5 Tips for Successfully Painting Wood Cabinets White

published Sep 21, 2017
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(Image credit: Diana Liang)

White cabinets are all the rage. A recent Houzz survey found that 42 percent of people who are updating their cabinets are painting them white — and that number is growing year over year. I just had my own kitchen cabinets painted white, and I can attest that the color does an amazing job of brightening up the space and making my kitchen look up to date!

But painting cabinets white can be tricky because typically you’re trying to paint a light color over a dark stain, so you run the risk of the darker color showing through and ruining the final product.

“White is on the totally opposite end of the color spectrum from brown and those deep red tones like cherry,” explain professional painters Chris and Lexi Dowding of Michigan-based SwatchOut. And those wood tones are exactly what homeowners are usually trying to cover up. Here’s what they recommend to make sure you get the white you want.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

1. Use primer!

Chris and Lexi are big believers in primer, and for this project, especially, you want to seal off the old color to create a fresh canvas for the new one. Besides being your first step to blocking that base color from showing through, it will also help the paint stick and protect the wood from moisture in the kitchen.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

2. Fill in all the imperfections you can find.

Any little imperfections that aren’t fixed before you paint will only be magnified once they’re done. That includes any scratches, dents, and nail holes. You can use wood filler (Chris and Lexi like Elmer’s Wood Filler & Repair) to fill in the obvious spots the same way you’d spackle a hole in a wall.

Also, if you can feel the grain in the wood, chances are that grain will show through the paint when you’re done, which you might not love. If you wanted to get rid of the wood grain completely, Chris suggests multiple coats of 3M Wood Filler Bondo Putty.

3. Buy a high-quality paint.

“Here, it’s important to have the highest-quality paint so you get the most possible white pigment,” says Chris. The thicker the paint, the better it will cover what’s underneath.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

4. Choose the right white.

Choose one with too much gray and the paint will look muddy, or one with too much brown or yellow and it’ll look dated, but a white with no undertones at all will look totally sterile. Your best bet is to test a couple swatches in your kitchen before locking one in.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

5. Be prepared to do an extra coat.

Most of Chris and Lexi’s paint jobs can be done with two coats after the primer, but for white, you might have to have to do a third coat. “How hard those colors are to cover up depends a lot on what kind of wood is underneath,” he says. If you’ve done the second coat and aren’t sure whether or not the third coat is necessary, just do it. You’re better off adding a day or two to the process and doing a second coat now while you’re at it versus finishing the job and wishing you had a little more coverage.