Cabinet Paint Explained: The Best Paint For Cabinets

Have you been wanting to do something drastic in your home? Painting your cabinets in your home can have a huge impact at a reasonable cost. If you want to paint your cabinets, whether that be kitchen, bathroom, or built-ins, then you are in the right place. In this post, I’ll go over the best paint for your cabinets. What a huge undertaking it is but the payoff is so incredibly worth it!

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crisp white kitchen with mixed metals

Cabinet Paint Explained: The Best Paint For Cabinets

I’ve spent my fair share of time painting kitchen cabinets. Cabinet painting makes an incredible impact to a room and is a super cost effective way to update an outdated space. You can make a huge impact without buying new cabinet doors. Before you take on this project, you’ll want to make sure you have the best cabinet paint and correct finish for a paint job that will stand the test of time.

Cream and gold kitchen
Beautiful cabinets painted in Benjamin Moore Pale Oak, designed by Andrea McQueen.

Painting Existing Cabinet Doors

If you have never painted cabinets before, my advice is to begin with a smaller project to gain confidence. You don’t need to jump into a large renovation project right away. Rather, try your hand at a smaller project like a laundry room or bathroom to help you get proficient in the process and hone your technique.

There is never a great time to start a major project. Between kids being in school, work, and daily life, it is easy to put your home projects on the back burner. If you decide to take the leap and update your home for the change, you can check out my kitchen cabinet process here. It isn’t always easy, but with some hard work and determination you can do it.

pink painted stock cabinets
Our DIY stock cabinets can be found here.

Whether you are renovating your entire kitchen or simply changing out your decor, you’ll need to determine what is within your budget for the change. One way to help you stay on budget is to use what you have on hand. If you have cabinets that are already in great shape, then painting them to update their look makes sense. Replacing kitchen cabinets is not only expensive, but is a major renovation. I choose to avoid waste as much as possible which is why painting them works for our family.

To avoid ruining our functionally sound cabinets, I made sure to learn all the best steps along the way. I hope these tips and tricks will help you avoid any stumblings and give you confidence to take on this project. 

diy painted kitchen cabinets

Kitchen Cabinet Painting & Stock Cabinets

Between a pandemic, move, renovation, and a HgTV appearance, a lot can change. One thing that remains constant is my need to DIY

The playroom in our new home doesn’t have a lot of storage space. To help organize all of our toys, a built in system would be the perfect solution. In our last house, stock cabinets were so easy to work with that I knew they were the key for our new playroom. For our DIY with stock cabinets, see our post here

Presently, Sam and I are in the middle of building built-ins in our living room (more on that later). Of course, I’ll need to find the right interior paint finish and a good quality paint to complete that project.

Between our bathroom, kitchen, playroom, and built-ins, I feel confident in our ability to paint our cabinets. I’m glad I was able to take the leap of faith and begin that first bathroom project. All of this is to say that even though painting cabinets can be overwhelming, don’t let it stop you from making a change.

This is such a great DIY and relatively inexpensive project that you can do with minimal tools. You just need to do the proper prep work: research and supplies.

white painted cabinets with white backsplash
Check out my post on our DIY repainting cabinets here

Painting Kitchen Cabinets: Do Your Research On Paint & Prepare Wisely

When you begin gathering information on painting your cabinets, whether that be bathroom cabinets, kitchen cabinet doors and drawers, or bare wood built-ins, you need to make sure you get the right type of paint. 

Not all paint is equal and you’ll need to ensure you are picking the best paint for the project. You may know that paint can come in different forms: oil paints, latex paint, alkyd paint, chalk paint, etc. 

All are different kinds of paint. So let’s quickly go over some of these foreign paints and talk about which ones you want to look for and which ones you’ll want to straight up run from during your cabinet painting project.

light rustic kitchen with farmhouse sink
Beautiful kitchen can be found here.

Oil Based Paint

True oil based paints are no longer available in today’s environmentally conscious world. These paints have a strong smell and have volatile organic compounds that can spontaneously combust. Let’s avoid burning our homes down, shall we? 

Latex Paint

Latex paint may be a paint that you commonly see in a paint store. Latex paint is a water based paint made from acrylic resin. Like latex, acrylic paint is also made from acrylic resin but instead of being water based, acrylic paint is a chemical based paint that makes the paint a bit more elastic than latex. 

Latex can be easily cleaned with soap and water, and is a popular choice for painting walls in homes. However, latex cabinet paint can flake more easily. This in turn makes latex paint a poor choice for painting cabinets. Acrylic paint, on the other hand, is better at expanding and less likely to flake with temperature changes. 

