What is the best way to go about painting kitchen cabinets?
Oh man, we did this and it was way more work than it looks like on HGTV. We used an enamel paint and I would recommend oil paint, actually, since ours has chipped in a few places.
Remove doors, drawers, and all hardware. Use a high quality cleaner like TSP to get off residue and grease, then sand or strip any surfaces you want to re-finish (we did just to the inside edge of the face portion but didn’t re-paint the whole inside). You may want/need to re-clean with TSP at this point. Rinse and let dry thoroughly.
Plan to do multiple thin layers of paint, not just a single coat, and make sure you prime appropriately for painting/staining. Our cabinets went from a walnut finish to white and it took 2 coats of primer and 2 coats of the enamel paint with a few spots needing 3 finish coats, and we sanded lightly between coats. I brushed the corners and rolled otherwise and it looks OK, but you can tell it wasn’t a professional job. My sister used oil based paints for her kitchen and it looks MUCH better!
If your painted cabinets need refreshing, or if your wood-finish cabinets are unattractive, a careful DIY paint job will quickly bring them back to life. For a little more money, you can opt to have the cabinets professionally spray-painted (look in the phone book under Painting Contractors, and find someone with experience in cabinet work).
High-quality, lasting results require a lot of prep work. Clean all surfaces to be painted with trisodium phosphate (TSP). This removes greasy buildup and slightly etches the surface to help the new paint to adhere.
An alkyd or acrylic latex primer is appropriate for most jobs. But if the cabinets are badly stained or there are any exposed wood knots, prime the surfaces with a shellac-base sealer to prevent problem areas from bleeding through the topcoats. After the primer dries, lightly sand the surface if necessary for a smooth finish.
Always apply paint to cabinets with a high quality brush, not a roller (which leaves stipple marks) or foam applicator. You might be surprised at how much a good brush costs, but the better results and ease-of-use are undeniable. If you clean the brush carefully after each use, it will serve you well for years. Use a natural-bristle brush for alkyd paint and a nylon-bristle brush for latex.
Apply the topcoats of paint in this order: For raised-panel doors, paint the panel first, the horizontal rails next, and the vertical stiles last. Paint both sides of the door, and use long, smooth stokes to prevent brush marks. Paint drawer fronts along the edges first, then along the front faces. If you’re painting the insides of the cabinets, do the back panel first, then the top, the sides, and the bottom last. Finally, paint the face frames of the cabinet boxes, starting with the verticals and finishing with the horizontals. You’ll probably need at least two topcoats (plus the primer) for a solid finish.
Refinishing Hardwood Cabinets
For nicer cabinets made of an attractive hardwood, such as maple, cherry, or walnut, painting would be downright sacrilegious and a huge missed opportunity. Like hardwood floors, there’s too much value in the material to justify covering it up for convenience. Solid-wood cabinets with a good finish can often be renewed with a thorough cleaning and polishing. You might need something strong to remove the old layers of cooking grime.
A solution of mineral spirits is often recommended for some cabinets and furniture, or a commercial wood cleaner might do the trick. Just make sure whatever you use doesn’t scratch, dull, or remove the wood’s finish.
Refinishing hardwood cabinets is a messy, laborious job, but it can be well worth the effort with nice cabinetry. If you’re up to this task, ask your local home center representative to lead you to the best products for stripping the old finish. Expect to do a lot of sanding as well, to bring the wood back to its original state. Although staining takes some practice and know-how, applying a clear protective finish is easy. Most types of wood will look great with three coats of clear polyurethane. A popular brand of wipe-on polyurethane is easy to work with and gives the finish more of a hand-rubbed look than the thick, glossy finish used on hardwood flooring.
The Best Value in Paint
Both latex (water-based) and alkyd (oil-based) paints work well on cabinets. Latex cleans up easily and gives off fewer noxious fumes. However, many pros still prefer alkyd paints for cabinets and other woodwork, arguing that these types provide a tougher, smoother finish that hides brush strokes better than latex paints. It’s your call. If you use latex, choose a 100 percent acrylic formulation, which sticks better and is more durable than vinyl acrylic. Spend more for a name-brand paint, because bargain brands tend to cover poorly and will deteriorate more quickly—costing you more in the long run. In all cases, opt for gloss sheen (not semi-gloss, eggshell, or flat) for greater durability and washability.