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 ...and thanks for stopping by. I'm Claire Douglas,  DIY and home interiors writer specialising in money-saving and creative home interior projects. I've spent years developing my 'bespoke on a budget' approach to DIY and home interiors and I love sharing all my tips and tricks in tutorials and posts here on my blog, in articles I write for some of the leading titles, in the press, on Instagram, Tiktok and my online course

  • Claire Douglas

How many coats of paint for kitchen cabinets?

Updated: 4 days ago

tools and materials for painting kitchen cabinets

As a DIY blogger, 'How many coats of paint for kitchen cabinets?' is one of the questions I get asked a lot. I've lost count of the times I've given my kitchen cabinets and cupboards a new paint job (it's one of the signs you're a serial redecorator or revamper!). I'm going to share all my top tips for successful kitchen cabinet painting in this post, but comment if you have any questions that I don't answer; alternatively, you could check out my other posts about painting kitchen cabinets, which I'll link at the end. I'll show you which paint I used (it's the best paint I've used for cabinet doors). 

Before you start

The answer to how many coats of paint for kitchen cabinets will depend to an extent on the condition of your cabinets. Beat-up old cabinets will need a bit of TLC first, whereas new cabinets will likely be a quicker turnaround. So, before determining how many coats of paint are required for the best results, it's crucial to assess the current condition of your cabinets. The colour (they are currently and the colour of the new paint) needs to be considered too, but we'll come to that in a minute. Let's take a look at the best way to paint kitchen cabinets and how many coats to apply. 

Prep for Success

Before picking up a paintbrush, proper prep work is key. Here is the best way to approach this important step...

removed kitchen cabinets before painting
  • Remove the doors and drawers: I found it best to actually take the doors off and tape up or remove the handles before you start as this allows you to lie them flat for painting which helps avoid dripping. 

bottle of sugar soap on a kitchen cupboard door
  • Clean and degrease: Thoroughly clean your cabinets using warm soapy water or a mild detergent to remove any built-up grease and grime. You can use sugar soap, but I've gone off this product in recent months as have discovered you can get just as good results with chemical-free cleaning. Baking soda and white vinegar are my favourites.

sanding sponge on kitchen cabinets before painting
  • Sanding essentials: You can lightly sand all surfaces using fine-grit sandpaper (120-220 grit) to create a smooth surface and key for better paint adhesion, but in truth, I don't always complete this step. I've found it's not necessary with some paints and a thorough clean is often enough. 

  • Filling imperfections: Fill any dents, cracks, or holes with wood filler, allowing it to dry completely before sanding them down flush with the surrounding surface.

To prime or not to prime?

Some argue that priming is essential in prepping your cabinets for paint for better adhesion and to block stains. However, I'm all for saving time and effort where possible, so am not a fan of a separate primer (especially when it can require multiple coats of primer). I would usually clean thoroughly, tend to any imperfections (ie scratches or chips) give a super quick scuff with high grit sandpaper if required, wipe down then head straight for the paint, choosing a product with a primer built-in. However, if you have a particular type of paint you prefer and a primer if required, then by all means complete this additional step, taking care to leave enough time for the primer to dry and cure. 

Painting Techniques

Now comes the fun part – applying those coats of paint! Here's what you need to know to create results equal to that of a professional painter armed with an expensive paint sprayer. 

Choose the right paint

Opt for durable paints formulated for cabinetry. I used Rustoleum kitchen cupboard paint on mine, and it has been good, but it takes longer than you think to cure (so it can scratch or chip if you aren’t super careful with the doors before they’re fully cured). 

First coat application

Painting kitchen cabinets

Begin by brushing along the direction of the wood grain using long vertical strokes rather than horizontal ones. This technique prevents brush marks and ensures even coverage. Using a small roller is quicker and saves getting brush strokes, you can always lightly sand down any imperfections after each coat with a high grit sand paper so don’t worry if you get a drip here or there if you choose to use a brush. 

Sanding between coats

Lightly sand between each coat using fine-grit sandpaper (220-240) to remove any imperfections. 

Roller or brush?

Using a mini foam roller is a great way to avoid brush strokes on the flat surfaces of your top and base cabinets, this will usually give you a more even finish that a brush but isn't essential. 

Oil or water-based paint for kitchen cabinets?

It's always my preference to use water-based paint for a kitchen painting project as I hate the smell and VOCs associated with oil-based paint.  These days, you can get such a durable finish with water-based paint that I can't see why you'd want to risk the downsides associated with oil-based products.  

