Painting household cabinets


Well-known Member
We are doing a few house upgrades. One includes a new floor in the bathroom. There are only two cabinets a 5 ft vanity and a 2 ft tall linen. Since I built the house I
am familiar with how things went in so, I am just going to take them out for the new floor. This will also make it easier for us to paint the cabinets. These are high
quality units, all plywood sides and solid hardwood drawers. They are solid, straight, good drawer slides and were expensive 30 years ago when I built the house. They
just have begun to show some age in the finish-they are oak. And a solid color, probably white will be a nice change. I am a wood guy so painting oak is hard for me but
the time has come. After looking at the construction of some of the new stuff, I will stick with my quality units. My question is how to best paint them? I know prep is
needed. I will sand and clean them. But what finish. I can put them in my shop where I can lay them out and I'm thinking of spraying them with my paint gun. I've
sprayed auto paint on cars and tractors. I dont think this is a time for regular old latex. I'm thinking some type of enamel. Heck, If it were me I'd use acrylic enamel
in IH red. Any thoughts on type of paint and methods?
I painted the cabinets in the guest bath with a Harbor Freight pressure pot type sprayer.

Used simi gloss latex. The advantage of the PP sprayer is it will spray latex without having to thin it so much.
I antiqued an old china cabinet for SWAMBO a few years ago. I sprayed it with latex paint using my HVLP gun. I went to Sherwin-Willaims and bought latex paint thinner if want to call it that to thin down the latex paint. I think they called it an extender. Anyway, it painted up really nice and has been very durable. You most likely painting over a lacquer so you might need some type of primer also. I would go to a specialized paint store, not any of the big box stores and for advice. I am not a fan of buying paint from any of the big box stores...

Sand the cabinets with 220 to 400 grit sandpaper and wipe them down with damp cloth and let dry. Spray them with your paint gun, run warm soapy water through your gun first followed by clean water. Then thin down your latex paint with water until it sprays like you want, no need for any thinner. lol Prime them with Kilz(2 coats) let primer dry 4-6 hrs then acrylic top coat (2-3 coats) with the color and sheen you want. Clean gun with hot soapy water when done and run Lacquer or Mineral Spirits/Paint Thinner through it and your done.
Every time you handle a cabinet you get skin oils on the cabinets. The first step should be to clean them with a wax and grease remover. Do you know what kind of finish is on the cabinets? There is a good chance they were done with lacquer. Other paints don't adhere real well to lacquer. If you don't know what kind of finish is on the cabinets you can put a small amount of lacquer thinner on the finish and see if it melts the finish. lacquer thinner will re-liquefy a dried lacquer finish. If it wrinkles up like you put paint stripper on it then it's varnish. If it does nothing it's polyurethane.

If it is lacquer the easiest way to paint it would be scuff sand the finish and use a lacquer primer. Since the cabinets are oak the grain will show through the paint and you can put a few coats of lacquer primer on sanding between coats and it should level the finish. Then you could use an oil based paint over the top. If you don't want to use a lacquer primer you can use a shellac based primer such as Bin. If the finish is varnish you can use an oil based primer. If it's polyurethane scuff sand it and use a bonding primer such as Kilz Adhesion.
I think you have gotten some good advice. I recently painted ours after sanding with 220 grit using BIN primer. Topcoated with Sherwin Williams emerald urethane enamel. It is water based and created a very durable finish. I used a small roller, so no experience spraying, but they turned out good. (I did sand lightly between coats). If you roll, adding flotrol will help it smooth out, if you aren't in a hurry.
Tom. Talk to someone at a real paint store, one that has been established for a few years. I did ours several years ago but I cannot remember what they recommended I use. It was finish made for cabinets. It had its own primer too.
Any thoughts on type of paint and methods?

I think it's a sin to paint over oak with a nice wood grain.

I mix a little fruitwood stain with poly. Use a rag or foam brush to freshen up the old oak cabinets.

Try that before painting.

I changed the color on an old green 1971 duster to red.

Mistake, any paint chip and I had a green spotted red duster.

I will roll over in my grave if my kids paint my oak cabinets, wood doors or wood trim.

I love red oak cabinets, amish made using fruitwood stain, NOT PAINT.. I will only paint wood when the wood grain isn't worth seeing.
If you paint latex directly on oil based paint it will not adher and peel back off later. There are a number of ways to get adhesion:

Sand the oil finish.
Prime with a primer designed specifically to adhere to oil finishes and created to overcoat with latex (such as original Kilz).
Coat with a deglosser.

A PO of my house had all the bathroom cabinets coated with latex over oil and anywhere it gets touched the latex peels off and the old finish shows through. Arrrr. I am going to have to strip the cabinets down to bare wood or replace them.

If it were me I would overcoat with an interior oil enamel and call it done. Some states (VA) have outlawed this kind of finish, but it really holds up better than latex. The smell only lasts a few days.


Cliff(VA) now (NC)
Best advice you've gotten is to go to a GOOD paint store and talk to the oldest employee. There are paints made especially for cabinets. You can sand and use latex, but be prepared to repaint every ding.
And sanding sponges work great on cabinets. Fine, and very fine would work well to get a scuff on what is probably a lacquer, or polyurethane finish. As others have said, the original, oil-based Kilz might be needed as a prep coat. steve
Too late for that, he ruined them years ago by painting them, could neve get that old paint off. to a person at a good paint store. Me? Oil based and spray for the doors. Cabinet could be brushed if need be.

Many folks that I've talked to who've painted their kitchen though, were disappointed later on. Look closely at your current cabinet around knobs & pulls. Finger nail & ring scratches are most likely there, but nearly transparent. On a painted cabinet, any damage to the painted surface will be VERY apparent.
Agreed. But don't be surprised by the results. My sister and her husband were about to paint their kitchen cabinets and they spent hours cleaning them in prep for paint. They looked so good after they had been cleaned and lightly sanded they decided to go with another coat of polyurethane and called it good.
I do this kind of work for a living. Often the old cabinets are done with lacquer and just recoating them with lacquer makes them look brand new again. Lacquer will melt into the old finish erasing any scratches or spots where water has gotten under the finish. There are different kinds of lacquer, the most common is a type known as nitrocellulose which isn't real water resistant. The pre-catalyzed lacquer they make today is better.
I would suggest going to your local Sherwin Williams store and talking to them about paint. This is not the time for cheap home depot or lowes paint. This is a project that you do not want to need to do every 6 months because of scratches. Good paint is expensive, so plan accordingly. Good luck with your project.

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