Guide on how to paint wood cabinets

Painting wood cabinets is one of the easiest ways to give your kitchen or bathroom a fresh new look. It is both cost-effective and speedy when compared with replacing the cabinets entirely. However, to do it correctly, it does take special tools as well as a certain level of skill to prepare, sand, prime, and paint them properly with all the curves and corners. For anyone looking to learn how to paint their own cabinets, this guide on how to paint wood cabinets should provide all of the information that you need.

Where to Begin

Painting wood cabinets can be a fun and rewarding experience. But it’s important to know where to begin and what tools you’ll need.

The first step is to thoroughly clean and inspect the cabinets. Look for any dents, scratches or chips in the finish. If you find any, decide whether they can be repaired or if you need to paint over them. If there are small scratches, use fine-grit sandpaper to gently remove the surface layer of the stain or varnish. You can also use a special stain-and-varnish remover designed for this purpose. Once they are clean, you can sand, preferably with an electric sander. You then blow off the dust, wipe them down, and they are now ready for priming.

When to Paint Kitchen Cabinets?

All cabinets are candidates to be painted — whether they are new or 30 years old. The best time to paint kitchen cabinets depends on where you live and how often you use your kitchen. The more use your cabinets receive, the faster they will begin showing signs of wear and tear in the form of scratches and dents from daily use. This can happen even if you aren’t hard on them — it’s just natural with normal use over time.

How Much Does it Cost to Paint Kitchen Cabinets?

In most cases, painting kitchen cabinets yourself will cost between $300 and $400 per room. This price includes all materials and equipment needed — primer, paint and brushes — as well as any additional supplies needed such as masking tape or drop cloths. Give yourself plenty of time — as this is a lot of work to do properly. The average sized kitchen will take between 75-100 man hours to complete properly.

If you choose to hire a professional painting company that has thousands of dollars of specialized equipment designed to leave your cabinets with a finish that is as smooth as the hood of your car, then expect to pay between $3,000-$6,500 for this service. A professional who does this correctly will finish your kitchen in 3-5 days.

Choose the Right Paint

Choosing the right paint can be a challenge. There are so many paints to choose from, and they come in so many different formulas. The best way to find the right one for you is to do some research first. Visit your paint store and ask them for the correct primer and ask them about their cabinet paint

What Equipment & Tools You Need for Painting Cabinets

Equipment / Tools

10-inch micro roller handle

Cordless drill or screwdriver

Cleaning sponge

Clean bucket

Foam sanding block

Shop vacuum

Tapered sash brush

Paint tray


Water-based latex paint


Plastic sheeting

Painter’s tape

TSP (trisodium phosphate) or degreaser

120- and 220-grit sandpaper

10-inch micro paint roller covers

Sealable plastic bags

Shop towels

Paint tray liners

Steps in Painting the Wood Cabinets

  1. Prepare Working Area and Needed Tools

    Before you get started, you will need to prepare your work area. Make sure that everything is clean and organized, so that there are no chances of paint drips or spills. If you are planning to use the same space for other projects in future, then make sure that everything is covered and protected with plastic sheeting. You can also use a drop cloth to protect your flooring from splatters and spills. The next step is to gather all the necessary tools required for painting cabinets.

  2. Remove Cabinet doors, drawers and shelves

    If you are painting cabinets, it is best to remove all doors, drawers and shelves. This will make it easier to access the interior of your cabinets. To remove the doors, simply unscrew them from the hinges. For drawers, you will need to remove the knobs (if applicable) and then pull out each drawer completely. If your cabinet has a shelf in it, then you will have to remove this as well.

  3. Clean Cabinet Boxes

    Clean the cabinet boxes before painting them. You can do it using:

    Degreaser – Use a degreaser to remove grime and other residue.
    TSP – Use a tsp to apply wood conditioner to the wood surfaces. This will help the paint stick better, and it will protect the wood from drying out and cracking during storage.

  4. Prime the Cabinets, Doors and Drawer Fronts

    Prime all surfaces before painting. This will ensure that your paint has as smooth a surface as possible. If you skip this step, your paint may not adhere properly to the wood and may flake off over time. Sand down any areas with rough spots with fine-grit sandpaper until they’re smooth to the touch. Then apply primer using a fine-bristled brush or roller. Apply multiple coats of primer if necessary to cover all areas completely.

  5. Sanding doors and other hardware

    Before you start painting your kitchen cabinets, you need to sand them down first. This will remove any remaining varnish or paint from previous coats, leaving only bare wood. Use a fine-grit sandpaper (120 or higher) to get into all the nooks and crannies on your doors and drawers. Wipe off any dust with a damp cloth before moving on to the next step.

  6. Paint the Cabinets

    Once you have prepped the cabinets and primed them, it is time to paint them. Your first coat should be a base coat, which is usually a color that is close to the final color you want. This will act as a second primer and help prepare the surface for the top coat. It is also important for moisture resistance and adhesion of the top coat.

    Once this base coat has dried, apply a second coat of paint. Make sure that you apply at least two or three coats of paint, depending on how much coverage you need.

  7. Assemble kitchen cabinets and the hardware

    After finishing the painting process, assemble your kitchen cabinets again with all its hardware parts. If you have installed new hardware parts in your kitchen cabinets, then make sure that they are fixed properly on their respective places before assembling them together.

    If you have installed new hinges or new knobs and handles, then also check whether they are fixed properly or not by opening and closing the doors of your cabinets several times.

Call a Professional

If you have never painted cabinets before and don’t have much experience in the home improvement arena, consider hiring a professional painter to do the job for you. A professional painter has all the tools, sprayers, paints and supplies needed to get the job done right. If you are going to hire a pro, it is better to hire someone who has more experience than yourself so that they can make sure everything goes smoothly.


Overall, painting wood cabinets can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be highly beneficial for the value of your home, the resale value, and for its aesthetics. Give it a try and see for yourself!


Should I do it myself or hire someone?
Painting cabinets yourself is not hard at all. It just requires patience, care, special equipment, and a lot of time! 

Is it better to spray the cabinets or paint them with a brush?
If you’re looking for a finish that still looks like a professional painting company did the job, spraying paint is the only way to go.

Do I really have to take the doors off the frame?
Yes. If you want a smooth finish, you need to take all of the hardware off and sand down every surface — including behind the doors.

How durable are painted cabinets?
The answer depends on the type of the quality of your surface preparation, the quality of the primer and the paint that you use and what kind of surface you’re painting. Most paints can last at least 10 years, but some can last 20 or 30 years or longer.

How long does it take for the paint to fully dry?
Read the can’s label! Most take 3-12 hours for the paint to fully dry before you can start applying another coat.