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How to Paint Cabinets Like a Pro

Deciding to paint cabinets on your own may seem overwhelming at first, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not as hard as it seems! With enough research, proper tools and prep, not only you can give your cabinets a completely fresh look, but you can also save some money while you do it.

So far, I painted all bathroom cabinets in our house (we have 3 bathrooms), as well as the cabinetry in our laundry room. That amounts to about 12 doors, 12 drawers and many hours spent painting that I didn’t care to count. 😛 Would I do it again? Absolutely!

We’ve had some of our cabinets painted for over a year now and they still look brand new. I credit that to all of the research I did before embarking on this DIY journey as well as the prep that went into it.

If you’ve been thinking about refreshing the cabinets in your house, I say go for it! Below is everything I learned including tools you will need to achieve that perfect, smooth finish. Happy painting!

How to Paint Cabinets Like a Pro (on a budget)

tips for painting cabinets the right way

There are many ways (and shortcuts) to paint cabinets, however, I believe that prep is crucial in order to get the finish and durability you’re looking for. While you can find paints on the market that allow you to skip sanding or even using the primer, I decided to go the old-fashioned way and really hone in on the prep process. Here is a step-by-step guide of what I did:


Depending on the size of your project, you will want to keep track of each piece of cabinetry along with the hardware to make sure you can put it back together just right. As tempting as it is to just take it all apart and start painting, it’s really important to keep everything organized.

Start by disassembling the hardware and noting which door and placement it belongs to. We just used sticky notes but you can also put your hardware in the plastic bag along with the note.

Once you have everything organized, it’s time to clean your cabinet doors, drawers and the frame. I like to use this Krud Kutter product as it’s designed to degloss surfaces and prep them for paint.


Now this can take a while depending on the finish of your doors. Ours were very glossy so my goal was to get rid off all that shiny finish. Some people like to use a liquid sander to save time and avoid making too much mess, but I decided to invest in this corner cat sander. For just about $50, I’d say this tool has been serving us well!

To get rid of the finish faster, I started with a coarse, 80-grit sandpaper.

sanding cabinets

PRO TIP: Make sure to use protective eyewear and a mask when sanding!

Once you’re done sanding all pieces, don’t forget to vacuum and dust off the cabinets with a microfiber cloth.


Sanding plus primer creates a greater bond and something that the paint can stick to – it’s a well-known fact. This is why I didn’t want to cut corners during prep. Trust me, it makes a huge difference!

I used used these two primers and was happy with both:

One thing I learned along the way is to use a tinted primer if you’re painting the cabinets a darker color. Technically, it’s supposed to provide better coverage so you can achieve a smooth finish with less paint coats. I didn’t really find that to be true and ended up painting 4 coats total for each of my projects but it’s something to keep in mind.


Sanding after the primer is on allows you a chance to smooth any inconsistencies and drips before you start layering paint. You can also sand between the coats of paint. If you decide to include this step, use 220-grit sandpaper to get a perfect finish. Don’t forget to always dust everything off after!


Wohooo, you made it to the main event! 😉 At this point, you’re probably wondering what you got yourself into… Trust me, I can definitely sympathize. Painting cabinets requires a lot of time, precision and patience!

All of our cabinets were painted the same color of Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Enamel Trim. You can find an entire blog post talking about this paint here. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!

I used paint brushes from Wooster for detailed work and high density foam rollers for painting the larger cabinet surfaces.

When it comes to painting, it’s best to start on the inside of the cabinets so that the lasts coats you paint are the fronts. That way when you flip the doors and the paint happens to stick to the bottom surface, any mishap will stay on the inside of the door where no one can really see it.

It’s also good practice to start by brushing on paint in the grooves of the cabinets first, then rolling the bigger surfaces. DON’T OVERDO IT. Unless the paint is pulling or bubbling in some spots, don’t go over it too many times. In my experience, using less paint and laying on lighter coats helps getting that smooth and even finish. For our dark cabinets, it took 4 coats of paint to get flawless coverage.

painting cabinets step by step guide

PRO TIP: Cover your brush and paint roller in a plastic wrap or put it in a freezer bag to prevent it from drying between the coats.

Could I save a lot of time if I used a paint sprayer? Most likely! Now that I know what I can accomplish with a brush and a paint roller, I am confident tackling a bigger project like kitchen cabinets would be ideal with a paint sprayer.


Perhaps the most time consuming part of the process but crucial if you don’t want to waste all the work you put into it! It’s always recommended to follow the manufacturer’s instructions of the product you’re using. I typically play on the safe side and stretch the time between painting the coats as much as I can. Once I am finished with the last coat, I don’t touch the cabinets for a good few days (up to a week) to make sure the paint has fully cured and won’t chip or budge upon putting the doors back on.

Using soft material gloves when handling cabinetry is a great way to avoid leaving permanent greasy fingerprints. Yes, that’s what can happen if you try to touch your cabinets too soon!

PRO TIP: Add felt pads on the inside of your cabinet doors and drawers to prevent the paint from sticking and to reduce the noise (if you don’t already have soft close hinges).

Did you find this step-by-step guide on how to paint cabinets helpful? I would love to hear what cabinets you are planning to make over in your home! 🙂

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how to paint cabinets the right way

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  1. Sara wrote:

    Wow this is such a thorough guide! It’s such a process to paint cabinets, but with this guide I think I could do it! Thank you!

    Published 10.10.23