“Refinishing cabinets is a fantastic, cost-effective way to transform the look and feel of a kitchen,” says Dan DiClerico, home expert at HomeAdvisor, a remodeling project resource. It’s also a fraction of the cost of doing a full kitchen remodel, which runs, on average, $22,632 , according to HomeAdvisor. Even replacing old kitchen cabinets with new cabinets starts at about $4,000 for a typical 10-by-12-foot kitchen, according to HouseLogic, an online resource for homeowners.
HomeAdvisor says the average cost to repaint kitchen cabinets is about $1,000 — if you hire a professional. If you DIY, your base cost would be $200 to $600, depending on the brand of paint and the supplies you have to buy, according to the Kitchn, a kitchen design and renovation website. (You might already own some of the supplies you’ll need.)
Though cabinet refinishing isn’t as large of an undertaking as a full kitchen remodel, it’s still a big project that takes time, patience and elbow grease. Before diving into step-by-step instructions, let’s look at how to choose the right paint.
A quick primer on paint
There are six main types of interior paint: matte, matte enamel, eggshell, satin, gloss and semigloss. DiClerico finds that either a semigloss or satin paint is best for cabinet refinishing. He says semigloss is the most durable and stain-resistant, and it won’t lose its luster if you scrub it with a sponge.
Want a more modern look? “The trend in kitchens these days is for a softer matte look, including on countertops and floors, as opposed to the high polish that was popular a decade ago,” DiClerico says.
There are also a number of specialty paints that can be used on cabinets. Chalkboard paint, for example, “could be a fun option, converting a cabinet or pantry door into a message center,” DiClerico says. Chalk paint (not the same as chalkboard paint) is a good option if you want to avoid sanding first — but it can require multiple coats and still appear uneven in places, according to designer and artist Jeanne Oliver.
If you’re going for an antique look, consider another specialty option: milk paint. Its organic formula, which includes milk and color pigments, is a nontoxic option that delivers an old-fashioned, translucent finish, DiClerico says. However, “specialty paints won’t give you anywhere near the protection of a traditional high-performing latex paint,” he warns.
Whichever paint finish you choose, you’ll want to buy a high-quality product. “There are plenty of fine options in the $25-per-gallon range,” he says. “Stay away from the $10-per-gallon economy stuff. You’ll end up needing multiple coats, so it might not save you much in the long run, plus it won’t stand up to the demands of a busy kitchen.”
If you have doubts about which paint to select, ask for assistance at your local paint store.
A step-by-step guide
First, remove all food and kitchen items from your cabinets and drawers. Then, label all doors and drawers with their respective location so you can reinstall them correctly. Put labels on the inside of doors and drawers so they don’t interfere with the refinishing process, DiClerico says.
Remove the drawers and doors, as well as knobs and other hardware, with a screwdriver. (A little WD-40 can help you remove rusted hinges.) Store the hardware items in a plastic bag if you’re going to reuse them. If you plan on installing new hardware in a different style, fill the existing hardware holes with wood putty. This will give you a clean surface to drill in the new hardware later.
Next, clean layers of grease and dirt off the cabinets using a wood cleaner, trisodium phosphate or mineral spirits. “If you don’t clean them, the new paint finish isn’t going to go on properly,” DiClerico says.
Afterward, sand the wood using a medium-grit sandpaper (60 to 100 grit) either manually or using an electric sander, concentrating on rough areas where the existing paint or varnish has bubbled or peeled. Then, lightly sand the entire cabinet surface in the direction of the wood grain. “You don’t want to be gouging the wood with a heavy hand,” DiClerico says. “You’re doing a light sanding to knock the shine off the existing finish so that your new paint can be absorbed into the wood.”
After sanding, clear the cabinet surfaces of dust with a damp rag and let them dry. When dry, apply a coat of primer. A paint roller will make quick work. “Primer not only helps bond the paint to the cabinets but also improves their durability and decreases the chances of bubbling and peeling later on,” DiClerico says. “If you can do this work outside, things will dry more quickly, and you’ll have better ventilation,” he adds.
After the primer is applied, it’s time to paint the cabinets. DiClerico recommends applying two coats of paint using a high-quality paint brush, which will be able to reach any crevices in the door detail. (If you’re working with flat-fronted cabinets, a roller will do the trick.) For an even finish, “it’s a good idea to do a light sanding between coats with a fine-grit sandpaper, say 220-grit,” he says.
After painting, let the cabinets dry. “It might take a full day to let them dry depending on the humidity,” DiClerico says, and it will take the paint at least a week — and up to a month in some cases — to fully cure. Most people don’t want to live that long with an unfinished kitchen, but if you can wait a couple days before reattaching the doors and hardware, that will help protect the finish. If not, treat them gently for the first week or so, opening and closing softly, and avoid cleaning the painted surfaces with a sponge or cloth.
Then step back and bask in the glory of your newly refinished kitchen.
More from Lifestyle: