Painting Kitchen Cabinets Over Polyurethane

A good way to revitalize any kitchen is by painting the cabinets. Paint is dramatically more inexpensive than purchasing brand new cabinets, and is a relatively easy task to execute. One issue that painters may run into when painting existing cabinets is the original polyurethane finish. Polyurethane is a type of finish that protects or seals wood from moisture, scratches and other abrasions. Painting directly on polyurethane will result in poor coverage and chipping paint. Fortunately, polyurethane-coated kitchen cabinets can still be revitalized by using a few products that can be found at hardware stores.


Remove cabinet hardware such as handles or knobs. Most hardware can be removed using a manual hand screwdriver, either Philips head or flat head. Use the screwdriver to unscrew the hinges holding the cabinet in place. Remove the cabinet and place it on a drop sheet.

Step 2

Clean the cabinet with a damp rag. For cabinets with greasy buildup, wash with a solution of dish soap and warm water, then rinse and wipe dry with a soft towel.


Sand the front of the cabinet using a medium-grit sandpaper. Use an electric sander with caution; sanding through the polyurethane to the natural wood can occur. Sanding will create a "tooth" on the surface, which will give primer something to stick to. Always wear a face mask when sanding polyurethane surfaces.

Step 4

Pour some primer into the paint tray. Make sure the primer type coordinates with type of polyurethane used. For example, alkyd (oil-based) primer should be used on top of oil-based polyurethane, while acrylic (water-based) primer should be used over water-based polyurethane.


Brush or roll the primer onto the sanded cabinet. Depending on the type of primer, one or two coats may be needed. Follow the directions on the primer container for coat recommendations. Let the primer dry.


Pour the paint into the paint tray and apply it to the cabinet using the paintbrush or roller. Apply one or two coats until fully covered. Let the paint dry; then reinstall the cabinets and reattach the hardware.

Elizabeth Chaplin

Elizabeth Chaplin has been writing professionally since 2005 and has published articles with various websites. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration and works as a graphic designer. Her experience also includes crafting, interior design and photography. Chaplin also created a natural beauty business in 2011, hand-making and selling organic, cruelty-free products for hair, skin and face.