Should I Paint My Kitchen Cabinets? Crucial Questions to Ask Before Getting Started

Remodeling your kitchen is one of the most rewarding home improvement projects out there! But it can be quite expensive if you replace your kitchen cabinets. Fortunately, one of the most budget-friendly ways to giving your kitchen a fresh new look is via painting kitchen cabinets. I get asked all the time, “should I paint my kitchen cabinets?” So I'm finally giving you all of my thoughts on the subject, including the essential questions that you should ask yourself before whipping out your paint brush.

woman painting her kitchen cabinets

My Experience With Painting Kitchen Cabinets 3 Times

Y'all, I've painted kitchen cabinets 3 different times. I painted my kitchen cabinets without priming or sanding in our old house and they turned out beautifully. We even did a check-in after two years to prove how well our DIY painted cabinets held up. They held up perfectly for over 5-years until we fully renovated our kitchen last year. It was seriously incredible, folks. 

diy painted kitchen cabinets

More recently, I painted my friend Thea's kitchen cabinets with totally different products and a different method and it was even quicker and easier! The project was completed 3 years ago (you can see her $997 complete kitchen transformation in this post–it's pretty epic) and so far her cabinets are holding up PERFECTLY.

And most recently, I painted my own kitchen cabinets as part of our budget-friendly kitchen makeover in our new house about 2 years ago using the same method. Long story short… I know quite a bit about painting kitchen cabinets.


So at least once a week I get asked, “Should I paint my kitchen cabinets?” My answer is that it depends! You need to go through the list of questions below before deciding if it's a project that makes sense for you.

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Crucial Questions to Ask Before Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets

Before you begin painting kitchen cabinets, these are the questions you need to think about and answer.

What is your budget?

Before starting a renovation project, including painting kitchen cabinets, you have to consider your budget. Generally, painting your cabinets is more cost-effective than replacing them entirely. And obviously you save the most if you paint the cabinets yourself. But even the DIY kitchen cabinet painting route will cost you several hundred dollars on the supplies you need. And if you want to replace hinges and hardware, you could spend close to $1,000.

Hiring a professional to paint your kitchen cabinets can be more expensive than you might realize. The cost depends on the size of your kitchen, the number of cabinets, the quality of paint, etc. The average cost of painting kitchen cabinets is $100 per drawer face and $175 per cabinet door, which averages out to around $4,500 for a typical kitchen. And there's no guarantee that a professional will do a better job than you! I've had many friends with botched kitchen cabinet painting jobs. So if you do hire a professional, get plenty of references and CALL THEM! Even better if they are willing to let you see their painted cabinets in person.

What are your kitchen cabinets made out of?

Most cabinets are made of solid wood. Some cabinets, however, are made of stainless steel (plain or powder-coated) or engineered wood. Engineered wood cabinets might be made from MDF, plywood, particleboard and covered with veneer, thermofoil or laminate.

Solid wood kitchen cabinets are a dream to paint. Unfortunately, engineered cupboards that aren’t solid wood aren’t as easy to paint. Paint doesn’t adhere to the finished surface as easily and will often peel off or chip. To prevent chipping of most paints, the engineered wood cabinets will most likely need light sanding and priming before painting. Test in an inconspicuous spot beforehand. Once dry, test the paint to ensure the dried product won’t flake or chip with frequent use, especially in the kitchen.

Are my cabinets made of something else that paint can adhere to?

There are lots of good kitchen cabinet paints out there. And they are all created to be durable and to adhere to different materials.

The General Finishes Milk Paint I used to paint the kitchen cabinets in our old house adheres remarkably well to lots of different surfaces. So even if you have cabinets that aren't solid wood, don't give up all hope of painting them!

This is what General Finishes says about its Milk Paint, “General Finishes milk paints will adhere to a variety of surfaces including wood, fiberglass, PVC, vinyl, and most composite materials. Additionally, these paints can be applied over existing finishes, stains and other paints so long as the existing finish is fully dry. However, when painting over other finishes, it’s important to always test a small area first to make sure the paint adheres well to the original surface.” So if you don't have solid wood cabinets, don't give up hope! Just order a pint-size can of the General Finishes Milk Paint to test it out first!

I tested 3 colors when we tackled our project. It helped me choose the color AND gave me the confidence that the paint had excellent adhesion.

 paint samples on cabinet

The Fusion Mineral Paint we used in Thea's kitchen also have excellent adhesion and durability, and it comes in a broad range of beautiful colors.

paint samples on cabinet

What is the finish on your cabinets?

Assuming your cupboards are solid wood, also double-check the finish. Most stains and polyurethane finishes can be covered over but you may run into issues if you’re going from a painted finish to a stain, for example. To remove latex paint, you will need to sand the cupboards first. Latex-painted cupboards may be a case where refacing kitchen cabinets with new doors is a better option.

As I mentioned above, we used General Finishes Milk Paint on our old cabinets, but their Java Gel Stain is also fantastic (assuming you want to take your cupboards into a darker finish). The Java Stain is a thick gel stain, which covers nearly anything. You can see how we darkened a light pine cabinet with the Java Gel Stain in this post. One thought to keep in mind though: it’s far easier to darken a light finish than to lighten up a dark paint or stain without primer.

And we used Fusion Mineral Paint products to totally transform Thea's cabinets. Thea's cabinets were a painted wood already, so all we had to do was given them a light, scuff-sanding which took about 30 minutes. You can read all about how we prepped and painted Thea's cabinets in this post. Or if you prefer video tutorials, you can watch how we did it in the video below.

