The Low-Down on How Painted Kitchen Cabinets *Actually* Hold Up Over Time
When it comes to sprucing up your kitchen, there’s nothing like giving the kitchen cabinets a new coat of paint. It’s much cheaper than new countertops or appliances, not as much trouble as painting the whole room, and easier than putting down a new floor. But cabinets are one of the most highly used portions of the kitchen, so their paint job needs to be top-notch—and many who consider a cabinet paint job might wonder how it holds up over time under constant use.
To get the scoop on how kitchen cabinet paint jobs really look as they age, I talked to a few designers who painted kitchen cabinets about six months ago, a year ago, and two years ago. Then I followed up with Oakland historic restoration expert and contractor Karl Kardel for his advice on how to make the finish last even longer.
How painted cabinets look after six-ish months
Interior designer Alicia Bailey of Bailey Li Interiors is the mastermind behind this bold blue kitchen redo. Bailey’s friend and her comedian husband were excited to move into a mid-century home in New Jersey. But the purchase tapped out their budget, so they needed to do an affordable kitchen makeover.
Bailey, who specializes in faux painting, helped them makeover the cabinets with a bold and bright ocean blue.
First, Bailey applied two coats of Stix primer, followed by two coats of cabinet paint very similar to Benjamin Moore’s Poolside Blue. She styled out the granite countertops with faux paint to make them resemble marble and then did a colorful brushstroke design over the tile backsplash. She let everything dry for about two days before installing the hardware or putting anything on the countertops.
How it’s held up: It’s been just over six months, and the cabinetry is looking good, with no nicks or scratches. “It was a nice refresh,” says Bailey. “I did let her know it’s not a lifetime thing. It’s going to last a couple of years.”
Karl Kardel’s pro take: The primer was a good move—you need it to make a cabinet paint job really last. Another thing that can help paint cling? Washing your cabinets, which not everyone remembers to do.
Always wash down your cabinets with a degreaser before starting your project, even if you plan to sand the cabinets down before priming. You’ll be shocked how greasy they are, Kardel says.
How painted cabinets look after one year
The Los Angeles area designer known as Dabito knows how challenging certain renovation projects can be. So when he took on repainting his guest house kitchen cabinets, he called in reinforcements: his dad.
Dabito bought white cabinets online, removed the doors, and his dad helped sand them down. Then they applied satin finish Behr Marquee Paint in Fig Tree with a sprayer. “If you use a brush, there’s always streak marks,” Dabito says. “I wanted it to be clean, almost like the way it was bought.” Then they used foam rollers to paint the boxes.
But what was perhaps the most important part of the project was patience.
“I let it dry for a month,” Dabito says. “Paint needs time to cure. Let it harden, so it’s not as easy to nick or scuff.”
How it’s held up: Dabito says the guest house saw quite a bit of traffic (pre-pandemic), and the cabinets look good. He’s covered a few minor dings with touch-up paint.
Kardel’s pro take: Waiting to use the cabinets is key here—although painted cabinets can feel dry to the touch in 24 hours, they need to cure for 15 to 20 days for a rock-solid finish.
Also crucial? Multiple coats of paint. While plenty of paints tout one-coat capabilities, Kardel is skeptical. “Never believe the crap that you can do it in one coat,” says Kardel. “You really need to prime and then find the appropriate finish for cabinets.” He likes equipment paint, which is thin but dense, so it does a better job of covering cabinets and is durable.
How painted cabinets look after two years
Of all the projects she’s posted on Instagram, designer Jaclyn Peters says one of the most popular is her Manitoba, Canada, kitchen makeover. People are still asking questions—and it’s been complete for a couple of years.
Peters says she used Benjamin Moore Aura paint in Jack Pine. Peters used a dead flat finish and had it professionally applied with a spray gun.
How it’s held up: Peters says it still looks great. “It has held up extremely well!” Peters says. “There are inevitable nicks along the way.” But it’s nothing that can’t be hidden with touch-up paint.
Kardel’s pro take: Fillers are added to most latex house paints to increase coverage, so the paint is relatively soft, Kardel explained. “Your latex enamels are not appropriate for cabinets,” says Kardel. They might get the job done, but they’ll require more frequent touch-ups over time.
For a long-lasting finish that holds up better to wear and tear, Kardel recommends using enamel paint formulated for cabinets, or even industrial equipment enamels, which are more dense and dry harder.
Kardel’s recipe for perfect cabinets: Prep by washing with a degreaser, priming, and applying your first coat of enamel. Lightly sand with 20-grit sandpaper before applying the second coat. Then let it cure for 15 to 20 days for a finish that’ll hold up against bangs and scuffs.