How to Paint Wooden Kitchen Cupboards

Updated November 21, 2016

A kitchen is the heart of the home and, increasingly, the place where we entertain guests. A full kitchen remodel is expensive, inconvenient and usually requires the help of a professional contractor. Painting your kitchen cupboards, however, is a do-it-yourself project that allows you to create a fresh clean look without spending a lot of money. Wooden kitchen cupboards are particularly well-suited to a coat of paint. Follow the three 'Ps'---prepare, prime and paint---for a paint job that will make you proud.

Determine the extent of your paint project. Will you paint inside the cupboards and drawers? Will you paint the back of the doors?

Purchase your paint. Never scrimp on paint---buy the best quality you can afford to avoid a disappointing paint job and problems like cracking, peeling, wrinkling and inadequate coverage. Latex paint is low odour and cleans up with water. Some painters prefer using oil-based paints in a kitchen because of the durability of the product, but high-end latex formulations are comparable. Since a kitchen requires frequent cleaning, opt for a semigloss or gloss paint.

Remove all cupboard doors and hardware using a screwdriver. Empty and remove all drawers. If you will paint inside the cupboards, remove all movable shelving.

Make a small mark on each door indicating where it belongs. This will take the guesswork out of reassembling your kitchen if you have a number of cupboard doors of various sizes. Make the mark on an inconspicuous place on the back or bottom of the door.

Lay down newspapers or dust sheets to protect the floor, countertops and any nearby furnishings.

Support cupboard doors on saw horses for easy access to door edges.

Scrape off any loose or flaking paint with a paint scraper. Wear safety goggles.

Clean all surfaces you plan to paint. Use a household cleaner or detergent for lightly soiled surfaces. Greasy or heavily soiled surfaces may warrant cleaning with trisodium phosphate. This is a harsh chemical so take precautions like wearing gloves and safety glasses. Rinse the surfaces thoroughly with water and allow them to dry.

Fill any dents, scratches or holes that will affect your final finish using nonshrinking wood filler and a putty knife. Allow the wood filler to dry and sand it smooth with 180-grit sandpaper.

Sand all surfaces you plan to paint using 220-grit sandpaper. This will roughen the surface so the paint will adhere properly. Sand in the direction of the wood grain to avoid creating scratches. This step is especially important when painting over previously varnished wood cupboards or a semigloss or gloss paint surface. Remove all sanding dust with a damp rag or tack cloth.

Open the can of primer using a screwdriver to pry off the lid. Stir the primer thoroughly with a stir stick.

Prime the surfaces you plan to paint with a high-quality primer and paintbrush. Use long, smooth brush strokes to apply a thin coat of primer. Start at the top of the piece you are priming and move down. For cupboard doors, prime the door edges first, being careful to brush out any drips. If you are painting pine or another resinous wood, use a stain-blocking shellac or oil-based primer such as Kilz to ensure the resin does not bleed through your topcoat. Allow the primer to dry fully.

If you are priming inside the cupboards, prime according to this pattern: back walls, then "ceiling," then side walls and finally the bottom. Prime any fixed shelves last.

Sand the primed surfaces using 220-grit sandpaper. This will ensure a smooth surface for your final paint layers.

Open the can of paint by prying the lid off with a screwdriver. Stir the paint thoroughly with a stir stick.

Apply a first layer of paint on all primed surfaces using the same technique as for the primer coat. Allow to dry fully.

Apply a second layer of paint. Allow to dry fully. If needed, apply a third coat of paint and allow to dry fully.

Reinstall cupboard doors, drawers and hardware after the paint has fully cured. Latex paint may take 14 to 30 days to cure. Environmental factors like temperature and humidity can affect cure times. Check the paint can to see recommended times for the paint you used.


Tint your primer to a colour close to your topcoat colour if your topcoat is considerably darker than the old paint colour. This will reduce the number of coats of paint you will need to apply for full coverage of the old colour. Some painters advise using a roller for cupboard doors, but rollers may not leave a smooth surface.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Paint
  • Primer
  • Paintbrushes (polyester for latex paint, natural-bristle for oil-based paint)
  • Sandpaper (180- and 220-grit)
  • Stir sticks
  • Saw horses (optional)
  • Household cleaner or trisodium phosphate
  • Newspapers or dust sheets
  • Stepladder
  • Paint scraper
  • Wood filler
  • Putty knife
  • Rags
  • Tack cloth (optional)
  • White spirit
  • Rubber gloves and safety glasses
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About the Author

Jennifer Dawson is a Canadian researcher and writer who started freelancing in 2007. Specializing in environment and health topics, her work has appeared in “The Health Journal,” "Nutrition and Your Health," "Alternatives" and “Together Family.” Dawson has a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in anthropology from McMaster University.