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  • Writer's pictureShelby Payne

How to DIY Painted Kitchen Cabinets the Right Way

What if I told you that painted cabinets can look amazing and last a long time if they are done the right way? If you are deep in the research required to begin the daunting task of painting your kitchen cabinets, you're in the right place.

To start us off, a little backstory. Before we moved into our current home, we thought we were in our forever home. We completely gutted it, invested time, energy and a whole lot of money into it. A few years, and a few kids later, a random opportunity to move to the lake came about and it took us a while to jump on board. How could we leave our forever home? You can read more about that in this blog post.

Long story short, our kitchen was exactly how we wanted it (white); we had bright and shiny new appliances, and the prospect of moving into a new home with a kitchen that wasn't my style was driving me a little crazy.

I knew I could do small things to make it more "me" such as painting the backsplash, fixtures, hardware and lighting, however I knew the cherry cabinets would bother me. Spoiler alert, we moved and I'd have to spend the next 6 months figuring out what the game plan was for the cabinets.

Here is the kitchen before anything went down:

You can see that it's obviously a beautiful kitchen. Amazing craftsmanship on the cabinets, wonderfully thought out layout, a ton of storage and plenty of counter space for our needs. So you can understand when I say there was no way I was going to demo the kitchen, but the cherry had to go.

I pondered sanding the cabinets and exposing the natural wood colour, but I was worried about uneven tones from patchy sanding, the wrong "wood" shade from what I was envisioning, the amount of awful work it would take... I would probably have sanded the entire kitchen to just stain it again, and truthfully, a wood kitchen just didn't have my heart.

So I turned to paint, only problem: we don't have pro painters in our rural location. Painting myself? A DIY job? I was worried and reluctant prior to doing any research.

Would they chip?

Would there be noticeable texture?

What colour would I do?

Would it look like a hot mess and completely ruin the kitchen?

Can you commit to doing the job the right way?

There are a thousand ways to complete a task with a thousand outcomes. It gets overwhelming trying to figure out a game plan. Ultimately, you have to consider the amount of work a project will take to complete and decide what is right for you. Because we live rural, we couldn't hire pro painters to come and paint out our entire kitchen. That would have been my first choice.

I mulled over doing the entire thing with Fusion Mineral Paint. I even joined a huge Facebook group, asked questions, and dove deep into the prospect of using that product. I love this product for other things and a lot of others in the group had major success with it, but something in me worried about paint marks and whether I'd like the finish, and if it would hold up long term.

Next thing I knew, I stumbled upon the idea of bringing the cabinet DOORS to pro painters, and painting the boxes myself. Luckily, a wonderful company that I reached out to in a neighbouring city (3 hours away) called Excel Painting was available to spray the doors, but it still meant I had to figure out how to do the boxes in a way that would stand up to the pro job the doors would be done with.

After learning that Excel Painting uses Benjamin Moore products, I changed my mindset from Fusion Minerals to a product called Scuff-X by BM. This meant a lot more colour options, and I was able to see a demo of the paint compared to regular cabinet paint. As you'd gather from its name, it's friggen hard to scuff and is insanely durable. I'd do my whole house in this if I could afford the $100/gal price tag. Best part about it, no topcoat required.

I journey'd into the city, dropped the cabinets off with the pros, and grabbed myself a gallon of paint to complete my part at home.

It's all in the prep

Prep, prep, prep, prep, prep, prep. PREP.

I'm telling you.. It's ALL in the prep. Paint only sticks to what it sticks to. It doesn't penetrate through grease, dust, or last nights (or years) dinner spills. You need to CLEAN like you've never cleaned before.

Prep Materials:

  • Mineral Spirits

  • Goo Gone

  • Sanding blocks

  • Microfibre or tack cloths

1. First things first, remove all the little door stopper pads with some goo gone. It's pretty greasy, so this must be done before the final washing with mineral spirits. Easy peasy.

2. Onto degreasing. With the primer I will tell you about soon, you cannot use TSP. Something about a chemical reaction with the shellac, so it says to degrease with mineral spirits right on the can. You want to remove all the fingerprints, food, and grease splatter, and just when you think you can't see any more spots, look again in another light just in case.

Be sure that when you are prepping your cabinets, that you are ready to follow up immediately with the scuff sand and prime phase because you don't want to be rummaging around in your perfectly spotless kitchen for tonight's dinner prep only to ruin the cleaning you've done. Get to priming in one day, specifically when talking about the boxes. You just don't want dirty hands on them again. If you are doing the entire kitchen, you will obviously have somewhere to be doing the doors that should be safe from finger prints, but for the sake of the BOXES, do those in one go.

If your kitchen is just too big, I highly suggest working in sections: prep, scuff sand, wipe, prime in one area, then do it all over again in the next. I'm that obsessed with the fact you cannot re-grease your cabinets LOL!

