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Tips for Caulking Kitchen Cabinets for Paint

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Matt is a professional painter who owns and operates his own painting business, specializing in interior and exterior house painting.

Should you caulk cabinet doors before painting?

Should you caulk cabinet doors before painting?

Should You Caulk Kitchen Cabinets for Painting?

Caulking kitchen cabinets for a paint job hides gaps on painted doors and wall boxes for a seamless look, but before you grab your caulk gun, there are a few important things to know.

Caulking Cabinet Door Panels Is Risky

Unless you're willing to risk the possibility of cracks forming, I strongly recommend only caulking your cabinet wall boxes and molding and not the panels on the doors. I caulked cabinet doors successfully for a long time until I ran into problems with cracks. After that experience, I stopped caulking the door panels for paint.

The purpose of the floating panel on a cabinet door is to allow the wood to expand and contract, but when you fill in those gaps, the caulk can split open when the wood absorbs moisture and swells. You're more likely to have this problem if you live in an area with a lot of humidity and you have cabinets made of porous wood like oak. Fixing cracks in caulk is difficult, and in some cases, you might even have to repaint the doors.

Caulked Doors vs. Uncaulked

The best way to avoid a big headache is to simply not caulk the floating panels on your cabinet doors. You're probably worried the uncaulked gaps won't look right when the doors are painted, but that isn't the case at all when done correctly. I use an air compressor and a razor blade to remove debris from the corners so the doors have a nice clean profile when painted. The key to a pro paint job is to keep the crevices on the doors clean as you paint.

What's the best caulk for kitchen cabinets?

What's the best caulk for kitchen cabinets?

Choosing the Best Caulk for Painting Cabinets

In my experience, cracks in painted caulk are less likely to form on cabinet frames and molding than on cabinet doors with free-floating panels, but the type of caulk and the size of the gaps being filled also play a role in this. It is also critical to make sure you buy high quality painter's caulk compatible with your paint.

Cabinet Painting Caulk Options

The best caulk for cabinet painting is premium acrylic latex with more flexibility. Don't buy cheap painter's caulk. It's less flexible and more prone to cracking. If you're filling large gaps and want to maximize flexibility, one of the best options is elastomeric caulk. In the past, I used Shermax elastomeric caulk from Sherwin Williams, but this product is hard to find in stock where I live. I've also used the Quick Dry caulk from Sherwin Williams, but I ran into problems with cracks using that product.

The caulk I use and recommend for cabinet painting is Dap Alex Flex Premium Molding and Trim Sealant. I use this caulk to fill gaps on cabinet wall boxes and molding, not the doors. I explained earlier why I don't caulk cabinet doors anymore, but if you decide to caulk yours, I highly recommend using extra flexible caulking to reduce the chances of cracks. For the best flexibility on floating door panels, I would go with Dap Extreme Stretch Crackproof Elastomeric Sealant instead of the Alex Flex sealant I recommended. The extra flexibility allows the caulk to expand more with the wood.

Learn how to caulk cabinets like a pro.

Learn how to caulk cabinets like a pro.

How to Caulk Cabinets Before Painting

The type of caulk you choose and the way you apply it both play a role in its performance. If you're painting your cabinets with acrylic enamel, or acrylic alkyd enamel, the products I recommended earlier are both good options.

I strongly recommend reading the application directions and specs for the caulk you're using to maximize performance and durability. Most importantly, make sure the labeling on the tube specifies that the caulk is paintable. I would also use white caulk instead of clear.

Caulk After Cleaning and Sanding

Do not caulk your cabinets before cleaning and sanding. If you do, the sandpaper and cleaning chemicals will damage and ruin the caulk. Cleaning first also ensures the bead of caulk forms a proper bond with the surface. I also recommend caulking before you prime, not after. The primer seals over the caulk to prevent shiny blemishes in the paint. These blemishes are often referred to as "shiners".

Caulk the Cabinet Wall Boxes

Using a dripless caulk gun, fill the space where the cabinets meet the wall, as well as any gaps between molding and the wood frames. Apply enough caulk to fill the gap, but don't over-apply or leave build-up on the surface without wiping it away. Caulk shrinks as it dries so it's important to fill deeper gaps all the way otherwise you'll end up with cracks. Use a damp rag to wipe away residue and smooth out the bead. Do not repeatedly wipe the fresh bead with a wet rag. Too much water will dilute the caulk and cause cracks when it dries.

Never Paint Over Wet Caulk

Letting the caulk completely dry before you paint is probably the single most important tip. If you paint over caulking that hasn't dried, you will end up with cracks not long after the paint dries. Dry time is even more important when using an elastomeric sealant because it can take as long as four hours to totally dry. It can take even longer than that if you filled deep gaps. If you're using a slow-drying sealant, my recommendation is to wait until the following day to prime and paint.

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.

© 2022 Matt G.