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Painting Kitchen Cabinets vs Cabinet Refacing

Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Painting Kitchen Cabinets – First, Do No Harm

Painting kitchen cabinets is often recommended as a quick and inexpensive way to update or improve your kitchen. I’ve seen some kitchens ruined by paint,  I have also painted cabinets for customers in the past (though I no longer provide that service) and have had very good results.

So how do you know if you’re going to improve or ruin you cabinets with paint?

Painting Your Cabinets – Some things to Think About

The main benefit to painting kitchen cabinets is cost. Especially if you do it yourself. If you’re going to pay a qualified professional to it then the cost becomes less of a benefit. If you are going to paint your cabinets yourself I would offer these tips:

Go to a real paint store. Stop buying your paint at Home Depot and Lowe’s. The people who work there are nice and they do their best but they lack the training and experience to suggest the right product to you.

Go to a paint store (we happen to like Benjamin Moore and PPG) and tell them what you are painting. They will ask a few questions and then recommend to you the best product for your application. You will pay more for the paint but only by a few dollars and your will get a much better result

How to Paint Your Cabinets to Add Value to Your Home

Plan for the project to take 3 to 4 days. This is not a weekend project if you want to do it correctly. Even if you have lots of help paint must dry over night between coats and before your reinstall you hinges and pulls. You can keep using your kitchen to cook dinner etc… but you have to be real careful not spill anything on the new paint.

You’ll need a lot of room to layout your cabinet doors. You can only paint one side of your cabinet doors at time and need to let them dry overnight before you flip them.

Prepwork is key

  • Remove your doors, hinges and pulls
  • Find some room to layout all the doors
  • Wash the hinges and pulls with mild soap and water, when dry store them in ziplock bags so no pieces get lost
  • Lightly sand the doors, drawer fronts and cabinet boxes
  • Clean the cabinets well, any dust, grease or dirt will cause paint failure

Prime and Paint

  • Prime with a good quality primer – don’t skimp here
  • Let it dry overnight
  • Lightly sand after the primer dries
  • Paint your first top coat – again buy high quality paint
  • Let dry overnight
  • Flip your doors and paint the back sides
  • Let dry

Hang, check, Paint Again

  • Rehang the doors
  • Open and close the doors, check for rubbing or tight fit
  • Paint adds thickness to the doors
  • Sand down any areas that are rubbing or fit too tight
  • Touch up / apply a second coat
  • let dry overnight
  • Install pulls

How to Ruin Your Kitchen Cabinets with Paint

Painting your cabinets properly is mostly about setting expectations. Plan for enough time and follow the steps above and you should be OK. Most people though will make a mistake or three that can ruin the whole project. Here are some don’ts:

  • Don’t remove the cabinet doors
  • Don’t clean you cabinets
  • Get paint on your hinges and pulls
  • Don’t sand or use a primer, use cheap paint
  • Try to get it all done in a weekend

The Best Paint Finish is Still a Bad Cabinet Finish

The difference between paint and lacquer

Paint is soft, goes on thick and is not very durable on hard surfaces like wood. Lacquer goes on in thin coats and is a hard, durable surface.

When most people, even professionals, see a solid color on a cabinet they call it “paint”. What you are usually looking at though is called tinted lacquer. Lacquer is a harder more durable surface than paint and is a superior product for cabinets and furniture. It is however hard to apply, requires proper safety gear and a must be sprayed on for a smooth finish, it’s not really DIY friendly.

Lacquer also smells pretty bad and should not be breathed in as it contains VOCs (volitile organic compounds). That makes it difficult to spray lacquer in an occupied home.

There are water based lacquers with much lower VOC content (all of our finishes are water based) and they are much better but still I wouldn’t spray them in your home unless you hire someone with a lot of experience in work area containment and can control the spray.

That’s why most people recommend paint for DIYers. But paint is soft and not ideally suited for cabinets.

Bottom Line: Painting cabinets is a good short term solution 

Expect your painted cabinets to have a 5 year lifespan. Then you should consider replacing or refacing your cabinets.

Cabinet refacing is the process of customizing your cabinets by replacing your doors and drawer fronts with new, custom made doors and drawers. Your face frames and end panels are covered in a 1/4 solid core plywood skin that is color matched to your doors and drawers.

Painting vs Refacing vs Replacing

A quick comparison

Paint Pros

  • Low Cost if DIY
  • Medium Cost if hire a pro
  • Can look good

Paint Cons

  • short lifespan – 5 – 7 years
  • Not highly valued for resale
  • Door style doesn’t change
  • hinge style stays the same
  • Disruptive – can’t use kitchen for several days

Refacing Pros

  • Medium cost
  • Looks amazing
  • Keep using your kitchen
  • Keep your counter tops
  • Change door style
  • Upgrade hinges
  • Some customization possible

Refacing Cons

  • Limited ability to change kitchen layout
  • Cabinet boxes must be in good shape

New Cabinets Pros

  • All new cabinets
  • Also looks amazing
  • Change style, hinges etc…
  • Change layout

New Cabinets Cons

  • Highest Costs
  • Disruptive – can’t use kitchen for 2 weeks or more
  • Also need new counter tops


Thank you for reading! If you think refacing cabinets is the best route for you check out our process

Paul McManus

Certified Residential Contractor, CRC1331326

McManus Kitchen & Bath

Phone: (850) 354-8090


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