15 DIY Painted Kitchen Cabinet Mistakes

Chances are you’ve spotted painted kitchen cabinets on Instagram or Pinterest and thought about recreating the striking look in your own space. However, this is easier said than done, as there are many painted kitchen cabinet mistakes to consider before you even think about grabbing your brush. From deep cleaning the wood to sanding the surfaces, there’s no way to handle the prep work needed to ensure a smooth paint job without any brush marks. Also, once you are finally done painting your cabinets, you need to let them dry for at least a few days to make sure your hard work stays intact. In other words, it’s a complex process.

In an effort to make painting your kitchen cabinets easier, we reached out to Nicole Gibbons, founder of paint brand Clare, for her top tips and tricks. For starters, Nicole says it pays to go bold with color rather than just white. “While white paint can create a clean feel in a kitchen, there are plenty of opportunities to add more color that goes beyond the basics,” she says. “And remember, upper and lower cabinets don’t have to match. For a lighter, airier feel, you can choose white or neutral on your tops and go for a bolder choice on the bottom. “

Ready to learn how to paint your kitchen cabinets? Keep reading for more tips from Nicole as well as a few other painting experts. In no time, you’ll have a new kitchen to enjoy and show off to family and friends in no time.


Mistake 1: You neglect practicality.

      Painted cabinets are beautiful, but they won’t look totally smooth. “If the cabinets have visible open grain, the gouges are going to show through the paint,” warns Don Fahrbach, president of professional painting company PNP Craftsmen in New York.

      “While it wasn’t super obvious when the wood was just stained, it’s going to be more obvious once the paint dries.” You can fill the grain with putty, but it can be time consuming and difficult to get.

      Mistake 2. You don’t set aside enough time for yourself.

      “It’s not a lazy Sunday project,” says Sherry Petersik, who along with her husband have chronicled kitchen painting projects on her popular blog Young House Love. She says people often think it’s a weekend job, but it takes at least four to seven days when you build in the proper prep time (and snack breaks, of course).

      Mistake 3. You are not using painter’s tape.

      “You will need protect and tape all areas you don’t want to paint your counters or the inside of your cabinets (if you don’t want the inside painted) with tape or drop cloths,” says Gibbons. You can also use newspaper to protect the inside of your cabinets.

      Mistake 4. You used the wrong tools.

      “If you’re seasoned and know how to use an airless paint sprayer, this is the best option for cabinets because you can get nice, even coverage,” says Gibbons. She suggests using a two-inch angled brush to cut into the inside corners and crevices of your cabinets and a roller for flat surfaces. Also, be sure to choose the right paint roller, advises Gibbons. “A traditional woven roller will create too much texture in your finish, so opt for a finer material like a microfiber option to ensure an ultra-smooth finish,” she says. A mini roll about 4.5 inches wide is ideal for a smaller surface like a cabinet.

      Mistake 5: You skip cleaning the wood before you start painting.

      “No matter how clean you think your kitchen is, you have to wipe everything with a degreaser,” says Fahrbach. Otherwise, when you add water-based paint to an oil-covered door, the paint won’t stick. sponge stripes for stuck-on stains.

      Mistake 6: You keep drawers and doors in place.

      This is a critical first step: remove all doors, remove drawers, and remove hardware knobs and hinges. Some people try to save time by painting everything – hinges and all – while they’re still in place, but Petersik warns that’s not a long-term solution.

      “Your cabinets and hardware will start to chipping and showing signs of wear after a month – or even immediately.” Once the paint on the hinges starts to crack, all you can do is sand everything down and soak the hardware to remove the paint, so save yourself the aggravation.

      Error 7: You do not indicate the position of drawers, doors and hardware.

      Because what was hung will have to go back to the same place, it’s worth using numbered tags to help you remember where everything goes. A piece of masking tape taped to the back of each piece will do just fine. You should write its exact location (think “over the sink, left”) so it’s impossible to guess where it’s going later. Then, store the screws and hinges in a jar to keep them safe.

      Blue painted kitchen cabinets

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      Mistake 8: You didn’t sand the cabinets.

      Even if your hardwood cabinets are in near perfect condition, you still need to sand them down to the bare wood finish for the paint to adhere, said Gibbons. She recommends sanding them lightly with 120-grit sandpaper or an abrasive sponge. “But if your doors are engineered wood or MDF (medium-density fiberboard), you just want to sand lightly enough to roughen the surface for primer,” she says.

      Mistake 9: You left dust on your cabinets while painting.

      Vacuum up all debris before think to dip this brush in the paint. A few bits of dust can ruin the look: “You’ll get a grainy finish and look like you’ve painted on sand,” says Fahrbach. “To fix it, you’ll have to sand it down and repaint everything again.”

      Mistake 10: You didn’t bother to raise the cabinets before painting.

      If you don’t shim your cabinets before painting, you may miss edges and corners. Lay the doors on the painter’s pyramids so you can more easily maneuver a paintbrush around the bottom edges.

      Error 11: You skipped the paint primer.

      The last thing you want is for knots to appear on your cabinets weeks or months after you paint them. The best way to avoid this is to use a primer. “Primer helps paint adhere to surfaces and is a critical step if you’re painting cabinets,” says Gibbons. Consider Clare’s Quick Dry Multi-Surface Paint Primer which can help conceal any imperfections and even block stains.

      Error 12: You did not paint the surface of your cabinets in the correct order.

      Don’t rush straight: Gibbons suggests painting the insides of your cabinets first, then tackling the doors. Doors usually require a lot of time, because you have to paint both sides and let them dry completely between coats. You can start from the back of your cabinet doors. Apply one coat, wait 24 hours then move on to your second coat of paint. After 24 hours, flip the doors over and paint the first coat on your front side. Wait 24 hours before painting the second coat.

      Error 13: You chose the wrong paint color.

      Of course, there is no right or wrong color for your own kitchen. But for cabinetry, it’s important to get it right the first time. “This project is easy, but it’s not the kind of job you’ll want to do again anytime soon if you don’t like the color,” says Petersik.

      She suggests painting a large poster board with a tester in whatever color you’re considering (you can usually get a small one for just $5). “Hang it next to your backsplash and appliances and make sure it’s really the color you want.” If you’re not sure where to start, check out color paint trends for inspiration!

      Step 14: You didn’t use the best brand of paint.

      You can choose from a multitude of paint brands ranging from Clare to a Good Housekeeping Institute favorite, Benjamin Moore Advance, which has a smooth finish suitable for the kitchen. Although it might be a little more than some other paints on the shelf, it’s worth it. Gibbons also likes to use a satin polyurethane topcoat for durability. It helps your paint dry to a very hard, enamel-like finish.

      And you probably won’t use more than two gallons of paint, so the costs won’t be as prohibitive as painting an entire room.

      Worried about visible brush marks? Virginie at Live Love DIY follow his brushstrokes with a foam roller to smooth things out. And a more experienced DIYer might like the finish provided by a spray gun (like Jenny at Little Green Notebook uses), but it’s a bit heavier than a paintbrush.

      Error 15: You put the cabinets back too quickly.

      Yes, it’s frustrating to wait days for the paint to harden. Corn if you accidentally stain the paint, you must sand the door and repaint it (a hard truth that any woman who has been rushed to leave the nail salon surely understands). It’s worth the wait though. “Painting cabinets can be tedious, but if you take your time doing it right, you’ll be very happy with the results,” says Gibbons.


      *Additional reporting by Lisa Freedman

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