Kitchen cupboards are such an important part of the room’s appearance and utility that they can serve as a mini renovation for the entire space. While it is easy to replace the cabinet doors and hardware to provide a fresh update for the entire room, homeowners can also opt to simply paint the cupboards for an even cheaper solution.
Factors to Consider
Metal cabinets, cabinets made from solid wood or MDF, and particleboard cabinets with a whole wood laminate overlay are the best materials to paint over. Cabinets which feature a plastic laminate or paneling will be more difficult, as those surfaces make poor candidates for proper paint adhesion.
MDF and particleboard cabinets should have an actual laminate finish, as cheaper constructions may be finished with materials similar adhesive paper printed with a wood-like pattern. Because proper painting requires the surface to first be roughened by sanding, a paper-thin finish would expose the underlying particleboard, compromising the structural integrity of the material and making it difficult to achieve an effective result.
While painting both the cabinet bodies and the doors is a good option, simply painting the doors can have an equally strong visual impact while saving time and effort.
Choosing a Paint
Oil paints will offer the smoothest and most durable finish, and are the ideal choice if the goal is a glossy appearance. However, oil paints can be difficult to work with, require robust ventilation, and take much longer to dry.
Technologies for latex paint have improved, and many manufacturers now offer formulations that can self-level, mitigating prior complaints about the paint’s final texture and tendency to highlight brush strokes. While latex paints will never dry to a finish as hard as an oil alternative, they can offer equally effective stain and water resistance, and should be the first choice for home DIY use in most cases.
Preparing the Cupboards
Before painting, cabinets must be thoroughly prepared to ensure a high quality final result.
Hardware and Cleaning
Cabinet doors should be removed from the body housing, with the hinges, handles, and any other hardware removed from the wood using a screwdriver.
An invisible layer of grease can form on cabinets, so give the surface a thorough cleaning with a degreaser like mineral oil or tri-sodium phosphate (TSP). This should be a thorough cleaning, so make sure that every nook and cranny of the surfaces to be painted are scrubbed vigorously. Cabinets cleaned with TSP should be thoroughly wiped with a warm, wet cloth afterwards, while those cleaned with mineral oil should be wiped with a soap and water solution. Let the material dry thoroughly before proceeding.
Using 100-grit paper, firmly sand the entire surface of the cabinet doors (and frames, if painting those) to remove any existing glossy finish and roughen the surface. The goal here is to add more texture to the material, not smooth it out, so do not overdo the effort.
Priming and Painting Kitchen Cupboards
The cupboard doors should dry thoroughly, so use a sturdy work table or sawhorse framework to work on. The doors can simply be laid on a fabric drop cloth if those options aren’t available.
Priming will make it easier to achieve the desired appearance with fewer coats of paint, and will also serve as the optimal surface for paint adhesion. If the cabinets are to painted in a shade that’s much lighter or darker than the existing color, the primer should be tinted accordingly to provide an even final coloring.
Apply an even coat of primer to every surface using a brush or roller. Check that the liquid isn’t pooling or puddling. The goal here is simple coverage, so do not worry about messy brush strokes or uneven texturing at this stage.
Allow the primer to dry thoroughly, then apply the paint, using long, even strokes of the brush or roller. If the material has been properly primed, only a single coat should be required, but a second coat can be applied after drying, if necessary.
Keep the cabinet doors horizontal while drying to allow the paint to level itself off and smooth out the brush strokes. Once dried, install the hardware and hinges and mount the cabinet doors.