How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Updated May 18, 2024 | Posted Mar 24, 2023 | Product Advice, Professional insight | 2 comments

“Hand painted” is a very modern and desirable look for a kitchen. Also, painting kitchen units, doors, drawers and carcases can make great financial sense. Are you supposed to rip out a kitchen every time you change the colour scheme in the house, even though the kitchen itself is structurally sound? Seems like a massive waste of a few thousand pounds to me. Particularly when painting a kitchen is easy to do.

As a professional decorator, I have painted many kitchens in my time. It isn’t rocket science! Providing you follow a few simple steps, anyone with a bit of time can achieve fantastic results. In this blog I’m going to talk about how to paint a kitchen, as well as giving my recommendations on the best products to use.

I’m like most Painters and Decorators, in that I stick to ‘trade paint’, which, unless you’re entitled to a trade discount, is usually cheaper to buy online. Plus, it’s easier to have colours matched online, so you could choose a Farrow and Ball colour and have it mixed into a Johnstone’s or a Dulux product if you like. To that end, I’ll also recommend good websites when recommending each product.

 

Prepping Your Kitchen Cabinets

 

This probably goes without saying, but prep is the most important part of any decorating job. This is especially true when painting kitchen cabinets. Not only is there likely to be contaminants such as grease or cleaning products on your surfaces, but you’re also trying to paint something that has been designed to prevent things from sticking to it.

 

Cleaning

You should first clean every surface with an appropriate product. You need something that is going to cut through grease without leaving a residue. My preferred product is Zinsser Universal Cleaner and Degreaser. It’s a very strong product, so open your kitchen windows and pop some sort of mask over your mouth and nose. You can buy this product online by clicking here.

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Sanding

I know your kitchen is factory finished, so it’s nice and smooth anyway. However, sanding is still an important step. Sanding a surface may make it feel smoother in some cases, but you’re actually making tiny scratches in it. This is called a “key”, and it allows your paint to grip to your work surface.

 

Vinyl Wrap

Some kitchen cupboard doors, like the ones below, are wrapped in a vinyl plastic. You can paint over this, but it isn’t ideal. If you can remove that vinyl wrap, you’ll be left with pristine MDF, which is a far better surface to work on. It also means there is less chance of your paint failing further down the line.

Removing vinyl wrap from a kitchen is scary, but don’t worry. You need to crack a few eggs to make an omelette after all.

Removing vinyl wrap from a kitchen before painting it
It is easy to hand paint a kitchen

All you need is a heat gun (a powerful hairdryer works in some cases). Heat a small area next to an edge and the glue holding the vinyl wrap will melt. You can then pick at it with a paint scraper or filling knife. Once you can get your scraper under the wrap, just carry on heating and lifting small sections until you’ve worked your way over the whole area.

 

Which Parts of the kitchen Cupboards You Should Paint

I thought I’d explain briefly which parts of the kitchen units you should paint. I don’t think there is much point in painting to the back of every cupboard because you’re not going to see it anyway. Plus, there would be too much wear and tear on those painted surfaces as you load and unload the cabinets with food and utensils.

I normally paint both sides of the cabinet doors, the outside of the carcass, including the outside edge of the carcass between each door and draw, plus the plinth.

the easiest way to paint kitchen units

The Best Paint Products to Use and The Process to Take

 

I’m going to give you two different options for paint systems. First, I’m going to give you good solid trade paint which is easy to use and will look great. This is probably the best trade system available.

Second, I’ll give you the very best premium paint available. I suppose it depends on your budget. Most of my clients would go for the trade option.

 

Adhesion Primer

The first coat of paint on your kitchen units is an adhesion primer. This is a product designed to adhere to problem surfaces and create the perfect base for the rest of your system. If you miss the adhesion primer, then your paint will chip off in no time.

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The best trade adhesion primer for me on a kitchen is Zinsser Cover Stain. This is an oil-based product that can be used on bare MDF, as well as melamine and other surfaces. It also blocks stains, which is another advantage. Dilute it slightly with white spirit to make it easier to apply. Available online here.

 

Undercoat and Topcoat(s)

Once you’ve primed, the best trade paint for your kitchen cabinets is Johnstone’s Trade Aqua Guard. You will need to apply a coat of Aqua Undercoat, followed by two coats of Aqua Guard. This is a very durable water-based product, which looks great and can be mixed into any colour from any brand.

Johnstone’s Aqua Guard is a satinwood, and it’s a product I use on most jobs for internal woodwork. It is very easy to achieve a good finish with this system. Click here to see online prices.

 

The Best High-End Kitchen Paint Option

 

If budget allows and you want to buy the very best product for your kitchen cabinets, Then Benjamin Moore Scuff X is the way to go. This is regarded as the best premium satinwood on the market, but does cost around £25 per litre. That said, using Benjamin Moore normally means you need less coats, so you do save in other places.

You will need to apply a coat of Benjamin Moore Stix Primer, followed by 2 coats of Scuff X. Click here to see online prices.

