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Yes, it is possible to paint cabinets without sanding. If you prep with the right products, you can save yourself the hassle with these tips!

The kitchen, Saturday morning:

kitchen cabinet prep

Complete with dirty dishes in the sink. Mom and Granny came over to help me get started. Pictured here is a quick discussion about the game plan. And proof that I don’t DIY in much more than PJs and flip flops.

kitchen cabinet prep

The basic plan for the day:  run over to either Home Depot or Lowe’s to check out cabinet hardware (we wound up going to both), purchase de-glosser and other supplies, and prep all the lower cabinets for paint. (FYI, I’ve included links in this post to each of the products I used; whenever I look at reviews of products, I always note the packaging to help me find products in the store, so just in case I’m not the only one who does that, I went ahead and included them. Purchasing any of them from these links will pay me a few cents for my efforts, but you can probably find them all at your local hardware store like I did.)

Confession & a little back story: I am determined not to have to sand these cabinets. They’re old and grimy, but also not very shiny. A few years ago, the same cabinets were also in the bathrooms (original to the house). I painted them with a kit as a trial run for the kitchen, and then promptly moved on to other projects (as I tend to do). I later ripped out the cabinets from both bathrooms, yet somehow managed to hang on to one of the doors. I now use it as a laptop rest on my legs when I write at night while watching TV. But after all of its use, the door still doesn’t have a scratch on it. So I’m thinking with the right combination, I can get away with not sanding. I’m not planning to go with the same kit (mostly because I wanted a different sheen on the end result, I was afraid I’d run out of paint & have to buy more kits, and the color selection for the kit is limited). In short, here’s what I’m thinking of doing.

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets with ZERO Sanding Required:

  • Wash down the cabinets with a TSP substitute to remove any grime, grease, or finger oils
  • Scrub down the cabinets further with Liquid Sander/Deglosser.
  • Prime all the lower cabinets with two thin coats of primer. After lots of review reading, I’m going with Zinsser Smart Prime
  • Paint the lower cabinets
  • Repeat for the upper cabinets (I’m using two different colors and need to trick out the upper cabs with molding, so that will wait for another day).

Protect the floor

To get started, we needed to tape down some builder’s paper to protect the shiny floor from the deglosser fluid. Quick DIYer tip:  buy yourself a giant roll of rosin paper (aka builder’s paper). Endless amount of uses (and will even serve as wrapping paper in a pinch), it’s cheap, and it’s more than paid for itself in convenience alone of never running out. Granny wanted to get in on the action too (please don’t think I’m forcing Granny to do this; she has Alzheimer’s and gets restless if she has to sit for long periods of time), so she was in charge of taping the paper down with Frogtape.

kitchen cabinet prep

Remove doors and hardware

I began removing lower cabinet doors and hardware (might I add, 30-year-old cabinet hardware = a bitch to remove old screws, and yuck) while Mom started washing things down with the TSP substitute. The goal was to remove any grease and any possible finger oils (these cabinets don’t currently have doors on them, so you have to grab the edges with your hands, which I’m sure will prevent paint from sticking if they aren’t scrubbed within an inch of their existence). I went with Klean-Strip TSP Substitute and it seemed to work okay, but Mom wound up also trying a plain grease-cutting spray that I use for cleaning the stove, which she also said worked just as well.

kitchen cabinet prep

I learned that taking the doors off the cabinet and then removing each hinge from the door was the fastest way to execute removal. You’d think these things are common sense until you do it the opposite way like a doof.

kitchen cabinet prep

Use a system to keep track of hardware

My system for keeping track of hardware and screws:  hardware goes into the cabinet it belongs to with a piece of tape to indicate which one is the bottom hinge.

kitchen cabinet prep

Screws are taped together in groups…

kitchen cabinet prep

And then taped to the inside of the cabinet to keep from losing which cabinet they go to. I’m doing this also because I’ve heard that hinges sometimes go wonky on different doors if you mix them up, so I’m leaving everything exactly as I found it (that thing with the plastic bags in it is a caddy I picked up from Ikea a long time ago; really helps to wrangle in excess doggie bags).

kitchen cabinet prep

But then again, I’m not planning on keeping these hinges at all, really. I’d like to find new hinges with a different finish to match the new cabinet door handles (see further down this post for a sneak peek of those). But just in case I can’t find a decent replacement and have to put these back on the cabinets, I’m keeping track of everything.

