How to Paint your Kitchen Cabinets: DIY vs Pro's


So, we have all watched a little Home Improvement TV and thought, “ we can do that “. Condensed into a 30 minute TV show it all looks pretty simple and straight forward.  BUT…..thats hours of time edited for TV……Warning! It’s not. Is it possible for anyone to tackle the task? Yes, but you must wear the hat of Designer, Planer, and get down and dirty worker bee. The reality is, there are pitfalls and rewards to taking on the task. So get yourself informed before getting started on the project.


Pick the Color

Go to to find amazing apps and tools to help you find the right color an product for you. 

Go to to find amazing apps and tools to help you find the right color an product for you. 


Picking the right cabinet color can completely transform your kitchens look and feel. Things to think about when selecting a new color are…


Whats around the cabinets? 

Whats your wall color? 

How will this color look with your countertops? 

How will this color look with your backsplash?  

How will this color look with the flooring in your kitchen?


Luckily there are many websites devoted to inspiration, like for starters.  Seek cabinets that have similar traits to your own cabinets. You don't want to look at inspiration photos that are comparing apples to oranges. Like looking a pictures of Cherry cabinets that are over sized with large crown and glass doors, when your kitchen has 36” tall painted cabinets… Look at similar sized cabinets an surrounding elements for achievable inspiration.  Look to your counter surface for family of color.  Grab a Color Fan Deck from Sherwin Williams, or Benjamin Moore, or your local home improvement store.  Bring it home and find a few tabs that have colors that follow the path of the things in your kitchen that won’t change, or the color that will accent whats already there.


What Material Do you Use?


Painting cabinets is not as simple as rolling up your sleeves and grabbing the old paint tray and changing the living room walls. Its more, with larger repercussions if not done properly.  How do you get the right information. Ask… Take out the old trusty screw driver and remove a Door or Pull out a drawer. Take it to professional paint store. Ask them what Material it is, what Sheen it is. Is it Oil Based Enamel, is it Water Based Latex Enamel, Is it Lacquer or is it Polyurethane. So many things it could be. Find out for sure, don’t guess. Guessing will cause sticking or adhesion problems for your new color.

If your cabinets are Water Based Latex Enamel or Water Based Acrylic Enamel, you can repaint them with the Same Material. Or, you can repaint them with Oil Based Enamel.

If your cabinets are Oil Based Enamel, the BEST possible repaint material is Oil Base Enamel.

What if your cabinets are stained?

You’ll need to find out if they were cleared in Lacquer or Polyurethane. If there Lacquer, they can be painted with Pigmented Lacquer ( colored lacquer ) or they can be painted with Oil Based Enamel. BUT if an only if primed with the proper material. Those primers would included Alcohol Base Pigmented Shellac this can be found at any home improvement store or professional paint store. Some of the large name professional paint stores will also have a recommended primer, for your top coat material selection. Let the paint professional help you with this process.

How do I prepare the Cabinets for Paint?

Simple Green is great material for removing years of oil, dirt and grime from your cabinets surface. Find cheap at online or at your local home improvement store.

Simple Green is great material for removing years of oil, dirt and grime from your cabinets surface. Find cheap at online or at your local home improvement store.


Cleaning properly is always a must, you’ll need a degreaser like Simple Green or 409 using warm water and sponges with the scotch brite side. Years of cooking and cleaning leave a oil residue on the cabinets, that must be removed prior to painting. Do not over saturate the cabinet with large amounts of water. Spray the surface down, work up suds with the sponge, dip the sponge in clean water and wipe clean. Use paper towels or terry cloth towels to clean excess water away as soon as possible. If the paper towel or terry cloth is soiled then repeat the process until its clean.


Lightly sand all surfaces with 220 to 320 grit Sandpaper.  220 should be the most aggressive sand paper you use. Sanding sponges are very useful for curved crown and panel door angles.  The surface area should appear matte or flat after sanding. This is necessary for your paint to properly adhere to your cabinets. Make sure after all the sanding is done, that you wipe them of with a slightly damp cloth or paper towel, or dust them off with a clean dry paint brush. Removing as much dust as possible.


