This is NOT one of those posts where I’m going to go on and on about how easy and quick something is, because that would be a total lie.  Painting cabinets is A LOT, and I mean A LOT, of work.  So I’ll just start by saying that if this had been something we’d had the money to hire someone for, we totally would have. Not because it can’t be done on your own, but because it is an undertaking–and I don’t even have a ton of cabinets.  I think I cried at least once, and was near tears at least three or four times.  It’s really not that hard, but it’s just sort of never ending.  If you’re a person who excels at patience, then this job is for you.  I, on the other hand, have the attention-span of a goldfish and was ready to move on after the first day.  Also, this is a job where you don’t want to take shortcuts (which I am sort of the master of). Cabinets are an expensive thing to screw up, so doing the job right the first time is pretty imperative.
Without further whining and complaining, here’s the nitty gritty (and a quick reminder of the before and after).

Remove all of your cabinet fronts.  I unscrewed all of mine, only to find out that they easily pop off. So save yourself some time, and check out this video if you have concealed cabinet hinges and want to know how to get the doors off. And yes, my house looks like it exploded. This was my renovation hell for almost a month. That’s reality friends.
Next scrub down EVERYTHING. REALLY. REALLY. WELL.  The cabinet fronts and all of the boxes. Get all of that caked on grease off of everything, and get out a toothbrush and scrub all of the inlays.  EV…RY…THING.  I just used good old dish soap and hot water.

Then, I set up a big banquet table in my dining room and laid everything out. (This is after some coats of paint, but you get the idea.)

Usually, I would say that sanding would be the next step, but I actually DID NOT sand anything. I’m a big proponent of always sanding, especially on projects that need such a professional looking finish, but since my cabinets were really knotty, I knew that bleeding could potentially be a problem.  Did you know that knotholes “bleed”?  It’s called tannin bleeding and when you paint with light colors, the oils in the wood, especially knotholes can seep through and turn your paint yellow.  You can see what I’m talking about below.  And that’s only a couple of hours after the first coat of primer.  Give those knots some sun and time, and you’ll have giant, bright yellow splotches on your wood. But I’m going to tell you how to avoid it.

If you don’t sand, the clear coat that’s already on the wood should provide an extra layer of “protection” from the bleeding, although it won’t always stop it. Sanding will eliminate that “protective” coat and, in my experience, seems to agitate the oils in the wood, which is why I skipped that step. The downside to not sanding, however, is that you’re painting over a slicker finish, so you’ll need to allow the paint more time to cure between coats.  So, onto the painting.


Priming is ESSENTIAL!!! Start with a stain blocking primer like Kilz or Zinsser.  And let me scream this loud and clear: a paint + primer is NOT the same thing. Kilz and Zinsser are thick, they are created to block stains, and adhere to surfaces better than a normal primer (or a paint + primer).

For the entire project, I used these little foam rollers.  They’re $2 or $3 for the roller, handle, and tray, and the refills rollers are $2 for a pack of two.  I probably used 10 rollers for this project.  These are great because they’re really squishy, so they get into the crevices without having to use a brush very often, AND, most importantly, the finish is REALLY smooth, so they don’t look sprayed or rolled.  Just beware when you use these that because they are squishy, they tend to squeeze out lines of paint at the ends, so I roll and then go back really lightly to smooth it out.  For the parts where the roller doesn’t get the paint in, I use a brush, and then go over it lightly with the roller to get rid of the brush strokes.

So here’s why I said this is so time consuming: I think I used THREE coats of primer to cover up the knots. You don’t need to cover the yellow completely, because the primer will block the stain, but if you still see yellow, it should be very faint (the picture up above is too much yellow).

For the paint, I wanted to make sure it was something that would take the everyday wear and tear of opening and closing, hands touching, wiping, oh, and a dog who endlessly stands up against the cabinets with her long nails to try to get food off of the counter.  The guy at Sherwin Williams–they are seriously the best, and they don’t pay me to say that (though if they want to, feel free ;D)–recommended this enamel finish paint.  It’s made for trim and doors, so it dries really, really hard.  And I am happy to report that it is 100% AWESOME! Even after months of wear and tear from our dog.

One note though, I don’t know if it was because of the paint, or the light color, but when I rolled this on, it looked sort of streaky while it was wet, but it dried even and fine. So, if you use this paint, before you burst into tears of frustration like I did, roll on your first coat, walk away and let it dry and see where you’re at. Let the paint dry for at least eight hours between coats.

That’s really it.  Not a lot of steps, just A LOT of time.  I would recommend letting the paint cure for at least 48 hours if possible (and 72 would be ideal) before you hang the doors back on.  There were a few spots I had to touch up because I hung them too soon and the doors rubbed against the not-quite-dry paint.

Also, I didn’t paint the insides of my cabinets.  I had originally intended to, but then (and I know this is soooo lame) I happened to be watching an episode of Property Brothers that week where they painted cabinets and they didn’t paint the insides.  I thought, “well if it’s good enough for the Property Brothers, it’s sure as hell good enough for me!”  The real deciding factor, and it’s the deciding factor on most things I do in my house, was whether it would be a deal breaker for me if I were a potential buyer looking at the house.  In my world, the answer is “no,” so I decided to save myself the pain.

If you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them as best I can!


  1. says

    Thank you for being honest about undertaking a project like this! I am itching to get my cabinets painted but the thought of how much work needs to be put into it/the resulting disarray in my kitchen is giving me the sads and making me procrastinate. Your cabinets look beautiful and high fives for not painting the insides!

  2. Barbara says

    I realize this post is old but…I have my kitchen ripped apart stripping cabinets right now. Wish you could see it. The cabinet color was a cross between mauve and baby poop and the walls are pee yellow. Guess they were trying to match the industrial carpet. Yeah, I said carpet. Anyways…now that you are a couple years down the road, do you regret not painting the insides? How is the paint holding up now? Any other tips in hindsight? Loved your post!

    • says

      Oh girl, I feel your pain! I still have nightmares about what it looked like all ripped apart. Sounds like someone was REALLY good at picking colors ;) I honestly don’t regret not painting the insides AT ALL. For all of the hassle it would have been to get back in there and paint the insides, I don’t think it would have been worth it (if I had used a sprayer, I may have just gone for it). The paint has actually held up really well, but the only thing I would change is I would have sealed them with a water-based polyurethane. I think I mentioned in the post that I bought an enamel type paint that was supposed to harden and it has worked REALLY well, except on one cupboard and I can’t figure out why. It’s the cupboard where my trash can is and it’s also next to the stove, so I don’t know if it’s the constant use, or the heat coming from the oven, or a combination of both, but the top corner seems to always be chipping and peeling, so we’ve done quite a few touch ups. I also probably would have sanded them all (so you’re ahead of me there). I think the paint would have probably adhered better. Hope that all helps! Happy painting!!

      • Barbara says

        It helps a great deal. We’ve been here 5 years and I haven’t painted anything because I’m always second guessing myself on the details. The previous owners were not good painters. Drip marks galore and I don’t know what they did in the living room but the paint is peeling off. I’m glad to hear you don’t regret not doing the insides. I think I’m going to skip it too. I’ll price out sealers. We don’t have tons of cabinets so unless it’s wicked expensive I think that’s a good idea. We are, of course, hoping to gut the kitchen in 3-5 years but I think it would be worth the extra time and expense to keep them looking good longer just in case that plan doesn’t come together. We’re trying to get things looking decent for my daughters graduation party this summer, not to mention the colors make me sad daily…lol. Thanks again! Keep up the good work because I LOVE your blog!!

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