How to paint your kitchen cupboards – a step by step guide and the mistakes to avoid!

A bit of DIY is the best way to transform and renovate your home on a small budget, and although there are some things (like applying wall coatings and patching up roofing!) that you should always get the experts to do, there are lots of things that you can have a go at yourself to keep costs down. It’s amazing what you can achieve for next-to-nothing if you roll up your sleeves and have a go – and a kitchen makeover will make such a difference! So here’s my step by step guide on how to paint your kitchen cupboards (and the mistakes to avoid!)…

 

My kitchen project

In June 2020, I finally painted my kitchen cupboards (after saying I was going to do it for four years!) and the result was amazing! (So if I can do it, you can too!) It looks like a completely different kitchen, and it was certainly worth the hard work. This guide is a one-stop-shop for everything that you’ll need to know before you start – and the mistakes to avoid! (I learnt the hard way!)

Our cupboard doors are solid oak and the surrounding bits are wood veneer, so it’s a well built and sturdy kitchen – definitely not in need of replacing. But, I wanted to modernise the kitchen and we also needed to do some repairs too. The previous owner’s dog had chewed an end panel and peed on the end panels and plinths, so we had a broken end panel and a lot of dark stains.

My dad helped us to repair the end panel (freshly painted you can hardly see the join) and all of the dark stains are now long gone – it all looks brand new again. Repairing and then painting the kitchen was a much cheaper option than replacing the damaged woodwork.

Depending on the brand of paint you go for, you could easily transform your kitchen for less than £50. I spent around £150 as I decided to use Farrow and Ball, which is pricier than other brands, but they have such a great range of colours to choose from. I opted for Farrow and Ball Modern Eggshell in Moles Breath as I loved the colour.

Some bits of the kitchen took 6 coats (most of it had at least 5) so it was a longer job than I anticipated and I think this was due to the F&B paint. I was also really lucky that I bought a 5 litre tin, as I got through a lot of paint with so many coats.

I found I had to work pretty quickly to avoid patches in the sheen and roller/brush strokes which were visible when each coat had dried. But if I went too quickly the paint bubbled, so it really was a juggling act. It took me a while to get it right, and I’m a total perfectionist, so I ended up sanding and repainting A LOT until I figured out how to get good results.

I think the number of coats, and the issues that I came across, were down to my paint choice as I painted the kitchen in our last house with cupboard paint easily – two coats and no issues. And, I painted all of the other woodwork in my house last year with a Dulux Satinwood and, again, it was really simple and gave a great finish with two coats.

But, having said that, the F&B modern eggshell paint is also suitable for flooring so it is really durable. This, along with the colour options, is why I opted to spend a bit more and go with F&B. In the scheme of things, I think £150 to completely transform a kitchen is a great investment.

F&B have a lesser sheen paint (20% sheen with estate eggshell) which I think would have been easier to paint with but I went with the 40% sheen for its extra durability. And, despite the hard work, the finish is brilliant and it looks GREAT.

 

Is it worth it? Does it last? Update May 2024…

Almost four years later, the kitchen still looks as good as I when finished it – I’m so pleased that I put in the elbow grease to do the work. Despite the painting issues, the Farrow & Ball paint has proven to be well worth it as it’s really durable and the cupboards have withstood knocks, cleaning, steam and hot pans boiling over on the hob. It also touches up really well so the odd imperfection is easily fixed and then unnoticeable. I would definitely use this paint again.

Take a look at my before/after photos and if you fancy giving it a go here’s what you’ll need and how to do it…

 

Before…

How to paint your kitchen cupboards, frugal mum step by step beginners guide, before and after photo

How to paint your kitchen cupboards, frugal mum step by step beginners guide, before and after photo

How to paint your kitchen cupboards, frugal mum step by step beginners guide, before and after photo

 

After…

paint kitchen cupboards, frugal mum step by step guide, before and after photo, farrow and ball, moles breath

paint kitchen cupboards, frugal mum step by step guide, before and after photo, farrow and ball, moles breath

paint kitchen cupboards, frugal mum step by step guide, before and after photo, farrow and ball, moles breath

As you can see, painting the kitchen made a huge difference to the room, and removing some of the upper cupboards helped to make the space feel more light and open. We’ve since had the wall removed too, which has opened up the kitchen even more!

