How to Prep Your Cabinets for Paint

Okay, y’all. Let me just start by say­ing, I am not a pro­fes­sion­al painter. This is my sec­ond time tak­ing on this type of project but my first time doc­u­ment­ing the process. I com­plete­ly under­stand how over­whelm­ing it can become with the crazy amount of cab­i­net paint­ing tuto­ri­als that are out there. That is why I have tried my very best to break it down in the clear­est way possible. 

We recent­ly moved into our for­ev­er home and even though I fell in love with the house, I did not love the cab­i­nets. And let me tell ya, if there were any cab­i­nets in the world that were gonna be tough to tack­le, they were mine. They were made from a knot­ty hard­wood, I real­ly don’t know the exact type. All I know is they were knot­ty, stained an orange-ish col­or and had a suu­u­u­u­per glossy lacquer. 


See what I mean? Even though they just weren’t my style, they were still per­fect­ly good cab­i­nets that had plen­ty of life left in them. With a lit­tle fresh­en­ing up I was sure that it would light­en up the whole room and fit bet­ter with my over­all theme of the house. 

Before you even open your can of paint, there are nec­es­sary steps to take to get your cab­i­nets prepped. These steps are intend­ed to be a guide and rep­re­sent my per­son­al results. I am not say­ing that this is a cook­ie-cut­ter guide for all but it will give most a good idea of where to start.


This step is per­haps the most impor­tant step of the entire process. I used a dilut­ed TSP for­mu­la. It is an amaz­ing degreas­er for heavy build-up. Just fol­low the dilu­tion direc­tions on the bot­tle and wipe down with a lint free cloth.

I mean LOOK at all that dirt! Let me clar­i­fy by say­ing, we are not dirty peo­ple. This is from my upper cab­i­nets only, that I thought were clean! Can you imag­ine if you just paint­ed over all that? It would­n’t work out so well. That is why this step is KEY to the whole process. Clean cab­i­nets cre­ate the best work­able sur­face for paint to adhere.


After every­thing was nice and clean I marked each door (and draw­er) with a cor­re­spond­ing num­ber start­ing from one side of the uppers and work­ing my way all the way around before mov­ing to the low­ers. I just used a paint friend­ly mask­ing tape. You will keep your cab­i­nets num­bered right up until you replace them.


Next, I wiped down the doors and cab­i­nets with a liq­uid sander degloss­er. I must stress here that this method does not total­ly replace sand­ing. How­ev­er, this is an excel­lent alter­na­tive if you are look­ing only to degloss an already smooth sur­face, or if you’re like me and you’re okay with the imper­fec­tions, then this per­fect!. It cre­ates a rough coat­ing on glossy sur­faces that helps the paint and primer stick with­out all the has­sle and time.

I could­n’t find the link for this exact degloss­er I found at my local home improvemtn store, but I linked a sim­i­lar one HERE

The degloss­er is a milky glue-like sub­stance. If you apply per the direc­tions on the bot­tle, it will work like a charm. Apply with a lint free cloth and allow to dry. Once dry, it will leave a white film on your cab­i­nets that you can paint right over. Don’t wor­ry, this is sup­posed to happen!


Now, on to primer! KILZ Orig­i­nal did the trick for me just fine! It blocked the look of the knots so they won’t be seen under the paint. One good coat applied with both a roller and brush (chat with the paint guy at the store, he can direct you to the right roller and brush) and my cab­i­nets are ready for paint! I did go over the knots a sec­ond time for good mea­sure because I’m para­noid but I’m not sure that it’s nec­es­sary. Like I said, I am not a pro­fes­sion­al, I am sim­ply shar­ing what worked for me.


Are you tired yet? It’s a lot of work, I’m not gonna lie. It takes a lot of time and work to get cab­i­nets ready for paint but I can promise you will be hap­py you did. I have a few more doors to fin­ish up prim­ing then I will be ready for paint! 

Be on the look­out for STEP FIVE-PAINT here soon! I am still decid­ing on paint and com­m­mu­ni­cat­ing with brands to find the best pos­si­ble paint for the job. Stay tuned! 

In the mean­time, pin these instruc­tions for later!


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