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How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets White

You can save THOUSANDS of dollars by painting your kitchen cabinets yourself, but you want to make sure you do it the RIGHT way. This is not the kind of project you want to cut corners on.

I painted the kitchen cabinets in our first home using Java Gel Stain. At that time I chose to do stain instead of white paint because from everything I had read it was a lot easier to mess up with white paint than it was with the stain, and I wasn’t sure if I could cover the wood grain with white paint. By the time I decided to paint the cabinets in our second home, I had so much more experience with paint and I really wanted to try it. Here’s what we started with:

Brown everywhere!

The same basic oak cabinets that are in almost every house I’ve lived in. The awesome thing about this kitchen was that there were already handles on the cabinets, so we didn’t have to drill holes for the handles.

I didn’t have a blog yet when I took these pictures, so these are all pictures with a regular camera that I was taking for myself to document the project I’d done and they’re not the greatest. We don’t live in this home anymore, so I can’t take better ones. Hopefully you can still see the color and quality of the paint well enough to decide if this is what you’re looking for. Any yellow you see in the pictures is the bad lighting and photography. This color is the perfect white…not yellow, but not too stark white either.

I used the General Finishes Java Gel Stain on the island. For the white, I ended up finding some amazing tutorials and the BEST CUPBOARD PAINT EVER and it turned out great!

The light, bright AFTER pictures:)

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I really ended up loving how the dark island anchored the room.

To make it REALLY EASY while you’re painting, I created a 1-page quick reference paint guide! Click the graphic below to opt in and get a FREE Cabinet Painting Cheat Sheet sent right to your inbox!

 

 

I did this project a couple years ago and didn’t take pictures of what I did, but my sister Colette recently painted her cabinets using the same paint that I did…PAINT CHOICE WILL MAKE OR BREAK THIS PROJECT…and she actually took pictures of the process! So for the step-by-step I’m going to use her pictures and tips and include notes on anything that I did differently so you can get two how-to perspectives.

Here’s her before picture:

Remove cupboard doors and drawers in kitchen

She had already painted the walls and her kitchen table and the only thing left to do was tackle the cabinets. It’s a HUGE job, but seriously the most “worth it” project I’ve ever done. Don’t let the time it takes deter you — painting or staining kitchen and bathroom cabinets makes an incredible difference!

SUPPLIES:

Screwdriver (for handles and hinges)

Cleaner or Deglosser

Sander and sandpaper

Cheesecloth

2″ Painter’s Tape

Wooster Short Brush (I wouldn’t use any other brush for cabinets! I love this one!!)

5″ Foam roller and small tray

Primer (stain-blocking/bonding)

Benjamin Moore Advance Paint in White Dove

 

STEP 1: EMPTY  CUPBOARDS AND DRAWERS & REMOVE DOORS

She did hers all at once (more mess, less time). I split it up into top half and bottom half (less mess, more time).  Either way is good, just depends on what works for your home and schedule.

First draw a “map” of your kitchen and number each cupboard and drawer. As you take off each door, write it’s number in the circular area that the hinge goes in and put tape over it so you don’t accidentally paint over it. For drawers, I unscrewed the door front and wrote the number right in the middle of the back of the drawer (you don’t need to paint there because it ends up being covered when you put it back on).

If you don’t label…future you = big regrets.

Colette did it right and took the hardware off, put it in a baggy and labelled which door it went with. I always leave the hardware on the frames of the cabinet because I’ve had some bad experiences with trying to hang cupboards back on…I can only seem to hang it back on straight if I remove the door from the hardware, but keep the hardware on the frame. (So just tape over all the hinges if you do it this way).

 

Step 2: CLEAN AND SAND

Wipe down all cabinet doors, drawer fronts and the frame. You can use TSP or Krud Kutter, a TSP substitute, or a liquid deglosser. After this dries, you can sand.

Sand everything really well. Look at the cabinets from different angles to make sure you didn’t leave any glossy-looking parts. Yes, you can even sand the sides of the cupboards where they’ve got that  “fake wood.”

