Last Updated on July 8, 2022
Learn how to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding or priming with this step-by-step tutorial. Yes, painting kitchen cabinets yourself is possible AND the results are gorgeous and durable!
Table of Contents
I finished this project in 2014. But I still get soooooo many questions about painting kitchen cabinets that I am finally giving this post a COMPLETE update because I have so much to add. I originally painted our kitchen cabinets way back when we completed our kitchen remodel on a budget part 1 and part 2. I still get more questions about painting kitchen cabinets than anything else! So it was high time to update this post, complete with VIDEOS.
The short version of this post is that absolutely can paint your kitchen cabinets without priming or sanding. And the results will be gorgeous and durable. I know it's hard to believe. But I have proof! And if you still have questions after reading the tutorial, fear not! I address the most common questions I get about painting kitchen cabinets after the tutorial. You may also want to check out the list of posts below for budget-friendly kitchen updates!
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How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding or Priming
- TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) Cleaner
- Liquid deglosser or liquid sandpaper– This is the exact deglosser we used.
- General Finishes Milk Paint– We used 3 quarts of Seagull Gray for the perimeter cabinets and 2 pints of Driftwood Gray for the island.
- General Finishes High Performance Top Coat– We chose the flat finish because the less light a finish reflects, the less the wood grain in our cabinets would show. We applied 3 coats of the topcoat on all cabinets and only used about 1/2 a gallon.
- 6 inch paint foam roller
- Angled paint brush
- Tack cloth
- Painter's tape
- OPTIONAL: Spray paint if you want to remove your hinges and change the color of them.
- OPTIONAL BUT HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: these painter's pyramids (I discovered them recently and so wish we had them when we painted these cabinets–they are awesome for any double-sided project)
There are so many detailed tutorials about how to paint your cabinets like the professionals. They involve primer and loads of prep work. Some even require a paint sprayer. That is not what I am going to give you. I am going to tell you how to paint your kitchen cabinets without losing your mind but WITH professional results.
Step 1: Test Colors & Choose Your Favorite
Unfortunately, General Finishes doesn't sell small samples, but you can order pints here. It's worth ordering a few and actually painting test swatches on your cabinets since colors can look so different depending on the lighting and surroundings of your home. I also test 6 different colors in my Total Cabinet Transformation videos series which you can get FREE when you subscribe here.
I need to pause here to tell you how I found out about this magical paint.
I originally thought we would need to transform our cabinets with gel stain (which would require a DARKER color) and I reached out to General Finishes with some questions about their gel stain products. In the course of explaining what I wanted to do, they mentioned their paint and explained that when you use General Finishes Milk Paint in conjunction with General Finishes High-Performance Top Coat, our kitchen cabinets would be EXTREMELY durable. Since I really wanted to lighten our cabinets, I was far more excited about the painting option! So I ordered a few different colors in the pint sizes.
When the pints arrived, I could not wait to see what they looked like on our cabinets. I mean, LITERALLY, I could not wait. I arrived home from work one afternoon, greeted my sweet Attley and Avery and asked them if they wanted to watch me paint a little bit. They did (they totally take after their momma and love all things crafty). I quickly, and rather sloppily, painted the three different gray colors on one of our upper cabinets. I spent no more than 2 minutes doing it, and did not even try to use good technique, etc.
I was BLOWN away with this paint when I painted on my test swatches.
First of all, I was completely amazed by how well one quick coat completely covered our outdated oak cabinet. But what most impressed me about this paint is that I COULD NOT SEE PAINT BRUSH MARKS. Seriously. There was not a brush mark to be seen on our cabinets. It’s amazing. AND it dried so quickly and smoothly. I was sold. There was no question that I wanted to paint our cabinets with General Finishes Milk Paint.
