Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets Is Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

updated Dec 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Laura Moss)

If I had to pick one thing that made the biggest difference when I sold my last house, it was this: Painting the old kitchen cabinets. To be honest, I should have just replaced them, but we didn’t have the budget to do that, so I did the next best thing. I painted them tuxedo-style, with an inky blue on the bottom and light blue-gray on the uppers. It looked great, and my house sold in days.

It wasn’t the first—and I’m sure it won’t be my last—time painting cabinets. It really is one of my favorite ways to transform a kitchen on a budget. But this particular DIY project is also not all sunshine and rainbows. From my experience, here are some drawbacks you should consider if you decide to do this yourself.

There’s More to it Than Meets the Eye

I admit it. I was in a hurry, and only painted the outside of the doors on my cabinets. In this case, they just needed to look good in photos and at the open house. If we’d planned to continue living there, the unpainted inside doors would have driven me crazy. So, while painting the outside gives you all the good cabinet color feels, you have to keep going and paint the inside of the doors too, or else cringe every time you open the cabinet. This is almost twice the work.

Your Cleaning Routine Might Change

My current home’s kitchen has pre-finished white cabinets, and it’s really nice to be able to quickly and easily wipe them down after a messy cooking session. Depending on the paint job, and whether or not they get sealed, that may not always be the case. Apartment Therapy’s Kaitlin hasn’t had a huge issue with her cabinets, and just uses dish soap and a rag. However, I once painted some cabinets using Annie Sloane chalk paint and wax, and the finish lacked the smooth shininess of a factory coat that’s easy to wipe down. It also showed water marks and blotches from oils and food bits.

Expect Touch Ups in Your Future

Kitchens take a lot of abuse, and sooner or later, your lovely painted cabinets will probably have a run-in with a knife or skillet. Even fingernails—especially around the drawer pulls and knobs—can cause damage. Even if you use caution, know nicks and dents will happen. Plan to touch them up with leftover paint every so often, if not, give the cabinets a new coat.

It’s Not a Quick Project

Can you paint a set of kitchen cabinets in one weekend? If you’re motivated, maybe. But if you’re trying to do it right, and thoroughly, there are really quite a few steps, and there won’t be much time left over for bingeing “Russian Doll” on that same weekend. Between taking all the doors and hardware off, cleaning all the surfaces (especially if you’re going all out and sanding), it’s a serious time commitment. But oh wow, is it ever worth it when you’re done.

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