Keep the work area clean, any an all dust or garbage will find its way into your fresh paint. 


What do I use to apply the Paint?


NO ROLLERS, when it comes to cabinets stay away from Foam Rollers, Short Nap 3/8” woven naps. These usually will leave lines, trails, small hairs, spots and dots. And all of those are bad.  The proper tool is a HVLP or an Airless Spray Machine. The HVLP is usually a gravity feed small cup, that is hooked up to a air compressor. The compressed air travels through the gun pulling material out of the gun and spraying onto the surface. Sprayed paint is the smoothest most professional look.  Airless Spray Machines are what the professional painter use to paint cabinets, lots of material and lots of pressure all at once.


The HVLP Gun, It literally means HIGH VOLUME LOW PRESSURE.  This gun is about $30-60.00 at any Home Improvement store. The air compressor can be rented from the very same store or any local tool rental store. The compressor usually rents for $60.00 per day. About 30 minutes of playing with the Knobs and dials, an you will get it down. There are tons of You Tube videos showing simple usage. Good Settings are 25-35 PSI which is the ideal air pressure settings for an HVLP.  This will make your paint job fly by once prepped properly.


Feeling like you can really handle the pressure? Also available to rent are the Airless Spray Machines, which you will only need to purchase a spray TIP for the rental Gun, that comes with Machine.  411-611 are both recommended tip sizes. For Latex and Enamel. This is not for a first time DIY’er an will take much more practice to get right.



Brushes come in a variety of cost and purpose. Be sure to read the label, understand its ideal use. Cheap brushes equal cheap results. I like the Purdy Brushes

Brushes come in a variety of cost and purpose. Be sure to read the label, understand its ideal use. Cheap brushes equal cheap results. I like the Purdy Brushes

Then there is always the good ole paint brush. Can you? Should you? The truth is no. Is there a way to. Yes, if painting with Oil Based Enamel, Reduce every gallon of paint with a quart of PENETROL this material is an additive that will reduce brush and roller marks. ( still don't use a roller ) It will allow you to back brush, a process of repeating the brush strokes to be uniform and all in one direction. Lay the doors and drawers flat, using this material added to the Enamel and 80% of the brush marks will “ Lay Down “ or settle. Appearing more smooth. Of course on the installed cabinet faces, this is going to require more back brush or “ smoothing action “

Allow your cabinets to dry for 24 hours before attempting to handle them or re-hang doors, set drawers and hardware. Ideally waiting 3 days will give the proper cure time. Putting plates, cans, silverware any everything else we put in cabinets back to soon is bad. It will result in pressure rings, or scratches. Wait its not worth the frustration. 

Don’t close the DOORS!

Be cautious about shutting all the doors, the must dry. If shut to soon they will bond to base cabinets and pull paint apart. Wait the 3 days, apply plastic dots or felt dots, this will silence the door bangs, and save your new fresh finish.

Now, if all that seams like to Much. You can always call a professional cabinet refinishing company or professional painting company. The Advantage to contracting a professional is the knowledge they bring to the table for all the un foreseen problems that occur in refinishing.

Professionals will use another level of tools an materials that a DIY’er simply can’t. As in ( solid color ) Spraying Pigmented Lacquers which are ideal for paint a solid color over previously Stained Cabinets Clear Coated in Lacquer. Or over pre-fabricated ( solid color ) Pigmented Lacquer Painted Cabinets.

Professional Refinishing Companies will use the identical materials or a higher grade material to refinish your cabinets. Often making them better than the original finish.  They will also use better HVLP guns and or Airless Spray Machines giving you a factory finish. That will dry hard and smooth. 

 For a lot of us our time is better spent doing what it is we do best!  Interview more than one company, look at there website. Look at there reviews, ask the questions listed above. Ask them about there process. Ask them what materials there going to use.

Either way, its a lot of work. But it’s so worth it, the Kitchen Cabinets are the most used and seen item in a home. The rewards can be life changing. The great thing about paint is…. its just paint… You can always paint it again.

Remodeling and Home Design