5 Mistakes to Avoid When Painting Kitchen Cabinets

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Diana Liang)

Painting kitchen cabinets is a big job, but it’s the single most transformative thing you can do to an aging kitchen to bring it up to date. The process seems deceptively simple — you just need paint and a brush, right? Yeah, not exactly. It’s a multi-step process, during which each step requires the same amount of care, and if you rush through one, you may be shooting yourself in the foot for the next.

Here are five mistakes to avoid when painting your kitchen cabinets.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

1. Not starting with a diagram.

You’ve got your supplies ready and the drop cloth down — time to break out the screwdriver and get started, right? While it’s great that you plan on removing the doors and cabinet faces (too many people try to paint cabinets while they’re still fully assembled — another mistake!), you need to take a step back for a second.

Try this instead: Be sure to make a diagram of your kitchen and number each door and drawer, then keep the doors, drawers, and hardware organized. This way, everything can go back where it belongs.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

2. Not cleaning your cabinets.

Your cabinets are covered with fingerprints, grease, and more. Gross! But it doesn’t matter because you plan on just covering it all up with paint, right? Wrong. Paint won’t stick to greasy cabinets and some blemishes might show through even a few coats of paint.

Try this instead: Use mineral spirits and a scrubby sponge to clean the doors, cabinet faces, and the cabinet frame.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

3. Not priming.

Priming your cabinets may seem unnecessary, especially if you’re not changing the color too drastically, but skipping this step can leave your cabinets with a surface that’s tough for paint to grab onto.

Try this instead: Be sure to prime every cabinet surface you plan to paint, including the backs of cabinet drawers. And give the primer time to dry before the next step.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

4. Not sanding each coat.

Once that first coat has dried, it’s tempting to move right on to the second. (You want to start seeing those results!) But doing so can leave you with air bubbles, painted-over fuzzies, or paint strokes.

Try this instead: Sand your primed cabinets, then your first coat of paint, and even your second if you’re doing a third coat.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

5. Not watching your paint dry.

Just because a coat feels dry to the touch, does not mean it is. If you flip a door over too soon, you could ruin the paint job on that side. Paint is soft and susceptible to damage until it cures! In fact, even after you reassemble your kitchen, you’ll still want to treat your cabinets with care for the next five days.

Try this instead: Practice some patience! Wait at least overnight before you do the next coat.