If you’re going to take on a big project like a kitchen or  bathrooms or plan on flipping furniture, a high-quality sander is totally worth it. I’ve had mine for over 10 years and it’s still working. Here it is if you want to check out the details…

 

How to sand kitchen cabinets

Vacuum everything thoroughly and wipe down with a cheese cloth or damp rag. Dust will keep the primer from bonding properly, so be thorough!

 

STEP 3: FILL HOLES AND CRACKS

Caulk holes and cracks in kitchen cabinets
If you have any holes like this, use wood filler.

Follow the instructions given on whatever wood filler you use. Use caulking for any gaps (Colette used DAP 100% Waterproof Window, Door & Trim Sealant). Here are some pictures to show you why you should use caulking…

 

No caulking in the gap

 

Caulking in the gap

It might be tempting to hope that the paint will fill in the gap enough, but it just never does.

 

 

STEP 4: TAPE & PREP

I’m much lazier than my sister with projects (now that I think about it, probably with everything…she’s a machine). I just taped all the walls that were adjacent to cabinets, the shelves near anywhere I was painting and the floor adjacent to toe kicks. Then I used a towel on the floor wherever I was painting.

Colette covered EVERYTHING! She said some of the paint still got on her oven. Guess what? I got some paint on mine too. I guess the moral is be extra protective with the oven. And if you don’t? Black Sharpie:)

One of the best things I did for this project was to make a few dozen of these. They’re a pain to make and you might start wondering if it’s worth it, but it totally is.

DIY painter's triangles

I used four of these for each door and drawer front, placing them a few inches from each corner. This allowed me to paint the back first, then flip and paint the front all in one session. This is what I did every painting/staining session:

  1. Prime or paint the backs of all the doors and drawers
  2. Prime or paint the frame of the cabinets
  3.  By this time, the 1st door I painted was ready to flip, so I flipped the 1st door and painted the front, then flipped and painted the 2nd, and so on.

Sometimes I’d get a little pinpoint or scratch on the back, but it was so small that it was a quick and easy touchup.

This is the BIGGEST TIME SAVER.  Especially because the paint’s dry time is so long…16 hours! (Painter’s pyramids didn’t work for me…they rolled out from under the cupboards. Also, this way is much less expensive). I loved being able to do the back, front and frame all at once for each step.

This pic is from my other house, when I used the Java Gel Stain. I set up a bunch of the doors on tables in my garage, then put the ones that didn’t fit on the tables on a tarp on the floor. If you have to do this, let me apologize ahead of time to your back and knees.

Kitchen cabinets General Finishes Java Gel stain
Each door is set on 4 screws, one by each corner (same with the drawer front)

STEP 5: THE FUN PART!

Now you FINALLY get to start making a visible difference! Begin with 2 coats of primer. No, you can’t skip this step, sorry. Make sure that the primer you get is stain-blocking and bonding.

Whenever you prime, paint or stain, make sure you do it in a well-ventilated area!

The best method is to apply with a paint brush, then roll it flat with a roller. The most AMAZING paint brush ever is the short Wooster brush. The short handle and angled brush make it easy to paint so quickly! Aside from getting the right paint and primer, this is the most important thing you can buy for this project.

 

To roll it out, use a 5″ foam roller for doors and cabinets. By far most helpful thing I found to show the painting technique was a video John and Sherry from Young House Love made, showing Sherry priming a cabinet door. You can watch the video here. This is really what gave me the confidence to tackle this project, so I highly recommend watching it!

1 coat of primer

Now every time you leave your kitchen and come back again you’ll have a big smile on your face when you see your beautiful, bright cabinets:)

 

Two coats of primer…the brown is starting to disappear almost completely!

***Put your brush and roller in a plastic bag in the fridge so they don’t dry out between coats.***

If you’re going to use a sprayer instead of brushing, make sure you get a really good one. I bought a basic sprayer once and every time the paint ran out it would splatter on my cupboard and ruin it. The pain of refilling it, cleaning it, and getting splatters wasn’t worth it to me so I ended up painting. If I ever try a sprayer again, I’d like to get one that has a hose connected to a large amount of paint (I’m assuming this exists) to avoid this. If anyone has advice on sprayers, please leave it in a comment so we can all learn!

