Now I know what you’re thinking… “Is prepping kitchen cabinets for paint really necessary? How about I use the ‘No Prep No Sanding’ type of paint and just be done with it?”
Well sister, I’m about to break your heart, but at the same time I’m gonna hold your hand and walk you through this. So grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and let’s sit down and talk about this for awhile.
This post is sponsored by General Finishes Milk Paint and D. Lawless Hardware. You can read my full disclosure here.
I’m not only going to tell you what you need to do to prep those cabinets, but I’m also going to tell you why you need to prep. Once you understand the why behind it all, I think you’ll agree that a good prep is essential, especially for kitchen cabinets.
Yes, it’s going to be a big PITA but the end results will be well worth it. Trust me.
Are you ready? Let’s take a deep, calming breath and dig into it.
Researching My Options
About a year ago I started researching the best way to prep and paint kitchen cabinets. I read articles from paint and woodworking professionals, from bloggers turned painters, and from painters turned bloggers. I talked with people on Facebook painted furniture groups and noted the things that had gone really well, along with the things they wished they had done differently.
I then tried out different kinds of paints. I used General Finishes milk paint on my china cabinet makeover and dining room table. I used homemade chalk paint on a variety of craft projects and small furniture pieces. I tried plain latex I guess you could say for old times sake. And what I decided was that each type of paint is perfect for certain types of projects, but would not necessarily be a good choice for kitchen cabinets.
Once I had decided to use General Finishes milk paint I did a little more research to determine the best method of prepping my kitchen cabinets for their particular type of paint.
Things to Consider Before Prepping the Cabinets
I’m going to start off with a word or two of advice here. Out of all of the articles I read, I never came across any practical tips on how to go about the project in its entirety.
I’ve painted plenty of furniture before, but the difference is that a dresser or china cabinet is only so big and you can easily see an end in sight when working on it. Kitchen cabinets are so much bigger and it’s easy to feel like you will never, ever be done. And if you’re like me, then you’re still trying to feed your family out of it while the kitchen is all torn apart. Of course these tips are based on kitchen size and the amount of time you have to devote to the project each day.
• Do yourself a favor and divide it up into small chunks and then work on one section at a time.
This way you won’t feel as rushed to get through all of the doors and drawers within a certain time frame. The mess will be smaller and you can perfect your technique from start to finish on that one small section of cabinets before moving on to the next section. Prep, paint, seal, and then put the doors and drawers back on before moving to the next section.
• Start with a cabinet that is hidden from view.
I suggest starting with the cabinets that are over the refrigerator. By the time you reach the cabinets which house the glasses and plates your technique will have drastically improved and you’ll be a much happier camper each time you reach for a glass or plate.
• Do all of the prepping one day and start painting the next.
I’ll be the first to admit that I want to jump right into a project and start seeing results, but let me tell you, painting my kitchen cabinets has kicked my butt over and over. I quickly realized that it’s better to do all of the prep work one day then clean up my mess and start painting the cabinets the following day.
• Be amenable to stopping early if you get tired.
Tired painters make for sloppy painters. You’ll be living with this paint job for quite some time so don’t mess it up just because you want to get finished.
• Have the right tools for the right job.
Whether you are prepping, painting, or sealing your kitchen cabinets, having the right tools is of the utmost importance.
Prepping Kitchen Cabinets For Paint
Remove doors, drawers, and hardware
When I start on section of kitchen cabinets, the first thing I do is remove the doors and drawers from the cabinet box. I then remove the hardware and store it in a baggie. The screws which hold the hinges in place should be stored in a separate baggie. labeled, and set aside.
Label doors according to location.
After I remove the hardware from the drawers, I then use a drill to remove the drawer faces. You’ll find a couple of screws on the inside of the drawer which holds the decorative drawer face onto the drawer.
If you’re wondering if this step is necessary then I’m going to reassure that it is. Honestly it’s easier to prep, paint, and seal the drawer faces if they’re laying flat. You’ll be able to get cleaner lines without having to worry about paint or sealer dripping from a vertical surface.
Remove the felt pads from the backs of the doors and drawers.
Use rubbing alcohol to remove the sticky residue from the felt pad.
Kitchen cabinets are notorious for having a greasy build up on their surfaces. Grease can come from oils which are naturally produced in our body, hand lotion, or from cooking grease. If you want your paint to adhere to the wood and not flake off, then it’s imperative to remove all traces of grease.
I use Dawn dishwashing liquid and a green Scotch Brite pad to degrease our cabinets. I gently scrub the wood in the direction of the grain. I rinse the soapy residue off with a wet cloth and then dry the wood with a clean towel.
As you can see in the picture below, I have a clean towel laid on top of my counter by the sink. I degrease, rinse, and dry the back side of the door before flipping it over and doing the front side. Since I’m standing next to the sink, I can easily rinse my Scotch Brite pad and rinsing cloth as needed.
Note: Be sure to rinse all the soapy residue off or it can show through your paint!
Many people prefer to use TSP as a degreaser; however, it is not compatible with certain primers. To put in plain English, if you use TSP prior to priming your cabinets, the primer may not stick to the wood and it will flake and peel off!!! Read the labels on the products you are using to ensure they are compatible.
I lightly sand all surfaces of the cabinet box, doors, and drawer faces using a medium coarse sanding block. This isn’t a major sanding fete. Think of it as wiping down your countertops. You should put in the same amount of effort and force as you do when clean your counters. After sanding wipe the dust off with a tack cloth.
Why do we need to sand? If the wood is too slick then the paint won’t have anything to grab onto and once again you risk the painting chipping off. Sanding will also even out any knicks or grooves in the wood which give a smoother finish.
Why use a sanding block instead of sand paper? A sanding block applies even pressure throughout; however, when sand paper is used pressure may be applied unevenly and scratches (those ugly white lines left behind after sanding) can happen.
Note: Degreasing and sanding need to be done for all cabinet boxes, too!
At this point in the process I usually stop for the day and clean up my mess. If it’s going to be a few days before I paint the cabinet boxes, then I will put the hardware back on the drawers and put them back in the cabinets. I will remove the drawers when I paint or seal the boxes.
Denatured Alcohol + Water
If you plan on starting the painting process at this point then I would wipe down the sanded wood with a 50:50 mixture of denatured alcohol and water on a lint free cloth. This will remove any remaining grit or lint from the wood.
Whew! Now you are ready to paint!