How to paint kitchen cabinets – wooden, laminate or pre-painted

Painting kitchen cabinets is a quick, cheap and easy DIY. Should you prime, the best paints for the job and how to get an expert finish.

Painting kitchen cupboards
(Image credit: Naked Kitchens)

Knowing how to paint kitchen cabinets yourself will not only save you money but, it will also let you get more creative with the look and finish of your space.

So if you are happy with your kitchen's layout and design, but looking to recreate the best kitchen cabinet ideas – this is the DIY for you. Painting kitchen cupboards yourself is one of the most cost-effective, clever DIYs that will totally transform your kitchen in a matter of days.

Whether yours are wooden, laminate, already painted or not, our video and step-by-step method will give you professional looking results.

Can you paint kitchen cabinets without sanding?

While painting kitchen cabinets is a relatively easy and cheap way to update your kitchen, unfortunately, you can't just whack paint on and hope for the best. First, you have to check your kitchen cabinets can be painted. If you have solid wood kitchen cabinets doors you are good to go. Paint away, ensuring they are properly primed as we'll explain in our method below.

If you're painting laminate kitchen cupboards or veneer, you have a trickier job on your hands. You can still paint them, but their shiny, smooth surface means you have to be more thorough with your prepping and sanding – using a good primer to encourage the paint to stick.

Melamine is another man made material, often used for modern kitchen cabinet doors, where paint might not adhere to as easily as wood. Again, we recommend gently sanding your doors first to give the paint a better chance of lasting. 

Fenwick cotswold painted kitchen cabinets in sage green

(Image credit: Future / Darren Chung)

1. Select your paint and gather materials

The  paint you choose for your cabinets largely depends on the finished look you want in your kitchen, but also on what material you are working with and on how much of an experienced DIYer you are. 

You need a paint and a primer. We've used Dulux Primer & Undercoat for wood and then a deep blue eggshell paint in our how-to video. Reason being, an eggshell paint is kinder for DIY beginners and it's easier to achieve a professional looking finish. Gloss paint is harder to work with and unless you're an expert as there's a risk that the brushstrokes will show up.

Of course, you can go for different looks and perhaps you want to give your cupboards a few coats of chalk paint for modern appeal, just always consider what you are working with for the best results. Here is a full list of the materials needed:

2. Remove doors and drawer fronts 

Before you start painting kitchen cabinets, remove the doors and drawer fronts that you intend to paint. If you can, remove all the handles and hardware too, and if you can't do this, tape up anything you don't want to be painted. 

Top tip: This is a good time to consider changing the handles on your kitchen cabinets too. If this is the case, remove the handles, fill in the gap and sand it down so that you can create new holes for your new handles to get a clean, crisp finish.

  • If you're after more kitchen ideas our feature offers all the inspiration you need. 

3. Clean your cupboards

As Laura does in the video, you want to wipe down your cabinets with water and then use a sugar spray to lift off any grime, oil and food. Zoe Warren, interior expert at agrees that this is where to start. 'The first thing you need to before painting your kitchen cupboards is remove all the contents and  thoroughly clean the cupboard using sugar soap or a strong detergent.' 

4. Sand your cupboard surfaces 

If you are painting kitchen cabinets with wooden doors that have already been painted, you can might be able to skip this step, but the whole point of sanding is to create a rougher surface for the paint to adhere to, so if your wooden doors are super smooth, still give them a quick go over with some sandpaper. 

Start with crevices, likely with wooden doors, and then move on to the cupboard face. If you are painting laminate or veneer kitchen cabinets, this step is essential as the paint won't adhere to the smooth surface. 

Make sure that once you have finished sanding you get rid of any dust. Give the doors a wipe down with a damp cloth. Get the vacuum out as you don't want any of those tiny particles around when you start painting. 

5. Prime kitchen cabinets

Once the doors are dry and clean you can add the first coat of primer. Choose a primer that is best for the material you are painting: for wooden doors use a wood primer or undercoat and for laminate, a good multi-purpose primer or a specialist surface primer. 

Add an even coat to the whole surface using either a roller or a paintbrush and leave to dry for the maximum amount of time required on the tin – this is usually a couple of hours. If you are painting laminate or veneer doors, give your doors another sand to to create even more texture for the paint to adhere to. Be sure to get into any crevices also.

'The key to perfectly painted kitchen cupboards is letting the first coat dry completely before sanding it with fine paper. Once this is complete, you should clean the area and repeat the same process with the second coat.' Says Warren.

Top tip: Two thin coats of primer is far more effective than one gloopy coat of primer if you want a smooth professional finish on your painted kitchen cupboards.

6. Apply the first coat of paint to your kitchen cabinets 

When your primer is set, you can go in with your first layer of paint. Remember to stir the paint, especially if it's highly pigmented as it will separate. Using your paint brush, work in both directions to really get into the grain, for an even finish. Remember again that lots of thin layers is best when painting kitchen cupboards. Let that layer dry completely. When completely dry, take a small sanding block to smooth out any spots which are a little clumpy. Then wipe it down with a soft cloth to remove any lingering dust.

7. Move onto the second layer

For the second layer of paint, use your brush again to get into all the crevices. Then you can finish it off with a sponge roller. Now it's about creating a really even finish and getting rid of any brush marks so you don't need a lot of paint.

Depending on what colour you are painting over, two coats might be enough, but do a third coat if you need to. 

8. Let your kitchen cupboard doors dry

The paint we used takes about twelve hours to dry so remember to factor this in as you would with any DIY project. If you're painting all of your kitchen cabinets, you're looking at about 2-3 days drying time in total. Try doing them in batches to make this easier.

9. Reattach your kitchen doors 

Once the doors are completely dry, screw back on the handles and reattach your kitchen doors. You could even treat yourself to some new kitchen handles since you have saved so much by painting your kitchen rather than buying new...

Is painting kitchen cabinets a good idea?

You'll save money and have more liberty on the style of your kitchen by painting the cupboards yourself. Color-wise, anything goes! Neutral shades, black, soft blues, greens and greys are ideal for all styles of kitchens, and lend a light, elegant feel. Light pink is also an on trend shade that can look contemporary matched with grays.

Remember also that the entire kitchen need not be colorful – a bold shade, such as red or dark blue, can be used to accent a short run of units, a kitchen island or statement dresser, with the rest of the kitchen in a neutral or natural wood finish.

Alternatively, you can consider adding depth and interest to a kitchen by using different shades of the same color. For example, painting the wall units a lighter color than the base cabinets is a clever way to make the kitchen feel more spacious.

How much will it cost to DIY?

The cost of painting kitchen cabinets yourself will save you over half the price vs having a professional paint them for you and significantly more than fitting out an entirely new kitchen. You might need about 9L (two gallons) of paint for two coats in an average kitchen, which will set you back a couple of hundred dollars depending on the paint you choose and the other materials. That's still a massive saving.

Impressive DIY right?

Melanie has been working in homes magazines for almost 14 years and is currently Editor of Period Living magazine. She lives the brand's ethos of creating a forever home in an old house with new ideas as she slowly improves her own rural home. When she isn't at work, Mel enjoys cooking, caring for her garden and exploring the countryside.