Step 2: Prep Your Cabinets
Remove all of your hardware. You will also need to remove your doors and drawers if you want to update your hinges (we spray painted our hinges). But you can leave everything inside of your cabinets since you don't need to paint the insides of your cabinets. You only need to paint the doors (front and back) and the frame of the cabinets. You can leave your drawer boxes in place and just remove the drawer fronts, but I personally feel like it's easier to keep the drawers in-tact.
Clean all of your cabinets, doors and drawers with a good cleaner like TSP. You want to be sure any grease and grime is off of them so that your paint adheres correctly.
Patch any holes that you will not be reusing with spackle or wood filler and sand appropriately. Be sure to remove any dust after sanding with a tack cloth.
Lastly, wipe down your cabinet boxes, cabinet doors and drawers with a liquid deglosser or liquid sandpaper (this is the exact deglosser we used). This is a quick wipe-down. You do not need to scrub the old finish off and get down to bare wood. In fact, your cabinets may not look any different after you wipe them down—that is okay.
Step 3: Paint
If you are using General Finishes Milk Paint, DO NOT SAND! DO NOT PRIME! Just start painting! We used the built-in benches on our deck to lay out our doors, which worked well. If you don't have a large space to work with, just work in batches. I highly recommend using these painter's pyramids that I discovered recently. I wish we had them when we painted these cabinets–they are awesome!
We applied two coats of the General Finishes Milk Paint. We used a paintbrush for detail work and a dense foam roller for the flat areas. We used 3 quarts of the Seagull Gray and 2 pints of the Driftwood. We also used about 1/2 gallon of the topcoat. This paint gives excellent coverage and goes a long way. I did NOT sand between coats of paint because my finish was nice and smooth. But you could opt to lightly sand with 220-grit sandpaper before applying your second coat. Remember to wipe them down with a tack cloth after sanding if you do decide to sand!
I am a very experienced painter, so I didn't use painter's tape to tape off the walls around our cabinet boxes–I simply cut it with an angled brush. But if you are worried about getting paint on your walls, just use some painter's tape along the edges of the cabinets.
Step 4: Apply the topcoat
After your paint has dried for the correct amount of time (see details on the General Finishes can, but I can tell you this paint dries faster than any other paint I have ever used), you are ready to apply the General Finishes High-Performance Top Coat. We applied the recommended 3 (yes THREE) coats of the topcoat. Rest assured this step moves fairly quickly. But this topcoat is what gives the already durable paint an unbelievably durable finish.
We chose a flat finish because our cabinets had so much wood grain. A flat finish reflects less light than a semi-gloss or gloss finish, so it makes the wood grain less visible. Please do keep in mind that paint alone is NOT going to eliminate wood grain. But you can make it less noticeable by choosing the flat finish topcoat.
You want to apply thin coats. I used a brush and would recommend it over a roller. If the topcoat is applied too thickly or pools in any areas, those spots will dry with a yellow tinge. Three very thin, even coats is what you need!
I have also heard from many people who have followed this tutorial to paint their cabinets with the Snow White color that the topcoat left a slight yellow cast on them. This is going to be true for pretty much ANY poly topcoat. This is something I talk about more in my Total Cabinet Transformation videos series which you can get FREE when you subscribe here. (Spoiler alert, I don't recommend that anyone use Snow White straight out the can–I recommend mixing it with another color).
Optional Step: Paint your hinges
If you don’t like the color of your hinges, you can spray paint them! It's way more economical than buying new ones and you can avoid having to make new holes in your cabinets and/or doors if new hinges are a different size. Our old hinges and screws were brass–not a good look with gray cabinets. So, we spray painted our hinges AND the screws with Valspar Brushed Nickel Spray Paint and topped them with Valspar Satin Clear Coat.
Step 5: Finish Up
Once your top coat is dry, you can rehang your doors, replace your drawers and reattach your old hardware or replace it with new hardware! We ditched our old hardware (not my style) and replaced it with new handles and drawer pulls. We have a lot of cabinets and doors, so we spent just over $300 on hardware, but I think it was well worth it.
