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!
Hopefully, you have already read all about our kitchen remodel on a budget part 1 and part 2, which included painting our kitchen cabinets–DIY style. I have received TONS of questions about how we did it. So, I am here to tell you how to paint kitchen cabinets without losing your mind! No priming or sanding required. Isn't that good news?!
UPDATE: IF YOU WANT TO READ ALL ABOUT HOW THESE DIY PAINTED CABINETS ARE HOLDING UP AFTER 22 MONTHS, CLICK HERE.
LATEST UPDATE: It's been over 5 years now and our cabinets still look FANTASTIC. If you prefer video tutorials, be sure to check out my video training series–Total Cabinet Transformation.
That's right, friends, I PAINTED MY KITCHEN CABINETS AND LIVED TO TELL YOU ABOUT IT! I am not going to lie. It was a time-consuming project, but we simplified it as much as possible. It would have been much, much worse if I had followed those “how to paint kitchen cabinets like a professional” tutorials.
Here's the truth folks. I am NOT a professional painter. I am a busy, full-time working attorney with a busy, full-time working firefighter husband and we have busy 3 1/2 year old twins. THAT'S WHY WE DECIDED TO GO ALL-IN FOR PAINTING KITCHEN CABINETS LIKE AMATEURS WITH PROFESSIONAL RESULTS. If you are impatient and want to skip down to the tutorial, go ahead. If you are curious about how and why we decided to use the materials that we used, read this whole post because it will teach you not only how to paint kitchen cabinets without priming or sanding, but also why we made the decisions to use the products that we did.
A bit of background…
Now, I know a lot of you are reluctant to paint kitchen cabinets, and we were, too. We were really, really concerned about the durability of the paint, since we hope that this makeover will carry us 5 to 10 years before we do a complete gut-job renovation. You may recall that I painted the cabinets in our laundry room about 9 months ago using regular latex paint that we had leftover from another project. Well, I am sad to tell you that some of that paint chipped off ON THE VERY FIRST DAY after we rehung the doors. So, you can see why we were nervous. But the finish on our kitchen cabinets was badly damaged and we didn't care for the orange oak look, so something had to be done.
Because of our concern about paint durability, we had all but decided to stain our cabinets using Java Gel Stain by General Finishes. You have probably seen stunning cabinet transformations using the General Finishes Java Gel Stain all over the place. Seriously amazing stuff. And General Finishes generously sent me a sample of the Java Gel Stain to try out.
But as we exchanged emails about my kitchen project, the folks at General Finishes also mentioned that they have a line of Milk Paint, which is a high quality acrylic paint that is very durable. WHAT’S THAT YOU SAY???? I was so excited about the possibilities.
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After further exchanges, I learned that using the General Finishes Milk Paint in conjunction with General Finishes High-Performance Top Coat, our kitchen cabinets should withstand daily use just fine. YAY! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the Java Gel Stain cabinet projects I have seen, but I had dreamed of grey cabinets. It was my heart’s desire. So, General Finishes provided me with 3 pint sizes of the grey colors the Milk Paint comes in (Seagull Gray, Driftwood and Queenstown Gray) so I could test them out. You can order pint sizes on Amazon here.
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.
First of all, I was completely amazed by how well one coat of the paint covered our outdated oak cabinet. But what most impressed me about this paint is that YOU CANNOT SEE PAINT BRUSH MARKS. Seriously. There is not a brush mark to be seen on our cabinets. It’s amazing. AND this paint dries quickly and is not tacky, like latex paints. Are you ready for the best part? YOU DON’T HAVE TO PRIME BEFORE YOU PAINT WITH THIS STUFF. I was sold. There was no question that I wanted to paint our cabinets with General Finishes Milk Paint.
It have to stress that I am NOT being compensated by General Finishes is any way whatsoever to recommend it to you. General Finishes did provide me with the paint I needed to complete my project, but all opinions are 100% my own. I am recommending it to you solely because it is AMAZING. I honestly would recommend against painting kitchen cabinets unless you use General Finishes Milk Paint. We only painted ours because we found this awesome paint.
How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding or Priming
- General Finishes Milk Paint
- We used Seagull Gray for the perimeter cabinets and Driftwood Gray for the island.
