In Part 1 we talked about colors and how to select the best paint and primer for your cabinets. Today is all about the most important part… prep work!
There is a reason it’s called prep work, taking the time to properly prepare the cabinet surface will mean the difference between a finish that looks good for years and one that starts to fall apart as soon as its taken any abuse.
Nobody likes scrubbing and sanding but there is a reason that the professionals do this every. single. time. If you hire someone to come to your kitchen this part is the most expensive because its time consuming when done right. Take your time (and plenty of breaks), do it right, and you’ll thank yourself next year when the cabinets hold up to everything while still looking new!
Using a sander for this project cuts the required work down by at least half and your arms will thank you later. Without an orbital sander, you have to manually sand between each step, I wouldn’t think of doing this type of project without one! A basic model costs less than $60. This is the one I was using at the time and it worked great!
If you don’t have an orbital sander but there is a sheet sander (square base) in the garage it will work just as well for the basic steps. A random orbital sander moves in circles while also vibrating which creates a consistent and small scratch pattern making it easy to paint over and disguise, sheet sanders don’t have the random pattern so I recommend hand sanding during the final steps of Part 3.
Frogtape is my personal favorite for cabinet painting. They make a delicate surface tape that works wells for this but the multi-surface works great too and is slightly cheaper.
3M with edge lock is another favorite of mine for most projects but since its hard to pull the tape off around base cabinets and drawer fronts when they are still wet I always use Frog Tape for this type of project. It comes up a lot easier and I’ve never had an issue with paint bleeding under or coming up with the tape.
Cabinets MUST be cleaned before any finish is applied or the grease and dirt from years of use will cause adhesion issues and the paint will eventually chip and peel away from the surface. It’s the MOST IMPORTANT STEP of the entire project unless your cabinets are brand new and in that case a light sanding should remove any residue from being handled. TSP will remove any and all oils and residue, even off the oldest cabinets!
I didn’t realize how gross our 1970s oak cabinets were until I started this step. Even though I’d given them a scrub with soap and water there was still brown oil and grease being picked up when I used the degreaser.
TIP: I found this in the painting isle at Home Depot, so if you can’t find it with the cleaning supplies be sure to check there!
Simple green is another popular cleaner choice but I don’t have any experience with it.
Gather All Your Supplies:
- Painters tape (recommended FrogTape)
- Plastic Bags
- Sharpie or Marker
- Degreaser (TSP)
- Wood Filler (recommended ZAR)
- Cleaning Gloves, Nitrile Gloves, Safety Glasses, Etc
- Sponge/Rags & paper towels
- Sand Paper (Grits 220, 150, and 100)
- Drop clothes, tarp, and/or construction paper
- Screwdriver to remove hardware
- Paper Towels or Rags
Lay down your tarp & tape off any appliances to prevent degreaser from ruining the finish and if you have a removable microwave sitting inside a cabinet hole (like we do) go ahead and take it out since you’ll want to paint inside so it matches the rest of the cabinet fronts and bases.
2. Remove Hardware
Start by removing all the hardware & placing it (screws and all) inside a plastic bag. Tape this bag inside the cabinet on whichever side the door was removed it from.
Example: If you have a double door cabinet, tape the bag from the Right-hand door onto the Right side wall of the cabinet. This step saves you A LOT of headaches when you go to re-install the cabinet doors and drawers. Missing hardware and screws can completely ruin your project.
3. Start Cleaning
Follow the instructions for the type of degreaser you’ve chosen and make sure to see if it has to be diluted. Wear cleaning gloves, long sleeves, and protective eyewear for this part! TSP can irritate skin so you don’t want to get it in your eyes or let it soap into your skin.
Start scrubbing down the doors, cabinet base fronts, and drawers being sure to get into all the crevices and scrub extra well around any area’s that had hardware or were touched a lot.
Prepare to be grossed out by the buildup that comes off your wood cabinets!
4. Rinse As You Go
TSP tends to dry quickly and can cause the primer and paint to not adhere in those areas. I just have a bucket or spray bottle with plain rinse water next to me while cleaning to rinse with paper towels to wipe any residual residue off.
If you start to notice a white haze or what looks like a film don’t worry its actually a going to make your life easier! The TSP often cuts into the old topcoat making it look hazy, cut into old topcoat which then makes it easier to sand away.
5. Remove the Doors and Drawers
Marking the doors helps make sure they get returned to their proper cabinet and hinge set. This is especially important if you have an older kitchen since many of them can look similar but the size and hinge location are often different.
Figure out a way that is easy for you to remember, I use small pieces of painters tape and a number system inside the base cabinet and on the edges of the doors and drawers.
QUICK TIP: Check and see if your cabinets have adjustable hinges (newer kitchens), this means that you can fix any tilting or sagging but adjusting the hinge!
If the cabinets have flat faces or shaker style doors then lucky you! If, like most people with older cabinets there are recessed areas or edge detailing its going to take a bit more work (I promise it’s not too bad).To help reduce the sawdust and cleaning required afterwards take the doors and drawers outside or to the garage.
If you don’t have access to an outdoor space for this step of the project then be sure to clear everything out of the space you’ll be sanding in and if possible tape plastic sheeting around the kitchen doorways to contain the dust as much as possible. You’d be surprise how far it will travel and its no fun cleaning fine dust from inside furniture and bathroom cabinets months later.
Start with 100 grit sandpaper working up to 220 (100,150, and then 200). This is a good time to use the electric sander but be sure to hand sand any edges or details to avoid damaging them.
Its not necessary to go any higher than 200 grits when painting since any swirl marks will be covered, just make sure the surface feels smooth.
IMPORTANT: Any defects such as; sharp areas, rough patches, or raised knots will show in the paint finish so it’s VERY IMPORTANT to remove any imperfections, splinters, and smooth raised wood knots before priming.
8. Repair Any Defects
If your cabinets are anything like mine the tops of the drawers and some of the cabinet door knots needed filling. Apply the wood filler with a rubber scraper or fingers, allowing it to dry before coating again (it often shrinks when drying). After its dried sand it with 200 gritt paper until its smooth with the surface.
If you’ll be installing new hardware and need to fill holes: Start by measuring the distance for the new screws before filling. Sometimes the new hardware will fit your existing holes & you can skip this process! If not, go ahead and fill the holes and sand smooth after it’s dried.
Ok, we have made it through all the boring steps…now let’s get to the fun stuff