How To Refinish Your Cabinets

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Estimated Time: 
5-8 hours
A Little Paint Can Turn Your Cabinets From Drab to Fab!

Since you moved in, those dirty, worn down or Formica laminate-covered cabinets have been staring you down. But, now they're starting to really annoy. Enough so that maybe you have been eating your meals in the living room. Or, you might be considering learning how to cook in the garage!

Welcome to arriving at the point where you will do whatever it takes to make them look better—or at least, bearable, right? Frankly, we don't blame you.

But why accept just "better?" Why not make them look great! In fact, like new.

This is definitely a project you can do. It takes a bit of time, but we can almost guarantee that it will be cheaper than resurfacing or changing out your old cabinets for new ones. And you'll also have more say about how they look when you're done. So, decide on your color, get your materials ready, and let's dive in!

Project Steps

AND NOW, FOR SOME "HOW TO"...

Step 1

To begin, you'll first need to take down all of your cabinet doors. The reason why you have to pull all of the doors off is to expose the entire surface area to be worked on; both for the doors and the cabinets.

Jane Tip : Make sure you mark or number the doors so that you will be able to know which ones goes where when you put them back up. We like to call this "mapping" your cabinets.

Step 2

Remove all hardware

Next, remove all of the hardware such as handles and hinges.

JANE TIP: Be sure to put all screws, hinges and handles that you intend to keep in a safe place. Strong plastic baggies are always a good thing to have around.

Step 3

Now for some fun!

Now for some fun! Begin by lightly sanding the surface with 60-grit sandpaper. This will help with the retention of the paint. After all, you don't want your paint peeling six weeks after you complete this project! If you can get your hands on an electric palm sander, it will make this job much easier, especially if you're working with a formica-laminate.

If you're not wearing them already, make sure you use the proper mask and protective eye wear.

JANE TIP: Stay away from the lip gloss when sanding—take it from us—it's a lip exfoliation you don't want to experience!

Step 4

After sanding, clean the surface with a clean tack cloth (a cloth that removes dust, dirt, lint and sanding residue before and between coats when painting staining or varnishing—these are usually less than a dollar per cloth at your local home improvement store). Now the area is ready to be primed.

JANE TIP: If you absolutely hate sanding and there is a laminate stuck to your current cabinetry, you may not have to sand your cabinets at all, if you can find a product called, XIM PRIMER. This product is a favorite of many do-it-youselfers because of its unique ability to go right over smooth surfaces such as clean Formica-laminate or glass. But, as much as we like this product, the best way to insure solid paint retention is usually if you lightly sand prior to painting.

Step 5

Next, tape or "mask" off all of the areas you don't want to get paint on with blue painter's tape. Try not to use anything other than the blue tape as the adhesive of most masking tapes is too strong and will either pull up the paint or leave a residue that could ruin the job!

Step 6

Now, using a roller or paintbrush, add a single coat of primer (such as Xim). If you have the Formica laminate, make sure the primer you use is meant for Hi-Gloss surfaces. Whether you use a paint brush or a roller is up to you, however, a roller may not leave brush strokes, which are common with most paint brushes. Additionally, a roller on flat surfaces allows for a more even coat than with a paint brush. Either way, you will need the paintbrush for more detailed areas, corners and edges.

Watch out for any drips, as they can dry into the paint and be visible when you are finished. Also, be sure to have proper ventilation in the area you're working in.

Let the surface areas you just primed dry the specified amount of time stated on the back of the primer can. Usually 2-4 hours depending on how humid the room is you're working in. A small fan can sometimes help speed up the process.

JANE TIP: If you're going to paint your cabinets in a dark color, you can save a step by having primer tinted. When purchasing your primer, simply ask someone in the paint department to add enough of the dark-value (paint is sometimes referred to in "values" of colors) base coat to the primer to turn the white primer into what's known as a "medium-dark value." Both your primer and your base coat must be of the same "solvency." You'll want to have a properly trained paint person help you with this as you'll want to avoid tinting a white primer too dark. This can negatively affect the chemical makeup of the primer and cause it to be less effective. The darkest you should expect is to end up with a light mid-tone hue.