3. Scuff sand. Using your sanding block on the 220 grit side (doesn't need to be super rough), lightly sand the surfaces. This will dull the finish and help the paint adhere. Afterwards, simply wipe with a microfibre rag to eliminate the dust particles best you can. Just be sure not to wipe with anything that is going to leave lint behind. Hint: You likely will miss a speck or two, but don't worry, the primer will catch it and you will sand the primer which helps remove pesky dust specks.



  • Zinsser BIN Shellac Primer

  • Angled paintbrush (I love Zibra, but keep in mind you will have to toss it - Shellac is hard on paintbrushes, so a cheaper brush for this stage is fine)

  • Lint free mini roller for smooth surfaces (do not use a foam roller, they create a lot of bubbles)

  • Paint tray

  • Paint pyramids

  • 320 grit sandpaper

  • Drop cloth or brown paper to keep your surfaces safe. (Shellac is almost impossible to get off, even with a scraper.)

  • N95 mask (optional - it's STINKY)

  1. Prep your surfaces, and dive in! A bit about this product - Shellac is a primer made to block out stains - essential to ensure you don't have bleed through from dark stains, knots in wood, etc when you are painting a mid to light tone. It's super runny and hard to get a feel for, but trust the process. This stuff dries down super quickly, and actually with a nice smooth sheen.

  2. Once coat #1 is dry, lightly sand with 320 grit to smooth any paint strokes, dust, etc.

  3. After allowing a minimum dry time of 4-6 hours, you can do coat #2. Follow the same process and finish with a sand.


So I didn't have to do this step as I didn't do my doors, but this IS THE SECRET to making your cabinets look pro. You know when you paint in a crack, some paint sticks together and some separates, never fully filling the cracks? Ya... you're going to need to caulk those cracks. If you have single surface cabinets, lucky you, but cabinets like shaker-style will definitely need to be caulked. This can be completed after the primer, and while it is a lot of extra work, it's totally worth the ease of cleaning and the seamless, professional look it gives.

Caulking can be a messy job, so practice on the back sides of a few cabinets first to get a feel for it. Truth be told, I only had Excel do the fronts of ours as nobody ever sees the backs but us!

Here is what caulked versus un-calked looks like. There is an obvious winner.



  1. Above you will see "extender" listed. Essentially, this thins the paint ever so slightly and extends the working time of the paint. When paint dries down too quickly, overlapping the paint will cause it to pill and make a big ol' mess. It also allows you to paint in really thin coats a lot easier than just slapping on thick paint. Mix the paint/extender and get after it!

  2. While I didn't have a use for them without having to paint the doors myself, an experienced DIYer told me the trick to ensuring clean edges/corners was to start painting those areas with a sponge. Super SUPER light coats. You may notice when you paint that it will drip down the edges. Having a sponge ready immediately to smooth those out will help the final product immensely.

  3. Paint the angles and corners with a brush, then do the first full coat with a roller. I didn't do this at first, but I realized it was much much quicker when I was on the second coat. As you know from painting walls, rollers can result in a bit of a bubbly, raised texture - don't worry, you will sand and do the final super light coat with a brush.

  4. Allow to dry for 24 hours. Seriously. This is longer than what the can says, but allowing a good cure with each coat is going to make a difference.

  5. Light sand, wipe and repeat for coat #2. Wait the 24 hours again.

  6. On coat #3, use a little more extender so you have a pretty thin paint to work with, then use a brush for this coat, being extra careful to use a light hand, not overlap strokes, paint from left to right, etc. Just take your tiiiiiiiime.

  7. By this point, you should be cursing my name but congrats, you've reached the finish line! As long as you don't have any touch up spots (if you do, just repeat step 6), you can let your doors cure for a good week before returning them to your kitchen. This will help everything cure properly. I never said this project would be quick or easy, don't forget.

***Full cure does not happen for 30 days, so be sure to baby your new kitchen. Don't wash the cabinets (gently spot clean with water if you have any major spills) or allow your kids to cause ruckus in the kitchen... seriously. After all that work you can't let them hooligans go in and wreak havok! Let it sit. Stare at it. It will be fully cured and ready for things to bang into them really soon.

Here are some before + afters of our beautiful kitchen, made even more beautiful thanks to this epic collaboration with Excel Painting!

Huge shout out to Excel Painting in Prince George, BC for working with me on this project, answering a hundred questions, and being so great to work with. They really know what they're doing! If you are local to us, I highly recommend them for all your painting needs.

Please be sure to follow them here on Facebook and Instagram!

Questions about my process? Shoot me a message in the comments below, or over on social media and we can chat! Happy to help.



Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I'm Shelby. I started this blog to document our family of five as we make the move to our forever home on the lake (from what we thought was our forever home). I'm a Mom of three spunky littles and have been married to the dude I've been with since I was 14. I've got opinions on lots of things from parenthood, to home decor & DIY's, to beauty products. Follow along, will ya?

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