paint roller: $15
  • Trisodium phosphate cleaner: $5

The above costs are estimates; it may cost you more or less depending on prices in your area, whether the size of your kitchen requires you to purchase more, and the quality of the materials you buy.

Speaking of quality, keep in mind that when it comes to your paint, you don’t want to cut corners with price – you typically get what you pay for with interior paint. If you want your work to last for a long time, expect to pay a little more than average for a high-quality paint.

In total, you can expect to spend $100 – $200 total for the above essentials. Depending on your project, there may be some things not listed that you’ll need that will add to your costs. Additionally, if you don’t already have your own basic set of screwdrivers, you’ll need to purchase one so you can remove the doors and drawers to be painted.

Should You Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets Yourself?

The most important thing to keep in mind when painting your kitchen cabinets is that the goal is to make your paint job look nice and last as long as possible. This requires a lot of prep work and very careful aftercare while the paint dries and cures.

Doing it yourself can be very rewarding and save you a lot of money, while hiring professionals can take the pressure off you and get the job done more quickly. It’s just a matter of what works best for you, your budget and your schedule.

You Should Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets Yourself If…

  • You want to save money
  • You have the time to dedicate to the project
  • You know you have the skills to get it right
  • You like the feeling of pride you get from a DIY renovation

You Should Hire Professionals To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets If…

  • You want to be sure the job is done right
  • You don’t have the time to do it yourself
  • You want the job to be done as swiftly as possible
  • You want the ease of having someone else do it for you

How Cabinet Material Affects Paint

Pretty much any material that can be sanded down with sandpaper can be painted, but certain materials will be easier than others. Knowing what material your kitchen cabinets are made of will help you figure out how to tackle painting them.

Painting On Wood

Wooden cabinets and butcher block counters.

When painting wood cabinets, your concern should be ensuring that the wood grain doesn’t show through the paint. If the wood grain on your cabinets is especially noticeable, it’s likely that the paint will settle into the grooves and show through.

To test this, run your fingers across the grain of your cabinets. If you can feel the grain, you’ll probably want to do a little bit extra priming to ensure that it doesn’t show through your paint job.

You can fill larger pores using either wood filler or spackling compound, and smooth it into the grooves with a putty knife. You can also layer on multiple coats of primer, sanding between coats.

Painting On Laminate

With laminate cabinets, using a bonding primer is especially important, as you want to make sure the primer and the paint really adhere to the typically smooth laminate surface.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to paint over damaged laminate. Repair any chips, holes or cracks before you get started.

Choosing Your Paint

A quick primer (no pun intended) on buying paint: As we mentioned, you want to buy a good-quality paint. Look for a paint intended specifically for cabinets or trim, or one that includes the word “enamel.”

In general, latex paints tend to be better than oil-based paints, as they are easier to clean up after, dry faster and don’t release as many fumes and VOCs as oil-based paints. Many professionals still prefer oil-based paint because it tends to be the most durable; however, latex paints have improved in durability over the years, and should be sufficient for your needs. Plus, latex is less likely to yellow with age.

You’ll also need to decide what type of finish you want your paint to have. Glossier finishes will highlight imperfections more, while matte finishes are harder to clean. For cabinets, experts generally recommend something in the middle, like a satin or semi-gloss finish.

How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets (Whether You’re A Pro Or A DIY-er)

Now, it’s finally time to get to painting (and prepping, and priming). Here’s our simple, step-by-step guide to how to paint your kitchen cabinets.

Step 1: Get Inspired And Figure Out What You Want

Close up of hands holding paint swatches.

You don’t want to go through this lengthy process only to realize at the end that you don’t like the color you picked out.

Take some time looking at kitchen inspiration, using home design magazines or the internet, to get an idea of what you want. Think about what color would best fit in with your current design scheme (or the one you’ve got planned, if you’re redoing the rest of your kitchen along with your cabinets).

Step 2: Do Your Research (And Decide Whether To DIY Or Get A Pro)

Once you’ve decided on the color and look you want, you’ll have to do some research and figure out whether you’re going to do it yourself or hire a professional.

Part of this step can include reaching out to one or two contractors to get an estimate for how much a professional job would cost. Then, you can compare that with what it would cost for you to purchase all the supplies you’d need, plus the time cost.

If you decide to hire a pro, this is as far as you’ll need to go, as they’ll handle the rest. However, you can read on if you’re interested in understanding the process your painters will be going through.

Step 3: Buy Paint And Other Needed Materials

A collection of painting tools, including paintbrushes and paint cans.

As a reminder, here is our list of the absolute basics that you’ll need:

  • Good quality paint
  • Bonding primer
  • Fine grit sandpaper
  • Paint tray and liners
  • Brushes
  • Paint roller
  • Trisodium phosphate cleaner

You’ll also need screwdrivers to remove the doors and drawers from your cabinets, if you don’t already own a set.