 

STEP 6: THE FUNNEST PART

2 coats of paint. This part is HUGE. You cannot skimp on paint quality. The most amazing paint is Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint. It’s about $50 a can, but I only used one can and I had a lot of cupboards to paint.

I read and watched SOOOOO many articles and videos on how to paint your kitchen cabinets and a few of them recommended this paint because you DON’T HAVE TO PUT A PROTECTIVE COAT over it! It dries hard as a rock. Anything that lets me skip applying any type of poly is the best.

 

1 coat of paint

Follow instructions on the Ben Moore Advance can for dry times.

2 coats of paint

Because she has 3 little kids, she finished the frame first, then put everything back in her cupboards (so she had a functioning kitchen and no clutter all over the place) and worked on the doors little by little when she had the time.

Benjamin Moore Advance Paint for Kitchen Cabinets
Cute Halloween decorations up top:)

 

And here they are all finished!

Look how much brighter the room is! And this picture was taken at night. So pretty:)

The “after” is so so worth the time and effort. Have you tried painting or staining cabinets? Share any helpful tips, successes or failures along with any pictures in the comments below.

Want to save this project for later?

Linked on: http://celebrateanddecorate.com/celebrate-story-65/

48 Comments

  1. Next time I need to stain a cabinet, I will definitely keep this in mind! The last time we changed cabinet colors, we used Rustoleum Cabinet products. It was hard work, but they looked great, and I was happy with the result until… the cabinets would easily scratch and you could see the old color underneath (which was a golden oak color- we had painted the cabinets an espresso brown). This was NOT supposed to happen and I was so frustrated because I really put a lot of effort into it and followed all the instructions to the T. Never again. Thanks for this info., I will definitely come back to this when I need to.

    1. I’m really surprised that a Rustoleum product wasn’t amazing…good to know! That is frustrating, especially on such a big project. The nice thing about the Java Gel Stain is that it’s so dark that if you did get a scratch you could probably cover it up with a Sharpie.

  2. What a beautiful transformation! I love the dark island against the white ! I will say, since you mentioned paint sprayers that in painting furniture I have found that sprayers used with compressors are the best because they have more pressure. More pressure equals less spatter on the piece! Thanks for the great tutorial as well as the info on the best paint !
    #HomeMattersParty
    Jeannee

    1. Thanks Jeannee! I will have to try a sprayer with a compressor, especially if I ever decide to paint chairs again. Painting chairs by hand is my least favorite paint project I’ve ever done because it was so hard to get to all the crevices and took so long to do…if I ever do it again I’ll definitely want to use a sprayer.

  3. Thank you for co-hosting the #HomeMattersParty with me. Its fun to be part of such a large party.

    My cupboards are going grey or white this year. The amount of work is incredible and you really need to do a perfect job. I always use Benjamin Moore Aura paints, I have never seen the advanced yet. I need look into it.

    Thank you for sharing this tutorial. Such a wealth of information and recommendations. Pinning.

    1. It is a fun party! Yes, it’s definitely a job that you don’t want to cut any corners on. I haven’t tried the Aura paints yet so I can’t compare the two, but I LOVE the advanced paint; it dries rock hard and is perfect for a kitchen where there’s so much use.

  4. Thanks for sharing this at #HomeMattersParty and being a host with me. My cabinets are on the schedule/mindset this year and really need to be refinished, but I am still deciding on a color. White is out because it will look too farmhouse style in a modern house so I will go dark. Thanks for a great tutorial. I will be referring back to it when I start my project.

  5. Your cabinets turned out beautifully and I really appreciate the tip on the right paint to buy as I am looking to re paint my cabinets in the near future! I am sure you saved me a lot of headache with this tutorial! #HomeMattersParty
    Jeannee

    1. Thanks Jeannee! I really can’t say enough good things about Ben Moore Advanced paint. It is a really labor-intensive project, but so worth it. I really like painting, so I didn’t mind that part…it’s all the prep and sanding that’s not so fun. I want to see pictures after you paint your cabinets!

  6. What an amazing transformation. Your paint job looks beautiful, and I know it was a lot of hard work. I have never tried Benjamin Moore Advanced paint. I am going to pin this for the future and try it on some of my cabinets.

