There is a plethora of DIY sites and advice out there when it comes to kitchen design and remodeling. Plus all the TV shows, DIY networks, podcasts, neighbors doing it themselves, on and on, and we know how tempting it is to tackle home projects yourself. Painting kitchen cabinets is one of those DIY projects that deserves some serious consideration before you dive in. So many people think that it’s a quick, easy, cheap fix, but it’s far from that.
We get asked a lot about this subject so we thought it was time to write it all out!
Here we’ll explore painting kitchen cabinets yourself, hiring someone to do it for you, or just replacing them altogether.
First, Ask Yourself These Questions
When we first chat with potential clients, we ask them a bunch of questions in order to determine what the best course of action is for their kitchen.
What is the purpose of your kitchen?
This may seem like a silly question, but one of the first questions we ask is this: What is the purpose of your kitchen? And by this we mean, is this a show kitchen? Do you have kids? How often do you cook? How much time do you spend in the kitchen?
The ways in which you actually use your kitchen inform what you should ultimately do, whether you hire out or not.
If you use your kitchen a lot, have kids and a busy schedule, plus have a few concerns with your current setup, consider getting new cabinets. You’d be amazed at the cool (and useful!) things we install in kitchens all the time. (If you click on that link, watch the first video, it’s only two minutes but really shows off some neat features.)
Why do you want to repaint your cabinets?
Do you simply want to renew the look of your kitchen? Or are you unhappy with how the kitchen cabinets themselves function? If you’re dissatisfied with the actual functionality of your kitchen, then repainting them isn’t going to fix that. (You’d be surprised how often we get asked about cabinet painting by people who are unhappy with the cabinet structure itself.)
This should go without saying, but if you want a pantry added to your kitchen, paint isn’t going to fix that.
What are you trying to accomplish?
If you’re trying to completely redo your kitchen, then as we’ve said before, painting isn’t going to help. And if you want more function, you need new cabinets.
If you want to renew the look itself, then either choice may be a good option. It all depends on the quality of your existing cabinets.
Ok, let’s look at your existing cabinets
While this isn’t really a question, it’s an important consideration. Old shelves may be buckling from years of use. Water damage may be present. The cabinets may be cracked. The facing itself may not be reparable. When we go into someone’s home, we spend time looking at the outside and inside of the cabinets. We need to determine if they’re worth keeping. You may only get another five years of use out of your existing cabinets, so is it worth keeping them?
But if you have high-quality wood cabinets that look like they have many years of life left, then painting them may be an excellent choice.
What’s your budget?
First of all, if you’re thinking that when you paint your cabinets all you need to pay for is a can of paint, think again. If your budget is $150, you’re looking at a DIY project that is destined to fail. (Yes, people have told us that their budget is this low!)
Budget is an important consideration and one that often scares people away from getting new cabinets. But trust us, it is worth the extra cost to start from scratch and build your dream kitchen.
If you hire a licensed, experienced professional to repaint your kitchen cabinets, it will cost about $5000 – $6000. No, it’s not cheap, but it’s worth it when it’s done correctly. We’ll go into why it costs this much further down.
If you get completely new cabinets, the cost is between $10,000 to $17,000. This is a large estimated range because, again, it depends on the size of the cabinets and any customized features.
So, getting new cabinets is about twice as much as painting them, but it’s often worth it.
Now let’s get into some nitty-gritty details.
There are only two scenarios in which we will actually paint your cabinets
This is the TL;DR version. Really, there are only two scenarios in which we will agree to paint your existing kitchen cabinets:
- You have really high-quality, solid wood cabinets. You like the layout and design already and are ok skipping on modern kitchen features (soft-close drawers and doors being a common one). Everything else is high quality, and you just want a new look. For you, it makes sense to paint the cabinets.
- You screwed up and got new counters before you got new cabinets. At this point, it makes no sense to rip out your new countertops and backsplash, as once you do that, you can’t reinstall them. All that’s left to do is paint the cabinets that you have.
So if we agreed to paint your cabinets, here’s a high-level overview of our process:
How We Paint Cabinets
If we have visited your home and agreed that your cabinets are high enough quality to keep, then we get started on the painting process. It’s very involved and time-consuming, but in the end, you get cabinets that look brand new.
The work we do to paint (or stain) your cabinets is twice the work but well worth it in the end. Like everything we do, we make sure that it’s done right the first time. We don’t cut corners.
Prep the Area
First of all, we completely take the cabinets apart. The entire kitchen is masked off, including the walls, floor, and inside cabinets. This creates a tent inside your home so that we can use a paint sprayer on all exterior bases of the cabinets. We allow the bases to completely dry before anything gets reinstalled.
In the garage, where most of the work will be done, we create another tent. Every piece of your cabinet is taken to your garage. Sometimes we take pieces to our shop to work on. It just depends on the situation, but typically we do everything in the garage. This minimizes damage to the pieces in transit and cuts down on time. Setting up a space in your garage is much more efficient, anyway. We tarp everything and make sure that everything stays as clean as possible. Nothing gets stuck in the layers of primer and epoxy. We also make sure that nothing else in your garage gets damaged or affected by the paint.
