September ‘How to’ blog – painting kitchen doors

Our very successful monthly ‘How to’ blogs from continue, with September taking you through how to professionally paint and revitalise your kitchen cupboard doors. If done well, this can change the look of your kitchen without costing thousands of pounds! But beware, done badly, it can look awful, so follow the advice carefully!

 How To Paint Kitchen Cupboards

By Wayne de Wet, independent multiple award winning painter and decorator

A kitchen makeover can be very satisfying, especially for those who have to save their hard-earned pennies for many months before it becomes affordable. Half of it is selecting the right kitchen cupboard and drawer units then fitting them properly. Unless they are particularly DIY savvy, people will usually hire a professional fitter to do this for them, but when it comes to painting some may be tempted to cut costs and do it themselves.

Homeowners beware: badly painted kitchens look nasty and could put potential buyers off if the property is for sale, so it best to get a professional painter or decorator in. However, for those confident in their DIY abilities here is a step-by-step guide to painting ‘laminate’ or ‘foil-wrapped’ units commonly found in many kitchens.

Painting kitchen units is all about preparation. Plan the work! When painting existing kitchens clear everything out first, remove the handles and fittings and get all the necessary tools and materials before commencing work. Here is a checklist:

  • Dust sheets
  • Paint brushes
  • Mini rollers with sleeves washed many times to remove fibres and a tray
  • Old cloths
  • Sugar soap
  • Two buckets
  • Sponges & cloths
  • Paint kettles
  • Masking tape
  • Adhesion primer
  • Quality top coat eggshell or satinwood
  • Filler & caulk and cartridge gun
  • Stirring stick
  • Fine grade abrasives
  • Micro fibre cloths
  • Fan
  • White sprit
  • Tools for removing handles & hinges
  • Overalls
  • Hoover with brush attachment

Day one

Food is prepared in kitchens and invisible airborne grease settles on all the units, so unless it is a brand new complete kitchen cleaning is the first order of the day, otherwise the grease will stop the paint adhering to the surface and curing. This will cause the paint to flake off.

It is best to use sugar soap because this will leave a surface that is perfect for paint to stick to. Sugar soap is a skin irritant so to stay safe wear gloves, goggles and old clothes, covering up all exposed skin. In addition, use dust sheets to protect other parts of the room as necessary.

Sugar soap comes in both liquid and crystal form. It probably needs diluting so check the instructions when mixing. Apply a first coat quickly to all the unit surfaces with a sponge or cloth using a wiping motion rather than scrubbing. This will start to soften the grease and grime. Once you have coated all the surfaces that need to be cleaned with the sugar soap solution, repeat the process again and you will find that the first application will have made it easier to clean.

Rinse the surfaces with a cloth using clean warm water with no suds, but changing the water often, starting with the wall units. Work your way upwards with the cloth to prevent streaking. When this is done the units will need to dry because applying paint to damp surfaces will cause flaking. It is best to let this happen overnight, although using a fan and opening windows to allow the air to move around will speed the process up.

cupboard painting 1

Day two

It is time to prime the kitchen. Laminate surfaces are hard for paint to stick to so choose a good quality adhesion primer. All good stores will stock them, if in doubt ask.

Before priming remove cupboard doors and drawers numbering them. Also mark/number the hinges and handles to remember where they came from and use masking tape on the drawer surfaces that are not to be painted. It may be necessary to fill/caulk any cracks, dents or blemishes so use recognised filler. When dry sand the filler and spot prime.

Use a gun cartridge for caulking. Smooth with a finger dipped in water, allow to cure then use a micro-fibre cloth and a hoover with brush attachment to remove excess dust.

Apply primer to the units starting with the doors using a mini-roller with a mohair sleeve This has fine pile (hairs) that are perfect for this job. If the roller is new wash in warm soapy water to remove loose piles otherwise they may come off on the units and get stuck in the paint. Use a small paintbrush for awkward areas. When all the units are primed leave overnight to dry.

cupboard painting 2

Day three

After a light sanding to remove any nibs etc. use a micro-fibre cloth and a hoover with a brush attachment again to remove excess dust.

The unit surfaces are now ready for a first coat of paint. It is best to use a satin wood or eggshell oil-based paint, thinned slightly to ease application. Use a clean roller to apply the paint on evenly then ‘face off’ or smooth the ‘orange peel’ effect left by the roller with a 1½/2 inch paintbrush.

To paint the doors place them on blocks of wood and lean against the wall (using dust sheets and card to protect the wall/floor). Paint the back and the edges then turn it around and paint the front. Reattach the doors using small blocks of wood to prevent them closing and sticking to the units. Check the units for ‘fatty edges’ where the paint builds up, streaks and runs. Tidy up using the brush where necessary. Leave paint to dry overnight.

Day four

Remove nibs using very fine abrasive papers, then remove excel dust again with the micro-fibre cloth and a hoover with a brush attachment. Carefully apply a second coat of paint to the units in the same way as day three. The doors will be attached this time so take extra care. Leave paint to dry overnight.

Day five

All that is left to do is reattach the handles and fittings to the unit and tidy, disposing of excess paint and chemicals in the proper fashion.


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Checkatrade helps combat the UK’s rogue trader problem by continuously vetting and monitoring local tradespeople such as builders, plumbers and electricians as well as service providers.

Checkatrade now has over 10,700 genuine trade members, growing by an average of 150 new members every month. Over the past 12 months, Checkatrade-certified tradesmen carried out a combined total of £1b worth of work, with complaints at just one in 664, compared to the national average of one in four.

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