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What is the Best Way to Paint Laminated Kitchen Cabinets?

By J. Beam
Updated May 16, 2024
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Of all home-improvement projects, updating a kitchen is one of the most expensive, yet most rewarding, projects. If you have laminated kitchen cabinets in good shape, you can save the expense of replacing them by painting them instead. While it takes a bit of time to get the job done right, painting kitchen cabinets is a simple process that can save hundreds or thousands of dollars on a kitchen remodel.

The first step to painting kitchen cabinets is to label each drawer and door with a number and place the corresponding number somewhere on the inside of the wall or base cabinet. This will make reinstalling the doors and drawers easier once the painting is finished. With labels in place, remove all doors and drawers from their base cabinet.

Next, remove all hardware, hinges, drawer pulls, and handles from your cabinet doors and drawers. If you are adding hardware where none previously existed, drill the holes before you paint. Once all the hardware is removed, thoroughly clean the wall and base cabinets along with the door and drawer fronts. A clean surface to begin painting is fundamental to the overall process. Be sure you use a cleaner that does not leave behind oily residues and that you do not allow excess water to seep into any particle board or plywood in your cabinets.

Prepare the wall and base cabinets for painting by masking off adjoining walls, ceiling, and floor with painter’s tape. Apply a coat of oil-based primer to all surfaces that are to be painted. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for application and drying times. Once the primer coat is dry, sand the surfaces with #220 sand paper. Sand in a light, circular motion to create a surface the paint can adhere to well. When you have completed sanding, go over all surfaces with a tack cloth to remove any possible excess debris.

Finally, apply the first coat of your chosen oil-based paint. Use a small 4 inch (10.2 cm) roller with rounded ends for painting. Apply in even strokes paying close attention to run-off at the edges while painting. You may need to use a small brush for corner areas. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s directions for drying time between coats if two are needed. Apply a final coat of oil-based clear coat for extra protection and durability.

Once the painting is finished and the cabinets and door fronts are completely dry, you can reinstall them on their proper base or wall cabinet. Reinstall the hinges to the doors, then the doors to the cabinet, and finally add the hardware. In the end, you will have freshly painted cabinets with a new look and more money to invest in countertops, flooring or appliances.

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Discussion Comments

By seancarlos — On Nov 07, 2013

I recently painted my cabinets with gloss white and they really looked amazing and have changed the entire look of my kitchen which mesmerizes everyone who sees it. So I would suggest everyone to try it.

By Linda7777 — On Dec 04, 2010

My cabinets don't look painted at all. With the paint types I used they actually look like the dark chocolate finish was always there. Not like a cheap paint job. Lots of people have commented on how great they look, including my sister, who was the voice of doom and gloom when I started the project.

The only draw back was the amount of prep time, and using such a dark color, my painting had to be very carefully done. I taped everything.

Use a really good, high adhesive paint and those european, 70's cabinets now look really sleek and modern.

By anon131769 — On Dec 03, 2010

Regarding drying time for oil-based primers, mfg instructions on the can said one to two hours drying time. the painters then applied semi-gloss oil paint, with disastrous results. the cabinets looked as though they had been finished with primer. Research on the internet revealed that proper drying time for oil primer is at least 24 hours.

By anon131767 — On Dec 03, 2010

Before putting our house on the market in 1990 I painted the master bath (stained hardwood, built on the job) cabinet high gloss white, using oil base

paint. It looked fab!

We quickly got a contact on the house, stipulating a similar resurfacing in another bath. This time, in as many steps, I used semi-gloss latex, with very disappointing results. The oil was a pain to work with, but well worth it!

By anon68631 — On Mar 03, 2010

Seems like the conventional wisdom is to use oil-based primer to prime cabinets. If you go through the right steps with prep and everything you can also use a water based primer/paint combo. It'll keep your cabinets from stinking up your whole house and save you a step in doing the project. --thefauxguy

By anon62787 — On Jan 28, 2010

I prefer not to use a gloss paint as the end results looks too much like I painted the cabinets.

I ran across Cabinet Rescue paint (Lowes florida) and plan to use this on my rental property. It was highly recommended.

By Linda7777 — On Nov 13, 2009

I recently painted my laminate cabinets with melamine paint. I hated the way they looked. It looked more like a dull primer coat. I'm redoing them again.

Use a high stick primer such as Zinsser Bullseye 123 primer. In a high gloss finish, and a Sitco floor paint in an Alkyd Epoxy, again in a high gloss finish. A much better result.

One problem I did run into was that the old cabs sag a little. If you drill your hardware holes first, they may be out of line when you rehang the cabinets. I solved this problem by marking and drilling all the holes before painting and not removing the cabinets to paint. You may have to paint a little more carefully, but it's well worth it to see your drill holes all line up. The first time I had to fill all the holes with wood filler, sand and start over. It's been a horrendous job, but what a difference.

A new glass backsplash and my dated kitchen looks fab.

By Dayton — On Jul 06, 2007

When cabinets have been finished, they generally don't have the right texture to be painted with latex-based paints. These paints will not attach permanently to the cabinet surface and will chip, bubble, and peel very easily.

Oil-based paints are far more difficult to work with, but will not have the same problem bonding with the finished cabinetry.

If you don't want to work with oil-based paints, your best option is to sand off or otherwise remove the finish on the existing cabinets before painting them with latex or water-based paints.

By lpinto — On Jun 27, 2007

Why do you choose an oil based paint as opposed to other types for kitchen and base cabinets?

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