Did you know that it is possible to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding! I know you are probably doubtful and wondering how this is even possible! And, I’m sure you’ve seen conflicting posts claiming that sanding is necessary to achieve a good outcome. Well, I’ll tell you that I did update my old beat-up ugly cabinets with paint and I didn’t sand before painting. And, I am happy to report that they turned out great – even without sanding!
Check out FarmHouse Kitchens: Countertop & Cabinet Makeovers
Options for Painting Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding
There are several options for painting cabinets by hand. In this post I am talking about hot to paint kitchen cabinets with a brush or roller, not with a sprayer. I don’t have a sprayer and didn’t want to pay anyone to do the job. So spray painting these cabinets was not an option for me! Truth be told these cabinets really need to be ripped out and replaced, but that was not in the budget. So, I considered options for how to paint kitchen cabinets by hand to achieve a good outcome.
Types of Kitchen Cabinet Paints To Choose From
And, I learned from my search that there are many options on how to paint kitchen cabinets including what types of paint to choose from. There are many that will proport that cabinet enamel paint or latex is the only way to go when painting cabinets. Behr, Valspar and Sherwin Williams all make their own cabinet enamel paint. And I considered these but I really intent on painting these cabinets the most low stress way I could. And I was looking at using a chalk-mineral style paint for these cabinets. I definitely knew that I wanted to update my kitchen cabinets with paint but for sure without sanding!
Cabinet Enamel Paints versus DIY Mineral Paints
Besides cabinet enamel paints other options include traditional milk paints, chalk style paints like Annie Sloan and chalk mineral paint such as Dixie Belle. Also there are mineral-enamel style paints like Fusion or Wise Owl. Wise Own and Fusion enamel paints both claim to have a built in topcoat which is cool. Here is a post I found about success with using Fusion brand paint on kitchen cabinets. And they didn’t even remove the doors of those cabinets to paint!
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But after much research, I chose General Finishes Milk Paint for my kitchen update. I had used General Finishes Milk Paints on furniture before but doing kitchen cabinets is another story. Here is a success story I found by a true DIY queen that touted her success with this product! I also opted to use this brand of paint because of the ease of availability in my area. My local Klingspor’s sells this paint locally, which meant I wouldn’t have to wait for an online order if I needed more quickly. If you’d like to see how I’ve used this Milk Paint before, here is post on a vintage table I updated with General Finishes Milk Paint and gel stain.
What Makes General Finishes Milk Paint Different?
You may be wondering what makes General Finishes Milk Paint different. Well, this paint is not a true milk paint. Traditional milk paints are in powder form and they create an old world, distressed or chippy antiqued look on furniture. General Finishes Milk Paint is more like a latex and acrylic style paint in texture. But it still gives a low-sheen finish like chalk paints. A great feature of this paint is how well it adheres to furniture or cabinets, its’ “sticking power”. It can really adhere well to all kinds of surfaces. And a big plus is that it adheres even without sanding.
Now, I’m a big proponent of lightly sanding down furniture and such before painting. I do think it improves paint adhesion and often leads to a smoother finish. Check out my post here on how to get a smoother finish with chalk paint. I did give these cabinets a quick once over with a steel wool pad and a paint prep product which I’ll talk about later. But I did not sand these down to remove any finish. And, let me tell you that this General Finishes Milk Paint works great! I really believe that this paint makes it possible to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding.
What Are Your Cabinets Made Of & What Shape Are They In?
An important thing to consider when choosing what paint you will use is to consider what type of cabinets you have. Also consider what shape they are in. Are you cabinets made of real wood or are they composites or plywood based? Real solid wood cabinets can nicely be sanded down to prepare for paint or stain. Cabinets that are not real wood or in terrible shape will not likely hold up to sanding. Once you start trying to sand down you may end up with a crumbly mess.
My house was built in the late 70s and it is not a high-dollar house. Maybe that’s a country term, but you know what I mean. This is a standard ranch style late-70s house with popcorn ceilings, sub-flooring instead of wood floors and the cabinets are not real wood, but instead cheapo plywood composites. And to top it off these cabinets were ugly with a capital U. I mean really ugly and very beat up.
Why I Chose To Paint My Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding
My goal was not perfection, but rather improvement. I really just wanted to brighten up the kitchen and make it more tolerable until I could replace the cabinets in a major overhaul! So, I cannot attest to what type of paint might be the better choice if you have better quality cabinetry or are just looking to upgrade to a different color. But with my experience, I can speak to how to paint old kitchen cabinets without sanding using this low-stress paint product. Also because these cabinets were so awful looking I felt I couldn’t make it look worse! It could only get better!
