How to paint kitchen cabinets and give them a fresh new look 

Discover how to get a professional finish with our expert DIY tips.

Are you tired of your kitchen but not ready or able to install a new one? Painting your kitchen cabinets could be the perfect solution to updating your kitchen without blowing your budget.

Rather than investing in a complete kitchen transformation – which, according to Rated People, can cost on average between £5,000 and £12,000 – you can achieve a brand-new look at a fraction of the cost.  

If your cupboards are in good shape and you’re happy with your kitchen layout, get ready to learn some top DIY tips on how to paint kitchen cabinets.

Hand painted tall kitchen larderCredit: Shutterstock/Rust-Oleum

What paint should I use on kitchen cabinets?

Plain old emulsion just won’t do

Kitchen cupboards need to withstand everyday wear and tear, so the best paint will be hard-wearing, waterproof and wipeable. “The type of paint finish you pick will depend on the design aesthetic you’re after,” says Helen Meigh, interior paint buyer at B&Q.

For a sleek finish, your best choice is a satin or gloss paint, as they are easier to clean than matt paints. And even though these oil-based paints can be trickier to apply, they’ll be less likely to chip.

Chalk, matt, or eggshell paint can create a beautiful country look. However, as these paints are water-based, they are not as hard-wearing as satin and gloss and won’t withstand the rigours of a particularly busy kitchen. We wouldn’t dismiss them, but know the risks.

“Unless you’re trying to achieve a high-gloss effect on your kitchen cupboards – in which case I’d call in the experts – my advice would be to use either an eggshell finish or a specialist cupboard paint,” says our own Exceptional interiors expert, Sarah Harley.

“Eggshell will give you enough of a sheen to stop the space from looking too flat and is hardwearing, durable and more likely to stand the rigours of a busy kitchen. Farrow & Ball and Dulux offer a great range of colours in this finish. The only downside is that eggshell isn’t quite as simple to apply as a specialist cupboard paint.

“Also, while many specialist cupboard paints claim not to need primer or topcoat, on a job as big as a kitchen makeover, I’d personally always use a suitable primer for that extra layer of longevity.”


Our kitchen cupboard paint picks

There are plenty of paints designed for painting kitchen cupboards, from high-street brands to specialist paint companies. If you’re after a fresh look, try Wickes Multi Flat Matt Furniture Paint in White, or for a blue hue, try Maison Deco’s Refresh Kitchen Cupboard Paint in Glacier Blue.

If you’re looking for a dramatic statement, try Coat’s Eggshell Paint in Mezcal – a warm tone described as “intoxicating blackened orange”.

“A great mid-range product to consider is Rust-Oleum Kitchen Cupboard Paint,” says Exceptional’s Sarah Haley. “We recently tested their chalk paint and loved it. With over 110 shades available, it will give you the lovely ultra-matt finish of a chalk paint but is scrubbable, water resistant and harder wearing than chalk paint.

“Although chalk paints are considered suitable for kitchens, especially with the addition of a wax finish, I’d steer clear of using them unless I was aiming for a shabby chic or more rustic look.”

How to paint kitchen cabinets – what you’ll need

  • Dust sheets
  • Sugar soap
  • Masking tape
  • Sandpaper and sanding block
  • Screwdriver or electric drill driver
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paint tray
  • Primer
  • Cupboard paint

1. Remove the cabinets and hardware

Masking up and removal

Masking tap around kitchen cupboardCredit: Shutterstock/Rust-Oleum

Removing the cabinets from their casings is not essential, but if they can be removed it will make painting easier. Painting the door and drawer fronts on a flat surface, rather than in a vertical position, will prevent the paint dripping down the surfaces and running down the brush to the handle. If you do remove the cupboard fronts, Aaron Markwell, colour curator at Coat Paints, has a handy tip: “Remember to label and number the doors and draw a little sketch, so you know where everything goes back.”

However, if keeping the cupboard fronts in situ is your only option, make sure you protect the hinges and cover them with masking tape – this will avoid the unsightly mess of cracking paint around the hinges.

One element you must remove is the handles – unless you’re lucky enough to have sleek handleless cupboard fronts. Remember to store them in a safe place, to avoid misplacing them, while you get to work.

2. Protect walls and floors

Cover up

Keep your kitchen and painting area protected from dust and paint spills. Lay down dust sheets to protect the floor and work surfaces. Screwfix has a range of dust sheets, starting from £2.39. To avoid slipping, we’d recommend using a cotton twill or poly-backed dust sheet.

3. Clean your cabinets

Don’t trap dirt in your paintwork

Once the cabinets and door furniture have been removed and your work area is protected, it’s time to get cleaning.

