Three Easy Steps to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Like a Pro Using Milk Paint

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If you read Part One of my Kitchen Saga then you know what I was starting out with.  Plain builder grade oak cabinets.  Which are not exactly en vogue at the moment.  However, they are perfectly functional and sturdy cabinets.  I couldn’t afford to rip them out and replace them with custom cabinets in my color choice.  I considered IKEA cabinets, but even that seemed a little pricey and not worth the effort.  After some research, I decided to paint them.  I came across two options: chalk paint or milk paint.

General Finishes Milk Paint in Queenstown Gray was the winner.  Both paints claim that you don’t need to sand or prime beforehand.  After extensive googling and Pinteresting, I finally found some reviews from users who were a few years into their painted cabinets.  The chalk paint ended up chipping around handles and knobs where people’s hands would hit a lot.  I am looking for longevity here.  I don’t want to update my kitchen to add value to my home only for it to look a mess when I’m ready to sell my home!  Milk paint is a long-lasting two-step system.  You paint with your color choice, and then seal with the High-Performance Top Coat.


General Finishes Milk Paint in Queenstown Gray
General Finishes High Performance Water Based Top Coat
General Finishes High-Performance Water Based Top Coat













Now, maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, but I decided to sand AND prime my cabinets before painting.  If we were going to do it, I wanted it done right.  And like I said, I was looking for longevity.  Let me lay out the steps:

  1. Prep (remove doors and hardware, lightly sand, prime, tape, clean).
  2. Paint with your color choice.
  3. Paint with topcoat.

There you go.  Three easy steps and you have a brand new kitchen.  Now I’ll get into the details.

Any kind of paint prep/deglosser will do.  I think I used about three different kinds of just whatever I had on hand.  The goal is to have a clean surface.  You could probably even use a kitchen spray and some elbow grease.  I would recommend wiping the cabinets down with water afterward though just so you don’t have any unexpected chemical reactions with leftover residue and paint.

The next step is to remove the doors and drawer faces.  You shouldn’t have to take out your entire drawer, the face should just be a board screwed on.  Now, if you have an older kitchen, it may all be one piece.  Our cabinets had hidden hinges, so we used a piece of painter’s tape and put our label in the hole where we removed the hinge.  When you remove the drawer face, remember, you don’t have to paint 100% of the back of the drawer.  You can put your label there and it won’t get covered in paint (unless you’re messy like me).  Apparently, labeling is very important.  If you don’t label, when you go to put doors back on, they could potentially be crooked because the screw holes don’t line up.  I’m not sure, I just listened to the advice and went ahead and labeled.  Just do it, it’s easy and will save you a headache later.

Testing the Color Out

Now the fun begins.  Sanding!  We did not take everything out of the cabinets.  If you are worried about dust getting in, I would block the cabinets off with contractor paper rather than emptying them out.  Seems like the easier solution to me.  We didn’t create a ton of dust because we used a fine grit and only lightly sanded the base.  We took the doors outside to sand.  Because milk paint is rumored to be just paint-and-go, we only did a light sanding.  Just enough to give our primer some good surface adhesion.  Don’t go crazy here, you don’t need to, promise.

Our cabinet base didn’t have any visible wood grain, but our doors did.  If you aren’t worried about wood grain then you will cut your time in half!  We wanted a smoother finish because we were looking for a more modern look.  It’s not difficult to achieve, it’s just another step with more sanding added in.  We used Elmer’s Wood Filler  


Elmer’s Wood Filler

No Doors!



It’s easy to use.  Just smooth it in, and once the grain is filled in, sand off any roughness.  Once all the sanding was done, we used an air compressor to blow away any dust, then wiped everything down two or three times with a microfiber cloth.  You do not want any dust left over.

If you have any dust, it could hurt your paint adhesion and lead to chipping in the future.  We had one spot this happened in, which isn’t too bad considering how much we painted.  I’ll touch it up when we paint the upper cabinets.  But so far, it hasn’t chipped any bigger, which I take as a good sign.


The Sad Chip

Once all your prep work is done, it’s time for the painting.  We just bought a cheap gallon of primer from Lowe’s and slapped it on the cabinet base.  We picked up foam rollers labeled for cabinet and door use.  Once the primer dried we did one more quick, light, fine grit, sanding.  Again, make sure any dust is cleaned up, though the primer really shouldn’t generate any.  Time for the pretty paint!  Milk paint is relatively easy to work with.  You don’t get a lot of brush streaks and it dries fairly quickly.  We used a roller to paint the base of the cabinets.

For the doors, we used this puppy.  If you are inexperienced with paint sprayers, I would suggest figuring out the spray pattern on a piece of cardboard with some cheap paint before you start on your doors.  I did not and I think I wasted a lot a little paint.  Let me say, this is NOT a necessity.  We did the first few cabinet doors without it.  I was getting pooled paint in the corners and we still had a lot of doors to go, plus about a million other projects, which is why we decided to buy it.  You can achieve just as good of results without it as long as you have slightly better painting skills than I do.  But, it is kinda cool.  If you choose to go the paint sprayer route, be sure to clean it out IMMEDIATELY after you are done using it.  Don’t wait until later.  Just don’t.  You will thank yourself.

Wagner Control Spray Double Duty Handheld HVLP Paint Sprayer
Wagner Control Spray Double Duty Handheld HVLP Paint Sprayer

Another item that is not a necessity but will make your life easier are these little painting pyramids.  They keep the doors up off the ground so you have an easier time painting the sides.  Luckily, they are pretty inexpensive.

Painting Pyramids

After all the priming and painting is complete, you need to seal everything with the topcoat.  We did not use the sprayer for the top coat.  It dries clear, so I wasn’t too concerned about pooling in the corners.  We did a few layers of the top coat with a very light sanding in between.  This is your protective layer and what will give your paint job its longevity.  My opinion is: the more coats, the better.  In addition to providing protection, the top coat gives your paint job a beautiful sheen and makes the depth of color look more saturated and gorgeous.  After it’s all complete you won’t be able to stop staring at your cabinets.

There you go!  Three easy steps to completely transform your kitchen!  Depending on the size of your kitchen, this could easily be a weekend project.  It wasn’t for us, but that’s because we’re a little on the lazy side we were busy, okay?

Ta Da!


In addition to painting the lower cabinets this gorgeous color, I added some finishing trim work on the exposed side of the endcap.  I also added some super nifty pull out drawer faces under the sink where there were faux drawers before.  I’ll highlight those in my next post, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out!

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