How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Distressed White

Updated April 13, 2018

While most paint finishes are used to create flawless, uniform colour, a distressed white paint finish has dents, marks and portions of the paint worn away. A distressed white finish applied to kitchen cabinets makes them look old and weathered. This finish evokes a sense of Old World charm and is at home in many kitchens, especially those decorated in country or French styles. The beauty of a distressed white finish is that you can paint this finish yourself, and any mistakes you might make will only add to the attractiveness of the completed kitchen cabinets.

Clean the cabinets with a degreasing cleaner, if you are working with existing cabinets. Allow the cabinets to dry completely before beginning the painting. If you are applying a distressed white finish to new cabinets, do not clean them with a cleaner.

Remove the cabinet doors and all hardware. Place the hardware for each door in a plastic bag. Use a pencil to number both the bag and the door to ensure they go back in the same place. Write the number on the inside of the door, in a location where it won't be seen once the cabinets are reassembled. Alternatively, you can leave the doors in place, masking off the hinges with blue painter's tape.

Sand previously painted cabinets with 100-grit sandpaper to roughen the surface. This will help the new paint adhere. If the cabinets have any sharp corners, sand these as well. This helps the cabinets look as though the corners have softened with age.

Distress the cabinet surfaces by hitting them with a heavy chain. Add a few dings to the surfaces by holding a large nail sideways on the surface and tapping the head of the nail with a hammer.

Paint the cabinets with a base coat of a dark contrasting colour. This is the colour that will show through parts of the white finish paint. If you want the colour of your existing cabinets to show through, you do not need to paint them. Common base colours for distressed white finishes include dark brown, sage green, grey and black. Use a satin latex paint and apply it with a 4-inch chip brush. Allow the paint to dry for at least 12 hours.

Paint the finish coat on the cabinets. The cabinets are supposed to look old, so do not use a bright white paint. Instead, opt for a creamier white with a hint of colour. Antique white is a popular choice for the finish coat. When choosing the finish colour, compare it with the base coat colour to make sure they complement each other. Your paint sample may look white in the store, but once you hold it up against your sage green cabinets, you may find that the white paint has a hint of pink. Use a satin latex paint for the finish coat. Apply it with a 4-inch chip brush and allow the paint to dry for at least 12 hours.

Sand portions of the cabinets with 80-grit sandpaper to remove the white paint and expose the base coat. Concentrate on the corners of the cabinet doors, raised trim work and areas around knobs. Work slowly to avoid taking off too much of the white paint.

Apply a latex antiquing glaze to the cabinets. Most distressed white paint finishes will use a brown antiquing glaze, but cabinets with a black or grey base coat use a black antiquing glaze. Dip a soft cotton rag in the glaze and wipe it over the cabinets. After applying the glaze, use a clean cotton rag to remove excess glaze. You need to work the glaze while it is wet, so only apply the glaze to one section of cabinet at a time. As you remove the glaze, take off just a little at a time, stepping back to check the effect. Concentrate on removing the glaze from flat areas, such as the centre of the cabinets, and leaving the glaze on the dings, dents and crevices. Once you are satisfied with the effect, allow the glaze to dry. Follow the manufacturer's directions for drying times.

Paint a protective coat of satin polyurethane over the cabinets, using a 4-inch brush designed for use with polyurethane. Allow the polyurethane to dry completely, following the manufacturer's directions for drying times.

Replace the cabinets in their original positions, or, if you did not remove them, peel off any blue painter's tape.

Things You'll Need

  • Degreasing cleaner
  • Plastic bags
  • Blue painter's tape
  • Sandpaper, 100-grit and 80-grit
  • Heavy chain
  • Large nail
  • Hammer
  • Dark latex paint
  • 4-inch chip brush
  • White latex paint
  • Antiquing glaze
  • Cotton rags
  • Satin polyurethane
  • 4-inch brush for polyurethane
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Drue Tibbits is a writer based in Central Florida, where she attended Florida Southern College. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur and Your Home magazines. She has also been profiled in the Florida Today newspaper and the Writer's Digest magazine. In addition to writing brochure copy for local businesses, she helps new start-up companies develop a local image presence.