Step 7

You're just about ready to paint! When choosing which paint sheen to use, we suggest you stay away from a flat paint as most are a pain in the rear to keep clean. And aesthetically, they're just not as appealing. Try to stick with a satin or semi-gloss. In the short term, they're easy to apply and in the long term, easy to keep clean.

If you do choose to use a high gloss we suggest you apply it with what's know as a power sprayer to help guarantee the best finish possible. Keep in mind that high gloss paints will show every mistake you make with the brush or roller as well as every dent or ding in the door. But, if you choose to apply this finish, make certain you do it with excellent ventilation and that you're wearing appropriate safety gear (such as a respirator, goggles and gloves). If you use a sprayer, (which you can rent at most local home improvement centers) be sure to practice with it first to get the feel of it. They make the job quick and easy, but you'll want to give it a trial run before just "jumping in."

Step 8

Time to paint!

It's Paintin' Time!

Once the primer is dry apply two coats of paint of your choice to the cabinets as well as the inside and outside of each door. Allow enough time for drying between coats. (Usually an hour or two should do depending on the type of paint you choose—ask your paint professional or check the can for the recommended drying time).

Try to give at least 24 hours before reattaching the hinges and handles. The paint on the doors and cabinets should feel hard and not rubbery. If you attempt to do this task too early, you may dent or otherwise damage your new paint.

DéCOR TIP: To really want to give your cabinets a true face lift, you can also try changing out the handles. It will surprise you how much new, updated handles and a coat of paint on cabinets will change an entire room.

Step 9

All Together Now...

Now time to piece everything back together. Using your "map," place each cabinet and drawer back onto their respective frames. Sit back, enjoy!

JANE TIP: A common problem you could run into is that you might find that the doors won't stay closed on their own once you've put them back up. NOT TO WORRY! There is an easy, inexpensive and effective solution. What you'll need to do is to purchase small door magnets and put them on the doors that won't stay closed. We suggest if you're going to put them on one, you might as well put them on all of them as you will want them all to open and close the same way. Door magnet sets are typically $1.50 per door but they add a more professional feel. A cheap price to pay to guarantee your cabinet doors stay closed when you close them. If you find the doors "stick" a little, you can lightly sand the area with a 60-grit sandpaper. The paint might just be a bit too thick in those areas.

Now you should have beautiful painted cabinets. Don't be afraid to experiment with color or techniques. (See our Painting 101 Section or new Faux Like A Pro painting tutorials!) You never know, you just might find there's a new you that you never imagined!

And if you need help picking out colors—see our article "Color of Love"!

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28 comments

30
Sep

i loved the article and the directions were concise and easy to follow and very thorough, however, i have old metal cabinets and wish to keep them. can i follow the same steps or is there something else i should do. i want to paint them a semi-gloss chinese red. i also have wood cabinets i will paint at the same time. those i hope to also paint chinese red.
2
Oct

I have recently painted mine white. This is a good article.
5
Oct

This article was great help. I was going to use enamel paint on my cabinets. I didn't realize I could use semi-gloss for kitchen cabinets.
12
Nov

Someone please help! They are so old and so stained and so pourous, how can they be redone as I cannot afford to replace them. Thank you.
9
Jan

We were thinking of tiling over it please tell me there is a cheaper and easier way.
16
Feb

I went to my local home improvement store before reading this article and they sold me wood paint. My cabinets have the traditional stained wood look and I know they are not laminate or formica, but I am not sure if they are made of wood because they have this thin layer that peels off. Do you think I can use the wood paint? or I need regular paint?

14
Oct

This past Fri, I purchased my first home which was built in 1988. The kitchen is somewhat small but opens into the family room. The cabinets are a "white" stain on wood, flat, & boring. This will be a "labor of love" and I will be starting on it in the next few weeks. The ideas posted, paint, molding, lighting, & new hardware are all great. I am looking forward to having my kitchen reflect my personality. Thanks for the step by step directions. Will let you know how it all turns out! Vision, patience, and knowing when to ask for help will make everyone of my projects successful as well as unique.
28
Nov

