Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Recently I tackled the project of painting my kitchen cabinets.It was a lot of work, but the end results were so worth it!

painting kitchen cabinets - before and after photos

After painting our bathroom vanity last winter, I really thought hard about also painting my kitchen cabinets too, which had the exact same honey oak cabinets. I knew it would be a big project. When I did the first bathroom I sanded, primed, painted and put a finish coat on them. Here’s a link to the post I did on painting honey oak cabinets. I really liked the outcome and had planned to use the same method , but then I ran across an article in Better Homes and Gardens about various techniques for painting kitchen cabinets and they mentioned a product from Rust-Oleum specifically made for cabinets that didn’t require sanding. WHAT!? No sanding? I was skeptical but willing to give it a try, so I bought the kit last summer and did our upstairs bathroom vanity as a test run. I chose a similar espresso color as I had used for paint on my other bathroom.  In the end, the Rust-Oleum Transformations Cabinet kit won out both for process and outcome for me, so that’s what I decided to use for the kitchen.

I took the week before Labor Day off from work and started right in on the kitchen, knowing it was going to be a big job. We had some other updates planned for the kitchen, so we did the countertops over that first weekend.

I used the large Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations kit in Espresso, which I purchased from Lowe’s for about $150. The paint department mixes in the color you select. The kit contains much of what you need, but you will have to buy paint brushes and disposable paint containers, painter’s tape, drop cloths (if you need them), lint free cloths, and gloves if you don’t want to get your hands too dirty.

The process is fairly straightforward. You can also read more detailed instructions on their website.

  1. Clean cabinets using the deglosser and scrub pads included in the kit. This is what replaces the sanding step.
  2. Prep cabinets by taping along walls, etc.
  3. Apply bond coat  using a paint brush. This is the color. You use 2 coats. I did all of the cabinet frames first and then did the doors – fronts and backs.
  4. Apply Decorative Glaze (optional) you wipe this on with cheesecloth – I did not end up doing the glaze. More on that later.
  5. Apply Protective Top Coat – They say you only need one coat, but I did two, and I’m glad I did.

Here are some before, during and after pictures.

Before: dated honey oak cabinets

painting kitchen cabinets - before picture

Deglossing, cleaning and prep for painting base coat.

kitchen cabinets preparation for painting

During: Cabinet frames completed.

painting kitchen cabinets - frames painted

After: Cabinets finished, hardware installed, walls painted.

kitchen cabinets painted

Overall I was extremely pleased with the final product. We’re not done with our kitchen yet, but we’re getting closer, so don’t mind the missing trim on the window and such. I’ll do another post on the real “after” for the whole project once we get a few other things completed.

Pros, Cons and Tips:

  • Read the directions several times and watch the video included in the kit or on the website.
  • This was a time consuming project. My husband hates painting, so I knew I’d be doing this one on my own. It took me a full week working mostly 9-5 each day, sometimes longer, just to get the cabinet frame completely done and about 1/3 of the doors. The rest of the doors took me several weeks to complete because I was mostly doing them after work and only 1-2 nights a week. My recommendation would be to have 2 people working on this if possible and have one working on the frame and the other on the doors at the same time. The doors take longer because you have to do fronts and backs with both the color and the top coat x2 coats of each.
  • The deglossing, cleaning and prepping took me a full day to do. I preferred this to sanding which would have probably taken about the same amount of time.
  • The base coat has a consistency in between stain and paint in terms of the thickness of it. It covered well, and I believe it chips less because of this.
  • I tried using a roller hoping to make the project go a little faster, but because it’s much thinner than typical paint, it left bubbles when using a roller which I then had to use a brush on, so you really do need to use a brush. I had no problems with visible brush strokes in the base coat, it really goes on nicely.
  • I chose not to do the decorative glaze option. I agreed with some of the reviews I had read which indicated that with the darker color kit, it was difficult to really see any difference with and without the glaze. I tried it on a spare board to see for myself though. If you’re using a lighter color, it would be more visible.
  • You will see some of the grain if your wood is grainy, like an oak. This was also true when I painted the bathroom cabinets using actual paint, so don’t assume this will act as a filler – it won’t.
  • The protective top coat was the only part that I found difficult to work with and preferred the top coat I used for the more traditional method. The top coat that comes with the Rust-Oleum kit is a milky color and you have to be pretty precise with it. You must apply as very thin coats and make sure you have no visible white in cracks and crevices. Think of Elmer’s glue and how it dries white  if it’s not perfectly thin – very similar to what happens here. You also can’t rebrush where you’ve already brushed and it starts to dry very quickly. The outcome if you apply correctly is very nice, but it’s a little more frustrating to work with than any other part of the kit. Even though you’re using a brush to apply it, if you do it well, you wont really see brush strokes in the finished product.
  • I did two coats of the protective top coat and I’m glad I did. i feel like the finish looks a lot more polished than it did with just one coat, and it will wear better long term.
  • The directions recommend that you do the backs of the doors first. I found it worked better to do the fronts. If I was going to have any build up or potentially “run off” of paint or top coat, I wanted it to be on the backs of the doors.
  • The product doesn’t have a typical paint or stain smell. I found it very easy to work with for a long time without getting a headache. It was very low odor which was a nice bonus.
  • My cabinets are showing virtually no wear and tear at this point. It’s been about 4 months since we completed the cabinets.
  • It is possible to fix scratches. When my husband took our existing floor out, he accidentally scratched the side of the island. I almost cried –  after all the time spent painting the cabinets, but it actually repaired just fine and is visible only to me who knows it’s there.

All-in-all, I would definitely recommend the Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformation product. In fact, I already have two other friends who have used it on their kitchens.

I can’t wait to get the kitchen fully done. It feels like it’s been so long. So far we’ve done the countertops, painted the cabinets, replaced all the hardware and light fixtures, replaced the flooring (not shown) and painted the walls. Next up: replace trim on windows, add crown molding, make/get curtains, and decorate walls. We’re in the home stretch!


  1. Thanks! We’re finally starting to finish everything else up. I hope to post an update soon of everything done. (I’ve been saying this for 2 months!).

  2. I think it depends on what you were planning to use it for. Most wood furniture or other already finished pieces would likely be fine. I remember when reading the directions that there was something else you needed to do if you were wanting to use on bare wood.

  3. I find that many homeowners are surprised by just how much a cabinet makeover can upgrade the look and feel of their kitchens. That cabinet color compliments your existing counter tops nicely!

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