“Should I paint my kitchen cabinets?” That burning question SO MANY of you have asked me is answered in this post!
At least once a week I get asked, “Should I paint my kitchen cabinets?” I’m not surprised by this question because I’m the gal who actually painted my kitchen cabinets without priming or sanding and LIVED TO TELL ABOUT IT. In fact, we even did a check-in after two years to prove how well our DIY painted cabinets held up. It’s seriously unbelievable, folks. Not a chip yet! This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission which helps keep my blog up and running but it won't cost you a penny more)! Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
Now I’d love to take all the credit, but honestly there were several factors on my side AND I used the most fantastic paint I’ve ever found, General Finishes Milk Paint. I swear, this stuff is magic! I’m not a professional painter nor am I on their payroll, I'm just a very enthusiastic supporter. This paint required no sanding or priming and it went on like a dream. It dried faster than any paint I’ve ever used and turned out a beautiful set of kitchen cabinets.
As part of our $700 kitchen makeover, we redid our gross rust-orange cabinets in a beautiful Dove Grey. We spray painted most of the hardware, save buying drawer and cabinet pulls (purchased from IKEA). Let me tell you: I love it! It’s so beautiful and I’m so happy with the finished product!
So this is why I get asked the question, “Should I paint my kitchen cabinets?” once a week. My answer? Go for it! BUT do your homework first so you'll be as happy with your results as I am with mine!
“Should I Paint My Kitchen Cabinets?” 9 Questions to Ask First!
Before you begin painting kitchen cabinets, there are a few questions you should ask yourself.
Question 1: What are your cabinets made out of?
Most cabinets are made of solid wood. Some cabinets, however, are made of stainless steel (plain or powder-coated) or engineered wood. Engineered wood cabinets might be made from MDF, plywood, particle board and covered with veneer, thermofoil or laminate.
Solid wood kitchen cabinets are a dream to paint (you can read all about how I painted our solid oak cabinets without priming or sanding in this post). Unfortunately, engineered cupboards that aren’t solid wood aren’t as easy to to paint. Paint doesn’t adhere to the finished surface as easily and will often peel off or chip. To prevent chipping of most paints, the engineered wood cabinets will most likely need light sanding and priming before painting. Test in an inconspicuous spot beforehand. Once dry, test the paint to ensure the dried product won’t flake or chip with frequent use, especially in the kitchen.
That said, the General Finishes Milk Paint I used to paint my kitchen cabinets without priming or sanding, adheres remarkably well to lots of different surfaces, to even if you have cabinets that aren't solid wood, don't give up all hope of painting them! This is what General Finishes says about its Milk Paint, “General Finishes milk paints will adhere to a variety of surfaces including wood, fiberglass, PVC, vinyl, and most composite materials. Additionally, these paints can be applied over existing finishes, stains and other paints so long as the existing finish is fully dry. However, when painting over other finishes, it’s important to always test a small area first to make sure the paint adheres well to the original surface.” So if you don't have solid wood cabinets, don't give up hope! Just order a pint size can of the General Finishes Milk Paint to test it out first!
I tested 3 colors when we tackled our project. It helped me choose the color AND gave me the confidence that the paint had excellent adhesion.
Question 2: What is the finish on your cabinets?
Assuming your cupboards are solid wood, also double check the finish. Most stains and polyurethane finishes can be covered over but you may run into issues if you’re going from a painted finish to a stain, for example. To remove latex paint, you will need to sand the cupboards first. Latex painted cupboards may be a case where refacing the cabinets with new doors is a better option.
As I mention above, we used General Finishes Milk Paint, but their Java Gel Stain is also fantastic (assuming you want to take your cupboards into a darker finish). The Java Stain is a thick gel stain, which covers nearly anything. You can see how we darkened a light pine cabinet with the Java Gel Stain in this post. One thought to keep in mind though: it’s far easier to darken a light finish than to lighten up a dark paint or stain without primer.
Question 3: How do you feel about the wood grain (if any) of your cabinets?
I get asked all the time whether we can still see the grain of our oak cabinets now that they are painted. The answer is YES, and we are fine with that. I am not aware of any paint that will fill in wood grain, unfortunately. That said, the General Finishes Milk Paint is a very flat finish and the top coat we used is also the flat finish, though it did add a tiny bit of sheen. The flat finish really minimizes how noticeable the grain is because of the minimal light reflection. But the grain is still there.
If you absolutely can't stand seeing the grain, then you will either need to follow a process like this one to eliminate the grain, or you should consider refacing or replacing your cabinets.
Question 4: How much time can you dedicate?