Choosing A Color – The Toughest Decision!
So, the next decision to make once I settled on General Finishes Milk Paint was what color to choose. Why is choosing a color so hard? Maybe you’ve always dreamed about having a kitchen a certain color! White kitchens are very popular, especially with all the farmhouse style rage! I do love white kitchens but I planned to do a white plank wall in the kitchen so I needed some contrast. So, I opted for a gray color paint. I considered Seagull Gray which a really light gray, Driftwood which is a darker deep gray and Perfect Gray, an in-between. These cabinets needed just a little color and in the end Seagull Gray was my choice. It is a really light gray but with enough color to tell it’s not white.
Although General Finishes Milk Paint is easy to use, painting kitchen cabinets is a big undertaking! This is true even when you opt to paint without sanding. The whole process took me a few days basically because I was juggling other obligations as well. Consider how much this painting project will impact your ability to use the space during the process. I chose to work in sections, doing one section at a time completely from prep to finish before moving on to the next section. This allowed me to keep some of the functionality of the kitchen. And honestly, even though it’s a big job, the outcome is well worth the time.
When You Should Consider A Topcoat
My plan was to paint the cabinets using General Finishes Milk Paint and then apply a topcoat. Using a topcoat is not always necessary when using this paint product. However knowing that these cabinets will see quite a bit of traffic, I opted to add a topcoat. I prefer to always topcoat my painted projects. It just adds an additional layer of protection. And truthfully, who wants to do all that work of painting and then not protect it from chipping and nicks? My other update was to change out the hardware. Our old hardware was a dark bronze dirty looking color and very outdated.
How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding – My 6 Step Process
So now let’s talk about the painting process. This is where it gets good. I’m going to explain the easy steps I used to paint these kitchen cabinets without sanding – and with as low stress as possible!
Products Used/Supply List
General Finishes Milk Paint – I used Seagull Gray
General Finishes Water-Based High Performance Topcoat – I used Satin Finish
Rust-oleum Universal All-Surface Spray Paint Metallic – I used Satin Nickel
Krud Kutter PrePaint Spray Cleaner – here on Amazon in a 6 pack or single on homedepot.com
Scotch Brite Stainless Steel Pads or Steel Wool
Small Roller and Foam Roller Applicators for Cabinets and Doors
Paint Brush – the Purdy XL Cub is a good choice or the Cling On S50
Step 1: Remove Your Cabinet Hardware
I removed the drawer pulls, door knobs, and hinges. I used my Ryobi Drill to remove those tough screws in the hinges. It worked like a charm. My plan was to replace the knobs and pulls with a more modern updated style. These cabinets are old and I was worried about finding hinges that fit exactly, so I used spray paint to paint the old hinges. The spray paint I used was Rust-oleum Universal Spray Paint in Metallic Satin Nickel. I was careful to lay the hinges out on a large piece or cardboard and label each one to specify it’s location, so that placing the doors back up would be easier.
I had a few hinges that the screws were not in right and the screw threads were stripped they would not budge. Those hinges I left alone. Unfortunately that meant I had to paint that door with it hanging on the cabinet. That’s the way of it with old cabinets! And if that happens to you just work around it as best you can. I’m sure there are options for getting those screws out and hinges off but I just didn’t want to deal with it. In those cases where the hinges were stuck on, I was therefore unable to spray paint those. So, I used Art Alchemy Metallic Wax in Old Silver applied to the hinge carefully with a detail brush! This worked perfectly and you can’t even tell the difference because it matches the spray-painted hinges just fine!
Step 2: Remove Doors And Drawers
I opted to take off my cabinet doors for painting. I find them easier to paint if I can lay them flat. It’s best to label them using masking tape to denote its’ location in the kitchen. You can use masking tape and a sharpie and write for example “top left pantry”, “top right plates” etc. I put the tape on the back of the door and then when I worked on the back I switched the tape on the other side.
Remove your cabinet doors and drawers and lay in an arranged order to make it easy to paint. To raise them you can use small blocks of wood or you can get these triangle style risers from Amazon or your local hardware store. It’s better to have them at a comfortable level for you to paint, which will help to save your back in the long run. Frankly I ran out of tables and raised surfaces so I had to put some on the ground on blocks of wood. But sometimes you do what you have to do to get the job done!
Will you paint the inside of just the outside of the cabinets?
Also consider if you plan to paint the inside and the outside of your cabinets or just the outside? I chose to paint only the outside, leaving all my food and dinnerware inside the cabinets during the painting. In the end I did reline the cabinets and drawers with a liner which you can find here but I didn’t empty them just for painting. All of the drawers got emptied, but to be honest, they were due for a good decluttering anyway!
