Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets: Simple Steps to a Colorful Makeover

Kitchens are perhaps the busiest rooms in any home.  Whether it’s meal preparation, homework space, or social gatherings, they serve as the hub of family life.  And that means kitchen cabinets must stand up to years of heavy use.  A constant cycle of opening and closing wears out their finish, pots and pans scratch them, and hinges and handles wear out.  But while replacing kitchen cabinets can be a time-consuming, expensive, and difficult task, refinishing kitchen cabinets is not. And, painting kitchen cabinets can deliver stunningly colorful results!

Here’s what you need to know to get this project done.

Getting Ready: Prep Makes Perfect!

When painting kitchen cabinets, removing the doors and drawers is an essential first step. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

My earliest DIY inspiration came from my father who always said the “gettin’ ready” was the most important part of the project!  Years later and no longer an impetuous teenager just looking to get my chores done quickly, I realized how right he was.  Before popping the lid of the paint can, set yourself up for success by getting the space and cabinets ready.

First, clear out furniture and clean out the cabinets from top to bottom.  Then, remove all the cabinet doors, shelves and drawers, and take off the hardware.

Tip: Label the doors and drawers in an inconspicuous area so you’ll know where they belong when the project is complete.  For drawers, mark the bottoms.  For cabinet doors, the area behind the hinge works well.  

Next, cabinet finishes can be magnets for dirt, dust and grease so wash them thoroughly with a solution of TSP (trisodium phosphate).  Be sure to clean the top of the cabinets as well, as dust that gathers here can float down and stick to the finish as it dries.

Evaluate the cabinet surfaces.  Applying a new finish on top of an old finish that’s not adhered to the original surface is a recipe for disaster.  Any loose, chalking or cracked paint surfaces should be scraped smooth.  For most surfaces, and especially those that are glossy, a light sanding will help improve adhesion between the old surface and the primer.

Primer Selection Drives Durability

KILZ3 PREMIUM Primer for Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing
Photo Credit: KILZ

Selecting the right primer for kitchen cabinet refinishing is critical.  The primer helps assure the top-coat of paint adheres to the cabinet, provides durability and helps assure the final finish flows evenly with minimal brush strokes or roller marks.

KILZ 3® PREMIUM Primer is an excellent choice for this part of the project.  The primer provides exceptional adhesion with a mildew-resistant finish, making it ideal for projects in moisture prone areas such as kitchens and bathrooms.  I also like that KILZ3 is what’s known as a “high build” finish.  This means that it can fill in minor imperfections in a cabinet surface, or minimize deep wood grain patterns when painting oak cabinets, for example.  KILZ 3® PREMIUM Primer  is also water-based for easy clean-up, dries quickly, and has a low-odor, low-VOC finish.

Application of primer and top coat on a cabinet door.
Photo credit: KILZ

KILZ3 should be applied evenly using a brush, roller or airless sprayer, as specified by the manufacturer.  Only a single coat is needed.  Set up a space to layout the doors and drawers for priming, and then prime the cabinets working from the top-down.

In this interview with Dr. Greg Williams, the Director of Product Marketing for Behr Paint Company, hosts Tom Kraeutler and Leslie Segrete learn how paint manufacturers create primers with qualities designed specifically for refinishing kitchen cabinets.

Top Coat Counts

Photo Credit: KILZ

Just like primer selection is based on the product’s adhesion, moisture resistance and high-build formulation, equal care should be given to the selection of paint for the top coat.  Over the course of your newly painted kitchen cabinet’s life cycle, doors and drawers will be opened and closed thousands of times.  Moisture in the air will be a constant presence, as will oils and grease given off by years of cooking.  Therefore, you’ll want to select a paint that has excellent durability, and be very easy to clean.

Look for paints made specifically for kitchen cabinets. Magnolia Home by Joanna Gaines® Trim & Cabinetry Paint dries quickly, leaving a hard finish that’s remarkably durable and it is water-based for easy cleanup.  For most projects, plan to apply two-coats and follow the manufacturer’s directions for application.

Add Some Bling

New kitchen cabinet brass door handles
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Once the painting is complete, you’ll have the option to replace the original hardware or add new.  Given the work it’s taken to get to this point in your kitchen cabinet refinishing project, installing new door and drawer pulls adds some bling and provides a nice finishing touch.

This part of the project is easiest if the new hardware fits the holes left by the original hardware.  However, if you plan to go in a completely new direction, it’s easy enough to fill and sand the old holes before you get to the priming step above.  Personally, I also like to replace the hinges as well.  New spring-loaded hinges look good and close nicely.  Finally, install bumpers to the drawers and doors for added durability.

Today, solid-color kitchen cabinets are more popular than ever making this an ideal time to take on a kitchen cabinet refinishing project.  But the success of refinishing kitchen cabinets depends entirely on the details. With the right prep work, a high-quality primer, and a colorful, durable top coat, you can transform this space with a fresh finish that can last for years to come.

Information provided by the Money Pit

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