What paint to use on kitchen cabinets?

Updated February 21, 2017

The paint you use for your kitchen cabinets will determine the overall success of your project, so understanding the types of paint is a must before you begin colouring those cabinets. Once you fully understand paint and its unique properties, you'll be better able to judge which type will be best for your cabinets.


Alkyd oil-based paint dries to a hard, durable finish. The paint flows smoothly, eliminating brushstrokes and roller stipple marks. It provides a factory-finish look and is chip resistant--a plus for those banging cabinet doors.

Although the turnaround time for drying (to the touch) is about 24 hours, the overall curing process is quite fast: about 48 hours.

There are disadvantages to using alkyd paints. It has high volatile organic compound (VOC) content and is not environmentally friendly, so you need good ventilation when painting. In an article in Northwest Renovations: A Home Improvement Magazine, Paulette Rossi, outreach specialist for MetroPaint, says that high VOC paint emits potentially harmful vapours long after the paint has dried.

Color choice is also a concern as this type of paint doesn't hold pigment well. If you're choosing bright colours, it may not be the best choice. Direct sunlight can cause fade spots and leave the cabinets with an uneven finish.

Latex Acrylic

A latex acrylic paint finish is not as hard as alkyd, and many professional painters don't recommend it for cabinets. It doesn't spread as easily, so brush marks are more visible. Aside from latex being more user-friendly--cleanup requires only soap and water, plus it has low VOC content-- using latex paint on cabinets has little benefit.

However, it does have some advantages. Howard Campbell of Campbell Renovations and Rentals in Kennett, Missouri, says, "Latex acrylic expands with the house. Houses are always settling and shifting, and latex will move with those shifts and won't crack." When paint cracks, moisture gets in and causes the paint to bubble and blister. "It's a trade off," says Campbell, "and you have to weigh how durable you want the finish to be against how concerned you are with the VOC factor."

Campbell admits that latex acrylic paint dries to the touch much quicker than alkyd, but says, "The overall cure time is longer--up to seven days."


The fee for professional painting services varies widely. Some professionals charge more for using alkyd paints because cleanup is more difficult and costly for them. As for the product cost alone, the least expensive paint is usually the latex acrylic; the most expensive is the all-natural no-VOC paint.

If you're not planning to remove the old paint or you're painting over metal cabinets, according to Campbell, the best choice is alkyd. He recommends always using a good primer formulated for the type of paint you're using; the longevity of the finish and performance of the paint depends on good priming. Campbell says, "Don't use a flat paint on cabinets; semi-gloss or gloss is best because of the moisture in the kitchen."

Consult the manufacturer's guidelines for paint characteristics; kitchen cabinets are subjected to extreme temperature change and moisture. The paint should be formulated to withstand high heat and steam.

If going "green" is your preferred choice, be prepared to repaint often; the all-natural no-VOC paint isn't particularly durable for cabinets.

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About the Author

Meggie Hardy has been a freelance writer for 15 years and has been published both online and in print. She populates website content for private clients and is a copy editor for an Internet writing site that has over 400,000 writers. Hardy is an active member of NARS (National Association of Realtors) and practices real estate in Texas by referral only.