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Guide to Refinishing Kitchen and Bathroom Cabinets

Updated: Mar 7

Painting cabinets can be an inexpensive way to update your kitchen. It costs a fraction of the price of a full kitchen renovation and it also keeps your cabinets out of the landfill. Win-win! As a company that offered this service, I was always amazed at the transformations. Paint can give your kitchen new life and if done right, you will have a beautiful update that will last many years.


There are many companies that specialize in painting cabinets and most general painting companies offer the service as well. If you get a couple of estimates and it's still too pricey for your budget, consider painting them yourself. It may seen like a daunting task but if you take one step at a time, you'll be surprised at how quickly it can come together.


After picture of my clients kitchen (I used Benjamin Moore Advance, Pearl Finish and the colour is Dove Wing OC-18).


Before picture of the same kitchen.

Doesn't the kitchen look so much smaller with all of the dark cabinets?


Here's another kitchen update completed for a client. I used Benjamin, Moore Advance, Pearl Finish and the paint colour on the cabinets is White Dove (OC-17).


Before photo of the above kitchen.


You'll notice in this before picture that these doors are knotty pine. In my guide I mention that you may need Bin Shellac Primer for blocking tannins and knots. This is the perfect example of where you would want to use it. I painted 3 coats of Bin on these knots. It doesn't take a ton of time and can be recoated after 30 minutes in most cases. That prevents the knots from bleeding through your finished product.


I could share so many before and after photos but let's get down to business! Below is my guide to help you successfully paint your kitchen or bathroom cabinets:



Remove Doors and Drawers

  • Before removing the doors and drawers, label them using painters tape. If you're doing a larger project, this will make the reinstallation much smoother. Place a piece of painters tape on the door and another on the corresponding cabinet. Label them with the same number so you know exactly where it goes back.

  • Remove hinges from cabinets and doors. If they're adjustable hinges, you can label them using the same number system as the doors but mark which hinge is top and bottom. Most hinges are adjusted, even slightly, to help align all the doors. You can skip the labelling part of this step but you may have to readjust the hinges later.

  • Assess if the drawer fronts can be removed. If they're air-nailed or stapled, leave them on. If the are held on by screws, remove the screws and drawer front. Label the drawer front and drawer with the same number and indicate the top side so reinstallation is quick and easy,

  • Remove all hardware such as handles, knobs, hooks etc.


Prepare Surfaces for Paint

  • Throughly wash all surfaces being painted with TSP (trisodium phosphate). This can be found at most hardware stores. For cleaning, I like to use a combination of Scotch Brite pads, brushes and cloths. A multipurpose paint scraper is handy to get into small crevices.

  • With clean, warm water, rinse and remove TSP from all surfaces.

  • Once surfaces are dry, you can begin sanding.

  • Sand first using 160-180 grit sandpaper to remove any glossy sheen (I recommend a sheet sander or Dremel tool, however for smaller jobs you can do it by hand).

  • Finish sanding with a 220 grit to smooth any rough areas.

  • Using a shop van and tack cloth, remove all sanding dust from surfaces.

Below I'm sanding cabinets using a Dremel tool after they've been cleaned.

Cleaning the doors to get ready for sanding.



Priming and Painting

  • Spray paint or brush and roll Stix primer on all surfaces being painted. Allow recommended dry time and apply a second coat. Note: If after the first coat of primer you notice tannin bleeds (brown/orange colour bleeding through the paint), use Bin Shellac Primer for the second coat. This will block tannins from bleeding through this finished product.

  • Once primer coats have been completed and are dry, give all surfaces a light sand with 220-320 grit to remove any imperfections in the primer coat.

  • Apply first coat of paint to all surfaces using your preferred method (spray or roll).

  • Once first coat is dry (read product directions for recommended dry time), lightly sand surfaces with 320 grit sandpaper.

  • Apply the second and final coat of paint.

  • Typically two coats of primer and two coats of paint are enough for good coverage. If you notice the second coat still doesn't look even, apply a third coat of paint. This would typically only happen with lighter colours (ex. whites and off-whites).





Important Notes:

  • Always allow adequate dry time between coats. If surface is recoated too soon, the paint won't cure properly and will feel tacky to touch.

  • Follow product direction for dry time. If painting during a humid or colder season, the paint may need more time to dry between coats.

  • If painting doors with a roller and brush, I recommend using the brush first and rolling after to smooth out any brush strokes.

  • Don't skip the prep work! No prep or poor prep will end with chipping and peeling paint on your cabinets.

  • Any dents or scratches in the wood should be filled using wood filler products. Don't use caulk or spackle on wood doors as it will likely crack or shrink. These products aren't made for wood surfaces.

  • Any small gaps between the cabinets and walls can be caulked for a cleaner finish. The same applies for gaps between the crown moulding and the ceiling (if needed).


Materials I Prefer to Use:

  • Painters Tape

  • Sharpie or Pen

  • Scotch Brite Pads

  • Multipurpose Scraper

  • TSP (trisodium phosphate)

  • 160-320 Grit Sandpaper

  • Tack Cloth

  • Mohair Roller (preferred) or Foam Roller

  • Stix Primer

  • Bin Shellac Primer (blocks tannins)

  • Cabinet Paint: Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane or Benjamin Moore Advance (Preferred Sheen: Satin or Pearl)


I hope you find this helpful. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below and I'll be happy to help!


Here's one more before and after (I just love these transformations!) Below is the before photo.


After!! I used Benjamin Moore, Oxford White on these cabinets with a Satin Finish.


Happy Painting!! :)


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