Mark the placement for each door

Another learning curve: marking the doors. At first, I marked each with a piece of tape (L for lower, numbering the doors left to right). When we later scrubbed down the cabinets with TSP substitute, the tape wouldn’t stick again.

kitchen cabinet prep

So, the alternative wound up being to mark the bottoms of each door with a permanent(ish) marker. Which also scrubbed off during the liquid deglosser process (damn) but this is a little easier for re-marking afterward.

kitchen cabinet prep

As for Charlie, she was happily sitting in the middle of the kitchen and devouring a new toy I brought home for her from Haven (that post is coming, promise). She’s carrying it all over the house now from room to room. So cute.

charlie chew toy

Clean and scrub down doors and cabinets with TSP substitute

Once all the cabinets were scrubbed down with the TSP substitute, we started all over again with the liquid deglosser. It may seem like overkill to do both, but I wanted these cabinets to be as ready for paint as possible. I wanted to avoid a really smelly process too, so I went with a deglosser that sounded a little safer for everyone to use. Klean-Strip Liquid Sander Deglosser is water-based and biodegradable. It’s also recommended by the pros which is always a convincing argument for me. Also, just FYI, but it looks like the packaging may have been changed recently. Everywhere I found pictures online, it’s with a yellow label. But the packaging I purchased was much plainer and blue (you can see a tiny glimpse of this when you scroll down to the picture of the cabinets and the counter; I meant to take a closeup but forgot).

paint cabinets without sanding

Safety gear

It’s important to also note to wear safety goggles and nitrile gloves while working with deglosser. And open your windows for ventilation even if the bottle doesn’t tell you to. These are chemicals, people. No one wants that in our eyes or irritating our skin. The process is pretty simple, though: squirt a good amount of liquid on a course cloth (like  the scouring pads I used – you should be able to find them right next to the deglosser in the same aisle if the store is well-organized). Use a circular motion to scrub and a little elbow grease. We were a little surprised, but the cabinets even appeared to lighten a little bit after they started drying (you can see some of the finish coming off a little bit on the pad). There may also be a little bit of a filmy feel when it dries; the packaging says that this is perfectly okay to paint over without washing off.

Once everything was scrubbed, Mom and Granny went home and I got a chance to sit down and snap this pic. It doesn’t look like much got accomplished, but we were pretty tired and the deglosser was already dry. Next up: finding new hinges, patching holes from the old hardware (if necessary), and priming.

kitchen cabinet prep

And as promised, here’s a sneak peek of the “decisions” so far. I spotted this door handle at Lowes and almost instantly knew that these were a winner. I didn’t even bother to bring an alternative home. I simply purchased the shorter and longer versions (for the drawers) and held them up when we got back to the house. One and done. Also pictured are a few color swatches for the lower cabinets (dark grays are always tricky in this house; everything that’s supposed to be perfectly neutral looks more bluish) and a white swatch for reference for the uppers. Pretty sure I’m going to paint the upper cabinets Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s White – I’ve heard that this color is a winner time and time again from recommendations I’ve read online. And finally, the metal pictured underneath the cabinet handle is the new faucet finish. I just got it in the mail and can’t wait to show it off.

kitchen cabinet prep

Second photo of the same colors – the finish of the faucet hardware is a tad darker than stainless, called “slate” – and I’m definitely happy with the combo.

kitchen cabinet prep

So, anyone up for delivery? Guess that’s going to be the norm around here until the kitchen is finished (and then a whole lotta dishwashing).

UPDATES:

See more projects and get more updates on the Kitchen page of my House Tour!

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65 Comments

  1. Eek!!!! I can’t wait to see the results! I halfway think Eric is going to go out of town one day and I’m going to overhaul our ugly kitchen cabinets! Not yet… but I might…

    PS- Charlie melts my heart. Especially the pic of her and her toy!

  2. So, that’s a lot of work. I plan on painting mine, they are now a grey color.
    Why (I ask rhetorically) can’t you paint the cabinets without taking them off? SIGH.

    1. Believe me, I considered it. Especially since I’ve painted other doors in this house without removing the hinges. And I might have if I actually wanted to keep the NASTY, disgusting hinges in place. I know you said this was a rhetorical question. Answered anyway. Ha ;)

    2. Question.. I have a bit of rust in the corners of the outside cabinets.. what should I do before Painting? Can I just sand those corners a bit ?

  3. We did two tone in our kitchen and I love it. One tip about the hardware. We did very similar hardware. My dad very smartly suggested we do all the holes in the doors before we paint. It allowed us to spackle up any mistakes. We then just left the holes in place while painting and installing the hardware was a cinch after painting. We used a drill press which was amazing. If anyone you know might have one, try to borrow if possible. Good luck! Can’t wait to see the finished product!