Step 3: Now the not so fun part – the Cleaning/Prep Work – But No Sanding!
I promised that I would tell you how to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding. But some prep is necessary. And cleaning is the biggest step! It is crazy how truly dirty kitchen cabinets get over the years! First wash all the outer cabinet areas, doors and drawers of the surfaces that you will paint. I used a Dawn dish soap and water mixture just to remove surface dirt.
Next I used Scotch Brite Stainless Steel scrubber pads and Krud Kutter No-Rinse PrePaint Cleaner. So easy! Just spray it on scrub with a Scotch Brite pad or steel wool pad and wipe away with a clean cloth. No rinsing and no extra labor! If you are worried about the Scotch Brite pads scratching your cabinets, just use a non-scratch scouring sponge and test in a small area to make sure it doesn’t rough up the surface too much.
Step 4: Prime (optional)
After you prepare your workspace by taping off any areas you need to protect with painter’s tape and drop cloths, you are ready to prime.
Priming may not be necessary. It depends on the color and finish of your original cabinets. One feature of General Finishes Milk Paint that makes it similar to chalk style paints is the ability of the paint to adhere to all types of surfaces. So even with a slicker surface it isn’t mandatory to use a bonding primer. I used a primer because these kitchen cabinets were very dark brown. When painting a light gray color on dark it usually takes more coats without primer. If your cabinets are a more natural wood, you should not need the primer. I did a few cabinet doors without primer and it took 3 coats of the Milk Paint. So on the rest I used Zinsser Bullseye 1-2-3 Primer in white.
Using the primer for me reduced the amount of Milk Paint coats needed to achieve desired coverage. This gave good coverage and acted as a base coat for my paint. I applied one coat of primer and allowed it to fully dry before applying the General Finishes Milk Paint in Seagull Gray. This primer works great to cover the dark color when transitioning to a lighter one like light gray or white. And it also acts as a bonding base if your surface is very slick.
Step 4: Now The Actual Painting!
To paint the cabinets I mainly used a small foam roller and a good brush on the edges and areas where the roller wouldn’t fit. This applied the paint smoothly, especially to those large flat surfaces of the doors. On those areas where a roller wouldn’t do well I used the Cling On S50 paint brush. It is a good brush when you don’t want to see the brush marks. One thing I love about the General Finishes Milk Paint is its ability to settle and flatten thereby reducing visibility of brush marks.
I ended up doing 2 coats of General Finishes Seagull Gray. The coverage was great but 2 coats was definitely needed to get complete coverage even with the primer. General Finishes Milk Paint has a fairly quick dry time which is a nice plus. This means that you can complete the project faster because you are not waiting so long for your products to dry before you move on to the next coat. General Finishes Milk Paint is not expensive either, which makes this makeover very affordable!
Step 5: Topcoat Application
Since I wanted very little sheen I used General Finishes High Performance Water-Based Topcoat in Satin. To apply to the topcoat it is best to use a good brush and again a small foam roller. This topcoat went on nicely. The most important thing with any topcoat is to apply a thin layer and apply in long lines. Work in sections to moving across your project surface keeping a wet edge. Avoid going back over areas that are already done to avoid creating streaks and lap marks. Another tip, if you have animals in your house like I do, make sure you wipe off your project surface to remove any hidden animal hairs as these will be visible in your top coat. And it is so frustrating to get nearly done with topcoat and see animal hairs and fuzz trapped in a dried topcoat!
I did 3 coats of the topcoat, allowing each coat to dry for 2 hours at least before applying the next coat. This topcoat does give a little sheen. So as long as you don’t mind the sheen it is a great choice. General Finishes does make a flat finish topcoat if you prefer no sheen. This topcoat step is very important as it is the protective finish for your cabinets. Kitchen cabinets see quite a bit of traffic, fingerprints, grease, splashes etc. So protecting them is of upmost importance. Three coats sounds like a lot but it will be worth it! I have found that with this topcoat these cabinets are super easy to wipe off!
Step 6: Replace Doors and Drawers and Affix New Hardware
Voila now you are done painting and can re-hang your doors and replace your drawers. Now would be the time also to replace any hardware that you plan to replace. I found these great drawer pulls and these cabinet knobs on Amazon. They are a brushed nickel finish which goes perfectly with this light gray. I was torn between matte black and brushed nickel finish, but ended up going with the brushed nickel. I’ve seen some beautiful kitchens also with gold hardware. And oil-rubbed bronze is beautiful depending on what color you paint your cabinetry.
Summary: You Too Can Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding And Keep The Process Low Stress!
