The Best Primer for Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets

published Sep 6, 2017
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(Image credit: Diana Liang)

Painting your kitchen cabinets is easy — it’s all the prep that goes into it that’s hard. Removing the doors (and getting everything labeled so you can put them back up!), taping off your edges, covering the floors, cleaning the wood, filling in the random scratches … by the time you’re ready to start painting, you’ve done hours of work. So much work that you may be tempted to skip the primer and go straight to the paint — but definitely don’t do that!

Professional painters Chris and Lexi Dowding, of SwatchOut in Michigan, say that primer is key. You need it to create a full barrier between the previous surface and your new one, so that the old color doesn’t show or seep through. Primer also provides a surface that your new paint can stick to, so it stays right where you’ve put it for years to come.

Which primer should you use, though?

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

According to the Dowdings, the best primer is INSL-X Prime Lock.

“This resin-based primer is a sealer as well, so nothing bleeds through. Plus, it’s easy to handle, and it’s a good bonding primer for paint to go onto,” says Chris. “I consider it our insurance policy — I go heavy-duty on the primer so I don’t run into something later on that I’m regretting.”

Buy it: INSL-X Prime Lock, $39 for 1 gallon

While priming can add a day to the process, because you have to wait for it to dry before you can paint, the step is totally necessary. “Skipping primer is not an option,” says Lexi. After priming, they typically sand the primer layer before painting the wood in order rough up the surface even more so that the new coat has something to really grip onto. And even when they’re panting first or second coat of paint, if any dark spots in the wood start to show through during the drying process, they’ll use a little paint brush and dab the spot with a little more primer before the next coat. “It’s all about the prep work!” says Chris.