DIY · Home & Garden

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding

Discover how to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding. This easy method is great for less messy, straightforward kitchen cabinet updates.

Kitchen cabinets have been painted a sage green color after learning how to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding.

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We’ve been renovating our kitchen over the last few weeks and months, and I decided I should share how we painted our 1950s kitchen cabinets.

These cabinets are pretty worn down, typical 1950s cabinets–so they aren’t the highest quality. But I knew if I could at least cover up most of the ugly on them, they’d be in much better shape. Extending the life of them was important to me. At a later time, we will just have to invest in new ones.

I ended up using Sherwin Williams Farm to Table sage green color that is great for any country home. It is a really earthy tone and one of my favorite shades of green. Green makes appearances all over my home, from these cabinets to a more minty green in the living room, and to a dark hunter green in the nursery. I needed a color that would blend well with the others I had chosen. (You can read more about this Cottagecore Color Palette for a Kitchen HERE.)

Another reason I felt the need to share how we painted the kitchen cabinets is because we didn’t sand them. We didn’t use chalk paint, spend hours sanding them down, or seal them with varnish or polyurethane. 

(Okay, I admit, I did lightly sand the cabinet doors to scuff them up a little. But I did this by hand, not with an electric sander. It took only a minute or two per door. Far from the intensive job of sanding every square inch of the cabinets with a palm sander. This is optional though.)

So how did I do it?

Today, I’m going to explore all the steps of how to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding them first.

Kitchen cabinets are shown in a newly renovated cottage kitchen after learning  how to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding.

Can unsanded cabinets really withstand everyday use and wear?

Yes and no. I’m not saying you won’t ever have to touch up a nicked corner or ever get some wear on them. But personally, this happens even when I do sand and seal painted wood. 

Accidents happen. 

My philosophy is that if you use the proper paint and apply it correctly, this will help just as much as more involved methods.

Our cabinets have been used for the last three months since they’ve been painted and the only touch-ups I need to make are due to accidents that occurred from other DIYs we are currently making in the kitchen. 

This just tends to happen with home projects. 

Tools carelessly graze a drawer when walking by, a new appliance scuffs something as it’s being moved in, a work material is dropped and scratches a surface. These are not ordinary, everyday tasks though. 
We haven’t had any nicks or scuffs from just everyday wear and tear, at least not yet.

At some point I may need to grab a small brush and touch up a tiny spot here or there. This takes minutes to apply and an hour to dry, with maybe a half day to cure. That’s not a big deal to me. 

For me, at least with older cabinets, it’s not worth the mess and hassle of sanding everything all the way down before painting.

Old cabinets have paint applied to them in a sage green.
Old cabinets have paint applied to them in a sage green.

Which cabinets are best for this method?

Typically, wood, especially previously stained and sealed wood, is sanded before painting or refinishing with a new stain color. This helps the paint stick. This is the “right” way to do it. The textbook way. Frankly, this is the way professionals do it.

But is it always necessary? I’d argue that it’s just not always worth the work. You have to weigh the benefits and risks, though, like most things.

The best cabinets for using this method are ones you are using high-quality paint on.

That’s the secret.

You may also consider the age and quality of the wood used for the cabinets and whether or not you are able to clean them well enough to get all the oils and stuck-on gunk off, too.

Do I have to apply something to seal the paint in?

You don’t have to apply a varnish or polyurethane to seal the painted cabinets, but it is a nice extra coat of protection. It is often encouraged in areas like bathrooms or kitchens to ensure moisture doesn’t get in.

You can also ensure this doesn’t happen by using a semi- to high-gloss paint. These should always be used in areas of high traffic and where water is involved (i.e. kitchens and bathrooms).

If you prefer to seal it, use a water-based poly. I prefer a spray since it applies much more quickly. Water-based ones won’t leave behind a yellowish tinge like oil-based ones, which is especially helpful if you’re using a lighter color of paint. Always allow plenty of curing time before everyday use if you decide to seal cabinets with polyurethane or varnish.

