Choosing the Best Paint for Wood Cabinets

Choosing the best paint for wood cabinets can be tricky, but with right information you can tackle this DIY project and make your kitchen and/or bathroom look new without buying new cabinets. There are so many options out there, and each one has their own pros and cons.

In this blog post, we will provide you with some helpful tips to help you choose the best paint for your project.

best paint for wood cabinets graphic

There are many different variations of paint that you can use to paint wood cabinets. When deciding on what type of paint to use for your kitchen cabinets, you have two primary choices: water-based and oil-based.

Water-based products can also be termed as either acrylic or latex while oil-based products might also be termed as an alkyd.

Paints have come a long ways over the years to help contractors and DIYers get the best of both worlds in certain applications. When it comes to painting your cabinets, you want to focus on overall finish appearance and durability.

Below, I will break down the features and benefits between water-based and oil-based paints to help you choose the best paint for wood cabinets.

best paint for wood cabinets with paint samples

Best Paint for Kitchen Cabinets

Latex (Water-based)

Latex is the easiest type of paint to use when painting your cabinets, and it also offers a fresh look that is best suited for beginners. The best part about choosing this option might be how easy it is to clean up afterwards with just warm water and how quickly it dries!

This makes latex ideal if you are planning to use your kitchen soon after finishing the project.

For years, people were taught that in order to get a durable paint job, they had to use an oil-based paint. However, with the advancements in paint over the years, you can get a durable latex paint that offers a durable finish.

What you are looking for is a paint product that is classified as an enamel. Simply put, an enamel is a finish that will have a harder finish which meant a durable surface. Many years ago, oil-based paints were about the only options you had to get an enamel.

Alkyd (Oil-Based)

Oil based paints offer more durability since they are designed to have a more durable finish. Oil-based paints also leave a better overall finish since most of these paints have great self-leveling characteristics.

This simply means, that after brushing, rolling or spraying, you rarely see any brush or rollers marks like you could see with latex paint.

If you decide to use an alkyd paint, keep in mind there are a few disadvantages. First is the odor that looms, especially if you are working in a confined space. Sometimes, the odor can be present for several days so I would recommend that you complete as much of this project outside when possible.

For example, remove the doors and drawer fronts and paint them outside. Next, you will have to think about clean up. You can either throw away everything or you will need to use mineral spirits (paint thinner) which adds to the overall cost.

Finally, oil-based paints will have a “yellowing” phase where the paint color will go through a yellowing phase and change color. However, it will be a consistent change over the whole area.

Here are some of my suggestions for you to use when painting your cabinets:

1. ProClassic from Sherwin Williams

2. Advance from Benjamin Moore

3. Valspar Cabinet & Furniture Paint from Lowe’s

best paint for wood cabinets - gray painted kitchen cabinets

Types of Paint Finishes

Paints come is several finishes and each has their advantages and disadvantages.

  1. Matte/Flat: This finish provides little to no shine which allows for easy touch up and hides imperfections. With this finish, you will have little to no ability to scrub your cabinets.
  2. Satin/Eggshell: This finish provides a hint of a shine allowing you to wipe down a surface.
  3. Semi-Gloss: This finish is probably the most popular for cabinets since you are able to get a durable finish allowing frequent washing.
  4. Gloss or High Gloss: This finish gives you the highest level of shine allowing frequent scrubbing and wiping. This finish reflects more light and will highlight any imperfections. Therefore, if you have several flaws or imperfections on your cabinets, then you may want to avoid using this finish.

Choosing the Best Paint for Wood Cabinets

By now, you have a good understanding about the different types of paint and finishes available to you to help you choose the best paint for wood cabinets.

Now, the big question!! Which type of paint is the right paint for your project?

Just like with most projects, the answer comes down to personal preference. However, I am not going to leave you hanging without giving you my opinion and what I have used.

In the past, I painted my wood cabinets with an oil-based paint even though I typically used water-based paint for my projects in the house. The reason for this was because I was able to remove all of my doors and drawers and take them offsite to get them sprayed. By spraying, I was able to get a really smooth finish.

Next, since I was going with a color that was similar to my original cabinet color, I only had to paint the outer portion and not the inside of the cabinets. If I was going to paint the inside, then I would have gone with a water-based paint simply due to the odor.

The other determining factor for using the oil-based paint was because I knew that when I used a brush for the rest of the areas, the paint would be self-leveling. This minimizes brush marks to mirror a sprayed finish. I also went with an eggshell finish since we prefer a subtle appearance minimizing the shine.

woman painting wood cabinets

How often do I need to repaint?

The great part about painting your cabinets and choosing a quality product is you typically will not have to repaint them unless you decide to remodel or update your look.

I painted my wood cabinets almost 10 years ago and they still look brand new. We use anything from a cleaning sponge to a cleaning rag along with spray cleaners without and surface changes in the finish.

One side note that I wanted to mention relates to the hardware.

To keep your project simple and save a few dollars, we used to current hardware by cleaning them and spray painting them instead of buying new hardware. Even though some of the spray paint has come off, they still look great and the areas that rubbed off are hidden.

man using a paint sprayer

Here’s the Best Way to Paint your Wood Cabinets for Best Results

  • Clean all the surfaces you want to paint thoroughly with a degreaser or soap and water.
  • Remove or smooth out any imperfections or old paint by sanding with 120 or 180 grit sandpaper or using wood filler. Follow up by wiping down the cabinets with a damp cloth to remove any dust.
  • If your wood cabinets have an oil-based paint currently and you want to switch to a water-based, then you will need to use a good adhesion promoting primer before applying your first coat of paint for better adhesion. Otherwise, you ‘re at risk for having your new paint peel. The same also applies if your wood cabinets have a stain and varnish/lacquer clear coat or you have bare wood cabinets. A primer is strongly encouraged.
  • Apply your first coat and allow the first coat to dry completely. Check the label on your paint can for the dry time before applying the next coat. I typically give it overnight to be safe. If possible, try to spray your coating with a paint sprayer. By using a sprayer, you can make your cabinets look like professional painters completed this project. You will still need a high-quality brush and a good mini roller. Use the mini roller as much as possible to reduce brush marks.
  • Apply a second layer of that same color if needed.
  • Allow the final layer of paint to dry completely before using it. Paints typically take 30 days to fully cure. This means, it takes 30 days for paint to reach their maximum strength. Therefore, for the first few weeks, keep you scrubbing to a minimum and try to only wipe down your surface when needed.

DIY Painting Tips

  • If you are changing from a light color to a much darker color, then get your primer intent as dark as possible to help your finish color cover better to prevent multiple coats.
  • Before you start painting your cabinets, make sure you plan your project, especially if you’re going to remove your drawers and doors. By removing them, your project time could be extended since you have paint certain sides, let dry, and then flip them and paint the other sides.
  • If you’re going to use only brushes and rollers, it would be a good idea to experiment with them on a small section so you can see which applicator gives your best finished product. Like all paint projects, you do not want to neglect the proper prep work and you want to have all the right tools for your project.
  • You should consider items such as drop clothes to catch paint drips, brushes/rollers, painter’s tape, roller trays. wood filler/putty, putty knife, sand paper/sanding block, tack clothes, and a plan!!

Choosing the best paint for wood cabinets can seem like a daunting task, but with these best practices and knowledge you should be able to make an informed decision.

You can also speak to your friends and family about their choices and talk to your local paint stores about their selections on the best kitchen cabinet paint. I would consider Sherwin Williams, Lowe’s, Home Depot or your local Ben Moore store.

Good Luck!!!

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