How to Refinish Cabinets and Give Your Space New Life

cabinet refinishing blue kitchen

Studio Peake

One of the most significant updates you can make to your kitchen is refinishing and repainting the cabinets. A fresh new color and coat of paint can breathe life back into tired spaces, and a kitchen is no different. And though refinishing cabinets is doable, it's certainly not for the faint of heart. But don't worry—we can walk you through it, step by step, with the help of some experts.

Meet the Expert

  • Sean Chapman is a professional carpenter with over 10 years of experience in the field and the founder of Tools’n’Goods.
  • Jack Miller is the founder of How I Get Rid Of, a leading home improvement blog, and is a home improvement and pest control expert with more than 15 years of experience.
cabinet refinishing

Pixel Catchers / Getty Images

Before You Refinish Your Cabinets

Refinishing your kitchen cabinets is no easy feat—you'll need to be prepared for a multi-day project that could take you a few weekends. And you don't want to rush through refinishing your cabinets either.

"The pre-paint/refinishing preparations are as important as the actual job, so it’s important to have all bases covered," says Miller. Taking the time to do your cabinets well will ensure that you'll get a great look that will last.

Before you begin, you'll need to gather up all your supplies, You can source your cabinet painting materials individually, or you can pick up an all-in-one kit. It may be more pricey, but it will save you some time running around the home improvement store.

What You'll Need

If you're not buying a cabinet repainting kit, here's what you'll need:

  • Stripping agent
  • Paint scraper
  • Wood filler
  • Mouse sander or sanding blocks
  • Primer
  • Cabinet paint

And here's what else you'll need, whether you're using a kit or not:

  • Cleaning supplies
  • Drop cloth
  • Painters' tape
  • Screwdriver or drill
  • Clean cloths or rags
  • Paintbrushes
cabinet refinishing green paint

Sarah Fultz Interiors

Step 1: Test It Out

Before you get lost in the throes of prep work and painting, test out your cabinet paint on a hidden part of your kitchen to ensure you like the color and it will work well in your space. Once you're confident in your choice, gather up all your supplies and get ready to begin.

Step 2: Prepare Your Kitchen

Just because you can paint over dirt and grime, doesn't mean you should. Take a few hours and deep clean your kitchen, including the exteriors of your cabinets. Then, take off your cabinet faces and move them to where you'll be painting them.

After that, use painters' tape to put up drop cloth over your counters and kitchen floor to ensure they aren't dirtied or damaged as you repaint.

Step 3: Prepare Your Cabinets

You can't quite get to painting just yet—now, it's time to strip and sand. (If you have a cabinet painting kit that includes a solution or liquid that allows you to skip these steps, disregard this.) You'll need to pick the right stripping agent for the way your cabinets have been finished.

"There are several different ways to strip your cabinets, depending on the type of finish," says Chapman. He recommended denatured alcohol for latex and shellac finishes and lacquer thinner for lacquer finishes.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions, but most likely you'll apply the stripping agent, let it sit, then take the finish off using a paint scraper. Next, sand off any remaining finish to give your cabinets a smooth surface for the primer and paint to be applied on.

Step 4: Prime Time

Next, you'll need to prime your cabinets. Use a stain-blocking primer on stained wood or a latex primer for unstained wood. Use a brush on small areas (like corners and cabinet frames) and a mini roller on larger ones. Once the cabinets have been primed, use an empty roller brush to smooth out excess paint build-up.

Step 5: Get Painting

Using a combination of brushes and mini rollers, paint your cabinets, starting with your still-attached frames before painting the doors.

And make sure you're using paint that will work well on cabinets: "You’d want either gloss, satin, or semigloss [paint]. The harder the finish the longer it will take before you do another round of repainting," says Miller. "That saves you both time and money."

If you're using a protective coating on top of your cabinet paint, apply it once the paint has fully dried.

Step 6: Time To Reinstall

Once everything is bone dry, reinstall your cabinet doors to your cabinet frames. Take care not to scratch anything and damage your newly finished paint job.

As soon as your cabinets are reinstalled, you can reload them with their prior contents. Now it's time to enjoy your upgraded kitchen.