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How to paint kitchen cabinets, doors and units

Kitchen painted in Lick Beige 03 paint

WordsMaha Elley


Search for kitchen inspo on Pinterest and you’ll quickly realize that painted kitchen cabinets are all the rage. Adding a lick of kitchen paint to your cabinets is an easy way to give your kitchen a refresh without investing in a full-blown kitchen makeover. You don’t need to go super bold with your color choices here. Even a muted and earthy tone or a cool grey can help give your kitchen a whole new look. 

Now, painting your kitchen cabinets isn’t a job to be rushed, with a fairly long drying time involved. But with the amount of time we now spend in our kitchens, you don’t want to be faced with a poor paint job every time you pop in for a quick snack. Which, let’s face it, is pretty much every hour on the hour if you spend your days at home. 

Discover how to prep and paint your kitchen cabinets, doors and units by following our easy step-by-step guide.

What is the best paint to use on kitchen cabinets, doors and units?

First, it’s time to decide which paint you actually want to use for your cabinets. Yes, there’s the fun choosing your kitchen paint colors part, but you also need to choose a finish - eggshell or matt? 

We would recommend using an eggshell finish for your kitchen cabinets. Read more about our eggshell paint range here.

Please note: if you do decide to use a matt paint finish, ensure you use a varnish for maximum protection.

What tools do I need to paint kitchen cabinets?

Along with the paint, we have all the decorating tools you need to prep and paint your cabinets, doors, and units. See the full list of what's required below:

  • Lick kitchen cabinet paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint roller
  • Painters tape
  • Paint tray and kettle
  • Screwdriver
  • Sandpaper or sanding block
  • Non-abrasive cloth

How to paint your kitchen cupboards 

Follow the steps below: 

Step 1: Prep 

Start with a good clean to make sure that your paint is applied onto a surface it can really stick to. All you need is water and a non-abrasive cloth, but make sure that you get all the grease off to ensure your paint can stick.

Next, it’s time to remove the doors and drawers, hinges and all. Do not try to paint everything in its place, as your paint may start to crack around the hinges. Save yourselves the trouble of having to paint and repaint by dismantling your kitchen cupboards before starting. 

Step 2: Sand and clear dust

Buff your cabinets into a smoother state with sandpaper (or a sanding block) and you’ll find that the paint will stick better. Don’t opt for super gritty sandpaper as you could end up sanding them down to wood. We’d recommend something like 120 grit to give them just enough of a buff for the paint to stick. 

Next, get rid of any dust and debris. You don’t want to get any paint on the surface until it’s completely dust-free. Even a few pesky particles can leave your cabinets with a gritty looking finish. 

Step 3: Prime 

Painting laminate, melamine or MDF kitchen cupboards?

  • Apply a coat of primer to your kitchen cabinets and leave to dry for a few hours before reaching for the paint. We’d recommend using Zinsser BIN water-based primer to amp up the durability of your Lick paint. 

Painting raw, untreated MDF or wood that hasn't been painted before?

  • These surfaces can be quite absorbent and porous, so we recommend adding in a mist coat as your primer. A mist coat is a mixture of 70% paint and 30% water, and should be added after sanding. Let this mist coat dry before painting as normal. You’ll then get the finish you want with 2-3 coats of paint.

Step 4: Paint 

Time to apply your chosen Lick paint. Starting with the frames, start painting in even strokes and work your way from the inside out. Use a paint brush to really get into those corners. 

For the cupboard doors and drawer fronts, paint their backs first. Allow them to dry completely before moving to the front surfaces. 

Step 5: Leave to dry 

Don’t rush to put your kitchen cabinets back in — not unless you want to undo all the hard DIY work you’ve just put in. In fact, we’d recommend leaving your paint to dry for around 7 days before putting back up.

Step 6: Varnish (optional) 

Now, varnish isn’t a must for your kitchen cupboards. But if you want a bit more gloss than an eggshell finish offers, add a coat of varnish after your paint dries. Word of warning: this does just add more drying time to your whole process though, as you then have to wait for the varnish to dry before putting your cupboards back up.

Common mistakes when painting kitchen cupboards

Before you start the kitchen cupboard painting process, here are some commonly made mistakes to take extra care to avoid: 

  • Using sugar soap when cleaning - Steer clear of sugar soap when cleaning your cupboard surfaces as prep. Water and a non-abrasive cloth is all you need to clean. 
  • Not sanding - Don’t underestimate the importance of this step. You want to give your paint a smooth and even surface to stick to so your paint job lasts longer.  
  • Not allowing enough time for the paint to dry - Patience is key here! Be extra careful after painting kitchen cupboards (especially with wood - paint needs time to settle and absorb into the wood). We’d recommend leaving your freshly painted cabinets to dry for a full 7 days after.

There you have it. A refreshed and revived kitchen in just a few steps. If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out what Kelly and Ben have done with their kitchen cupboards and a tin of black Lick paint, or read our advice on the best paint colours for a kitchen and our definitive guide on how to paint wood furniture here.