- We used 3 quarts of the Seagull Gray and 2 pints of the Driftwood Gray.
- General Finishes High-PerformanceTop Coat
- We chose the flat finish.
- We used about 1/2 gallon, applying 3 coats of the top coat.
- Paint deglosser
- Foam rollers
- Paint brushes
- Metal finish spray paint (if you are painting your old hinges, like we did)
There are so many detailed tutorials about how to paint your cabinets like the professionals. 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.
First note that we worked in sections (i.e., kitchen island one day, upper cabinets sink area another day, etc.) We also elected NOT to paint the interior of our cabinets because they are in good shape and frankly, we did not have the time or patience to do it. This saved us the added hassle of having to pack up our entire kitchen. We left everything in place in our cabinets. This allowed us to remain sane through the process because the kitchen was still usable, which was pretty vital for our busy family of 4. Now, here are the steps you will need to follow to paint your kitchen cabinets:
1) Remove all hardware.
2) Remove doors and drawers. You will have to empty your drawers, but everything can stay in your cabinets!
3) If you don’t like the color of your hinges, you can spray paint them! It's way more economical than buying new ones. 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.
4) Wipe down cabinets, doors and drawers to remove any dirt and grime (we used Lysol wipes).
5) Wipe down cabinets, doors and drawers with liquid de-glosser, like this one Rust-Oleum Zinsser Deglosser. This is a quick wipe down. You do not need to scrub the old finish off. In fact, your cabinets may not look any different after you wipe them down—that is okay.
6) Patch any holes that you will not be reusing with spackle and sand appropriately.
7) If you are using General Finishes Milk Paint, DO NOT SAND! DO NOT PRIME! If you are using any other kind of paint, I am sorry to say that you probably cannot skip these steps. So, step 8 is… get busy painting. We applied two coats of the General Finishes Milk Paint. We used a paint brush for detail work and a dense foam roller for larger surfaces. We used 3 quarts of the Seagull gray and 2 pints of the Driftwood. We also used about 1/2 gallon of the top coat. This paint gives excellent coverage and goes a long way.
NOTE: You can see in the photo above that we had not yet painted the crown molding and/or trim white. It was still the color of puke and looked HORRIBLE with the wall color. You can read all about the painting of the trim and what a difference it made here.
8) After you 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 top coat. Rest assured this step moves fairly quickly.
9) Once everything is dry, rehang your doors and replace your drawers.
10) Attach your hardware. We ditched our old hardware (not my style) and replaced it with Ikea LANSA Stainless Steel Drawer Cabinet 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. It really updates the space. Don't have an Ikea nearby? Don't worry, Amazon has you covered. It offers all the different lengths that Ikea does, but I have to tell you, they are more expensive on Amazon.
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.
ADDED September 2018: Now, I know there are LOTS of you out there that are going to read this and 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 with work on different cabinets with different colors. So we got 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 this paint this 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?
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.
My video series, Total Cabinet Transformation, is now available. If you want to update your kitchen, but can’t afford to replace your cabinets or hire a painter to paint them for you, this is the training for you. It’s short, but thorough. In about an hour, you will know everything you need to transform your kitchen cabinets the “lazy” way. Minimal effort. Maximum results.
You can also read all about how we transformed our kitchen backsplash by painting it. Talk about a thrifty transformation! (We did replace it about a year later, but not because the paint wasn't holding up–it still looked great, but you can see our new laminate backsplash here). And if you haven't check out the full reveal, I hope you will–there is A LOT more to see! You can see part 1 of the reveal here, and part 2 of the reveal here. You can also learn all about our pantry makeover here.
I am so grateful to have found General Finishes Milk Paint. I am so happy to have the gray cabinets of my dreams and there is not a nick, ding or scratch (or brush mark) anywhere so far. We are thrilled with how durable the finish is.
UPDATE: IF YOU WANT TO READ ALL ABOUT HOW THESE CABINETS ARE HOLDING UP AFTER 22 MONTHS, CLICK HERE.
LATEST UPDATE: It's been over 5 years now and our cabinets still look FANTASTIC.
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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I was not financially compensated for this post. I received free product from General Finishes to complete my project. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.