A country kitchen has had old cabinets painted without sanding them first.

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding

Supplies | how to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding

Angled sash brush

Roller brush

Paint tray with liners

Semi-gloss or high-gloss paint 

Tarp or plastic floor covers

Drill Wood filler or spackling paste

Putty knife

Mineral spirits

Cleaning towels/rags

Protective gloves

120-grit sandpaper, optional

Water-based polyurethane, optional

New hardware (handles, knobs or pulls, and hinges), optional

A green paint has been applied to learn how to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding.
Cabinet doors are fastened with hinges before new pulls and handles are installed.

Steps | how to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding

Remove cabinet doors and all hardware

Remove all the cabinet doors using a drill. Doing this before painting makes everything much easier to access and paint. It’ll ensure you don’t miss spots and have ample room to work. Additionally, remove all hardware from the doors before proceeding. 

Degrease cabinets

Use mineral spirits to clean and degrease the cabinets and doors. This effectively removes all dirt, grime, and grease from the cabinets. Good old soap and water just isn’t as effective as mineral spirits. Use old rags and towels to scrub and buff out any oils. Afterward, be sure to wipe down with a wet, soapy towel to remove any residue. The petroleum in mineral spirits will prevent paint from sticking well if you skip this step.

Always work in a well ventilated area and wear protective clothing, gloves, and possibly eyewear when working with mineral spirits or other chemicals. 

Lightly scuff up cabinet doors with sandpaper, optional

If you have stubborn areas that are hard to get grime or dirt from, lightly scuffing these areas up with 120-grit sandpaper will do the trick. Do this by hand, you do not need a palm sander for this task. Focus on stubborn areas or quickly and lightly sand the entire doors. 

It is not usually necessary to sand full cabinets even when making the decision to scuff up some areas for better adhesion. Focus only on high traffic areas (such as cabinet doors) that will get the most wear and tear.

Paint all cabinet doors, drawers, and cabinets

Using a semi- or high-gloss paint, paint one side of the cabinet doors and drawers using a roller brush. Then go around the edges and corners with an angled sash brush to touch up.

 Repeat this step on upper and lower base cabinets. Allow proper drying time (as indicated on paint can) on a tarp or on plastic floor covers. 

Reapply a second coat of paint

Apply a second coat to everything once the paint has dried on all the cabinets, doors, and drawers. Let it dry for the proper amount of time indicated on the paint can.

For cabinet doors, you will need to next turn them over after the second coat has dried to paint the other side. Many people choose not to paint the inside doors or insides of drawers, but if your cabinets are old and in poor condition, it is best to cover even the insides in paint while you have the paint out now. Paint is excellent at covering up imperfections in wood. However, you may wish to skip this step and see it as unnecessary if you’ve installed new cabinetry or the insides are still in good condition. 

Seal cabinets, optional

If you wish to seal your cabinets for added protection, you can now apply this after the paint has dried completely. If you do this, allow extra curing time before reinstalling cabinet doors and hardware. What may seem dry after a couple of hours, may smudge very easily once handled. 

Allow to cure for 1-2 days and reinstall doors and hardware

Allow painted cabinets to cure before reinstalling. Using a drill, install cabinet doors with any new or existing hinges. Add handles and pulls or knobs last. 

Cabinets are cleaned and doors and drawers removed before beginning painting.
Cabinets are cleaned and doors and drawers removed before beginning painting.
Cabinets doors and drawers are painted and dry on a tarp outdoors.
Doors and drawers are painted and dry on a tarp outdoors.
Lower base cabinets shine in new color after being painted.
Cabinets shine after being painted and having new hardware added.

Tips for Success | how to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding

When applying paint with a brush, always paint with the grain. This gives a more seamless look, and ensures all your brush strokes are always going in the same direction. 

When painting cabinet doors, be sure no paint drips are present around edges to prevent the cabinet doors from sticking to the tarp or plastic. If this does happen, carefully peel away after drying and lightly sand edges. Reapply paint and dry again.

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