I have an additional problem. My cabinets are circa 1962. Solid as a rock! They were refaced in the early 80's with laminate and were given new laminate doors (unfortunately). The "new" doors had laminate on the outside, but the inside of the door is some kind of "paper" glued to the door. The outside actually looks pretty good, but when you open the door you see that this "paper" is partially or totally gone and you see the brown fiber board. If I paint the inside of the doors, the texture of the inside door will show through. Does anyone have any suggestions other than replace the doors? Also, one of the doors is warped. Does anyone have an idea to solve that? Maybe borrow an elephant to sit on it for a few weeks?
7
May

Just wondering, If I use this process could I restain instead of painting
21
Jul

I've been wondering the same thing. I hate to paint my wood cabinets and I was thinking about trying to sand them and restain them. I guess I can just try it and if it doesn't work out I can always sand and paint them. Teresa
1
Mar

Did you restain? And how did it work out for you? I am considering restaining solid oak cabinets.
1
Mar

Did you do the retaining, how did it turn out?
3
Jun

Great article, I just finished painting my kitchen cabinets myself . Two things not mentioned in the article that I did: After painting inside of cabinets the paint needs to be sealed so the paint does not get scratched up. I learned this tip from Taylor Cabinet Door Company, they recommended using Minwax water based “Polycrylic”. It only took 10 minutes to do and you only need to it apply to shelf tops over the paint. The second thing I did was I replaced all my cabinet doors and drawer fronts with new paint able ones from the same company. It was very inexpensive. I was able to purchase all of the doors and drawer fronts for under $1000.00 that included new hinges and shipping.
8
Aug

I wanted to do this but now I am definately going to!
28
Apr

I plan on refinishing my cabinets in the summer. I intend on dark staining them, painting them, and then distressing them. Do I put a primer on after the stain so the paint will stick? I didn't think of this step. Will the stain show through once I sand them down a bit or will it go back to the natural wood? Also should I just dry brush the white with a borwn paint and if so can anyone advise a technique? If I distress with sand paper should I cover with a final clear coat and if so what?
25
Nov

We are happy to join this discuss and it's very important and but i am talking about home improvement and it's tips and best way of making our home best and beautiful. thanks Tree Removal Sydney
27
Dec

Honestly, you might prefer to leave it an open plan right now. One thing I do like about the flow plan of our home is that the kitchen is near 3 rooms. By having an open floor plan, when company is over you can still be in the kitchen, but not away from your guests Vacation Rentals
26
Jan

I want to refinish my kitchen cabinet but it seems too much work to do, I am not afraid to get my hands dirty but I simply don`t have enough time. I saw South West Kitchen and Bath and have some pretty good deals, it is easier and more simple for me, you just have to pick a color and model and that`s it.
7
Feb

Thank you for these interesting tips! I've recently moved in a new house and I have to refinish the cabinets as they look awful. I've started with the bathrooms and I bought some Bathroom Vanities as the older ones were damaged.
14
Feb

Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It's always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! I'm sure you had fun writing this article. zaton accommodation
25
Mar

This is a great post.I've recently moved in to a new home.The cabinets needed a new look. After I have finished with the paint job I personalized the look with some Custom Stickers .Thank' s to your advices my kitchen cabinets look amazing .
6
Apr

Really very informative post, I must appericiate you have provided extyremely important tips. excessive sweating
9
Apr

Thank you for providing this useful information.I've recently finished my house construction and I still have to buy a vinyl fence and some furniture.These tips of cabinets refinishing are very useful as I need to clean everything and I didn't know what products to use.
9
Apr

Thank you for this great tips.
12
Apr

Thank you for this great article.We just finished renovating our home and now we`re searching for pests controlers because it appeared termites in the kitchen.
18
Jun

I did the same with my bedroom`s cabinets and I bought a new bathroom modern vanities.
21
Jun

Thank you for providing quality information.I enjoyed a lot reading your posts and I consider them to be very useful.I've recently renovated my house as I wanted to make it look modern and fancy.I followed your advice and refinished the cabinets and they look like new.I've also bought some beautiful decorations and designer furniture.I still have to buy some pelco security cameras as I want to feel safe.
30
Jun

I think it would be great to repaint the old cabinets to help them match with new furniture. I like to buy new furniture every couple of years to spice up the house, and the cabinets also stick out like a sore thumb. learning how to refinish them is awesome.