Painting Kitchen Cabinets: The Complete Guide

Updated 08/14/19

Sara Tramp; DESIGN: Emily Henderson Design

Let's be honest: Few things are more intimidating than picking up a paintbrush. But considering that the average national cost of remodeling a 200-square-foot kitchen, including updated wood cabinets, typical appliances, and new light fixtures is roughly $66,000, according to Remodeling Magazine, slathering kitchen cabinets in a fresh coat of paint is one of the simplest, most cost-effective ways to update a kitchen on a budget.

For no-fail tips on painting kitchen cabinets, we decided to consult the experts at Benjamin Moore, who, of course, know a thing or two about the topic. Ahead, Hannah Yeo, a color and design expert at Benjamin Moore, and Mike Mundwiller, a field development manager at Benjamin Moore, simplify the process of prepping and priming cabinets, selecting the perfect color, and choosing complementary hardware. Trust us when we say you'll want to heed their expert advice before picking up a paintbrush.

Selecting the Perfect Paint Color

Classic white kitchen cabinetry
 Elizabeth Roberts Architects

Between countertops, backsplashes, and flooring, there are a number of factors to consider when choosing a kitchen cabinet paint color. Hannah Yeo, a color and design expert at Benjamin Moore, shares a few tips for creating a cohesive kitchen color scheme. 

Take note of fixed items. (Think countertops, backsplashes, flooring.) "The color you ultimately choose for your kitchen cabinets should harmonize with existing hues in the room," she advises.

Keep your palette to just two to three paint colors. "Any more can make the room look too busy and cluttered," Yeo says. "If you need to add more colors, bring in neutrals such as white, gray, black, or natural wood tones."

Don’t be afraid to go bold. "Bring drama to your kitchen with a deep, luscious hue for your cabinets, and then balance the room with lighter neutrals to ensure the bold color takes center stage," Yeo advises.

Always put paint colors to the test. "Lighting hugely influences how a paint color looks in a space, so be sure to observe the shade throughout the day," she notes.

Consider classic neutrals. "Classic white and neutral kitchen cabinets will always be in style," Yeo explains, who reveals that some of Benjamin Moore's most popular white and off-white shades include Chantilly Lace and Ballet White.

Or, lean into the latest color trends. While neutrals aren't going anywhere anytime soon, "we’re seeing that darker hues are becoming increasingly popular," Yeo says. Shades such as Iron Mountain and Hale Navy are currently trending.

chantilly lace paint
Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace $43
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ballet white paint
Benjamin Moore Ballet White $43
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iron mountain paint
Benjamin Moore Iron Mountain $43
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hale navy paint
Benjamin Moore Hale Navy $43
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Deciding on the Right Product and Finish

Blue kitchen cabinets
 Catherine Kwong

To ensure the best results, selecting the right product is essential, explains Mike Mundwiller, a field development manager at Benjamin Moore. "A great quality about Benjamin Moore paint is that all of our finishes are highly durable, so you don’t have to be tied to the old rules (e.g. never use a matte finish in a high-traffic area)," Mundwiller says.

For kitchen cabinets, Mundwiller recommends using a paint that has a sheen to it and will dry to a hard, smooth finish that can withstand everyday use, such as Benjamin Moore Advance. "Since Advance is a waterborne alkyd paint, it is easy to use and cleans up with soap and water, unlike oil-based paints," he explains. The Advance line comes "in a wide variety of finishes (matte, satin, semi-gloss, high gloss), so you can still utilize a durable product while achieving your desired design aesthetic," he assures us.

Advance Interior Paint
Benjamin Moore Advance Interior Paint $21.99
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The high-gloss trend for cabinets is not going away anytime soon, but Mundwiller is also seeing a lot more satin finishes in kitchens, which is a great option if you want an overall more matte look, he says. "If you are looking for a product that dries a little quicker, but still offers good durability and a wide variety of colors, Insl-X Cabinet Coat is a great choice as well," he adds.

INSL-X Cabinet Coat
INSL-X Cabinet Coat $30
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Choosing Complementary Hardware

White kitchen cabinets
 Amy Bartlam; DESIGN: Lindsey Brooke Design

Once you’ve established colors for your kitchen, turn to hardware to add the finishing touch. "As a general rule of thumb, colors that share similar undertones will create a cohesive look," Yeo reveals. "For instance, brushed nickel or chrome faucet and sink will harmonize with stainless steel appliances."

That said, the Benjamin Moore color and design expert is quick to caution against selecting hardware that's too matchy-matchy. "Mixing metals and materials is a great way to bring dimension to the space," Yeo says. "A shiny gold knob against reclaimed wood can bring unexpected beauty to a kitchen."

Prepping and Priming Cabinets

Modern white kitchen cabinets
 Sarah Sherman Samuel

Before you start painting, it is important to prep your surface properly to achieve the best result. "Start by cleaning all of the areas that will be painted with a cleaner to remove all dirt, grease, and oils and rinse with clean water," Mundwiller says. "If you are painting a hanging surface, such as cabinets or a door, start by removing the doors and drawers from the hinges to achieve the best results."

"Once the surface is dry, sand it using 100-grit sandpaper or a sanding block," Mundwiller says. "Once these steps are completed, you should apply a high-quality primer like Benjamin Moore 046 High Hiding All-Purpose primer." A primer will ensure the paint adheres to the surface, increase the durability of the paint, and protect the surface of the cabinetry.

Benjamin Moore Fresh Start High-Hiding All Purpose Primer
Benjamin Moore Fresh Start High-Hiding All Purpose Primer $17
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But, before you start applying the product and chosen color, make sure you have the right tools for the job. "You can take all the proper prep and use the best techniques, but if you use a poor quality applicator, your results may not be the best," cautions Mundwiller. "Invest in your tools just as you would invest in the products you use."

paint roller
Good, Better, Best 4 in. x 1/2 in. Shed Resistant White Woven Mini Paint Roller With Frame $6
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Take your time. The biggest mistake people make when painting kitchen cabinets is rushing the job. "You may think it is a weekend project, but it may take two weekends to get it done right," he says. Patience is key.

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