  7. The white kitchen cabinets look awesome! I wish I was brave enough to take on repainting my kitchen cabinets. I want a new look in my kitchen. Thanks for sharing your How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets White post at the #HomeMattersParty

  8. I love white cabinets! I can’t wait to have a white kitchen myself. Unfortunately, my cabinets are falling apart and need to be replaced so I’m not even sure I want to waste the time painting them again! #HomeMattersParty

  9. We still have to do our cabinets but, they aren’t in as great a shape. We’ve been rebuilding drawers first. I just want to finish up my kitchen. The end results will be well worth it! Thanks for sharing at the Inspiration Spotlight Party @DearCreatives Pinned & shared.

  10. Awesome Job on the painting! Thank you for sharing this at Friday Favorites!! I agree that Benjamin Moore Advanced is the best (I used BM Cloud White for my kitchen!) Love the idea for painting both sides at once! The only tip I would add is to make sure that the BM paint (any Alkyd paint) is allowed to cure for at least 23 days to reach maximum hardness. Have a super day…and thanks again for joining the party! Hugs- Christine at Light And Savvy

    1. I haven’t tried Cloud White, but I’ve seen a few kitchens with that color and it’s beautiful! Thanks for the curing tip. I’m so impatient with projects that I can never wait, but it’s good to let other, more patient, people know that they should allow it to cure. Thanks:)

  11. Wow, this is gorgeous! It’s so bright and I would be cooking up a storm in a kitchen like this. Thank you for sharing with us this week at Celebrate Your Story, have a great weekend.

  12. This is great! My husband and I are about to go beyond the talk about it stage. I’m wondering how much time ( days) should I plan to be off work. I want to go with espresso from oak stained wood.

    1. If it were me, I’d only take 1 day off work and use that to do all of the prep work: cleaning, sanding, taping, setting out cupboard doors, etc. Most of the time for this project is waiting for coats to dry. After all the prep is done, you can stain the cupboards before and after work and that will give the coats enough time to dry.

      Here’s our 1st kitchen where we using General Finishes Java Gel Stain for the cupboards…
      http://www.finditfixitorbuildit.com/how-to-stain-kitchen-cupboards/

      Good luck! I’d love to see pictures when you’re done!

  13. I have a question about the blocks with the screws. I don’t quite get how you use them. You paint the inside of the door, then how are these blocks arranged so you can paint the outside of the door right away?

    1. Each door or drawer is set on 4 screws, maybe an inch or two from each corner. You use them the same way as you’d use painter’s triangles (I tried the triangles and they kept rolling over and my doors would fall…these work way better). Once I’d painted the backs of each door, I’d go back to the first door, flip it, paint the front and move to the 2nd door, flip it, etc. Or you could wait an hour or so to paint the fronts.

  14. Hi. This looks really great. I just have a question. How did you use the small piece of wood with the nail sticking out? Where did you put them? Thanks.

    1. Put them under the four corners of each door. You use them like painter’s triangles. BM Advance paint takes 16 hours to dry, so with these you can paint the back, then flip and paint the front. They allow you to flip the doors and there’s only four pinpoints of contact on what you just painted. You can wait a couple hours in between for it to dry a little if you want. I would have all my doors and drawers laid out (each on 4 screws, set at the corners), then by the time I was done painting the back of the last door, I’d go to the 1st door I painted and flip it and paint the front.

  15. I started out painting my bathroom vanity. I used the Benjamin Moore Advance paint as well!! My bathroom cabinet color is Hale Navy. I also used the Stix primer that is made by InsulX. This was recommended to me with my paint. I only did one coat of primer and 2 coats of color and this is how they turned out. Very pleased. I am now working on picking a color to do my kitchen cabinets. So excited!!! https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByJnUcJLYHHRUWwzdWZyZW5wcTA/view?usp=sharing
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByJnUcJLYHHRTnlWU29NNXE0aEE/view?usp=sharing

    1. Jamie, that’s GORGEOUS! I’m dying over that color. Next time I paint cabinets I’m definitely going to try some color, especially for bathrooms. Thanks so much for sharing your pictures and info with everyone! I’ll have to try that primer.

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