How do you feel about the wood grain (if any) of your cabinets?

I get asked all the time whether we could still see the grain of our oak cabinets after they were painted. The answer is YES, and we were fine with that. I am not aware of any paint that will fill in wood grain, unfortunately.

That said, the General Finishes Milk Paint is a very flat finish and the top coat we used is also the flat finish, though it did add a tiny bit of sheen. The flat finish really minimized how noticeable the grain is because of the minimal light reflection. But the grain was still visible.

If you absolutely can't stand seeing the grain, then you will either need to follow a process like this one to eliminate the grain, or you should consider refacing or replacing your cabinets.

How much time do you have?

Painting kitchen cabinets is a realistic DIY project BUT the process will definitely derail your normal kitchen routine for at least a few days.

When we painted the cabinets in our old house, we were able to keep the dishes in the cupboards because we opted not to paint the insides. The paint dried very quickly and we were able to finish in a matter of days, but it was a MESS while we were working on it.

DIY painted kitchen cabinets

Painting Thea's kitchen cabinets moved even more quickly because we didn't pack a thing and didn't even remove the cabinet doors to paint them. But it still meant her kitchen was out of commission while we worked on her cabinets.

DIY kitchen cabinet painting

Bottom line… Consider your “Plan B” in case your plan goes awry. If you run out of paint, decide you don’t like the look or realize the project is tougher than you hoped to take on, what will you do without your kitchen during that time?

Kitchen renovations are tough because the kitchen is such a central part of our homes. Keep in mind that with the right paint and plan, the project CAN go very quickly. Just block out enough time so you finish up before a scheduling conflict. This isn’t a project to take on the day before Thanksgiving, for example.

How fussy are you about details?

I’m a little particular about certain details, of course, but I can handle slight imperfections. For example, it didn't bother me that insides of our cupboards weren't painted. We DID paint the inside of the doors, just not the interior of the cabinet boxes themselves. I like quality, but I don’t mind a little normal wear and tear (it comes with the Mom-of-Twins territory).

If you are particular about details and want everything absolutely perfect, weigh your time against the cost. If you’re going to stay up at night making sure paint is cut perfectly or worrying about tiny details, then painting kitchen cabinets may not be the project for you.

 diy painted kitchen cabinets

What kind of shape are your cabinets in?

Before taking on a kitchen cabinet painting project, really ask yourself if what kind of shape your cabinets are in. Are they even worth painting? If your cabinets are in really bad condition are beat up, a coat of paint isn't going to improve their overall condition.

But if they are in pretty good shape (no rot, warping, peeling, cracking, etc.), painting them and replacing the hardware to update the look even further is a great option!

In Thea's kitchen, we were able to keep the hidden hinges (we just painted around them) and we replaced the hardware with these modern, beautiful and seriously inexpensive knobs.

DIY painted kitchen cabinets

What is the cost of a replacement vs. refinish?

This question is usually the clincher for most people. When I painted my kitchen cabinets, we were able to update the entire kitchen for $700, including flooring, fixtures, everything–the whole shebang. And Thea's entire kitchen makeover cost $997 (including updated lighting, rug, cabinet hardware and all decor and accessories).

Y'all, those prices can’t be beaten! Trust me, I know how expensive completely gutting and renovating a kitchen is because eventually did a huge, full kitchen remodel in our old home. Keep in mind that if your cabinet structure is good but you don’t like design elements of the doors, you could look into refacing your cabinets by swapping out only the doors. It's still less expensive than replacing all of your cabinets.

Of course, you should weigh in other costs as well–your time, sanity and stress levels. Painting kitchen cabinets is one of the most cost-effective kitchen transformations you can take on. It’s well worth the cost in most cases.

How happy are you with the existing layout?

If you’re happy with the layout of your kitchen and simply need a modern update and change, painting your cabinets is absolutely the way to go. Painting your kitchen cabinets is an easy solution and can get you much closer to the kitchen of your dreams.

If your kitchen is small, your cupboards are lacking and you need to add cupboards, then painting might not be the best solution. Obviously, painting won’t change the cupboard layout or the amount of storage in your kitchen. One option to consider is an open-shelving look on the top cupboards and painting the lowers. Or you could add an island or resurface the doors which would allow you to skip a total overhaul but increase the storage.

We painted the kitchen cabinets in our old home as a temporary update until we could fully renovate the kitchen. Those painted cabinets allowed us to enjoy our kitchen for over 6 years while we saved for our full kitchen renovation. We knew we would do a full renovation eventually because we wanted to change the layout of our kitchen (including taking a wall down between our kitchen and dining room). It took such a long time to save, that it was worth every penny and every minute we spent on our kitchen cabinet painting! 

Painting kitchen cabinets is a great solution for anyone who’s interested in a cosmetic update. So if you keep asking yourself, “Should I paint my kitchen cabinets?”…then, answer these questions first to really start your kitchen painting project off the right way! I promise you can do it and still keep your sanity intact!

You may also enjoy these budget-friendly kitchen idea posts:

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blog post signature with photo of Tasha Agruso of Kaleidoscope Living

One Comment

  1. The milk paint did an amazing job and I’m shocked there was no sanding or priming involved! Your cabinets look great! I have ugly orange wood built-ins I’ve been hoping my landlord would agree to me painting, but haven’t asked yet b/c I dread the idea of sanding them. Milk paint sounds like exactly what I need, so thanks for the tip! Not sure it’s in my near future, but I’ll use your links if I’m able to.

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