How to Paint Distressed Kitchen Cabinets

Distressed cabinets perfectly complement certain décor, such as country, rustic or shabby-chic.

If You Want to Keep the Cabinets Looking Distressed

Painting distressed cabinets is surprisingly easy, and can transform a room completely. But, if you're weary of the look and want to rid your cabinets of their distressed facing, that can be accomplished in just a few well-planned steps. Here's how to do both projects.

Remove cabinet doors and hardware, setting hardware aside. You can paint the cabinet doors in the kitchen if you like, but if you have limited space you may want to move them to another room or outdoors. If you remain inside, be sure to open windows for good ventilation.

Leave scratches or dents in the cabinets, as they will add to the distressed appearance. Further distress their appearance by rubbing the edges of the doors and shelves with a white wax candle. This will keep paint from adhering to it when you paint over the cabinets, making the edges look worn. For a crackle paint job, mix two parts white craft glue (such as Elmer's Glue) with one part water, and brush it onto the cabinets before painting.

Paint the cabinets with a your choice of interior latex paint using a brush to give it that old-fashioned paint job look. Don't be too concerned if brush strokes show, as this will add to the charm.

Allow doors to try for 24 hours. You can deepen the distressed look now by sanding spots with a heavy-grain sandpaper to peel off some of the paint, or by hitting it with a chain or rock to make nicks and scratches.

Reattach the hardware and hang the doors back onto the cabinets.

If You Want to Get Rid of the Distressed Look and Refinish Cabinets

Remove the cabinet doors and hardware, setting the hardware aside. If the cabinets have been painted with so many layers of paint that they are lumpy and peeling, bring them outdoors. Follow the instructions on the can of paint thinner to remove the layers of paint. If the cabinet door surfaces are in good condition and have no peeling paint, you can skip this step.

Fill any holes, dents or cracks with a wood filler or spackle. Use a spackle knife or your finger in very small or oddly shaped areas, to push the filler into the holes. Allow it to dry thoroughly.

Sand the cabinets with a medium-grain sandpaper until you have worked down any bumpy imperfections. Finish with a fine-grain sandpaper to ensure a smooth finish. It's best to wear eye protection and mask and do this in a well-ventilated area.

Apply one or two coats of a good primer, such as Kilz, to the cabinets. This will help create more even surface for paint coverage. Allow the primer to dry for 24 hours before painting.

Finish with a coat or two of interior latex paint. Paint large, flat surfaces with a roller for smoother, more even coverage. Use a brush for corners or places in the cabinets that are hard to get to with a roller. Allow the first coat to dry before applying a second coat, if needed.

Reattach the hardware and hang the doors back onto the cabinets.

Things You Will Need

  • Interior latex paint
  • Primer
  • Drop cloth
  • Paint pan
  • Brushes and rollers
  • Sandpaper
  • Candle
  • Elmer's Glue
  • Paint stripper
  • Wood filler or spackle