“Kitchens are greasy spaces, and you must be sure to use warm soapy water to remove any grit, grease, dust or muck,” advises Wasik. “Clean like you’ve never cleaned before!”

Alternatively, to remove grease and grime, you could use a sugar soap solution. Once applied, you should rinse the cabinets with clean water and leave them to dry. Homebase recommend Bartoline’s Ready to Use Sugar Soap, at £4.50 for 500ml.

4. Sand the surface

Go with the grain

Once the surfaces are clean, they are ready to be sanded. It’s a vital stage as the right preparation will give you the best surface to paint. “It’s important this is also done evenly, and you cannot cut corners now, otherwise you’re going to pay for it later,” says Wasik. “Despite what you might think, painting won’t cover up errors here – it will only show up later!

“Pay attention to corners and curves as it’s essential to get the whole surface sanded to the same finish. Some primers do say they stick to any surfaces without sanding – but when it comes to durability and quality, I would not miss this step.”


5. It’s prime time

Create a base

Kitchen cabinet being primedCredit: Shutterstock/FotoHelin

Wasik recommends using  Zinnser primer (as mentioned above) because it’s a good all-rounder: “It adheres well to almost all surfaces, is pretty good at covering any stains and is ready to be painted over after about an hour with any topcoat.”

Whatever primer you use, make sure you check the drying time before applying the first layer of top coat.

Why use a primer?

A primer helps to seal the surface and prepare the area for the paint. Markwell explains: “Primers provide a sound base for paint as they will help with the adhesion and will stop knots and blemishes from showing through.” He recommends Coat’s multi-purpose primer, which is suitable for all surfaces.

A primer will help to prepare the surface for painting, and extend the longevity and durability of the painted surface. Wasik says: “Long-term, priming and preparing correctly will have a direct impact – it will make the finish more durable and prevent mould or condensation issues.”

6. Paint the top coat

Add colour to your cabinets

Stirring paint in a tinCredit: Shutterstock/Rust-Oleum

It may sound obvious, but after lifting the lid on the paint, give it a good stir, as the contents may have settled and separated. This simple step will ensure the colour is well mixed and consistent and ready for you to apply.

The painting technique you use will make a big difference to the final finish. Follow these tips to achieve a professional finish when painting kitchen cabinets.

“First, load the brush and paint in a one-way direction with smooth, gentle strokes covering only one area – keep to a border line or a small section.  Once you reload the brush, paint with the same pressure and in the same direction,” advises Wasik.

“Keep doing this until you finish a small area and then gently cover the whole area with smooth singular lines to ensure the brush strokes are all the same pressure, going the same way and continue for the whole length of the part you’ve painted.”

If you want a professional finish on kitchen cupboards, or any woodwork, the key is to be delicate. “If you get a lot of lines and brushmarks, it can be because you’re using the wrong tools, but more often it’s caused by applying too much pressure,” says Wasik.

His key advice it to keep everything uniform: “You don’t want chaotic patterns, different strokes and pressures – be gentle, smooth and keep it flowing.”

Handpainting a cupboard with a paintbrush showing paint tin on stoolCredit: Shutterstock/Rust-Oleum


While the first coat is drying (check the drying time on the paint tin), Markwell recommends wrapping your paint brush or roller in clingfilm to prevent it from drying out.

7. Lightly sand and apply another coat

Layer up for durability

Once the first coat is dry, lightly sand the cabinets and wipe them down with a damp cloth before applying the second coat. Then you’re ready to apply the next coat.

Rather than layering on thick coats of paint, building up thin layers is the secret to obtaining a sleek finish. This approach will make it easier to achieve a smooth and more durable result, as lightly sanding between coats will ensure a good key is achieved between all the layers of paint.

8. Finishing up

It’s a wrap

Handpainted kitchen cabinets in dark blueCredit: Shutterstock/Coat Paints

Now your hard work is done, it’s tempting to put everything back where it belongs so you can admire your kitchen transformation. However, although the paint will dry in about two to four hours, Markwell suggests waiting 24 hours to allow the paint to cure (see note). This will keep the paint intact while you reassemble your kitchen units. After all your hard work, the last thing you want is to chip that perfect paintwork!

Once the paint has cured, remove any masking tape from the hinges and reattach the cupboards and drawer fronts to your units before attaching the handles. Or if you want a completely new look, you could replace the handles for an even fresher vibe.

How does paint cure?

During the paint-curing process, the water in the paint evaporates, and the other chemicals react to cause the paint to bond with the surface. Waiting for the cure ensures the surface will be more durable and resistant.

