How to paint kitchen cabinets – give units a whole new look, on an affordable budget

Give your kitchen cupboard doors a new lease of life with a fresh lick of paint
  • We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.
  • A full kitchen refit can be costly and stressful, but if you’re happy with the layout and your cabinets are sound, why not consider painting what you’ve got? If you do the work yourself, there may even be money spare to splash out on new handles or worktops.

    Read our expert advice on how to paint kitchen cabinets to ensure your painting project is perfection. From the best paints to do the job to where to start, all is revealed…

    Be inspired by colour: Green kitchen ideas – redecorate with a colour that’s both sophisticated and fresh

    How to paint kitchen cabinets

    Budget-kitchen-makeover-with-grey-cabinets-6

    Image credit: Sussie Bell

    Where should I start when painting kitchen cabinets?

    The experts begin by removing the doors, most just unclip at the hinges, because you’re less prone to runs and drips if you paint horizontally. Lacking space or can’t remove them? Just cover the hinges with masking tape, taking care to conceal all the metalwork and paint in-situ. Always remove the handles though, a cordless screwdriver will speed things up here, and put down dust-sheets or newspaper to protect the floor.

    Can you just paint over cabinets?

    Most specialist cupboard paints are suitable for all wooden and acrylic cabinets. The trick is in the preparation.

    How do you prep cabinets ready for painting?

    There are no shortcuts! Cleaning is essential to remove built-up kitchen grime. Use a specialist degreaser like Zep Commercial All Purpose Cleaner & Degreaser if things are really grim. Next ‘key’ the surface to help the paint grip. This is really just a light sand, using a fine grit paper – 150-250 grit should do it. There’s no need to go crazy, just aim for an even, matt surface. Then wipe the dust off with a damp cloth and allow to completely dry.

    Buy now: Zep Commercial All-purpose Clean & Degreaser, £12.89, Screwfix

    kitchen-makeover-with-pink-walls-grey-units-and-vintage-furniture-6

    Image credit: Colin Poole

    Do kitchen cabinets need a primer?

    Primers create a sound base for the paint, and will stop knots and blemishes showing through. The type of primer depends on the surface you’re painting – just read the tin or opt for a universal primer like Ronseal’s One Coat All Surface Primer and Undercoat. Wood primer is only for bare, unpainted wood. Some furniture-specific paints don’t require primer – this will be clearly stated on the tin. If you’re still unsure, take a photo of your door (or the actual door itself) into your nearest DIY store or decorating centre for advice.

    What is the best paint to use on kitchen cabinets?

    Again it depends on the door type and also your desired finish. On laminates, the safest option is to buy a specialist multipurpose paint that is designed for wood, melamine and MDF. Any eggshell or interior wood paint will work on wooden and already painted kitchen doors. Chalk paints are suitable for kitchen cupboards but you’ll usually need to seal the top-coat with wax or varnish to achieve a wipeable surface.

    ‘New colours will take a few coats. Take you time and wait for each application to dry thoroughly,’ advises Protek’s Becky Rackstraw.

    Blue painted kitchen with patterned tiles

    Top tips for painting kitchen cabinets

    Take your time, this is not a Sunday afternoon makeover project. It’s tempting to bosh the paint on thickly and quickly but you’ll regret it when the slightest scuff scrubs a whole swathe of paint off. Allow at least five to seven days to build up the paint in thin layers, lightly sanding back and wiping away the dust between coats. Be patient and give paint a minimum of four hours’ drying time for primer, and 24 hours for all other coats. Expect to apply at least two coats of colour, more if you’re going for a very solid finish. A fine foam roller will provide a modern, flat finish, while brushes leave a more classical, painterly effect.

    Basement-kitchen-makeover-with-emerald-green-units-marble-worktops-and-pink-walls-4

    Image credit: Lizzie Orme

    More quick transformations: Easy kitchen updates – quick and simple ways to transform your room

    What is the best paint to use on kitchen cupboards?

    Best furniture paint for a quick update

    Frenchic’s brilliantly named Lazy range is infused with wax so there’s no need to seal or buff the final coat. And it’s also self-priming – just a couple of coats and you’re done. Easy to see why this paint is so popular for budget kitchen makeovers.

    Buy now: Lazy Range Paint, from £6.95 for 750ml, Frenchic

    Best durable cupboard paint

    For a fade-resistant finish, try Protek. This a much-trusted brand is more well-known for the durable garden paints in the range. The interior paint, like it’s garden counterpart is a high-end luxurious paint that offers a water repellent finish that minimises the effects of wear and tear – ideal for busy kitchen cupboards.

    Buy now: Protek Royal Interior Wood Paint in Ice Blue, £17.99 for 1 ltr, Protek

    Best paint to avoid a primer

    To make light work of the task at hand choose a brand that allows you to skip the primer, such as Ronseal. The furniture paint is favoured for many an upcycling job thanks to this quality – everything you need is in one tin, there’s no need for a primer. This means you can revamp kitchen cupboards in no time, but the finish is still durable enough to withstand knocks and scuffs.

    Buy now: Ronseal Chalky furniture paint in Midnight Blue, £13 for 750ml, Wood Finishes Direct

    Best cupboard paint for a glossy finish

    For a smooth finish, if matt or chalky is not the desired look you desire, we recommend Crown non-drip satin.

    By now: Crown non-drip satin for interior wood and metal in Cloud Burst, £20.04 for 750ml, Amazon

    Honourable mention goes to Frenchic’s Lazy range, which is infused with wax. That means there’s no need to seal or buff – it’s also self-priming so you save time and effort there, too. Thorndown’s resin-based formula is designed to protect while letting the natural grain show through.

    Related: 12 ways to revamp kitchens without spending over £50 – from painting cabinets to hanging new blinds

    Are you feeling ready to paint?

    All the latest from Ideal Home