    1. Thanks for the tip! I’m thinking of buying a hole drill guide to mark everything exactly where I want them. I know they’re cheap and will take the guesswork out of drilling the holes. I’ve heard that a lined index card works just as well ;)

  4. I have those handles in my kitchen and I love them. Only caution–the ends will grab a pocket as I walk by every now and then. Just FYI.

  5. what type of paint/topcoat are you going to use? are you going to use a clear coat over the paint or what?

    1. I’m planning on going with Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint, satin finish. I’ve heard that a few good coats and ample drying time (I’ve heard as long as 60 days of cure time if you’re in a humid climate like me), and it gets a super hard finish that doesn’t need a clear coat. Just to check that my research is right, I plan to talk to a local paint supplier and confirm.

      1. advance is good stuff. we’ve used kelly moore’s hybrid paint which is the same thing and i like it (other than the bad coverage). want to try BM’s version next.
        if you’re spraying they say to use floetrol to thin, but not water (BM makes their own thinning agent). from talking with painters about this i’ve gathered that you want to avoid floetrol because it’ll keep the paint tacky even longer than normal.

        1. Because the paint is supposed to be self-leveling, I think simple rolling will be fine (plus, with flat-front, I have fewer nooks and crannies to worry about). Now the challenge is just getting myself to the store before it closes to pick up the paint (tried today, they were already closed).

    2. I have raised wood trim on my kit. cab. doors so what would I paint them with? The doors are wood finish and the cab. are a different color so it looks pretty bad and since I’ve never done anything like this before I’m scared to death to try. Pls give me good advice (lol)

  6. I’ll take the Golden Prawns, fried rice and a fortune cookie. Hope the deglosser works as well for you as it did for me! :)

  7. So excited for you!!! This is going to be awesome!!!! And your Granny is too cute! I love that she is there wanting to help–melts my heart. I can’t even get my mom to visit–it’s been almost 4 years in our new home/location and nada. Yeah–that’s another type of blog. Hope you continue to make great headway!

  8. I have a feeling that I am going to love this kitchen so hard. So so hard.

    Your family is adorable :) I love that they help you DIY!!!

  9. I love your grandma- that’s so awesome!

    And we must have the same cabinet maker- we had those same stickers inside ours!

  10. Oooh! Can’t wait to see the results! Got great taste in colors too. We have been hesitant to do our oak cupboard too, so I can’t wait to see how they turn out! Post close ups also please!

  11. I really really want to paint my kitchen cabinets but I think that’s going to have to be a project for after I deliver baby. I will live vicariously through you during your reno. =]

  12. Eeeeeeep! I’m so excited to watch this unfold. We have very orange-y cabinets in our kitchen that I reeeeeally wanna paint gray and white but I have not yet grown the balls to do so. Good luck to you and I’m excited to learn as you go!

  13. Enjoying your post..am planning on doing my cupboards soon too Looking for any hints. How much deglosser/liquid sander did it take you..how many doors do you have? If you are doing the doors, are you also doing the cabinet frames too, and if so, how are you doing the frames? How about the back of the doors? PS I don’t have a dog, but a pure white long-haired curious kitty to contend with!!

    1. Deglosser: I used less than half the bottle, still have plenty of it left. I did both the doors and the cabinets, and the backs of the doors. The only thing I didn’t intend on painting was the inside of each cabinet. Hope that helps!

  14. All the details on UR cabinet paint job was great. I am wanting to paint mine ASAP. Mine are also stained and varnished. If I prime them is it necessary to degloss too?

    1. I primed as well, don’t forget… deglossing was done to skip the sanding part (which would have been the alternative to deglossing). I wouldn’t advise taking the chance and just go with deglossing prior to your priming.

  15. Hey Sarah, this was excellent! I’m about to start my cabinets this week and this was most helpful, thanks for sharing! Also, do you still have Charlie? She’s a cutie! Where did you get her?

  16. Hi!

    Thanks for the step-by-step info. Is there a picture of the finished product? I would love to see as I’m going to be painting my honey oak cabinets two toned as well (grayish/blue on the bottom and white on the top). Thanks! Can’t wait to see it!

  17. 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.

  18. Wonderful! Just what I needed. Looking at Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations and you confirmed all for me.

  19. I know this is an older post, but I adore your wooden countertop (cabinets are nice, too) Can you tell me about them?

  20. Hi!! I’m actually going to start this process this weekend. Everything looks great! Would you recommend using a primer and paint separate? Or do you think a paint and primer would work?

