Painting Cabinets (and Using Shortcuts)

I have self-diagnosed myself as an “impatient perfectionist.”  I like things done right, but FAST.  I have done a lot of painting (if you hang out with me for just a little bit, you’ll discover paint is my solution for almost anything), and I’ve discovered several shortcuts along the way.  Today I’m going to share what shortcuts to use (and not use!) when painting cabinets. I recently transformed my boys’ bathroom using mainly paint for a contest involving colored light switches and outlets. To see more about the bathroom transformation, click HERE.

Painting Cabinets (and Using Shortcuts)

Below is a photo of my boys’ bathroom before.  Now, you may be wondering why in the world I didn’t keep the cabinets white.  Didn’t that crazy girl just paint all her kitchen cabinets white?

Boys Bathroom Before

Well, my heart was set on gray cabinets.  I even made an inspiration board for the bathroom:


Step 1: Remove all hardware. (Don’t skip this step.  You do not want paint on your hinges.  It will look sloppy!)

Bathroom Cabinets  

Step 2: Layout all drawers and doors.

Painting Cabinets 12  

Step 3: Give them a quick cleaning.

Painting Cabinets 2

Step 4: Use an all-purpose paint prep. Here’s where I skipped a step.  I *skipped sanding and used this product.  It removed any extra icky residue that cleaning it with soapy water won’t fix.  AND, it does remove some of the finish.  In my case – a glossy finish. *Sanding is always recommended.  I’m a shortcut girl, so I went with heavy doses of primer in place of sanding.  When in doubt – sand!

Painting Cabinets 3

Update: Unfortunately I can’t seem to find this product anymore.  Simple Green is a great cleaner alternative, but it won’t remove any of the finish which is is what made this product work well when skipping sanding.

Step 5: Prime. Here’s how I cheated on this step – spray paint primer.  It went SO much faster!

Painting Cabinets 4

(My kids always want to help.  This “step” can slow you down.  Big time.)

Painting Cabinets 6

Now, I decided to spray prime the cabinets themselves.  This went super fast, but the prep work may have made up for the time I save spray painting.  I had to tape down EVERYTHING.

Painting Cabinets 9

AND, you must have proper ventilation.  Luckily I had a huge window right across from my cabinets.

Painting Cabinets 7

Step 6: Paint the cabinets, doors, and drawers with paint. I did about two coats on each.  Since my primer was tinted, this step went pretty quickly.  I did this with a paintbrush because I could not find the perfect gray in the spray paint can.  Otherwise, I definitely would have spray-painted them! I did go ahead and buy a “self-priming” paint – even though I still was using a primer.  I wanted as much adhesion as I could get – I didn’t want the paint peeling off. The spray paint primer I used is an enamel, so you’ll want to also use enamel paint over the enamel primer.  I bought my paint at Lowe’s and the color is “Dover Gray.”  Step 7: Finish coat. I attempted to spray paint a finish coat on my cabinets.  DO NOT DO THIS!  It looked streaky and bad.  This is not the step to take the shortcut and use spray paint.  After all that work, I went back through and covered everything with polyurethane – by hand.

Bathroom Cabinets After

The above picture is before I added the polyurethane.  I was trying to tell myself I could live with the streaks of the spray finish, but I couldn’t. I hope my shortcuts help save you time.  Painting cabinets can be tedious, but the reward is so worth the time and effort! I painted my kitchen cabinets, only this time I used chalk-type paint.

Painted Kitchen Cabinets Tutorial

If you want the absolute fastest way to paint cabinets and like the (rustic) charm and ease of chalk paint, click HERE to see more.

Go create something!

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34 thoughts on “Painting Cabinets (and Using Shortcuts)

  1. Your cabinets look great! Thanks for the tutorial.
    Do you need a finishing coat or can you skip it?
    And if it’s necessary, was it needed for durability or because you wanted a specific finish and couldn’t get it in the spray paint/primer?

    1. Hi Beth! Yes, I used a finish coat on the cabinets mainly for durability and protection. These cabinets (especially since they’re in my boys’ bathroom) will see a lot of wear and tear (as well as water). I’m hoping to avoid chipping as long as I can! I hope I helped!

  2. Love the look of your gray cabinets. Never would have thought of painting cabinets gray. One question: Is the mirror painted in same color? Can you tell me the color if its not. Thanks.

  3. hi there. I love your mirror frame. Im at home depot trying to replicate it. They dont have the decorative wood you used on the left and right sides. Can you tell me where you got that? Also they cant figure out what trim moulding you used at the very bottom that looks like the frame is sitting on. Can you describe that for me also? Thanks!!

  4. Ahhh no wonder!! I thought you framed out the existing mirror!!! Lol. Thanks the quick reply! Im trying to replicate it. Haha.

  5. Love the transformation. I have the contractor oak cabinets and have been looking for the best way to change them. Painting certainly would be the best.
    Question: did I read that you sprayed primer on first then painted on by hand ( brush) ?

    1. Thanks, Pam! Yes, I used spray primer, and then I painted by hand. I would have used spray paint, but I couldn’t find the gray I wanted in spray paint – which I why I painted by hand. Hope this answers your question! Thanks!

  6. just found this on Pinterest and love it! Did you end up painting the inside of the cabinet too or no?

  7. What type of cabinets did you have? Mine are laminate, and I am debating whether or not I can paint them.

  8. Great tips and ideas for DIY cabinet resurfacing. I agree with the painted on poly at the end. This can always be redone as well if you see some wear and tear after a few years. Your project looks great!

  9. okay.. this might sound like a really dumb question.. but how did you attach the plastic to the inside of the cabinet for spraypainting?? Looks amazing!

  10. LOVE your boys’ bathroom makeover! How have these cabinets held up? Also, what did you use as your finishing coat?

    1. Hi Tecara. Thank you! The cabinets have held up pretty well – there are a few chips here and there but not bad! I used a rub on matte poly, which I don’t love. I keep meaning to go over it with a regular brush-on version poly with a little more of a sheen, but there is always something else that needs to be done. Overall, they look good. They’re definitely not factory finished quality, but they are perfect for their bathroom. Good luck!

      1. That’s awesome! I just started the process of painting our master bathroom cabinets last night, and hadn’t even thought about a finishing coat until I reread your blog (which I really love, by the way!). I have a paint sprayer, so priming/painting/sealing shouldn’t be too hard…hopefully! 🙂 Do you have a brand of poly you prefer? I have to go get some now, lol.

  11. I’ve used Minwax and Rustoleum, but I really enjoyed the Rustoleum. The Minwax seemed runny, but since I’m spraying it this time around (I used a brush when I used Rustoleum), it’s probably the better choice. 🙂

    You’re so welcome for the support! Thanks for answering my questions and for sharing your experience with painting cabinets in this tutorial. I don’t think I’d have the nerve to try it without reading through this post!

  12. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m doing some research on painting. I have an old coffee table and I want to paint it. Now I know how to do that.