How to Refinish Metal Kitchen Cabinets

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There are several ways to refinish metal kitchen cabinets.
Image Credit: Robert Daly/OJO Images/GettyImages

You can refinish metal kitchen cabinets just like wooden cabinets, but with products specifically designed for use on metal. Giving your metal kitchen cabinets a makeover typically involves painting them, but you can also sand heavily scratched metal to make it smooth and shiny again.


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Cleaning and Preparing the Metal

Start the process of refinishing metal kitchen cabinets by removing all drawer pulls, doorknobs and external hinges. Next, thoroughly clean the metal with liquid dish soap until the metal is completely grease-free. Rinse the soap residue with a damp cloth and follow it up with a dry cloth. The metal surface should be completely smooth so that nothing prevents the paint or adhesive from making contact with the metal.

Take a moment to inspect the kitchen cabinets for any problematic areas, like pits, dents or signs of corrosion. You may be able to use a commercial rust remover and steel wool to remove small areas of rust, but it may be best to completely replace any metal pieces that have significant damage.


Finally, if the metal was previously painted and the paint is chipping off, you may want to sand the metal to remove this paint and achieve a smooth surface. Or, you can remove the paint with a paint stripper. Always use caution when working with a paint stripper due to its potentially toxic fumes. Work in a well-ventilated area and wear a respirator, eye protection and gloves.

Optional: Sand the Metal

Did you know you can sand metal? If you like the look of your metal cabinets but they look scratched, faded and worn, you can refinish your metal kitchen cabinets by sanding them to restore their original bright and smooth surface, and then reinstall them without painting them. You can also sand metal before painting if you do not want the texture of existing scratches to show through. You do not need to worry about cleaning the metal beforehand if you plan to sand it.


Use an electric sander for best results. The Tool Geeks recommend starting with an 80-grit sandpaper and then switch to a 220-grit sandpaper. Protect your eyes and respiratory system from the metal shavings by wearing appropriate safety gear (a respiratory mask and safety goggles at minimum). After sanding, use a damp rag to wipe away any metal particles that remain on the surface.

Refinish Metal Kitchen Cabinets

One of the easiest ways to refinish metal kitchen cabinets is to use spray paint. The spray will easily settle into any little scratches without making the paint look thick and heavy. If you don't have a suitable workspace for dealing with the mess of spray paint, you can choose a brush-on option. Regardless of whether you choose a spray or brush-on paint, be sure to ventilate your kitchen or workspace by opening windows and turning on a fan to keep fresh air circulating.


If you want to use spray on the cabinet frames, protect the rest of your kitchen by taping a layer of newspaper over everything that you don't want to get covered with paint. Then, start with a primer meant for metal surfaces. Read the instructions on your specific product to know how long to let it dry before following up with the first coat of your chosen color. Let this coat dry for the recommended time as well, and then add another coat or two until you like the depth of the color.

Finish up with a clear protective finish. Kitchen cabinets receive a fair amount of wear and tear simply from the friction of being opened and closed repeatedly. A clear top coat will ensure the longevity of your paint by taking the brunt of that abuse, preventing the paint from chipping. Once this top coat is dry, reassemble the cabinets and handles.