Sanding and Repairs
Every single piece is sanded down. Any holes or gaps are filled with putty and repaired. We sand off all existing lacquer and get down to the bare wood. This can be even more time-consuming for any cabinets near or above the stove, as grease is often present on these surfaces.
Once we get everything looking like new(ish) wood again, we prep all surfaces for paint. We want all the coats to adhere to the wood, and to each other, properly. We want you to end up with a finish that will last as long as possible.
Remember that your cabinets aren’t just pieces of wood. You have to consider the hardware, such as the hinges and knobs. And if any shelves are sagging, we will have to replace those. By the time we’ve prepped everything and replaced the hardware, we’re often already at the price of brand new cabinets. And unlike new cabinets, you likely won’t have modern features, such as soft-close drawers.
Back to the process. So once we’ve examined the existing shelves, doors, and hardware, and prepped everything, we begin the painting process.
If the cabinets we’re painting are solid wood with visible grain, it takes several coats of primer to cover the grain. This is common with those old oak cabinets that were so common for a few decades. Many of these cabinets have a solid, smooth oak frame. But the inner panel is cheaper material with a very visible grain.
Most people nowadays are trying to get away from the wood-look in their cabinets. In order to accomplish this, we apply coat after coat of primer, with plenty of drying time in between. We also have to sand each layer before applying the next layer to ensure that they bond together perfectly.
You may be wondering if applying paint to cover the grain would work. We’ll be upfront with you: that does not work. You always have to use the primer that is intended for the specific end product you’re using, no matter what you’re painting. We have to use primer that’s meant for our epoxy product. Otherwise, the epoxy will easily peel right off of the paint.
We spent several years experimenting with different paints to figure out the best option out there. We wanted to see results with our very own eyes. So we started with rental properties. They often would need painting done, so it was the perfect place to experiment. We would get the painting job done, then visit again after a year.
After trying multiple products in multiple locations, we found that DuraPoxy performed better than any other paint out there. It’s a phenomenal product. Cabinets that saw a ton of use (including holding food, handling spills, getting run into by kids…) still looked brand new after a year. This wasn’t true with any other paint we worked with, including polyurethane and lacquer, which tend to peel off.
If there is a very visible grain on the wood, it often takes just a few coats of DuraPoxy (on top of primer) to ensure that it doesn’t show through.
So, we stick with DuraPoxy for every cabinet that we paint. Bonuses to using DuraPoxy:
- Super heavy-duty
- Glass-like finish
- Very smooth application with no visible brush strokes
- Incredibly durable
- No peeling
- Unlimited color and finish options
- Color match is really good for touchups
We always use satin finish as it makes the cabinets look more luxury. Satin doesn’t have that plastic look and there is very little sheen to it. This makes a huge difference in the look of the cabinets.
You likely will want new knobs and hardware on your new-looking kitchen cabinets. We want everything to look an function like new cabinets would (as much as possible, anyway). If any hinges are wearing out, we’ll replace them. Installing new knobs or handles is definitely essential here, as that simple touch really makes the cabinets look more modern.
Once everything is complete, we reinstall the cabinets and you’re good to go! The entire painting project, from start to finish, is about a week. This depends on the size of the kitchen, and the condition of the cabinets, but a week is the approximate average for most kitchens.
Once your kitchen is complete, you have to keep the cabinet doors open for five to seven days. This is to allow everything to completely cure. This is literally the only downside to using epoxy: it takes longer to cure compared to water-based paints. But it’s well worth the extra few days!
Staining Kitchen Cabinets
You may be wondering about staining rather than painting. This is an option, but it’s not a common one. Most people want painted cabinets, not wood-look. This has been true for years and is a trend that doesn’t seem to be shifting.
But if you really want to re-stain your wood cabinets, that is an option. We would still do the steps above but would be even more diligent about sanding down to the bare wood. Everything gets removed, ensuring that the wood is completely stripped. We need bare wood to prep, prime, stain, and finish in order to provide beautiful re-stained cabinets that look new.
Fresh Coat Painters
To ensure the very best end result, we work with local Fresh Coat Painters, as we do with paint on all our projects. We work together side by side and are never disappointed.
Together, we offer a warranty on all our work. We make sure that it doesn’t peel or chip. Our goal is for you to be happy with the finish!
Maybe you read everything above, watched a few videos, and are convinced that you can do it yourself. If that’s the case, more power to you! It’s possible that you’ll save some money, but more often than not, you will save money if you hire a professional to do it correctly.
Painting kitchen cabinets yourself likely means that you’ll be doing it in stages. This takes considerably more time, efforts, multiple trips to Home Depot, and you’ll end up spending more in the end.
Hiring a professional means that they’ll come in and do it all at once. Trust us, you will save money doing it this way.
In our honest opinion, it just isn’t usually worth it to repaint cabinets. We know the cost savings are huge, but the long-term gains just aren’t there. We believe that if you want to update your kitchen, you should save your money and do it right.
But we’re not here to tell you what to do, and if we agree that painting is an acceptable way to go, we will ensure that you end up with a beautiful end result!