 

What will I need to paint my kitchen cabinets?

 

Which paint should I choose?

Check out my detailed pros and cons review of these paints in my article – Which is the best paint for painting kitchen cupboards?

But for a quick glance, here are some of the different options that I came across on my travels; to suit a wide range of budgets, colours and requirements…

Wilko Cupboard Paint

which paint for kitchen cupboards, wilko furniture and cupboard paint

 

Dulux Satinwood

which paint for kitchen cupboards, dulux satinwood paint quick dry

 

Farrow & Ball Eggshell – Estate (20% sheen) or Modern (40% sheen)

which paint for kitchen cupboards, farrow and ball eggshell paint

 

Dulux Cupboard Paint

which paint for kitchen cupboards, dulux cupboard paint tin

 

V33 Cupboard and Cabinet Paint

which paint for kitchen cupboards, v33 cupboard paint

 

Johnstone’s Cupboard Paint

which paint for kitchen cupboards, johnstones cupboard paint tin

 

Frenchic Alfresco Paint

which paint for kitchen cupboards, frenchic alfresco paint tin

Don’t forget to read the reviews, hunt for the best prices, use cashback websites and look for voucher codes! I saved 10% by signing up as a new customer on a paint website.

 

A beginner’s guide: How do I paint my kitchen cabinets?

Step One

If you’re removing the doors, draw up a kitchen plan and put any hardware and screws into labelled envelopes to keep them organised. I found it easier to paint the large doors and end panels vertically whilst they were attached, and figured this out the hard way by trying it both ways! But smaller doors were much easier to paint removed from the kitchen and laid down. Use masking tape to label the backs of the cupboard doors if you are removing them.

How to paint your kitchen cupboards, frugal mum step by step beginners guide, kitchen cupboard renovation, plan

 

Step Two

Thoroughly clean the cupboard doors, end panels, plinths, and any other parts of the kitchen that you’ll be painting. Use sugar soap to make sure that they are grime and grease free, rinse and allow plenty of drying time – I washed the doors the day before I wanted to start painting.

How to paint your kitchen cupboards, frugal mum step by step beginners guide, washing doors

 

Step Three

Gently sand all of the cupboard door fronts and sides, end panels, plinths and any other areas to be painted with a fine grit sandpaper. I found that putting a wooden block under the sand paper made it easier to grip and to get into the grooves and edges. Be sure not to push too hard, to avoid scratch marks in the woodwork/laminate finish.

For previously painted cupboards, a gentle sanding will usually be sufficient, but if the paint is in poor condition you may want to strip it first. (To save time and elbow grease you might want to invest in an electric sander – mine was just 20 quid and I wish I’d bought one before I painted my cupboards, it would had saved so much time!)

 

Step Four

Clean the sanded wood to make sure that you have a dust-free surface to paint on. Fill in any knocks, scratches and grain lines at this point too, if you want a ‘new’ look, or leave them if you like the character or grooves in the wood. You can still see the wood grain in my cabinets and I really love the way it looks.

 

Step Five

If you’re not painting the backs of the kitchen cupboards, put masking tape around the edges to make sure that you get a nice clean line and no mess on the back of the cupboard when the tape is removed. This takes a bit of time but it’s so worth it and a step that shouldn’t be skipped if you aren’t painting both sides. I only did the fronts of the cupboards and was so pleased that I didn’t opt to do the backs as well; it would have doubled the cost and workload!

How to paint your kitchen cupboards, frugal mum step by step beginners guide, making tape

 

Step Six

Now it’s time to prime everything and allow it to dry (see instructions on the tin). The type of primer needed will depend on whether the doors are solid wood or laminate, so make sure you buy a primer that’s suitable for the type of surface that you’re painting. Do a second coat if required; you don’t need to sand in-between coats of primer unless you feel it’s needed aesthetically.

I put all of the doors onto four blocks of wood to keep them away from any surfaces and it allowed me to paint quickly and easily. Once set up, I left the doors in place for the duration of the project and this made things so much more simple. If you’re painting both sides of your doors, use painting pyramids to speed things up.

