How to Paint Kitchen Cupboards


Painting kitchen cupboards can refresh your kitchen color scheme and provide an easily-maintained surface. No one can realistically put cleaning out cupboards for painting at the top of the fun-to-do list, but a system can help you complete the task quickly.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Sandpaper (medium & fine grade)
  • Liquid soap or non-sudsing cleaner
  • Masking tape
  • Newspapers or sheet plastic
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes


  • Uses boxes, bags or bins to organize contents of kitchen cupboards as you unload--ideally, one container for each cupboard. Keep the trash can within reach for quick disposal of outdated supplies.

  • Remove cabinet knobs and handles, set aside to wash. Remove the shelves and wash the cupboards inside and out, beginning inside and cleaning all surfaces to be painted. Use liquid soap or sudsless cleaner (such as Spic and Span), a bucket of water and a sponge. Wash the top first, vertical surfaces next, bottoms last. Be sure to wash the back wall and the face frame.

  • Let cupboards air dry with the doors open. Protect counters, appliances and floor with newspapers or sheet plastic. For the best job, secure protective material with masking tape. Mask off adjoining walls, soffits, ceiling and trim.


  • Lightly sand all surfaces to be painted. You do not need to sand off all previous paint or varnish, only roughen the surfaces slightly so the new paint adheres well. Wipe off any sandy residue with a damp paper towel.

  • Prime any discolored or damaged areas with a thin coat of paint. Feather the edges--streak them with a brush containing very little paint--so that primed areas will blend in completely when you paint. If the cupboards are raw wood that has never been painted, cover all surfaces with two full coats, allowing the primer to dry between coats.

  • Apply paint to all surfaces, in a thin, even coat. Begin with vertical inside surfaces, then paint undersides of shelves. Wipe up drips as you go. Continue with topsides of shelves. Paint outsides of cupboards, beginning with underside (facing counter). Paint outer surfaces, saving both insides and outsides of doors till last. Let dry at least 24 hours.

  • Decide whether cupboards need a full second coat of paint. If not, apply a second coat only to surfaces most subject to wear: top surfaces of shelves and both sides of cupboard doors. Allow at least 24 hours for this second coat to dry, to avoid marking or smudging surfaces.

  • Wash and replace hardware or install new knobs and handles to complement the new look. Replace the shelves and the contents.

Tips & Warnings

  • These directions assume that cupboards are wood or wood-based. Directions can generally be used to paint metal or formica-surfaced cupboards, but you may want more detailed information on surface preparation and paint types before painting them.
  • When using paint or other household chemicals, make sure your workspace is well ventilated. This will reduce the paint smell and your exposure to fumes.

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