    1. My opinion is to keep them separate. You’re already skipping a couple of steps in this tutorial (sanding, etc.), and there’s only so many to try to shortcut before the end result just winds up looking awful! I’ve never really liked the performance of paint and primer combos when it comes to difficult surfaces like cabinets. Better to go with two products that are meant to do two different things (primer is to help paint stick; paint is to help seal and protect a surface from things sticking to it… those are contradictory goals and cabinets get a lot of wear and tear).

    1. I skipped doing the inside and just did a thorough cleaning. Most people typically don’t paint the inside, but you would follow a similar process. Just my opinion though, I don’t know if I’d want to paint the inside for the sake of food safety (most paints are typically not food safe, and your dishes, pots, pans, etc. would be coming into direct contact with clean dishes if you paint the inside), so I would at least check the labels or call the paint manufacturer to see if they have any info.

  21. Well I read everything you had to say and I’m determined to try it; But unlike you, I.m going to try my bathroom cabinet first. Its the same as my kitchen cabinets, so its like a practice goal. hope it comes out OK.

  22. I like the two colors you choose. I am in the process of a kitchen makeover. My uppers are ultra white and the bottoms are grey. I spray painted the hardware with a bronze black. That saved slot of money instead of buying new hardware. I used cabinet paint from Lowes. I recently got all new appliances in stainless steel and new countertops with marking of grey white and copper colors.the bottom cabinets are completed and I love tbdm.My daughter did them

  23. Would you also send non-wood cupboards. As I have that shiny material that ironed or glued on that you would use melamine paint for

  24. No patience here. I would literally replace the cabinets with new ones for myself since there is absolutely no way I’m going through all this trouble. I’d rather just buy new cabinets and they would definitely be painted and not stained just in case I wanted to pair them some day

      1. I, also, would like to “practice ” on my bathroom cabinet. My only question is “Has it been durable” ? That is really my only reluctance in giving this a try. I have these picture in my mind of peeling paint the first time I need to wipe off some grimy
        finger marks.

        1. Yes, it’s been durable and with zero peeling. That bottom photo in my post above shows a photo as recent as 2016 (I started renovating my kitchen in 2013), and I’ll be posting new photos for a kitchen update within the next month or so. My uppers are still perfect and provide an easy surface to clean grease from. On the lowers, there are a tiny number of small marks in the base cabinet where I scratched it with a steak knife (missing the drawer as I was putting utensils away). Easily corrected with a paint touch-up. The knick shows the white primer peeking under the gray paint, so if I had tinted the primer initially, there would be nothing to notice at all! The paint was also not coated in any kind of poly or any coatings on top, so my opinion is that the kitchen is still holding up better than I would have expected.

  25. Your kitchen turned out lovely & I have the same color combo in mind for my own which I just started working on. Do you leave the liquid sander on or do you wipe it off before priming/painting?

  26. Hi!! So I started painting our door frame a very pretty Mountain Grey well I have all white cabinets which are from his grandfather’s home and the rest of the kitchen is stark white as well!! Ugh and like you I am most days tearing my house apart and putting back together , our kitchen flows into our living space and we have blues and greys and again white walls with light tan carpet.I mean I wanna paint the cabinets but was going to do only the door fronts and backs and paint the stark white maybe a blush white( ha ha if that’s even a color) …so what is your take plz..I need a second opinion ??

    1. Hmm, if you have pictures of the kitchen, do you want to send them to me for my input? You can email pictures to my contact address (contact AT uglyducklinghouse DOT com… I have to type it out or I get spammed by bots more!). Put “kitchen help” or whatever makes sense to you in the subject line so I know you mentioned it in the comments here!

  27. In 2017, I followed your no sanding process for painting my kitchen cabinets. I tinted my primer. The paint has stayed on well and the rare small dings don’t glaringly show.

    I couldn’t take my cabinet doors off, so I left them installed and painted using a flat artist brush close to the hinges.

    My kitchen is a tiny galley kitchen in a small one bedroom condo at the beach. I rent it out in the summer so I takes a beating.

    The good news is the paint job has stood up well and has required only a spot or two of touch up over the past 3 years.

    It is/was worth the time to do the prep.

    I appreciate you sharing your projects which helped me have the confidence to tackle cabinet painting.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Anne. It really means a lot to know this has held up for you as well as it did for me and that these tips are helpful! Not using tinted primer is probably my only regret from painting my cabinets because the small dings are only visible on the lower cabinets where I didn’t tint them. They have still held up so well that I’m using the same paint on a new cabinet project that I’ll be sharing soon!