So that sums up my 6 easy step process on how to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding and with as low stress as possible! I’ll admit that painting kitchen cabinets is an undertaking, but I am happy that I did it! The brighter color and new hardware make such a difference in this old outdated space. There are certainly more updates that need to be done to really spruce up this kitchen, but sometimes you have to take it one step at a time. And I’m certainly happier to live with it until the time and budge allow for a more costly update. I hope this post encourages you to consider painting your kitchen cabinets! I’m happy to answer any questions you have about my experience! And I’d love to see your updates in the comments below.
Here are a few final pictures of the updated kitchen space. You can see that we have had a new floor put in also. I”ll talk more about a few more updates in future posts. Below I’ll answer a few questions about this project.
A Few Questions You Might Ask About This Project
How much paint did I use for this kitchen project? I used 3 1/2 cans of General Finishes Milk Paint in Seagull Gray. Each can is one pint. I did two coats on most of the kitchen, the parts where I used a white primer. Because this original cabinetry was so dark I would have needed 3 coats without a primer. The primer was Zinsser Bullseye 1-2-3 Primer in White.
How much topcoat did I use for this project? I used 1 1/2 cans of General Finishes Water-Based High-Performance Topcoat in Satin. This topcoat came in a Quart size can.
Remove Doors Or Leave Them On? I opted to remove the doors and lay them flat. After the first side was painted and dry I flipped them over to do the opposite side. The hinges were removed and spray painted to match the new hardware. I mention the hardware above but I chose a drawer pull that is a bar shape and a knob that was pretty simple brushed satin nickel from Amazon. The options for hardware replacement are really endless. If you look around on Pinterest you may find ideas of what you like!
Did I use a brush or a roller most? Honestly, I found the small foam roller to be the easiest and give me the smoothest application especially for the topcoat. But I did use a combination of both!
Would I do it again? For sure the answer is yes! It is a job and it took a few days. But the end result was worth it! I just find that with the brighter color on the cabinets it gives a cleaner fresher appearance and I can tolerate being in the kitchen so much more!
More On FarmHouse Kitchens: Countertop & Cabinet Makeovers
I did a post a while back on how I updated our farmhouse table with gel stain and chalk paint.
In this post I give an overview of my DIY Faux Shiplap Plank Wood Wall
And in this post I’ll explain how to makeover old laminate ugly countertops (like mine in Harvest Gold) with the Giani Countertop Paint Kit.
And my blog post here goes over the whole Super Budget Friendly Kitchen Makeover!
And here I show you how I did a Chalk Paint Whitewash of my old red brick fireplace.
So many fun projects! And if you have any questions let me know! If I can do it you can do it too!
I have the same harvest gold backsplash. Do you have a page showing how you covered yours? The kitchen looks beautiful!!!!
Hi, I really appreciate it! I haven’t written a post up yet on the backsplash. But it’s the same harvest gold as the countertops. I painted the countertops using a countertop paint kit. And then for the backsplash I didn’t take down the harvest gold because I figured it would damage the wall. But I did paint it white and then once I painted it I put up a peel and stick wallpaper that looks like subway tiles. It really does look like tile but it’ just an easy roll of peel and stick wallpaper. I think it was around $30 total. I just wanted to keep the cost down!
I hope this helps!
Thanks so much!
Tien Gu lol says
Excellent and detailed description. Thank you.
Thank you!! Good Luck with your projects!
Did you paint the walls right above your cabinets?
Thank you for checking out my post! My ceilings are not very high and my cabinets actually go all the way up to the ceiling on the top cabinets. I did paint the backsplash above the bottom cabinets and then used a peel and stick subway tile over the painted backsplash. I hope this helps! If you have any other questions please let me know! Thanks again!
Beautiful work. AMD great practical advice about choosing paint for cabinets . It seems that a lot of readers are confused about painting and explaining your thought process is So helpful for them I’m sure !!
I do love general finishes product and old masters also. Not a fan of chalk paints . Period !
I’m painting my old 70s cabinets in HIGH GLOSS right now! LOL!!!
Here’s a little tip from one painter to another .: PRIMER : I only use ZINSSER SMART PRIME now.
It’s LIKE BUTTAH. Says on the can “goes on like an oil paint “ . I thought “ yeah okay “.
It absolutely does.!!
It’s difficult to find . Idk why Rustoleum Doesn’t put it in more stores .. I buy mine at Kelley Moore.
Thanks for a great article . And happy painting 😊
Thank so much! I haven’t tried that primer. I do use Zinsser BIN Shellac Based Primer in White and I love that one! I really appreciate your review and comments!