If your cabinets’ wood grain is very porous, you’ll want to pick up some spackling or wood filler and a putty knife to smooth it out.

When it comes to your paint brushes, you might consider getting two: one angled and one flat. If you’re working with latex paint, get a synthetic bristle brush. For oil, you’ll need a natural bristle brush.

Painter’s tripods can also come in handy when you’re painting the doors. And if the cabinets have previously been painted and the paint isn’t in great condition, you’ll need to purchase paint stripper to remove the old paint before you start.

Step 4: Prep Your Kitchen

To ensure that your counters, floors and the contents of your cabinets don’t get covered in paint or dust, relocate anything that’s in the splash zone to another area and cover up surfaces using a drop cloth, plastic sheets, newspaper or whatever else you have available.

You may also want to carve out a spot in your home for a makeshift kitchen where you can keep paper plates and plastic utensils that you can use while your kitchen is being painted.

Step 5: Label Everything And Take It Apart

Using painter’s tape and a marker, label each of the cabinet doors and drawers and the cabinet they belong to. Once everything is painted, you want to put everything back in the same place.

Using a screwdriver or drill, remove doors, drawers and all hardware. Keep the hardware in bags or jars so you don’t lose track of anything.

Step 6: Clean Your Cabinets

Woman wearing blue gloves cleaning her white cabinets.

This is where the trisodium phosphate (TSP) comes in. TSP is a heavy-duty cleaner that will remove grease from your cabinets. Don’t skip this step, no matter how clean you think your cabinets are.

Step 7: Fix Dents And Fill Grooves

Close up shot of putty and knives.

Use your wood filler or spackling to fix any dents, chips or holes (just don’t fill the screw holes if you plan on using the same hardware). Fill in any large grooves in the wood grain as well.

Step 8: Sand Everything

Man sanding wood in his workshop.

You want to sand the surfaces of your cabinets so that paint will better grip the surface. You don’t want to sand so much you get down to bare wood; just enough to rough up the top layer of finish.

When you’re done sanding, remove all the dust with a vacuum and wipe down with a cloth.

Step 9: Time To Prime

Use a brush or small paint roller to apply the primer. Your primer coat doesn’t have to be perfect, just make sure it covers everything.

If you’d like to be extra sure that your paint goes on smoothly and that nothing shows through, you can do a couple coats of primer and sand in between coats. For guidance, check the manufacturer’s instructions for how to use your primer. Any time you sand, be sure to clean up the dust before doing another coat.

Step 10: Get Painting

Close up shot of a hand holding a messy paintbrush, painting a cabinet.

Paint your drawers, doors and cabinets, using a roller for larger, flat surfaces and brushes for the detailed pieces. For the drawers, only paint the front facing piece; painting the sides can cause the drawers to stick.

If you notice any imperfections (such as bubbles) after your first coat of paint has dried, you may want to sand those areas before doing another coat. You want your final coat to go on as smoothly as possible. Make sure you’re painting with the grain to keep the look smooth and clean.

Be sure to let the paint dry between coats. Two coats should be sufficient, but you can do three if you want to be extra sure.

Once you’ve painted your final coat, give your cabinets a full day or two to completely dry before putting them back in your kitchen.

Step 11: Put It Back Together

Close up shot of someone using a drill to reassemble their cabinets.

Reassemble your cabinets, using your tape labels to figure out where everything goes. Replace all the hardware, including drawer pulls and knobs.

Bonus: If you want to transform your kitchen even more, consider getting new hardware that better fits your new design scheme.

Step 12: Be Careful!

Though the paint should be dry by now, it can take a couple weeks for it to cure, meaning that all the water from the paint has evaporated and the paint has fully hardened. In the meantime, your paint job will be more vulnerable to getting dinged up, so take it easy with your new cabinets at first.

Don’t Forget To Maintain Your New Kitchen Cabinet Paint Coat

After you (or your hired professionals) have put so much time and hard work into painting your cabinets, you want to make sure that they stay looking good-as-new for as long as possible. This means you need to make sure you’re properly maintaining and cleaning them.

Wipe up spills or splatters as soon as they happen with a wet paper towel or soft rag. Avoid using harsh cleaners or abrasive cleaning supplies. Stick with gentle cleansers, like a mild dishwashing liquid, or even just plain water. Wipe down your cabinets every once in a while to take care of any hard-to-spot grease or other debris that may have splattered during food preparation.

Anytime you clean your cabinets, be sure to dry them with a towel when you’re done. Avoid hanging wet dish towels on your cabinet doors.

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Molly Grace

Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.