Few homeowners would turn down an offer for new kitchen cabinets. But when you consider the high cost of purchasing cabinets, rehabbing your existing cabinets begins to look enticing. If your kitchen cabinets are in good condition with many years of life left in them, a do-it-yourself paint job could be the ideal way to update them.
Spray painting kitchen cabinets is one way to give them a sparkling, fresh look at a dramatically lower cost than purchasing new ones. There's another perk beyond the savings: rather than be limited to a few stock color choices offered by the cabinet manufacturer, the entire spectrum of color is available to you if you choose to paint the cabinets you already have.
Why Use a Paint Sprayer?
It can be tempting to pick up some spray paint and use that instead of a paint sprayer—without having to purchase a sprayer, you can start painting your cabinets with a tough modified alkyd paint typically found in a range of 75 to 100 color choices. However, canned spray paint is only a viable choice for covering a cabinet or two, as one can of spray paint covers just 20 square feet. To paint an entire set of cabinets this way would result in dramatically higher costs compared to sprayed-on latex paint.
To paint an entire kitchen's worth of cabinets, it would be best to buy, rent, or borrow a paint sprayer. Whether you use the less expensive "cup style" paint sprayer, which holds 1.5 quarts, or the more expensive type that draws directly from the paint can, either will be cheaper and less wasteful than using spray cans.
This project requires removing the cabinet doors, as well as the shelves, if possible. The more sections of the cabinet that you remove from the kitchen and paint elsewhere, the better the result. It is difficult to control paint mist, no matter how well you sheet off the kitchen. Plus, it's easier to achieve a smooth, drip-free surface if you paint on horizontal surfaces.
Remove all items from the cabinets, and place them in a separate area, such as a little-used bedroom or basement. Remove contact paper from shelves.
Disassemble the cabinets. Begin by unscrewing cabinet doors and removing drawers from the cabinets. Remove cabinet hardware and hinges on the doors and drawers. Place them in plastic bags. Label the location on each bag with a Sharpie.
If you can remove the cabinet boxes, that's great. But many homeowners will find that the cabinet boxes are firmly in place and can't be removed without tearing apart the kitchen. If that's the case, leave the cabinet boxes alone. You'll paint them right where they sit.
Place the removed items in an area where you can easily use the sprayer without worry about getting paint on other things. This might be a large workshop, a garage, or under a covered patio.
In the kitchen, mask all areas (walls, countertops, flooring, appliances, etc.) that you do not want to paint with sheet plastic and painter's tape. A cloth dropcloth works better for flooring than plastic sheeting because it is not as slippery.
The key to a perfectly painted cabinet is preparing the surface. Because kitchen surfaces are subjected to years of abuse from grease and other residues, they need major cleaning. Cleaning and sanding your cabinets comprises a large part of this project.
Equipment / Tools
- HVLP (high volume, low pressure) paint sprayer
- Cordless drill
- Phillips head screwdriver
- Zip-loc type bags
- Painter's tape
- Sheet plastic
- Canvas dropcloth
- Random orbital sander, such as the Black & Decker Mouse
- Tack cloth
- Sponge or rags (for using TSP)
- Chemical-resistant clothing, goggles, and gloves
- Dust mask or respirator
- Paint primer (white or tinted to match your paint color)
- Latex enamel paint
- Wood putty
- TSP (tri-sodium phosphate)
Sand and Patch the Cabinet Surfaces
Lightly sand down all surfaces with fine-grit sandpaper on a random orbital sander. The goal is to bring down the sheen, not to remove all coatings and paint layers. Be especially careful with Thermofoil-coated cabinets, as this micro-thin layer will shred off if you sand too hard.
Patch cracks and minor holes with wood putty. Sand down the wood putty after it has dried. Try to get it as flat as possible so the repair doesn't show through the paint when the job is done.
Clean the Surfaces
Kitchen cabinets, walls, and other surfaces easily attract grease and grime. Using TSP can help cut through problem areas with ease. Areas near the stove and oven will be especially greasy and need more attention.
Use TSP according to the manufacturer's directions. Allow all areas to thoroughly dry.
Use Caution With TSP
TSP, or tri-sodium phosphate, is a strong chemical cleaner used to cut through grease and grime. It does the job quite effectively; however, coming into contact with it can be hazardous. Always wear chemical-resistant clothing, goggles, and gloves when using TSP.
Prepare the primer. Most latex primers and paints need to be thinned with water to be used in an HVLP paint sprayer. Prepare and fill the sprayer according to the manufacturer's directions for your particular sprayer.
Move to your spray area. Turn on a fan to help diffuse the fumes as you spray.
Spray the primer over the surfaces to be painted. Make sure to get paint evenly in the corners as well as the larger expanses. Give the primer ample time to dry before moving to paint.
Priming is essential for cabinets because of the risk of paint peeling. One great tip about priming is to ask the paint store to tint the primer (which usually comes in a white or base color) to match your paint color. This gives your paint coating a richer, truer color register.
Paint the Cabinets
While the coat of primer is drying, clean out the sprayer and prepare the paint. Use the fan to ventilate the area, just as you did when applying primer.
Spray the first coat of paint on the cabinet doors. Be patient and go lightly; rushing spray paint leads to drips, splatter, and areas of too much paint that will dry unevenly.
Move to the cabinet boxes. Give the boxes and stiles a coat of paint. Remember that vertical surfaces are more likely to allow drips, so keep the coats light. Allow the paint to dry thoroughly, then apply a second coat and a third coat, if necessary.
A paint sprayer transforms paint into tiny particles. Use a dust mask or respirator to protect yourself from breathing in any of these particles.
Reassemble the Kitchen Cabinets
Let everything dry thoroughly before replacing the cabinet doors and drawers. If you want to update the kitchen even further, consider replacing the knobs, pulls, and handles with new hardware that gives your kitchen a fresh look.
There is the possibility of imprinting finger marks on paint that looks dry but is still moist. Allow for a full day of drying before you reassemble the kitchen.