How to paint your kitchen cupboards, frugal mum step by step beginners guide, doors ready to paint

 

Step Seven

Paint everything with your chosen paint – I used a brush for the cutting in and fiddly bits, and a mini foam roller for the main areas, to avoid brush strokes as much as possible. A tiny children’s / artist style paint brush will also come in really handy for corners and little crevices.

To avoid patches and roller/brush strokes, be sure to apply the paint quite liberally (avoid spreading too thinly) and don’t keep going over what you’ve previously done. Once covered, simply run the roller in straight lines from top to bottom very lightly, to ensure an even finish, and then move on to the next door. Don’t forget to sand lightly between coats.

How to paint your kitchen cupboards, frugal mum step by step beginners guide, painted door

 

Mistakes to avoid…

  • As I mentioned in step seven, work quickly and avoid going over what you’ve done too much or you’ll spoil the finish. Over-working the paint will make the sheen patchy once dried. Quick drying paints may also start to go tacky.

  • Be sure to give everything at least 2 coats, even if the coverage looks good, to make sure it stands the test of time. I think even without my painting errors, the F&B paint would have needed a minimum of 3 coats. On top of this, kitchen cupboards need to be washable without fear of ruining the paintwork.

  • Never paint without using sugar soap, or similar, to clean the cabinets first. The grease from cooking must be removed before painting, in order for the paint to adhere to the surface and cover evenly. It only costs a few pounds and not cleaning your woodwork properly could completely ruin the end result.

  • Make sure you pick the right primer for your surface-type to provide a good base for your paint to adhere to. When I was researching and reading reviews, the general consensus is that you need to use Farrow and Ball’s primer, if you’re using their paint, to get a good finish. In my experience, I also found it to be a great primer and it went a long way, though it’s more expensive than other brands.

  • Avoid purchasing your paint on a whim – do some research online before you buy to see what others have used and how well it has stood the test of time. This isn’t a small job, so you won’t want to repeat it for a while! As much as I love matt paint, and the look it creates, a painted kitchen needs a durable finish. Scratched, chipped or stained cupboard doors would look worse than not painting them at all; make sure the paint you use is suitable for use in the kitchen as it will need to be washable and able to cope with for grease, steam and heavy traffic.

  • Don’t leave the cornices and plinths in place if they can be easily removed. They are so quick and easy to paint but they’ll cause a lot of cutting in around the floor and the tops of the cupboards if they’re still attached, which over a few coats makes a lot of extra work. I removed mine and painted them outside – it was definitely a time saver in the long run!

  • Try not to put the cupboard doors back on too soon if possible. Allow the final coat 24 hours of drying time before you use the doors if you can. Paint takes a lot longer to cure than it does to dry, so this will prevent damage occurring before the paint has hardened. Be gentle with your kitchen for a few weeks afterwards too – the paint will take about 3 weeks to properly cure and become durable.

  • Don’t forget to make any new holes for handles (and fill old ones) before you paint if you’re changing your hardware. New handles are really cheap on Amazon and it’s definitely something to consider as they can completely change the look of your kitchen.

  • Don’t underestimate the time you’ll need, or skip the prep – the cleaning, priming and organising is just as important as the painting if you want a good finish.

  • Never start this job without childcare and some take-away menus!! You will most certainly need both!! 😂

 

Other articles that might interest you…

Which is the best paint for painting kitchen cupboards? (A pros/cons review)

best paint for kitchen cupboards, pros and cons review

 

Budget renovation tips – here’s how improve your home on a small budget

improve home, budget renovation tips, frugal mum guide

 

Budget DIY: How to paint / upcycle furniture for beginners

frugal mum photo, pink sideboard, upcycling before and after, budget renovations, DIY tips guide

 

How to improve your garden on a small budget – 15 ways to transform your outdoor space!

how to improve your garden on a small budget, ways to transform your outdoor space, frugal mum tips

 

The Ultimate Family Frugal Living Guide: 25 simple tips to save you money!

ultimate family frugal living guide, frugal mum tips, 25 ways to save money, simple lifestyle

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2 comments
  1. Hi Natalie
    Some great tips thanks for sharing
    I like the masking the reverse of the cupboards as a time saver and the cornice removal too. About to undertake the job in the next 2 weeks or so.

    1. Hi David,
      Best of luck with your painting – it’s time consuming but absolutely worth the hard work for the impact it’ll have at such a low cost! Such a transformation!
      Nat x

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