Kitchen remodeling can dig a deep hole in your pocket. In its annual Cost vs. Value report for 2019, Remodeling Magazine put the average for a midrange major kitchen remodel in the South Atlantic Region (Maryland, South Carolina, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Washington, D.C.) at $66,196 and an upscale major kitchen remodel at $131,510. For those who want to freshen up their kitchen with economy in mind, painting the kitchen cabinets can provide an updated look that won’t break the bank. Those who really want to save money may be considering the DIY approach. Although there is no shortage of instructions and tutorials online, taking on this project can involve much more than you bargained for – and could go above your budget if you botch the job and need to call a professional painter anyway.
Regardless of which course of action you decide, you first need to determine if your cabinets can be painted. Solid wood doors are a definite “yes.” In fact, if they’re in good condition, they can be refinished with a wood stain that allows the grain and beauty of the wood to come through. Our blog post – “Cabinets – Don’t’ Replace, Refinish!” – covers this option in detail.
Other types of cabinetry materials are capable of being successfully painted. According to Real Homes, cabinet doors of melamine and other types of laminate (and even particleboard) may be painted, but additional steps are necessary to achieve a good result.
Look Before You Leap – The Pros and Cons of DIY Cabinet Painting
The detailed step-by-step instructions and video tutorials that home improvement centers provide online may give you a false sense of confidence in tackling this formidable project. Yes, this very blog post provides links to such websites. But when you visit, read between the lines of what you see, and compare it to an honest self-evaluation of your ability to do likewise.
Unfortunately, many people underestimate the following when deciding to take the DIY route:
- The full extent of work involved – especially for projects requiring disassembly and reassembly.
- The amount of disruption and inconvenience for household members during the project, assuming it takes longer than one day.
- The ultimate cost – inexperienced do-it-yourselfers tend to buy the wrong materials/equipment/tools, or not enough – and/or don’t realize they need additional products or items until well underway because the video tutorial didn’t cover them. The project can be even more expensive if a professional needs to be hired to complete or correct the job.
- The amount of time the project finally involves – inexperienced do-it-yourselfers don’t tend to factor in for unforeseen setbacks. Don’t assume that every step will go as smoothly as the video tutorial.
However, one factor that people too often overestimate is their physical ability to do the work. Every project demands some degree of strength, stamina and agility. If painting your kitchen cabinets is your first DIY rodeo, you may find it too demanding – even if you’re relatively young! And if you’re more young-at-heart, keep in mind that tasks you found easy to perform in earlier years may be more challenging now.
Assuming you’re going more on confidence than experience, there’s one final factor to consider: the result. Will you be satisfied with the outcome if your freshly painted cabinets show tell-tale brush marks, an uneven surface, paint drips, etc.? Or will you be disappointed that they don’t look as smooth and perfect as you’d envisioned? If the latter reaction is more likely, we highly recommend hiring a professional painter. Yes, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but for all practical purposes, the odds are against you removing the cabinet doors, sanding them down and trying again.
It’s a different story if you’re experienced in home improvement projects demanding intermediate to advanced skills. Should this be the case, you’re more likely to have a realistic idea of the scope of the job – as well as the appropriate tools and protective clothing and equipment.
How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets Yourself
The full instructions for doing a thorough job are too long and detailed to be provided here. We therefore recommend you read the entire step-by-step process on Real Homes, as well as on the Lowe’s website. The overview is as follows:
Select the paint and gather the tools and materials – The paint selection largely depends on the look you want for your kitchen. However, it also depends on the material you work on and your experience level. Buy the paint and primer at the same time. Also, be sure that you have all the materials and tools before you start work.
Remove doors and drawer fronts – Before starting, remove the doors and drawer fronts that you intend to paint. If you can, remove all the handles and hardware. If you can’t, tape up anything you don’t want painted. If you want to change the handles, fill the holes with a wood filler, let dry, sand them properly and drill new holes for a smooth finish.
Clear out and clean your cabinets – Empty your cabinets, then clean the surface with a trisodium phosphate (TSP) cleanser to remove grease and dirt. TSP is a toxic substance, so follow label instructions carefully.
Sand the surfaces – Cover your countertops, appliances and other areas you want to protect. Placing painter’s tape on the wall along the cabinet edges is helpful. Sand everything with a medium grit sandpaper to help the paint stick to the surface. Fold the sandpaper to get into the detailed areas on doors and drawers, and in the corners on the frames.
Prime the cabinets – After sanding and cleaning, you need to add the first coat of primer. The choice of primer would depend on the material you are painting. For example, you can use a wooden primer or undercoat for wood doors and a multi-purpose primer or a specialist surface primer for laminate doors.
