How to Paint Over Stained Kitchen Cabinets

Styles change, and wood cabinetry that once looked fashionable with a stained-and-varnished mahogany finish may now simply look dark and dated. But updating a kitchen with old cherry wood or knotty pine cabinets needn't prove expensive; a fresh coat of paint is much less pricey than replacement cabinetry. You will have to exert a bit more care when painting kitchen cabinets than you do for other household surfaces, but the project is within the capabilities of most do-it-yourselfers.

Tomatoes and onion
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When painting kitchen cabinets, select coatings that will not alter the flavors of your food.

Food-Safe Coatings

The paints, primers, cleansers and strippers you apply to your cabinets may emit harmful airborne fumes into your food storage and preparation area. Some fast-acting paint strippers release toxic chemicals into the air, while you may be one of many individuals who is allergic to the petrochemical solvents emitted by oil-based coatings. These pollutants disperse quickly when used outdoors, but when trapped in the confined spaces of kitchen pantries and cabinets, they may pose a health threat. For best results, select paints that have been certified as safe by non-profit organizations such as Greenguard or Green Seal.

Prep the Surface

Fill any small holes or cracks using spackling paste or wood putty. You don't need to strip off the old finish completely with a smelly chemical stripper; instead, thoroughly clean and degrease all cabinet surfaces by sponging them down with a trisodium phosphate cleanser or a product labeled as a TSP substitute. Wipe off the cleanser residue with a wet cloth, and allow the cabinets to dry for 24 hours. Follow up by sanding all surfaces with 180-grit sandpaper until they are thoroughly deglossed. Use a tack cloth to remove any sanding dust.

Apply Your Primer

Apply an all-purpose water-based primer that's labeled as low-VOC or zero-VOC. Read the label carefully to ensure that the primer can be used over existing oil- and water-based finishes. These primers produce little or no odor while establishing a firm foundation for your finish coat. If the cabinet is made of a knotty wood, choose a white pigmented shellac primer instead. Shellac is a superior stain-blocking sealant that also prevents tannin bleed-through. While shellac emits a strong odor during application, the smell disperses quickly with no toxic residue.

Apply a Beautiful Finish Coat

Select a low-odor 100 percent acrylic latex interior paint with a glossy or eggshell sheen. These fast-drying paints form a tough protective shell that allow you to wipe off greasy stains with soapy water. Unlike oil paints, they will not yellow over time and resist cracking, blistering and peeling. Apply two coats using a high-quality synthetic-fiber paintbrush. Unlike bargain brushes, a premium-grade brush will not shed during application and will produce a smooth finish without any evident brush marks.