How to paint kitchen cabinets

Here are the step-by-step instructions I follow

Remove handles and knobs before painting kitchen cabinets
  • Remove cabinets

  • Tape or remove hardware (handles, knobs & hinges)

  • Clean cabinet surfaces

  • Lightly sand (only if required as per above details)

  • Wipe down if sanded

  • Thoroughly dry cabinets 

  • Apply first coat of cabinet paint with roller or brush

  • Allow to dry

  • Lightly sand any imperfections

  • Wipe and dry

  • Apply second coat of paint 

  • Allow to fully dry before moving

  • Allow to properly cure before replacing the cabinets

  • Handle lightly and don't scrub for 7 days

Painted kitchen cabinets

Which paint is best for kitchen cabinets?

Selecting high-quality paint designed specifically for kitchen cabinetry is essential. 

Acrylic latex paints are commonly used due to their durability and easy maintenance properties and because they provide excellent coverage while being resistant to moisture and stains. My favourite is Rustoleum kitchen cabinet paint and I've also had good results with the V33 range.

Apply a couple of coats leaving at least 24 hours in between them allow a couple of days to dry them reattach and they should be good to go! It’s a bit of a faff but I found if you’re careful they can look like brand new doors after a lick of paint. 

How many coats of kitchen cabinet paint?

When it comes to applying paint on kitchen cabinets, multiple thin coats will produce superior results compared to fewer thick ones. Two coats are generally recommended as a minimum; however, three coats may be necessary depending on several factors:

  • Light-coloured paints applied onto dark may require more coverage.

  • Additional layers might be needed if you wish to achieve complete coverage without any underlying tones showing through.

  • Extra coats can help eliminate brush marks, roller textures, or unevenness.

Drying Time and Sanding

Allow each coat of paint to dry fully before applying the next one. This ensures a smooth and professional finish. Once all coats are applied, give the cabinets ample time to cure before reattaching hardware or using them regularly. Light sanding (with a high grit sandpaper) between coats can also be done if necessary, to remove any imperfections and create a super smooth finish.

Two coats of kitchen cabinet paint are optimal, but a third coat might be required for a flawless finish. 

I recommend taking extra time to ensure the prep work has been done to a high standard, then you'll likely only need a couple of coats of kitchen cabinet paint. I don't recommend using a separate primer or top coat unless the paint you love requires it. I like to save time and effort by 

Can I just paint over my kitchen cabinets?

It's not usually a good idea to simply paint over your kitchen cabinets without doing some prep work. This might be as simple as giving the cabinets a really good clean, or you might need to abrade the surface by sanding if your cabinets are painted in gloss. If your kitchen cabinets need some repair work, then this should also be done before you paint to ensure the best results. 

What kind of paint do you use on kitchen cabinets?

Kitchen cabinet paint is the best type for use on cabinets and drawers, but you could potentially a multi-surface paint if that's what you have. The finish you are hoping to achieve (eg matt, satin, gloss) will dictate the paint you select and the colour will have an impact too. I used Rustoleum kitchen cabinet paint for my kitchen revamp and it worked brilliantly. 

Is painting kitchen cabinets a good idea?

Painting kitchen cabinets is a great idea if you are looking for a budget-friendly way to revamp the space and breathe new life into your kitchen. There are considerations like the amount of work involved (especially for a large kitchen with plenty of units) and the aftercare and maintenance, but if your kitchen is old and tired and in need of a fresh look then painting is often the best way to achieve this. 

Do I need to sand cabinets before painting?

You don't always need to sand when painting cabinets because many paints include a primer where sanding isn't required. I used Rustoleum kitchen cabinet paint which states that sanding and priming is not required. If your usints are old with several layers of paint, especially gloss, then you will likely want to give them a sand before you start to get the best results.

What should I use to sand kitchen cabinets before painting?

You can use loose sandpaper sheets if these are all you have available, but as always, if you have an electric sander (eg.a mouse or orbital sander), then this will make the job of sanding your cabinets much easier. You don't need to remove all the paint, just need to rough up or abrade the cabinet surfaces, so an electric sander will do this with very little effort. If your kitchen cabinets have intricate detailing in their design, I find it much easier to use a sanding sponge (as opposed to sandpaper over a solid sanding block) to sand these areas as the sponge moulds to the profile of the cabinet front getting into the grooves for a perfect finish.   

Where next?

Here is a selection of other related posts that you might find useful...

Kitchen-related blog posts

Broken cabinet hinges? you need...

Completing a budget kitchen reno? You need these ideas posts...

Looking to upgrade your kitchen? Read these...

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