Wood swells and contracts with temperature changes. If your cabinets are painted with latex, you’ll notice cracking. Who wants to spend time painting their kitchen

cabinets just to have them flake off?

colorful cabinet built ins
These beautiful built-ins were designed by Bria Hammel Interiors

Enamel Paint

Enamel paint is another durable paint option for cabinets. Enamel paint is a paint that dries as a hard and glossy substance, not much unlike nail polish. This can be very beneficial for projects that require durability (like cabinets). However, this kind of paint is oil based and can be difficult to clean up and gives off pungent fumes. 

What is The Best Kitchen Cabinet Paint?

What you really need is a durable paint that has properties that are similar to an oil based paint but is a water based paint with easy clean up, quick dry time, and low VOCs like latex paint. What I just described is a paint known as alkyd paint. 

Alkyd Paint

Alkyd paint is a great paint for cabinets in that it mimics the durability of oil based paints but cleans up like latex with warm water and soap. Alkyd cabinet paint dries with a hard surface (similarly to enamel) that typically only requires one coat of paint (not always but typically). 

You don’t generally see brush strokes or roller marks (down side of latex paint) and the paint overall is very durable. This is key if you decide to use this type of paint in your kitchen. Consider the amount of dirt and grime that your cabinets will be in contact with. Wiping down latex cabinets in a kitchen will lead to worn out and flaking paint. Alkyd paint is a great option for kitchen cabinets and cabinets in high traffic areas.

renovated powder bath with wallpaper
Studio McGee uses Benjamin Moore Intrigue in this bathroom. 

While we have covered many types of paints, in the end, the choice is yours. You need to consider the type of project you are doing in your home, your budget, and your end goal. Do you have cabinets that are being painted in a high touch area of your home that will be prone to spills and stains like kitchens (and a child’s bathroom perhaps?).

Keep Paint Finishes In Mind

 Once you pick the type of paint you’ll want to use, keep in mind that paint can come in several finishes. You’ll want to pick a durable finish for cabinet doors. One that can handle high traffic, being wiped clean, and avoid showing fingerprints and scuffs. A high-gloss finish will give you the best results. 

The higher gloss reflects light providing a smooth finish that is not only shiny, but can be wiped clean easily. A semi-gloss finish would also be a good choice as it is still durable, easily cleaned, and less likely to show scuffs. Matte finishes tend to be dull and can easily show those spills and stains.

navy and gold vanity
Benjamin Moore Hale Navy in this bathroom created by the Holst Brothers.

Tips for Painting Kitchen Cabinets

I have a more in depth post on how to paint kitchen cabinets in this post, but still wanted to get you started here in this post as well. 

Before you go to Home Depot or Sherwin Williams to pick out your new paint, let’s talk about prep work first. Now that you know the various types of paints that can be used, you need to have a game plan on how to actually paint your kitchen cabinets. 

So don’t go picking out a new color just yet! To get good results, you’ll need to put in some serious prep work first. The end result will be well worth it but these things take time, best not to rush it! 

Step 1: Take Apart Your Kitchen

If you aren’t a fan of clutter or messes, you are going to hate this project. Breathe. It will all be put back together again later. You’ll need to take apart your entire kitchen. That means take all your drawer fronts off, hardware off the drawer fronts, and cabinet doors off the hinges. You’ll want to label your cabinet doors (left, right) so you don’t get them confused.

 Keep the hardware in bags and label them as well. If you are switching out the hardware, then feel free to disregard. However, keep in mind that not all hardware is applied in the same way. You’ll want to get hardware that matches the drilled holes already existing in your cabinet drawers and doors. 

Of course you can get different ones, but it may require some extra elbow grease, wood filler and sanding in the end. Now you may be thinking, “There is no way I’m taking my doors off and disturbing my kitchen,” And if that is the case, then you might as well just turn around and not even start the project. Yes, you must take the doors off the hinges. Yes, you must label the doors. Yes, this does make the biggest difference. If you don’t, you won’t get a professional looking outcome.

green painted kitchen cabinets
Incredible kitchen by Emily Henderson. 

Step 2: Dexter-ize Your Kitchen

Have you ever seen Dexter where he takes all the plastic sheeting and uses it to contain the blood in his “kill room”? If you haven’t seen Dexter, just trust me on this. You are going to make your kitchen space very Dexter-esque. 

Take plastic sheeting and tape it across your appliances, backsplash, inside of the cabinets, etc. You want to prevent paint from spraying or getting anywhere it shouldn’t go. 

Step 3: De-Funk Your Cabinets

Next, you’ll want to invest in some serious degreaser. All of the cabinets will be cleaned to get all of that built up grime off the surface space that will be painted. You can buy products at your local hardware store that are specific to cabinet cleaning. If you skip this step, your paint won’t stick well and you won’t get a smooth surface. 

If you have any imperfections that need to be fixed, now is a great time to do it. Wood filler can be used to fix any dings or holes that require attention. Once cleaned and patched, you’ll want to sand your cabinets. 

