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Pro Tips for Prepping and Painting Kitchen Walls

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Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.

A kitchen I painted, including the walls, ceiling and cabinets.

A kitchen I painted, including the walls, ceiling and cabinets.

Planning A Kitchen Wall Painting Project

While kitchens can be more challenging to paint than open rooms with fewer obstacles to work around, it is actually easy to paint them when done the right way. If you're painting your kitchen walls as part of a remodeling project, paint the ceiling and walls before your countertops and cabinets are installed. After installation, you can go back and touch-up the walls where needed. Sequencing the work that way reduces the amount of prep work and cutting-in.

If you're painting your cabinets and the whole kitchen, paint the ceiling first, the cabinets second, and the walls last. Use painter's tape, preferably low tack tape meant for delicate surfaces, to mask off your painted cabinets for the wall painting. Don't paint the cabinets first, otherwise you'll have to cover them with plastic to paint everything else.

Supplies Needed for Painting Kitchen Walls

  • Drop cloths
  • 3M hand masker with 99-inch masking film
  • Painter's tape
  • Paint tray/empty 5-gallon bucket
  • 3-inch angled paint brush
  • Patching compound
  • 9-inch lint-free paint roller and frame
  • Painter's extension pole
  • Putty knife
  • Dirt and de-greasing agent (TSP)
  • Ceiling paint
  • Satin paint for walls
Red kitchen walls I painted white.

Red kitchen walls I painted white.

Prepping Kitchen Walls for Paint

Carefully clean your kitchen walls before painting them. Kitchen walls are almost always greasy from cooking and food spatter, especially drywall close to the stove, microwave, and coffee machine. Vacuum the tops of the upper cabinets to get rid of cob webs and debris that would otherwise end up in your paint brush and roller.

Cleaning Kitchen Walls

One of the best cleaning solutions for cutting kitchen wall grease and grime is TSP, either in powder form, or liquid. Mix a stronger solution of TSP to dull glossy walls and improve adhesion of the new paint.

Scrub the walls with a sponge and rinse with clean water. Don't paint over mold. Mold and mildew stains wash away easily with either TSP, a diluted solution of water and bleach, or vinegar. I have used vinegar for painting moldy bathrooms and it works really well as a mold and mildew remover. Never mix vinegar with bleach.

Make sure the kitchen walls are totally dry before you start painting. Painting over wet walls can cause blistering and other problems with the paint finish.

Check the Ceiling for Water Stains

Sometimes water stains on ceilings can go unnoticed, but it's something you definitely want to be aware of and treat. Water stains on your kitchen ceiling can be caused by a roofing issue, or a leaky pipe from a bathroom above. Make sure the source of the water leak is fixed before painting your kitchen ceiling.

Prime water stains with a stain-blocking primer like Zinsser Cover Stain, BIN, or another primer formulated to block tough stains, but don't use latex. Latex primer won't stop water stains on drywall, but oil-based primer will. An alternative to oil primer is a the less stinky acrylic alkyd which cleans up with water instead of paint thinner.

Patch and Sand the Walls

Nail holes and nail pops are all easily repairable with a good patching compound. I'm a big fan of Crawford's spackle for repairing nails holes in drywall. The spackle dries fast and sands really easy. Easy Sand drywall compound is also an excellent choice for patching wall and ceiling damage, or replacing drywall tape.

Sand the walls with a drywall sanding sponge to remove imperfections and smooth out the surface. Dulling the surface through sanding helps the new paint stick better too. If the walls are really glossy, or painted with oil-based paint, sanding and using a bonding primer is a must for proper adhesion.

Cover the Countertops, Appliances, and Cabinets

Sprinkles and drips from wall and ceiling paint will end up all over your cabinets and appliances unless you cover them. Use the 3M hand masker tool to cover everything not being painted. With the masking tool, cover your cabinets and countertops with 99-inch masking film. The plastic is long enough to cover most cabinets almost all the way to the floor.

Cover the floor with canvas drop cloths, or a leak-proof floor protector like X-board from the Trimaco brand. This stuff is awesome. You can spill paint all over X-board without having to worry about leaks. The protector is also thick and protects the floor a lot better than drop cloths.

A kitchen I prepped for painting.

A kitchen I prepped for painting.

Painting Kitchen Walls and Ceilings

Paint the kitchen ceiling before the walls, not after. Instead of climbing up and down a ladder, use the Goose Neck extendable paint brush with an extension pole to fill the ceiling corners with paint. The Goose Neck brush has saved me so much time and energy on my painting projects. The brush handle itself includes a universal thread that fastens to any painting pole. The handle of the brush is bendable to any angle. If you're tired of using metal brush adapters, I highly recommend switching to the Goose Neck.

Use A Painting Extension Pole

Don't attempt to paint a kitchen ceiling, or really any ceiling, without an extension pole. The best extension pole length to use for painting a kitchen ceiling is one that extends eight feet. An eight foot painting pole works great for rolling parts of the ceiling above cabinets and between can lights. The longer length lets you make wider roller passes with more reach and more control.

Use Frog Tape on Cabinets

My favorite tape for painting is yellow and green Frog tape. I have also used their blue tape. You pay a few extra dollars more per roll than standard Scotch blue tape, but Frog tape does give you sharper paint lines. The tape is coated with a powdery substance that forms a liquid seal upon contact with wet paint. This prevents paint from leaking underneath the tape.

I use the yellow Frog tape to tape the sides of cabinets when cutting-in. The yellow tape is meant for delicate surfaces and works great on painted, or lacquered, cabinets. The tape is low tack and won't peel the finish off upon removal. If you must tape the ceiling corners instead of cutting-in with a brush, I definitely recommend using Frog tape to get sharper lines.

Use Satin Paint on the Walls

A satin finish, or even semi-gloss, is the best paint for kitchen walls. Flat paint is a bad choice for the walls. The dull finish will collect dirt and be difficult to clean without compromising the paint. Use a washable paint meant for kitchens and bathrooms, or high traffic areas. Apply two coats so the paint is more glossy and easier to clean.

From Sherwin Williams, the paint I really like for kitchens and bathrooms is Duration Home in the satin finish. Benjamin Moore paint is excellent too.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Matt G.