How to add extra durability to your cabinet finish

Try these professional tricks

Applying a specialist paint with a paint sprayer will certainly create a professional finish and give your kitchen cabinets added durability, but unless you bring in a professional, it’s unlikely you’ll have the skills or equipment to do the job. However, Pav Wasik, founder and director at Uptown Interiors, says there are other ways to toughen up oil-based and water-based paints: “I usually recommend clear coats and sealants to add an extra layer of protection. Adding a clear layer will not affect the colour, and you can choose the type of finish.”

What’s the best colour for kitchen cabinets?

Think about your cabinetry style

Now we know what paint to use, we can choose the colour. If you’re similar to me, being surrounded by colour palettes is like being in a sweet shop. The only problem is deciding which one to buy when you’re spoilt for choice. When you can’t decide, there’s always the option to go for a two-tone effect, with floor and wall cabinets painted in contrasting tones.

Whatever you choose, think about the style of cabinetry you’re painting. A classic Shaker style will suit softer tones, while modern, sleek cabinetry can take a bolder, more dramatic look. And consider the colours and textures of elements within your kitchen that won’t change, such as any worktops and colourful splashbacks.

To help make the right choice, rather than using a tester pot, many paint companies now offer peel and stick samples. These are less permanent than paint and can be easily used in different areas of your kitchen, with different lighting, to help you decide.

What is the best paintbrush for painting kitchen cabinets?

A stiffer brush offers more precision

Investing in the best tools for the job will certainly improve the end results. And when you’re saving money on doing the work yourself, it makes sense to spend out on the best paintbrush you can afford.

Wasik knows a thing or two about buying paintbrushes: “Ask any chef about their favourite type of knife, and you’re going to get a different answer about what makes the perfect tool. The same goes for people in the professional decorating industry. Paintbrushes are very personal, and their results will vary depending on who uses them. I use oval and angular-shaped polyester brushes. My favourite brands are PurdyArroworthy’s Rembrandt and the Picasso Chisel Angled Oval Brush.

Meigh recommends using a natural bristle brush as they are great for spreading thick paint evenly: “They’re an ideal choice when working on your kitchen cupboards,” she says, “They are also useful when manoeuvring around tight areas as their natural stiffness can provide more precision.”

How to keep your painted kitchen cabinets in tip-top condition

Take care of your handiwork

No matter how hard you try to be careful, kitchens are high-traffic areas, and if you have painted cabinets, they’re bound to get a few chips!  When repairing the damage, the tricky part is matching the existing paint, so you don’t get an end result that looks “patched up”.

  1. Start by cleaning the paintwork.
  2. Lightly sand the chipped area and a small area around the chip. Try to rub gently without removing the surrounding paint – a 320-grit sandpaper will do the job.
  3. Add primer sparingly to the area you’ve sanded.
  4. If you’ve still got the original paint, apply it using the same technique as mentioned above. Paint in the same direction and try to match up the brush lines to achieve a smooth and blended finish.
Green handpainted kitchen units with black worksurfaceCredit: Shutterstock/Rust-Oleum

More cabinet painting FAQs

What if my kitchen cabinets are already painted?

You might be looking to transform kitchen cabinets that are already painted. If this is the case, Wasik advises: “It’s worth identifying what paint was used previously, and then to use the same kind, unless you’re stripping it all off. It’s also good to understand whether they were hand painted or sprayed – although with the right preparation, both methods should work.”

To spray or not to spray

Unless you’re a dab hand, we’d recommend leaving paint-spraying your kitchen cabinets to the professionals. However, if you’ve used a paint sprayer before, Wasik recommends using a polyurethane 1K paint that’s available from trade suppliers. This paint is extra durable and designed for high-traffic use.

Does my paint choice depend on the material of my cabinets?

The paint you choose shouldn’t be restricted by the material you are painting. “In most cases, specialist cupboard paints are designed to work on wood and melamine, which are fairly standard in kitchens,” says Harley.

But what about eggshell paints? Markwell is confident that eggshell can be used on multiple surfaces: “Eggshell is designed for wood, metal & MDF, so it’s easy to apply, and we can guarantee that the final result will look great.”

However, if you choose an eggshell paint, you’ll need more time to prepare the surface, which should include applying a primer, says Harley. Wasik agrees and suggests using a primer on MDF, vinyl and previously painted doors: “I’d recommend Zinsser’s multi-surface primer and sealer. It’s a really good product and will set you up with the best starting point,” he says. “It can also cope with any type of topcoat – making it a perfect all-rounder.”

Are there any kitchen cabinet materials that can’t be painted?

Exceptional asked Wasik what he had found: “Ten years ago, I think I would have had a different answer, but the world of paint has evolved so much recently, and thankfully, now most kitchen cabinets are paintable,” he says. “The key is the preparation of the surface – as each material requires something different – but once you’ve got your prep done you can paint just about anything!”

Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her


With her 30 years of experience, Camilla Sharman has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader.