How to Get a Smooth Finish when Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Did you know the average kitchen renovation costs between $13,00 and $35,000? A really thrifty one could be as low as $4,000 but the average person probably don’t have that sitting around.

What if I told you that you could change up the entire look of your kitchen for less than $200?

How to Get a Smooth Finish when Painting Kitchen Cabinets

You can! Painting your kitchen cabinets is an amazing way to completely change the way your kitchen looks for a fraction of the price of an entire renovation.

A lot of people are afraid of painting their own cabinets because you typically hear about people only being able to get good results with a paint sprayer. Paint sprayers, while awesome if you have one, are expensive and difficult to learn to use well.

Also, they’re completely not necessary to get an amazingly smooth finish on your kitchen cabinets!

Read on to find a ton of tips and tricks to make getting a smooth finish on your kitchen cabinets easy without a paint sprayer as well as a step by step guide and a list of everything you need!

You can do this!

First Thing’s First—What Kind of Paint?

We can’t talk all about how to get a super smooth finish by painting your kitchen cabinets without giving you some options for paints to use.

The best paint for kitchen cabinets is self-leveling to hide brush strokes and go on smooth, which makes your job much, much easier. When you’re painting your walls, the brand or type of paint isn’t that important, but it can make or break your cabinet project, so choose wisely!

  • Benjamin Moore Advance: This non-yellowing, self-leveling paint actually helps block stains which is great if you’re painting older cabinets of something with a dark and defined wood grain. It’s low odor, low VOC, dries to a hard finish, and doesn’t require a separate sealer.
  • Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethan Trim Enamel: This is also a non-yellowing, self-leveling paint that dries to a very durable finish. It doesn’t require a separate sealer, either. While Sherwin Williams paints can be pricey, keep an eye out because they run 30-40% off sales pretty regularly.
  • Behr Premium Cabinet and Trim Enamel: This paint can be found at Home Depot and is a great option for painters on a budget. It dries quickly between coats, making the job go quicker, and dries to a durable finish.

I do not recommend using latex wall paint or chalk paint while painting cabinets. Those paints just aren’t created and formulated to hold up to the level of use that most of our cabinets receive.

If you’re not sure what color paint to choose, check out these 21 Painted Kitchen Cabinet Ideas to Inspire You!

What Do You Need?

Painted Kitchen Cabinets

This list may look overwhelming at first, but a quick trip to your local hardware store will get you everything you need and you’ll be happy you have everything!

Necessary Items:

  • screwdriver or drill
  • tack cloth
  • handheld sander
  • 100, 150, or 200 grit sandpaper
  • drop cloths
  • wood filler
  • painters tape
  • angled premium nylon/polyester paint brush
  • multipack of foam paint rollers
  • primer
  • paint

Optional Items:

  • degreaser
  • shop vac

Steps to Get a Super Smooth Finish on your Kitchen Cabinets without a Paint Sprayer

Prepare, prepare, prepare!

If you want the smoothest finish possible, the prep-work is the single most critical step of the process. It may seem tedious, but it’s the difference between professional level work and a paint job you hate looking at once you’re done.

Remove all doors, drawers, and hardware

Use your screwdriver or drill to remove all cabinet doors. Make sure to have a way to remember which door goes where. One idea to do that is to write it on some painters tape and stick it to the backside of each door: “plates and bowls left” or “small appliances right.”

Once the doors are off and labeled, take off all the hardware—the hinges and knobs or pulls. Again, to make your job easier later, keep these organized! Keep the hardware and screws together in one baggie and the hinges and screws together in another.

Clean your cabinets and doors

Cleaning your cabinet surfaces well is critical to get a smooth finish. No matter how clean of a cook you are, your cabinets are probably still covered with grease. Use a heavy duty kitchen cleaner to make sure you get every bit of grease off all of the surfaces. Easy-Off is a great option for this!

Once all of the grease is totally gone, wipe down your cabinet surfaces well with a damp sponge (water only) to get rid of any residue.

Patch up holes and imperfections

A smooth painted surface needs to start with a completely smooth surface! Use the wood filler to fill in any holes, gouges, scratches, or other imperfections in your cabinets, cabinet doors, or drawer fronts. If you skip this step, your paint job will never be completely smooth.

Sand down all of the surfaces

Using a 100-150 grit sandpaper, sand down every surface you’re going to paint. You’re focusing on smoothing out any filler you used, sanding down any previous brush marks you can see, and making the surface ready for primer.

Don’t worry about completely sanding off every bit of the previous finish. You’re just roughing it up enough to make the primer adhere well.

If you don’t want to sand, you can also use a liquid de-glosser. If you go that route, make sure to use the correct protective gear and do it in a well ventilated area. Follow the directions on the back of the liquid de-glosser you choose.

Clean everything up

If you decided to sand your surfaces, dust particles are probably everywhere, even if you think they’re not! This is where your tack cloth and (optional) shop vac come in.

Use your shop vac, household vacuum, or a broom and dustpan to sweep up the dust on the floor. Try your best to get up all of the dust particles.

Next, use a damp cloth or sponge to wipe up the dust you can see on the surfaces you’ve dusted.

Lastly, use your tack cloths to wipe off all of cabinet surfaces to remove any dust particles you can’t see. Each pack comes with multiple cloths, so be generous with the swapping of the cloths. As soon as it starts to lose its stickiness, move on to the next cloth to make sure it’s actually being effective.

Get to painting!


Just to reiterate and make sure it’s crystal clear—before you put a drop of primer on your cabinets, you’ve got to degrease, repair, sand, and clean every surface or the rest of your work will be for nothing! Don’t skip the preparation steps!

Now that everything’s prepared, the first step of painting is using a really great primer. Primer acts as a bonder, adhering to both the cabinets and the paint. It also helps to block any existing color or wood grain, making fewer coats of paint necessary.

Kilz is a great option for a high-quality primer.

Let the first coat of primer dry overnight. Sand everything down with a 220-grit sandpaper and wipe them clean with a damp sponge and tack cloth.

After allowing the primer to fully dry for 24 hours, carefully flip the doors and repeat the process on the other side. Make sure to thoroughly clean up and wipe off every cabinet surface once you’re done sanding to ensure it’s completely smooth and ready for the next step.

Paint the first coat

Newly Painted Kitchen Cabinets

Follow the direction of the wood grain and use your angled paint brush, apply an even and thin coat of paint only to the recessed or detailed area of your cabinet door. Next, use your mini foam roller and paint the rest of the flat areas. Use the roller to smooth out any paint drips or overlapping bush marks.

The most important thing to do is use thin coats of paint. It’s going to limit the pooling, number of drips, or any other blemishes that can happen while you’re painting. It’s also going to ensure a smoother finish at the end.

It’s a good idea to do the first coat of paint on all of the cabinet doors and drawer fronts first. That way, you can work on the cabinet boxes while they’re drying. Cut in the edges with your angled brush and use your foam roller for the middle of each flat surface.

The first coat of paint needs to dry 24-48 hours. Here’s a pro-tip—when you’ve painted the first coat on everything and you’re waiting for the paint to dry, instead of thoroughly washing out your brushes and foam rollers, wrap them tightly in a shopping bag and store them in your refrigerator. It will keep them soft, fresh for the next coat, and save you a ton of time.

When the time has passed, then flip the doors over and repeat the process of the first coat of paint on the other side.

Sand and clean… again.

Yes, I’m telling you to sand and clean all of your cabinet surfaces again, but this is the last time and it’s for a good reason!

Use your 220-grit sandpaper to lightly sand all surfaces (front and back of each door) to get it all ready for the final finish coat of paint.

While you’re sanding and cleaning up, now is a good chance to look closely for any blemishes or mishaps that’ve happened along the way so far. The next step is your final painting step, so it’s important to make sure everything is perfect for that glass-like, smooth finish you’re working for on your cabinets.

After you’ve sanded the final time, use your damp sponge or cloth and your tack cloth to make sure everything is completely dust-free.

Paint the final coat

Still following the direction of the wood grain, use your angled brush and foam rollers to apply a second even and thin coat of paint to your cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Remember, the thin coat is key to a smooth finish! While you’re waiting for the doors and drawers to dry, paint your cabinet boxes.

Again, allow this second coat of paint to dry a full 24-48. hours before flipping the doors to repeat the same painting process on the other side.

Don’t skip this second coat. It’s critical for a quality, smooth finish on your kitchen cabinets. Two thin coats of paint will always have a smoother finish and better coverage than one, thicker coat of paint. There’s not a point in trying to cut corners and save time now that you’ve made it this far into the process!

Put everything back together!

After allowing everything to dry a full 24-48 hours, it’s time to put it all back together! This should be a piece of cake because you marked everything and separated the hardware into individual baggies.

If you filled in the original hardware holes and are planning to install new hardware, make sure to use a template to guarantee everything ends up where it should.

Remember—measure twice, drill once!

Now… step back and admire all of your hard work!

Wrapping up How to Get a Smooth Finish when Painting Kitchen Cabinets Without a Paint Sprayer

My hope is that by now you have the knowledge you need to confidently paint your kitchen cabinets. Follow all of these steps—yes, even what feels like endless sanding and cleaning it up!—and you’ll have what appears to be a brand new kitchen within the week!

And it doesn’t have to stop at kitchens! You can use this sam process to paint your bathroom cabinets, your laundry room cabinets, or any other wooden furniture that gets heavily used in your home.

If you’re looking for more kitchen color inspiration, you can also check out The 19 Best Kitchen Paint Colors for Your Home! It’s full of great ideas that could work with just about any interior design style.

Let us know in the comments—what color are you planning on painting your kitchen cabinets? What tip do you expect to be the most helpful? Is there a pro tip that we left out that you feel like other people need to know? We love hearing from you, so share it all!