Painting kitchen cabinets is a realistic DIY project BUT the process will definitely derail your normal kitchen routine for at least a few days. When we did our kitchen, we were able to keep the dishes in the cupboards because we opted not to paint the insides. The paint dried very quickly and we were able to finish in a matter of days, but it was a MESS while we were working on it.
Consider your “Plan B” in case your plan goes awry. If you run out of paint, decide you don’t like the look or realize the project is tougher than you hoped to take on, what will you do without your kitchen during that time? Kitchen renovations are tough because the kitchen is such a central part of our homes. Keep in mind that with the right paint and plan, the project CAN go very quickly. Just block out enough time so you finish up before a scheduling conflict. This isn’t a project to take on the day before Thanksgiving, for example.
Question 5: How fussy are you about details?
I’m a little particular about certain details, of course, but I can handle slight imperfections. For example, it doesn’t bother me in the least the insides of my cupboards aren’t painted. We DID paint the inside of the doors, just not the interior of the cabinet boxes themselves. I like quality, but I don’t mind a little normal wear and tear (it comes with the Mom-of-Twins territory).
If you are particular about details and want everything absolutely perfect, weigh your time against the cost. If you’re going to stay up at night making sure paint is cut perfectly or worrying about tiny details, it might not be a worthwhile DIY project for you to take on. However, if you’re hoping to save money or you're sick of your current cupboards but can’t afford a total redo right now, then painting your kitchen cabinets is your best option. I promise, it’s easy!
Question 6: What kind of shape are your cabinets in?
Before taking on a kitchen cabinet painting project, really ask yourself if what kind of shape your cabinets are in. Is keeping your current cabinets worth it? Even if the design isn’t exactly your taste, with a coat of stain or paint, cabinets take on a whole new look. Those orange oak cabinets look fresh and modern in Dove Grey (and would look good in Java as well). Often the finish makes all the difference. The other (less expensive than a full replacement) option is to reface your cabinets by swapping out only the doors. If your cabinet structure is good but you don’t like design elements of the doors, this is a great way to go.
Remember: you can always paint or buy new hardware to give the cabinets an updated look as well. I picked up great handles at IKEA that were really inexpensive, fresh and sleek. They fit the style of our kitchen much better. I was able to simply hit the hinges with spraypaint and keep them. Look at the state of your hardware, as well as your cabinets, to see if a refinish is enough to extend the life of your cupboards.
Question 7: What is the cost of a replacement vs. refinish?
This question is usually the clincher for most people. When I painted my kitchen cabinets, we were able to update the entire kitchen for $700, including flooring, fixtures, everything–the whole shebang. Y'all, that price can’t be beat! New cabinets alone would put most kitchens well over the $700 threshold.
Of course, you should weigh in other costs as well–your time, sanity and stress levels. Painting kitchen cabinets is one of the easiest kitchen transformations you can take on, especially if you don’t need to do the sanding and priming, plus go through all the stress of a total kitchen makeover. It’s well worth the cost in most cases.
Question 8: How happy are you with the existing layout?
If you’re happy with the layout of your kitchen and simply need a modern update and change, painting your cabinets is absolutely the way to go. Painting your kitchen cabinets is an easy solution and can get you much closer to the kitchen of your dreams.
If your kitchen is small, your cupboards are lacking and you need to add cupboards, then painting might not be the best solution. Obviously, painting won’t change the cupboard layout or the amount of storage in your kitchen. One option to consider is an open-shelving look on the top cupboards and painting the lowers. Alternatively, you could add an island or resurface the doors which would allow you to skip a total overhaul but increase the storage.
Question 9: How drastic of a change are you hoping for?
Again, if you’re happy with the overall layout and storage size of your cabinets, then painting your cupboards for an update is a great solution. If your cabinets are small, in poor condition or aren’t working for you, then a cosmetic change might not be the answer.
When we painted our cabinets, we hoped to stave off a total kitchen gut and makeover for at least 8-10 years. We were so thrilled with the professional-level results we were able to get with our inexpensive, amateur remodel, we have happily lived with our kitchen for almost 4 years and will probably hang on another year or so before doing a full kitchen renovation. If this is your case, then painting your kitchen cabinets is a great solution. You can get the face-lift you want for your kitchen and hold off on drastic changes until your budget expands.
Painting kitchen cabinets is a great solution for anyone who’s interested in an update. So if you keep asking yourself, “Should I paint my kitchen cabinets?”…then, answer these questions first to really start your kitchen painting project off the right way! I promise you can do it and still keep your sanity intact!
And if you need help choosing paint colors, grab my free guide. The tips work EVERY time!
Be sure to save this post to Pinterest or share it on Facebook so you can find it again later (especially if you have to convince your husband that it's a good idea, like I did, lol!)