How to Spray Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Woman looking at paint swatches in kitchen

Paul Hanson / Getty Images

Few homeowners would turn down an offer of new kitchen cabinets. But when you consider the high cost of purchasing cabinets, rehabbing your existing cabinets begins to look enticing. Spray painting kitchen cabinets is one way to give them a sparkling, fresh look at a dramatically lower cost than new. Best of all, instead of being limited to the few stock color choices offered by the cabinet manufacturer, the entire spectrum of colors is now available to you.

Tools and Materials

  • HVLP (high volume, low pressure) paint sprayer
  • Cordless drill
  • Screwdriver with Phillips' head
  • Zip-Loc type bags
  • Painter's tape
  • Sheet plastic
  • Canvas dropcloth
  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
  • Wood putty
  • Random orbital sander, such as a Black & Decker Mouse
  • Tack cloth
  • Paint primer–either white or tinted to match your color coat
  • Latex enamel paint
  • Fan

What to Expect

Spray Cans vs. Paint Sprayer

It's tempting to pick up some spray paint and use that instead of a paint sprayer—without having to purchase a sprayer, you are able to 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 a whole 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.

Painting Technique

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. At the very least, you should remove the cabinet doors.

Preparation

The key to a perfectly painted cabinet is preparing the surface. Because kitchen surfaces are subjected to years of abuse from grease and another residue, they need major cleaning. Understand that cleaning and sanding your cabinets comprises a large part of this project.

Getting Started

  1. Clear the area and remove all items from the cabinets and place in a separate clean area, such as a back bedroom or basement. Remove contact paper from shelves.
  2. Disassemble the cabinets. Begin by unscrewing cabinet doors and drawers from the cabinets. Remove cabinet fixtures (handles, knobs, etc.) and hinges on the doors and drawers and place in plastic bags. Label each bag with a Sharpie as to location. If you are able to remove the cabinet boxes, do this now. Place removed items in a spray area, such as a clean, dry garage, large workshop or under a covered patio.
  3. In the kitchen, mask all areas (walls, countertops, flooring, appliances, etc.) that you do not want to be painted with sheet plastic and painter's tape. A cloth dropcloth works better for flooring than plastic sheeting because it is not slippery.

Sand, Clean, and Patch

  1. 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.
  2. Clean all surfaces you intend to paint with warm water and TSP. Areas near the stove and oven will be especially greasy and need more attention. Let all items thoroughly dry.
  3. Patch cracks and minor holes with wood putty. Sand down the wood putty after it has dried.
  4. Clean down one last time with a tack cloth to remove residual dust.

Prime and Paint

  1. 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. 
  2. Move to your spray area. Turn on a fan to expel air from the spray area.
  3. After the prime coat has solidly dried, spray down with your first color coating. Be patient and go lightly: rushing spray paint leads to drips and splatter. Estimate about 60 minutes to spray down cabinet doors and drawer fronts for a medium-sized kitchen. Repeat at least one more time, leaving 4 hours or more between coats.
  4. Cabinet boxes are a separate issue. Move the sprayer into the kitchen and give the boxes and stiles a first light coating. Be very careful, as you are dealing with vertical surfaces, which tend to create drips. After at least 4 hours, add a second coat.

Replace Cabinet Elements

  1. Let everything thoroughly dry. There is the possibility of imprinting finger marks on paint that looks dry but isn't truly dry, so leave a full day before you replace cabinet boxes, doors, and drawers.
  2. After these items are back in place, replace the doorknobs, pulls and handles.