Tips for Painting the Kitchen

Man with paint roller starting painting project
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Painting the kitchen is different from other parts of the house, and in many ways, it's a more forgiving canvas than that of the bedrooms or living room because you're dealing with limited wall space. Yet predictably, you pay the price in another way: cleaning and prep work. Let's take a look at the process in detail.

Kitchen Paint Colors

It's important to choose your kitchen paint colors wisely and with care since it's a room that most people spend much time in.

The best kitchen colors tend to have a high visual impact and align with the idea of food and eating. For instance, blue tends to be one of the worst colors for a kitchen because there are few truly blue foods and because research has found that blue dulls the appetite.

Choose Paint Finish

Think of paint finishes as you might the spectrum of colors on a paint fan. Except in this instance, the spectrum isn't colors but gradations of glossiness.

Matte (flat, non-shiny) at one end; glossy (so shiny you can almost see your face) at the other end.

Which is the best paint finish for the kitchen? Satin and semi-gloss, ranking in the middle of that spectrum, perform best in the kitchen: glossy enough to be wiped down but flat enough to hide imperfections in the surface.

Size up Your Walls

You need to figure out the square footage of your walls so you know how much paint to buy. You will either be:

  • Painting an Empty Room: Usually new-construction, this kitchen is devoid of everything but drywall. Calculate the square footage of each wall by multiplying room height (likely 8 feet) by room length (variable). Then add up all walls to get the total. If you're having a hard time with this, check out the online calculator linked at the bottom of this article. It's for tiling, but no matter. Click on Rectangle and pretend it's a wall instead of a floor.
  • Painting a Finished Room: Usually, a remodel, this kitchen is fully stocked with cabinets, appliances, flooring, etc. Here you're dealing with far less square footage than in an empty room. Cabinets take up a lot of wall space. One method is to imagine it's an empty room and buy enough paint to cover all walls as if it were an empty room. The extra paint you have left over is great to save for those inevitable touchups. If you're tight on money, then you'll have to take on the painstaking process of calculating the size of all of the little strips, squares, and rectangles of the wall.

    Clean Paintable Surfaces

    Unless you're dealing with an empty room with fresh drywall, kitchen walls usually need quite a lot of cleaning.

    Assume that areas above and around the stove, oven, and counters need to be attacked with warm water and TSP (tri-sodium phosphate). Door trim probably can benefit from the TSP treatment, too.

    Walls more than five feet from the areas mentioned above may need little more than a light dry dusting. Remove dust and cobwebs from the tops of baseboards and other trim with a vacuum and damp cloth.

    Tools: Brush, Roller, or Sprayer?

    For an empty room, use either a roller or paint sprayer for the walls. For window and door trim, use a brush.

    For a finished room, use a roller on the large expanses of wall and a brush for the little strips (i.e., between backsplash and cabinets). Again for window and door trim, use a brush.

    You may ask, "What's with this roller or paint sprayer business?" It's a coin-toss, often predicated on your own likes and dislikes. In the end, both methods take the same amount of time. Rolling a wall may be slow, but spraying involves considerable prep time. So which is your poison? You choose.

    Mask and Cover

    For the empty room with no finished floor, you have no work to do here. Just paint. Paint drips on sub-floor don't matter; they will be covered up later. If using a paint sprayer, be sure to drape plastic over doors to adjacent rooms so that mist doesn't travel there.

    For the finished room, you've got your work cut out for you. Apply masking tape to trim before painting the walls.

    Lay a canvas drop cloth on the floor. Drape large objects such as cabinets, appliances, and tables with plastic sheeting or a self-sticking product like Easy Mask Tape & Drape.


    After all that, the actual job of applying paint is relatively easy.