That’s it. We completed this project over the course of 2 weekends and many nights after work. I am not going to lie, it is time-consuming but so worth the effort. I mean, LOOK at the transformation from painting kitchen cabinets.
The photos below were taken FIVE YEARS after we painted our kitchen cabinets while it was decorated for Christmas. They held up so, so well! Even the contractor who eventually replaced our backsplash with the one you see below was shocked and impressed by our results.
Answers to Your Frequently Asked Questions
How have your DIY painted kitchen cabinets held up over the years?
You can read this post to see how they were holding up 22 months later and you can check out my free video series to see how they were holding up 4 years later. The short version is that they looked beautiful even 5 years later when we finally gutted and renovated that kitchen.
Should I paint my kitchen cabinets?
I get this question so often that I wrote an entire post with the questions you should ask before deciding whether to paint your kitchen cabinets. It really depends on the condition and material of your cabinets, as well as how much of a change you want and whether you are happy with the layout of your cabinets. But my super short answer is that If you have cabinets that are sturdy and you just want an updated look, go for it and keep reading.
What type of paint should I use to paint my kitchen cabinets?
There are lots of different paints you can use, but there are only 2 that I personally recommend (ironically, neither of them are specially formulated kitchen cabinet paint). You can read all about the best paint for kitchen cabinets in this post. In that post, I share my personal experience along with 8 other successful kitchen makeovers that used different paint options.
The tutorial I am sharing below centers around one of the paints I recommend, which is General Finishes Milk paint. It is an incredibly high-quality acrylic paint with EXCELLENT adhesion (so good that you can even paint laminate cabinets with it). It has low VOCs and is incredibly durable, so it is a great choice for kitchen cabinets. It also really minimizes brush strokes!
Have you tried any other methods for painting kitchen cabinets?
Yes, you can read about the other method I have used to paint kitchen cabinets that is faster and easier here. But I find that this method is slightly more durable.
What if I have more questions that aren't answered in this blog post?
Y'all, I have tried VERY hard to be as thorough as possible with this blog post! But I still get questions about it allll the time and if I wrote out all the answers to every question in a blog post, no one would read it because it would be way too long. So I put together a detailed and FREE video training on how to paint your kitchen cabinets without priming or sanding. I answer every possible question AND give video demonstrations. And yes, it's free to all of my subscribers. So if you have additional questions, I highly recommend you check it out. You can watch an overview of what the video series includes in the short video below.
Now, I know there are LOTS of you out there that will read every word of this post and still think it sounds too good to be true and/or have a zillion other questions that I can't possibly answer in one blog post. We still get questions about this post almost every single day (in fact, it’s the reason I finally had to turn my blog comments off a while back). Because though I detailed exactly how we transformed our oak cabinets with gray paint, people wonder how the process will work on different cabinets with different colors. So we get questions like…
- Can I use this to paint my laminate kitchen cabinets?
- How do you think the white paint color would work on my very dark cabinets?
- Can I use this paint over existing painted kitchen cabinets?
- Did you REALLY not sand in between coats?
- How much pressure do I need to apply when I use the deglosser?
- Can you see the brush strokes?
So after seeing the need to address all these questions and after countless requests, I finally decided to create a video training series for those of you that have questions and concerns that just can’t be answered in a single blog post. And when you subscribe, you can get it (and a bunch of other stuff) for FREE!
I am so grateful to have found General Finishes Milk Paint. We were thrilled with the results and they held up like a dream for over 5 years. You can read this post to see how they were holding up 22 months later and you can check out my free video series to see how they were holding up 4 years later. This is one of the most worthwhile DIY projects I have ever tackled and it's doable no matter your skill level. It can also be used on bathroom cabinets or for any type of cabinet makeover.
What do you think? Have you thought about painting kitchen cabinets using DIY methods? What’s stopping you? And if you love this project, be sure to pin it for later!
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