Tips for Spray Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Updated on August 9, 2018
Matt G. profile image

Matt is a professional painter sharing house-painting tips, related product reviews, and his experience in the trade.

Spraying Kitchen Cabinets

If you're happy with everything about your cabinets, except the color, spray painting them is the best alternative to buying new ones. New cabinets are expensive and are sometimes constructed with cheap materials inside, like particle board. Most of the older cabinets I paint are well built and only need a paint job to modernize them.

Spray painting kitchen cabinets produces over-spray, which means you must carefully mask everything to avoid a mess. Some painters argue that the amount of time spent masking and spraying a kitchen ends up taking the same amount of time as brushing and rolling, but that definitely isn't the case in my experience.

I can mask a kitchen for spraying in no more than one day. When the masking is done, I can spray the primer and paint in about ten minutes per coat. Doing this process with a roller would take close to one full day of work for each coat, so using a sprayer saves me a couple days of work.

Remove the Doors and Drawers

Take down the doors and drawer fronts to spray them. After removing the hinges and knobs, I label the reverse side of each door, underneath a hinge, so I know where each door goes during installation at the end of the job. Stick a piece of tape over the number.

You can remove the whole entire drawer itself too, including the track, but I usually only remove the drawer fronts, inserting tape over the space around each drawer to keep over-spray from blowing in.

Masking for Kitchen Spray Painting

Masking is a lot of work, but using the right masking tools and supplies saves a lot of time. The first must-have tool you need for masking is the 3M hand masker and the masking film to go with it, as well as painter's tape.

I use the 3M masking tool for all of my paint prep, including cabinet painting. The tool allows you to easily mask by sticking your masking tape and plastic to the surface at the same time, instead of having to do this separately. A masker saves tons of time, especially for big jobs.

Cover the kitchen floors with red rosin paper instead of drop cloths. Drop cloths blow around from the pressure of the spray gun. You can buy three foot rolls of red rosin paper at practically any home improvement store. I tape the paper to the floor right up to the bottom of the base cabinets.

Appliances should be wrapped with plastic, taping around the edges to prevent over-spray from blowing underneath. The dishwasher is where you have to be careful. I open the dishwasher and run tape along the sides of the door to keep them clean.

Low hanging lights can be covered with plastic. If your upper cabinets are close to the ceiling, tape masking paper along the top to block the over-spray. The cabinet wall box openings are the most time consuming to tape, but easy with the masker I mentioned.

What I do is run tape and plastic right behind the small style that goes around each cabinet opening, using the masker. This allows that small piece behind the doors to be sprayed without blasting the inside of the cabinet boxes with paint.

Prep the Surface

I won't go into too much detail about surface preparation, since this article is mostly about spray painting kitchen cabinets, not prep, but make sure everything has been prepped before priming and painting. Drill holes for new knobs at this stage too, not after painting. If you need to fill old holes that won't be used anymore, Bondo wood filler works great.

All wood surfaces should be cleaned, sanded, primed, and painted, sanding in between every coat. Denatured alcohol is a good cleaner that cuts right through grease. I apply two coats of BIN shellac primer and two coats of Emerald urethane for my cabinet projects. If you're working with grainy cabinets, you can also use grain filler to smooth out the surface if desired.

It's also important to use a damp rag, or a tack cloth, to remove sanding dust before spraying. Dust removal should be done before spraying each coat. Dust is your enemy when spraying.

Spray Painting Cabinet Doors

I use my Graco 495 airless sprayer for all of my cabinet spraying, but a smaller airless is fine too. An airless sprayer is faster than an HVLP sprayer and doesn't require thinning of the paint like an HVLP does. With the right spray tips and paint, you can get an awesome finish using an airless sprayer.

I use the RAC X tip guard, equipped with the Graco FFLP (fine finish, low pressure) tips to spray cabinets. Specifically, size 210 and 310 both work well for cabinet painting. The size 310 works great for spraying the doors, or the 210, but I like the four inch spray fan of the 210 for shooting the framing on the fronts of cabinet wall boxes. The six inch spray fan of a 310 makes the door spraying go faster.

Methods for Spray Painting Cabinet Doors:

1. Cabinet Drying Rack

If you're painting more than one set of cabinets, investing in a good drying rack is a must, otherwise you're going to waste a lot of unnecessary time. The rack system I use for all of my cabinet jobs is the Door Rack Painter. The doors are sprayed and stored flat.

The unique design of this rack set-up allows both sides of the doors to be sprayed at once, in the same day, instead of waiting for one side to dry to paint the other side. This rack system has been incredibly useful and time-saving for my painting business. I highly recommend it.

2. Hang the Doors

Another method that works well is to drill small pilot holes into the door edge, attach swiveling clothes hanger hooks, and hang the doors for spraying. You can hang the doors from a PVC pipe fastened to the top of two step ladders. The main downside to spraying doors this way is, due to gravity, the paint is more likely to sag if you spray too heavy.

I always spray doors flat to avoid sagging, but the clothes hanger method works, and you can buy swiveling hangers anywhere for cheap. When drilling the holes, the holes are drilled into the edge of the door that will never be seen when they're installed. For example, holes on the bottom edge of a base cabinet door, or on the top of an upper door, won't be visible after the doors are hung. The holes can be filled too.

3. Saw Horse Set-up

The most common way people spray paint and store cabinet doors is using a saw horse, or boards, but this is the slowest method of the three. Doing the work this way, you would spray one side, wait for the paint to dry, and flip the door over when it dries to paint the other side.

This works fine if you don't care about the extra time involved and you don't want to buy a drying rack. Using this method though, there's usually an extra three days of work involved, waiting for the paint to dry. Another problem is that the pressure between the board and the fresh paint can causing marring from lying flat.

Spraying the Cabinets

Spraying is a skill that takes time to learn and get used to, but it isn't hard. I recommend practicing on cardboard before pulling the trigger on your cabinets. I always spray two coats of primer and two coats of paint, sanding in between each coat. It's important to not only use a leveling paint for cabinets, but to also follow the re-coat times, allowing the coating to dry before shooting the next coat.

You can spray the doors without a spray booth, but always wear a respirator, especially indoors. Set up a couple box fans to filter dust particles away from the spray area. There are also portable spray tents that make it easier to spray inside a garage without bombing everything with over-spray.

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    © 2018 Matt G.

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