Add an even coat of primer to the surface and let it dry (this could take a couple of hours). For laminate and veneer doors, you can sand them once more. Sanding again provides them additional texture so that the paint adheres to the surface properly.
For a smooth, professional finish, two thin coats of primer are more effective than one thick coat.
Apply the first coat of paint –After the primer dries, apply the first coat of paint. Make sure to stir the paint if it is highly pigmented. If you are painting with a brush, work in both directions to evenly distribute the paint. A thin layer is better than a thick coat. When dry, sand uneven surfaces (if any), then clean the surface completely.
Apply the second coat – You can use your brush to apply the second coat. Make sure you cover all crevices. To finish, you can use a sponge roller, which will give you an even finish and hide any brush marks.
Let the doors dry – Don’t be impatient. Give the paint not only enough time to be dry to the touch, but to cure before reassembling the cabinet doors – which is typically two to three days.
Reassemble the doors – After your kitchen cabinet doors dry, screw the handles back on and reattach the doors.
Why You Should Hire a Pro – From a Professional’s Perspective
Jenny Robinson – manager of Paper Moon Painting, Austin and San Antonio, TX – brings an insider’s perspective to this matter. What follows are her own words. This is reprinted only in part. Her entire article is well worth your time to read!
“You can Google ‘Should I paint my kitchen cabinets’ and come up with all kinds of how-to’s geared to get clicks from DIYers everywhere. But as a manager for a painting contractor, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called to a home to estimate fixing kitchen cabinets that had been painted by a person who simply followed the steps from an Instagram post. It’s even worse if the info came from a DIY house flipper, who only cares about speed and turnaround time … I have directly reached out to several DIY home flippers to tell them that skipping sanding and priming is a sin when it comes to painting kitchen cabinets, only to be shrugged off. These encounters leave me wanting to shout from the rooftops, DO NOT DIY YOUR KITCHEN CABINET PAINTING! (I know it’s rude to shout, but I feel that strongly about it!)
“First of all, it’s going to take a serious time commitment. To paint your kitchen cabinets in a manner comparable to a professional paint job could require over two hours of time per cabinet door or drawer if you’re going to do it right, and several more hours for your base cabinets. (By the way, most kitchens have at least 50 cabinet doors and drawers, just to put this in perspective.)
“Our pro painters remove all doors and drawer fronts, they never paint cabinet pieces in place, that’s just asking for trouble (bad brushwork and paint ending up on your hinges, for starters). They also cover all surfaces not being painted with paper, plastic, and tape in preparation for the sprayed finish, and this step alone can suck up a full weekend if you’re not a pro.
“Our painters spray the paint finish with professional equipment, so the cabinet paint is never brushed or rolled, (brush marks and roller stipple, no thank you!). (If you want to see the full process, including video, we write about it here.)
“It takes a 2-man crew of our professional painters (seasoned veteran painters who do hundreds of these projects a year) an average of 3-5 days to complete the entire process, longer for larger kitchens. Anyone who says you can paint your whole kitchen in one weekend by yourself is grossly misinformed or doing it wrong.
“First, you have to thoroughly clean your cabinets, but this is the part most people skimp on. Grease and oils from cooking or washing dishes have a way of permeating cabinets, and can be a pain to truly remove … Our professional painters first use a standard household degreaser, followed up by a more heavy duty industry specific chemical degreaser … What happens if you bypass, or half-step this part? You’ll achieve a beautiful finish… that will quickly chip off on those greasy areas.
“Next, we sand, but you’ve got to sand the right amount. You want to sand enough to rough up the surface, but not so much you cut all the way through to the raw wood. Then we apply the first coat of primer, then we sand again, then we apply the second coat of primer, then we sand again to get ready for the finish coat.
“Just like you wouldn’t DIY building a couch, you shouldn’t DIY painting your cabinets. Painting kitchen cabinets is vastly more complicated, more aggravating, and much more expensive to fix. I’m not saying you can’t successfully paint your own kitchen cabinets. Many DIYers can, and do. I am just asking you to think of the long-term ramifications. Just because the immediate result looks decent, does not mean it will be long-lasting. In fact, I would wager a hefty sum of money that if you skip sanding and primer, or if you use the wrong paint, then in six months or less you are going to have issues.”
The Take-Home Message
If you have successful, solid home improvement jobs under your tool belt, it may be possible for you to achieve an outcome that looks professional and will last for years to come. If not, follow Robinson’s advice and leave the painting to the pros.
Our team at The Paint Manager has been proudly serving Central Florida homeowners for 20 years with experienced, dedicated and professional services that include exterior and interior house painting, roof repair and cleaning, drywall repair, popcorn ceiling texture removal, cabinet refinishing and so much more!
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