 

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

 

We’ve already been through the prep and recommended products needed to carry out this type of project. There are a few other tips I can give you on how to paint kitchen cabinets. If you carry out the work in this order, it will make the job a lot easier.

 

The First Coat

Once you’ve finished your prep, give everything a ‘dust off’. You can do this with a dry paintbrush. I also like to give the surfaces an extra wipe with a slightly moist J-cloth. You’re then ready to apply your adhesion primer.

I take the door handles off the cabinets and put them somewhere safe. I then prime the visible parts of the carcass, then the outside of cupboard doors and drawers. Allow everything to dry; If you use one of the two primers I recommended earlier on, then you should only need to wait an hour or two.

I then remove the drawers and the cupboard doors. Only remove the two screws connecting each hinge to the back of the doors, DO NOT remove the hinges, or you’ll make re-assembly a nightmare. I then paint the edges of the carcass that would have been behind the doors.

 

The Next Stage of Painting Kitchen Cabinets

 

Put the doors and drawers in a separate room if you can, or anywhere you have space to lay them out on a dust sheet. Apply a primer, an undercoat and two topcoats to the backs of the doors (or a primer and two topcoats if using Benjamin Moore). Allow plenty of time in-between coats to dry. The back of the doors will then be completely finished.

Whilst the work with the backs of the doors is going on, you can tackle the rest of the kitchen. Use a Decorators’ Caulk to tidy any edges. Also a two-pack filler to make any repairs. HB42 wood filler is probably the best.

Then apply your remaining coats of paint (undercoat and topcoats) to the rest of the kitchen.

Once everything is dry, simply re-fit the doors and apply your undercoat and topcoats to the fronts after you’ve re-hung them. Finish off by putting the handles back. You could even replace the handles with new if you want to go with a different look. Click here to see a range.

 

The Best Tools to Use for Kitchen Cabinets

Now you know how to paint kitchen cabinets. You also know that by painting kitchen cabinets rather than replacing, you’re going to save yourself a small fortune. You’d normally use water-based paint products for this type of work, and as any Decorator will tell you, having good quality tools will make a huge difference to the finish you can achieve.

You should use a medium pile mini roller to paint the large flat areas of kitchen units.

the best brush and roller to paint a kitchen

You will also need a brush that holds its shape well enough to ‘cut in’ the edges, but soft enough to ‘lay off’ the flat areas.

The Axus Decor Silk Touch Medium Pile Mini Roller, 4″/100mm is possibly the best roller to use on kitchen cabinets. You’ll find they hold loads of paint, do not shed from new, and leave an even layer of paint with little orange peel. They’ll fit any standard size arm. Available online here.

As for the brush, the ProDec Ice Fusion takes some beating. The bristles are tapered from base to tip, allowing them to hold more paint than regular brushes. They’re on the soft side but hold their shape well. Available online here.

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What do Other Decorators Have to Say

The best way to paint kitchen cabinets is to spray them, but I know that isn’t always possible. I spray kitchens on a regular basis. It makes sense on the high-end houses to hire a professional decorator to take care of it. Say a kitchen is worth £30,000 and a client has interior designers in every 3 or 4 years before getting their home decorated. They can’t very well replace the kitchen every few years, so we come in and paint them. We get a factory finish and use pre-cat paint products. I do not recommend you try spraying a kitchen unless you’ve had proper training.

That said, I also hand-paint kitchens. You can still get a flat finish, and the odd little brush mark adds to the charm, especially in homes with a lot of character. You can even buy kitchens now which are painted in situ straight after they’ve been fitted. We’re talking about designer kitchens in designer homes too, which just goes to show how popular hand painted kitchens are.

Tommy Dawe

Professional Painter and Decorator

It’s strange, when I started in the trade 20 years ago, there were very few hand painted kitchens. Now they’re popular. I quite enjoy doing them too. I have a drying rack, so I take the doors off and paint them to a finish before I put them back.

Painting a kitchen isn’t difficult, it just takes a while to get through it. It takes me about a week to paint a largish kitchen.

Lee Thornton

Professional Painter and Decorator

Updated May 18, 2024 | Posted Mar 24, 2023 | 2 comments

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Cupit has been in the decorating industry since 2002 and has mostly worked as a Trade Decorator in the domestic sector (peoples’ homes). Self-proclaimed “product geek”, Mike has a passion for paint and decorating tools. Mike now spends most of his time testing paint products and tools, comparing them to similar products on the market, and blogging about the industry in general.

2 Comments

  1. Nevin Smith

    Hi all, anyone in the South Manchester area that can paint a solid timber shaker kitchen? 30 Doors or so, Plinths, end panels, Cornice and pelmets. Cheers

    Reply
  2. David

    Hi really good article and you are so right. A lot of times though on the MDF it isn’t always that but the cheapest crap chipboard underneath. So people if doing themselves send to be certain before ripping off and then thinking Oh now what. I do a lot of hand-painting kitchens in North Yorkshire York Malton etc its amazing how many have had crazy quotes to replace perfectly good doors with inferior new ones.

    Nice website as well

    Reply

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