How to Paint MDF Kitchen Cabinets

MDF is commonly used to construct trim moulding, furniture and cabinets. MDF, or medium-density fiberboard, is composed of small bits of wood that are fused together. A thick plastic coating is then applied to the fused wood, creating a durable surface that can be used for construction. Painting MDF is slightly tricky. The surface is slick and requires a significant amount more preparation than painting wood surfaces. MDF can be painted with good results.

Remove the doors and drawer boxes from the cabinet frames. Mark each door to indicate its original location so they can be easily returned once the painting is done.

Mix trisodium phosphate (TSP) with water according to the package instructions. Wipe the cabinet frames, doors and drawers with the TSP. TSP is a heavy duty cleaner and will also strip some of the shine from the cabinets.

Sand the cabinets with a palm sander and medium-grit sandpaper. A palm sander will make the job less laborious and faster. Avoid breaking through the coating on the cabinets. Aim for creating texture on the surface. Wipe away all sanding dust with a tack cloth.

Tape any areas that you don’t wish to paint. Cover the floors and counters with dust sheets.

Apply primer in the corners and areas near the walls and counters with a trim brush. Follow with a smooth foam roller. Choose a primer formulated for slick surfaces. Let the first coat of primer dry for two to four hours. Apply a second coat. Let the final coat of primer dry overnight.

Paint the cabinets with interior latex paint using the same techniques used to apply the primer. Apply two to three thin coats of paint, allowing each coat to dry to the touch before adding the next.


Handling the cabinets while reassembling is likely to create a few scratches. Touch up the scratched paint and let it dry completely.

Things You'll Need

  • Trisodium phosphate
  • Bucket
  • Rags
  • Wood putty
  • Putty knife
  • Sandpaper
  • Palm sander
  • Tack cloth
  • Low-tack painter’s tape
  • Dust sheets
  • Paint
  • Paintbrush
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About the Author

Lisa East Hunter is a consultant and freelance writer in Phoenix. Her background in marketing and technology led her to explore all avenues of writing. She is currently dividing her time between freelance writing and her consulting business. Hunter has a Bachelor of Science in management information systems and marketing.