We used this sander with 220 grit sandpaper in our last project. If you don’t own a sander, you can rent one or use some elbow grease with a sander block. 

Once sanded, you’ll need to rinse and wipe down the cabinets again to completely rid them of any debris. This step goes a long way in creating that professional finish at the end.  I go much more in depth on this part of the process in my blog post about painting our cabinets.

Green Shaker Cabinet Bathroom
Lexi Webster did an amazing job with this bathroom!

Beautiful bathroom cabinets by Lexi Westergard. 

Step 4: Prime Time

Grab your paint brushes and foam roller and apply your first coat of primer. You may need a second coat depending on how dark your cabinets are and how light you are going. I’d say if you are going from dark cabinets to white cabinets, a second coat of primer wouldn’t hurt. Keep in mind, you don’t want to lose the labeled doors. 

You need to keep track of this! Allow your primer drying time before going on to the next step. Once the primer is nice and dry, you’ll want to sand (yes, again). This is going to be a quick sanding to create that nice smooth finish. It’s a good choice to use a microfiber cloth to dry your cabinets to ensure all debris is free.

dark kitchen island
Amber Interiors designed this beautiful kitchen.

Step 5: Paint

Patience is key here, people. You can’t rush perfection. We started with our cabinets and then moved on to the doors. With the cabinets, we applied a base coat of paint first with brushes and foam rollers. We allowed a dry time of 24 hours and then we lightly sanded the cabinets. 

After we washed the dust off and dried the cabinets, then we added an additional second coat. Again, we allowed 24 hours of drying and then added a 3rd coat. Yes, there were multiple coats of paint, but we wanted to ensure that we had the best coverage. For the doors of the cabinets, we followed the same process. 

Keep in mind, you may have details on doors that require some brush work. Do that first and then smooth it out with a foam roller to finish the process to avoid brush marks. An alternative is to use a paint sprayer rather than rollers and brushes. 

Professional painters use a paint sprayer for a seamless finish, but I will say that they can be pretty expensive and you have to be proficient in using it. If it is your first time using a paint sprayer, you may want to get some practice under your belt before busting out cabinet painting. 

Step 6: Re-Assemble

Lastly, reassemble your kitchen once your cabinets and doors are fully dried. This is the fun part! You get to admire your work!

two toned kitchen
Kitchen by Kate Marker Interiors. 

The Best Paints I’ve Found

Now that you’ve decided to take on this DIY, you’ll want to pick out new paint to get you the best end result. You don’t need to invest in premium paint to get a professional finish. There are some great cabinet paint brands out there to fit every person’s budget.

best paint for your cabinets

1. Behr Premium Semi-Gloss Cabinet and Trim Enamel

We used Behr’s Premium Semi-Gloss Cabinet and Trim paint at our last house. This is a popular choice, available at Home Depot. Since it is an enamel paint, this dries as a hard and durable finish that is excellent for your kitchen. The semi-gloss paint is a great choice in our kitchen as it is washable and does not easily show grime and dirt. 

2. Behr Semi-Gloss Alkyd Enamel

This is another great pick that is available at Home Depot. Honestly, this is extremely similar to the Semi-Gloss Cabinet & Trim Enamel by Behr. The alkyd paint acts like an oil based paint with the ease of clean up like a water based paint. This does give you a bit more ability to use with other materials like stucco, wrought iron, and brick. 

3. Benjamin Moore Advance Interior-High Gloss 

Benjamin Moore’s Advance line is an alkyd based paint product that creates a great finish with easy clean up. You get the same benefits of the oil based product without all the hassle. High gloss is a popular choice because of its durability and likelihood to hide smudges and stains. This does cost a bit more in comparison to the Behr line. 

4. Benjamin Moore Advance Interior- Satin Paint 

I added in the same Benjamin Moore Advance line but in a satin finish. Normally, you don’t expect to see a satin finish in cabinets because of the durability and the fact that it can show smudges. However, this satin finish is a great option if you don’t want that full high gloss shine but still want to hide those smudges. As a bonus, Benjamin Moore carries thousands of different colors! 

5. PPG Break-Through 

This is a water based acrylic so clean-up is easy and comparable to an alkyd paint. The finished product is super durable and can apparently be used to paint laminate (according to PPG). This comes in a satin finish, semi-gloss, and high gloss. PPG also has an impressive array of colors so you’ll be sure to find a favorite color.

Other posts You’ll Love

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets  |  White Kitchen Cabinet Backsplash All About Shaker Cabinets 

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Now that you know the best paint for cabinets, I hope you the confidence to finally try your hand at painting your cabinets. Just remember, go slow and give yourself plenty of grace and time. You can have a beautiful finished product without spending tons of money on new cabinets. You just need a little time and patience. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and follow me on Instagram @arinsolange for more home, decor, and DIY. Happy painting friends!

best paint for your cabinets
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