9 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Painting Their Kitchen Cabinets

Paint pros reveal what not to do when repainting kitchen cabinets.

Home Improvement Remodeled Contemporary Kitchen design with painted cabinets
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Painting your kitchen cabinets is one of the easiest ways to give your kitchen a brand-new look, without embarking on a complete remodel. From crisp all-white cabinets, to a trendy sage green hue with brass hardware, to an eye-catching blue, freshly painted cabinets will transform the entire room. When you tackle this project yourself, it can be a surprisingly affordable (yet time-consuming) DIY. You'll also want to sidestep some common cabinet painting mistakes in order to avoid chipped paint and perpetually dirty-looking cabinets down the line. To learn the most important cabinet-painting mistakes to avoid, we asked a pro and shared lessons from first-hand experience. Here's what not to do the next time you paint your kitchen cabinets.

01 of 09

Not Removing the Doors

Painting Kitchen Cabinets White
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It may be tempting to brush on a new coat of paint without removing the cabinet doors first, but taking off the doors is an essential step for the best results. This will prevent drips while allowing you to paint every surface of the cabinet, inside and out. Plus, if you keep the cabinet doors out of the way, such as in a garage or separate workspace, you'll be less likely to bump into them as the paint is drying.

02 of 09

Skipping the Proper Prep Work

Sanding Kitchen Cabinets
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"The biggest mistake is not taking the time to properly understand what is needed to prep the cabinets for painting," says David Steckel, Thumbtack home expert. "Repainting kitchen cabinets may seem like a fit-for-DIY job, but it's a tricky, time-consuming project, and if not done right, could look worse in just a few months."

Before you start painting, most cabinets will require sanding the surface, filling in any cracks or uneven areas with wood filler, and allowing it to dry. Once sanded, use a damp cloth or a lint-free tack cloth to remove all of the dust and debris. Any small particles that aren't cleaned up can waft into the paint and ruin the pristine surface of the cabinet.

If you have patience and some DIY skills, this is a project you may be able to tackle yourself; however, depending upon the intricacy of the cabinet design and your expectations for the final product, it may be worth it to hire a pro. According to Thumbtack, the national average cost to paint kitchen cabinets ranges from $890 to $1,500, depending on factors like paint quality, cabinet design and size, and painting method.

03 of 09

Failing to Label the Hardware and Doors

Removing Cabinet Door Hardware
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Even if you don't have a ton of cabinets, once all of the doors and hardware are removed, it can be difficult to remember what goes back where. To make reattaching the doors much easier later on, number each cabinet door as you remove it. Place the hardware for each door in a small bag and label each one with the coordinating cabinet number.

04 of 09

Not Protecting Your Kitchen Before Painting

Mid age woman painting her old brown kitchen to blue modern color

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Don't ruin the rest of your kitchen in the process of painting your cabinets. Make sure to cover everything—floors, counters, appliances, etc.—in tarp, paper, or plastic covers to protect it from paint splatters and drips.

05 of 09

Applying Thick Layers of Paint

White paint and kitchen cabinets
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When painting kitchen cabinets, the goal is to create a durable surface that can survive daily use. The best way to build up the surface is with multiple layers of thin paint rather than one thick layer that can more easily chip off. Patience and waiting the recommended drying time between coats will pay off with a sturdy finish.

06 of 09

Not Using Primer

Paining Primer on Cabinet Door
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Whether you're starting with wood cabinets or dark paint, primer will create a barrier so your chosen paint color can shine. If the surface you're starting with is smooth and shiny, primer can also generate some traction so the paint will stick. Just be sure to use the right primer for the cabinets you're painting.

"Older cabinets are typically painted with oil paint. However, the most common paint today is latex paint. If you apply latex paint on top of oil-based paint, the paint will slowly peel off and require you to re-paint quicker than you anticipated," says Steckel. "Instead, use an oil-based primer and then apply the latex paint on your cabinets," he advises.

07 of 09

Using the Wrong Paint Finish

off-white cabinets in kitchen
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To make cabinets easier to wipe clean, a slightly shinier paint finish is ideal. Skip the matte paint in favor of semi-gloss or satin.

08 of 09

Not Letting the Cabinets Dry for Long Enough

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Painted cabinets may be dry to the touch within a few hours, but the curing process can take several days. Until the cabinets are fully cured to a hard, durable surface, they'll be more susceptible to chips and marks. It's best to wait at least 48 hours before reattaching the cabinet doors and hardware, then be careful not to slam or scrape the doors for the first week.

09 of 09

Remodeling Your Kitchen After Painting the Cabinets

remodeling kitchen

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Remodeling your kitchen after painting your cabinets is a bit like cleaning your floors before dusting—you can end up messing up the work you've already done by going in the wrong order. If you replace your countertops or appliances after freshening up your cabinets, the cabinets could end up getting scuffed or damaged amidst the new changes and fittings. So, make sure painting is the last thing you do during a kitchen remodel.

Tips for Hiring a Pro

If you decide to hire an expert rather than DIY the project, Steckel has some recommendations for finding the best painter for the job:

  • Check the painter's experience: Painting cabinets requires keen attention to detail and experience removing cabinet doors or drawers without damaging the cabinet itself.
  • Ask about time: Request an estimate for how long the project will take so you have a good idea of what you're up for before you dive into it. You may have to relocate furniture and other items ahead of time.
  • Ask about equipment: Find out if the pro is comfortable purchasing paint and other materials on their own, or if you're required to pick up some of those tasks.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What kind of paint do you use for kitchen cabinets?

    Latex paint is typically the best type of paint for kitchen cabinets since it dries fast and has lower levels of VOCs than oli-based or alkyd paints. Avoid paint with matte finishes since it can be trickier to clean.

  • Should I DIY kitchen cabinet painting or hire a professional?

    This choice really depends on your budget, your timeline, your energy, and your patience. Hiring a professional to paint your cabinets comes with an additional cost, however, you can save on time, as professional painters can often get the job done much more quickly.

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