How to Redo Kitchen Cabinets

A study cited by the National Kitchen & Bath Association revealed that the kitchen was the "kingpin of consumer home remodels," and that people spent more time and money on kitchen upgrades than any other room in the house. You don't have to completely redo your kitchen to make a big difference in your home's appearance (or value). Redoing your cabinets with a fresh coat of paint or varnish is a much cheaper alternative to replacing or refacing, and is a project most people can tackle on their own.

Redoing Cabinets with Paint

Cabinets are an integral part of your kitchen.
  1. Remove the cabinet doors and drawers. Take off the old hinges and door hardware and put them in a bucket or somewhere safe. If you're going to update or replace them, take some to the hardware store with you to be sure you purchase a perfect match.
  2. Scrub them clean with degreasing detergent or dishwashing liquid. Scrape off the door bumpers (sticky little pieces of vinyl or felt affixed to the inside of the doors so they close softly) and clean off the glue. Door bumpers are sold in inexpensive packs and should be replaced when you redo cabinets.
  3. Fill holes and dents with carpenter's wood putty, let it dry and sand the cabinets with 100- or 120-grit sandpaper until all the surfaces are smooth and dull. An electric palm sander will make this job go quicker. Brush, wipe or vacuum away the sanding dust.
  4. Prime the cabinets with fast-drying oil- or shellac-based primer. Use a natural bristle brush for the edges and corners, and a 6-inch roller for the flat areas to apply an even coat. Let it dry as indicated on the label directions. Shellac primers can be painted in about an hour.
  5. Caulk gaps and joints with paintable silicone caulking. In addition, caulk everywhere the cabinets meet the wall or ceiling because this results in a much cleaner appearance. Smooth the caulk neatly into the cracks with a damp rag or your fingertips, then let it dry for about three hours.
  6. Apply at least two coats of high-quality satin or semi-gloss enamel. Latex (water-based) enamel will hold up very well, is easier to use and dries faster, with minimal smell---buy a better grade of paint from a paint store instead of a home improvement center. Alkyd (oil-based) enamel is fine as well, but allow extra time for the project as it must dry a minumum of eight hours between coats of paint.

Refinishing Cabinets

  1. Clean and sand the cabinets as described in the previous section.
  2. Wipe stain into deep scratches and areas of bare wood to match the existing color and wipe away the excess.
  3. Apply two coats of polyurethane to the cabinets.

Things You Will Need

  • Detergent
  • Bucket
  • Rags and sponges
  • Paint scraper
  • Wood putty
  • Sandpaper
  • Electric palm sander
  • Primer
  • Brush
  • Roller
  • Caulking
  • Paint
  • Stain
  • Polyurethane


  • Don't throw away the old hinges until you are sure you can find replacements. New hinges may look identical but very minor differences in the hinge size or profile may mean your doors won't hang correctly.
  • Redo the drawer faces, the boxes and both sides of the doors. It is a lot of extra work to redo the cabinet interior and shelves, and paint and varnish may not hold up well. Instead, update them with washable contact paper.
  • Boards set up across sawhorses make a good workbench for redoing doors.


  • Keep windows open and use a fan for speed drying and to dissipate the paint smell.

About the Author

Stevie Donald has been an online writer since 2004, producing articles for numerous websites and magazines. Her writing chops include three books on dog care and training, one of which won a prestigious national award in 2003. Donald has also been a painting contractor since 1979, painting interiors and exteriors.

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