The best paint to use for kitchen cabinets and how to get a professional, smooth finish painting your kitchen yourself.
Let’s talk about painting kitchen cabinets, shall we?
Painting kitchen cabinets has been extremely popular over the last few years. And it’s no wonder… it’s a relatively inexpensive way to give your kitchen a completely new look. I’ve probably read at least 30 tutorials on painting kitchen cabinets and I was still nervous to actually do it to my own kitchen. It’s one thing for it to look good in photos, but I didn’t really know if I could get a real life professional finish that was durable enough to hold up to scrubbing and daily use.
Well, guess what? I painted my kitchen cabinets.
And they look awesome.
I mean, REALLY awesome.
The paint looks completely smooth and professional and I couldn’t be happier.
The PAINT COLORS I used are Sherwin-Williams Pure White (I had an old can of paint color matched, but this is the color swatch the matches exactly) and the island is painted Sherwin-Williams Rainwashed.
Today I want to talk about how I achieved such good results and share with you all that I I hadlearned in the process of painting my kitchen cabinets. Are you ready for information overload? Let’s dive right in!
How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets
Timing. This is not a one weekend project. It takes time to do it right, but the results will be worth it. Don’t skip steps or get lazy… go slow now and do it right the first time so that you don’t have to re-do it a few months from now.
Wear Paint Clothes. If you say to yourself, “Oh, it’s okay. I’ll just touch up this bit of paint while wearing my prom dress” I guarantee you’re prom dress will be ruined. Get yourself one outfit you don’t care about and wear it the whole time so all of your yoga pants aren’t covered in paint splats by the end.
Protect Floors and Counters. I thought I could paint my upper cabinets without any trouble, but I totally splattered paint all over my brand new kitchen counters and it was a pain to clean up. Don’t be like me. Cover your floors and counters with drop cloth or butcher paper and save yourself a headache.
Preparation = Success. Paint makes every bump and imperfection noticeable, so sand, fill, caulk and then do it all again. You don’t want to ruin a good paint job with sloppy prep work! If your cabinets are glossy wood, sand away the gloss. We reused our cabinet bases and built new doors from scratch, so I sanded off the old finish on the bases, but didn’t need to on our doors. Some people say sanding is unnecessary, but I have regretted it every time I’ve tried to skip this step, so I recommend sanding before painting no matter what. Just do it.
Use Oil-Based Primer. Oil-based paint smells really bad and it’s a pain to clean up after, but this is one time when you just have to deal with it. I can’t even stress how glad I am that I used oil-based primer. The main reason is because you can sand it after it dries to achieve a smoother finish, but it also just sticks really well and will give you longer lasting results.
Pick the Right Paint. After researching like a crazy lady, I ruled out oil-based paint. It yellows over time and I did NOT want my crisp white cabinets to turn yellow. Gag. So I began looking at enamel paints. I settled on Sherwin-Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel. It has a lot of the same great qualities as an oil-based paint like self-leveling properties and extreme durability, but with the ease of water clean up. It is specially designed for heavy traffic surfaces like cabinets, doors and trim.
This paint went on like a dream! I can’t say enough good things about it. My husband insisted on a semi-gloss finish and I was worried that my cabinets would be too shiny, but it’s actually perfect. I would say they look like velvet, not silk. Does that make sense? The finish is rich and beautiful but not in-your-face shiny. It’s perfect! And after about two months of living with it, I can say that it is easy to scrub clean, even with three messy kids in the house.
Application. The thought of taping off my entire kitchen so that we could use a paint sprayer was just too overwhelming since we kind of need to use it every day, so I rolled the paint onto the cabinet bases and island and used a paint sprayer for all of the cabinet doors. I was able to get good results using both techniques and I completely attribute that to the paint. I told you the stuff was dreamy.
To get good results with a roller, use a high quality angled brush to get in any cracks and around the edges, then use a mohair roller cover to roll the paint across the flat surfaces.
This was my first time using a mohair roller and I have no idea why it’s so amazing, but it is. The paint went on so smoothly and there was no bumpy texture. I was shocked how well it worked and I am now a mohair roller believer.
You can buy the roller covers and the roller handle at your local Sherwin-Williams store.
Using a paint sprayer to paint 30+ cabinet doors was no small task. Our garage is a workshop and storage unit more than a place to park cars, so I had to get creative with finding enough space to paint. If we had an empty garage, I would have just laid all of the cabinets out on tarps on the floor and sprayed them in place.
Instead, I ended up using the HomeRight Spray Shelter for the actual painting area. I set it up with the opening facing my garage door and put a folding table covered in plastic inside the tent.
I would set up a few doors in the spray booth, spray one side of them, then carefully transfer them to a makeshift drying rack I made in the garage. I sandwiched long wooden boards between stacks of storage totes and it actually worked pretty well, but it was awfully nerve-wracking to move freshly painted cabinet doors.
I used the HomeRight Finish Max Extra and once I got the hang of it, I think it worked great. I would definitely do some test runs on a piece of cardboard to get all the settings right. Also, please wear a respirator or mask of some kind while spraying to protect your lungs.
The little yellow triangles you can see in the picture below were awesome. They’re called Painter’s Pyramids and I bought them on Amazon. They held the cabinets up off of the plastic but only the teeny tiny tip touched the doors so I didn’t have to worry that they were messing up my paint job underneath. I saved them after this job and still use them all the time, even for small crafting paint projects.
Paint, Wait, Sand, Repeat. After you’ve applied a coat of paint (rolled or sprayed), you’ll need to let it dry for at least four hour, more if you live in a really humid climate. Don’t skimp on this or you’ll end up with “sticky” paint. After four hours, very lightly sand the paint to remove any imperfections, then repeat the process. I did three coats for maximum durability. Do not sand the final coat.
Clear Coat. Here’s some good news… Sherwin-Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel doesn’t need a clear coat so you have one less step to worry about! No clear coat! Boom shaka laka.
Patience is a Virtue. All latex paints take approximately 30 days to fully cure and harden, so if you can leave the cabinet doors safely tucked away in the garage, they will be less likely to dent or scratch during those first crucial days. If not, just try to baby them for the first 30 days.
So there you go. That’s how I painted my kitchen. Do you have any questions? Leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you!
*** UPDATE December 2020 – It’s been over three years since we painted our kitchen and I am thrilled with how the paint has held up. We have one or two places where the kids have dinged through the paint, but I can easily touch those spots up. Overall, the paint still looks amazing and has exceeded my expectations for durability and cleanability. I attribute that to sanding, using oil-based primer, and the Urethane Trim Enamel.
Thank you to Sherwin-Williams for sending me paint to review. All opinions expressed are my own. I only share products I love and dish the whole truth about them, whether the article is sponsored or not!