How To Update Your Kitchen Cupboards – Part 1

I knew when we bought our house, I wanted to update the kitchen cupboards. Our house was built in 2000 so they were builder’s grade oak cabinets. However we didn’t get to it because we updated everything else in our house. There was nothing that wasn’t functional about our kitchen. We did replace the countertops, but the cupboards would have to wait. 

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I researched how to paint kitchen cupboards for the millionth time and remembered that my husband and boys would be gone camping for a night the next week. It was just the motivation I needed to get this project started! 

So I conned my sister into helping with the prep and we got to work!!

You can see the whole kitchen makeover process in my highlights over on Instagram @lindseyjaneco so go check it out. It’s so fun to watch the transformation!

(I primed and painted everything using a paint sprayer. I wish I had a sprayer to recommend but I actually had quite a few problems with mine. However I still feel like my cabinets turned out nicer than if I would have used a brush and roller.)

Here are the steps we took!

How To UpDate Your Kitchen Cupboards-
Step 1: Remove All Handles Or Knobs, Remove Drawer Fronts

To start with you’ll want to remove any hardware (handles and knobs) from the cupboard doors and drawers.

At this point I also removed all of the drawer fronts from the drawers. Luckily they weren’t glued to the drawers, (though there were a few that must have had hot jello or something spill down them because it took a lot of prying to get those babies off!).

I labeled the drawer fronts with a piece of masking tape and wrote what was inside the drawer that the front came off of. 

You could leave the drawer fronts on until you remove the cupboard doors, but I took them off first thing.

Step 2: Degloss/Degrease

To start with I use this liquid sandpaper, that can be found on Amazon, to degrease and degloss the cupboards. This is pretty simple and I used it as the cleaning step as well. Basically rub it on with a lint free cloth, and if there’s any grime you scrub the grime off. I used a generous amount to make sure every inch got some deglosser.

How To UpDate Your Kitchen Cupboards-
Step 3: Fill The Grain With Wood Filler/Water Mixture

The next step was to fill the old wood grain with wood filler/water mixture. 

This adds a couple of steps (filling and then sanding the filler). I know it’s a daunting project to take on even without filling the wood grain. However,

if you don’t want to see the wood grain show through your paint job, then I highly recommend you take these steps!

You can see from the pictures the amount of wood grain that would have shown through the paint if I hadn’t filled it first. Trust me. It’s worth the extra steps!

I used this plastic wood wood filler that you can find on Amazon, and mixed it half-and-half with water. This turned out a little thin and required two coats. You could mix it a little thicker (so use less water) and skip having to use two coats. I ended up buying more wood filler, so I used about 1.5 containers. 

For this process I bought two of these wooster paint brushes that you can find on Amazon for cheap. I first used them when I did the polyurethane top coat on some bunk beds and they have quickly become my favorite! They have soft bristles, flexible handles, are really easy to use, and affordable.

 So we brushed the filler on to the cupboard frames and the cupboard doors. I didn’t do the backs of the cupboard doors, because I don’t care if the wood grain shows on the inside of the door.

This YouTube video by The Detalles, is where I learned this method of filling the cabinets. He said he likes to spread the wood filler against the grain. We did a little of both. 

The frame of the cabinets were not as porous as the cabinet doors. So the frames didn’t need a very thick layer of the wood filler.

Step 4: Fill The Hardware Holes

All of my kitchen cabinets and drawers had handles on them. For the top cabinet doors I decided that I like the clean look of a knob. For the drawers (and bottom doors) I wanted a handle but wanted it to be centered in the middle of the drawer. 

We filled the top hole on the doors, and both holes on the drawer fronts. I left the plastic wood a little higher than level with the board, so that it would sand down level with the wood and not sink in when it dries.

We filled the holes from the front and the back.

How To UpDate Your Kitchen Cupboards-
Step 5: Remove The Cupboard Doors/Label The Cupboards

 Next we took the cupboard doors off (leaving the hinges on the door). Then we taped and numbered the cupboard door to match the cabinet that it sits on. We put a piece of tape inside the cabinet (not on the frame because you’ll be painting it). Use a sharpie to number down inside the hinge. because we would be covering this with tape, the number won’t get painted over. 

Step 6: Covering The Hinges & My Huge Time Saving Tip

Now to save A LOT of time (and because we couldn’t get the hinge off the cupboard, which in the end was a blessing)

 I came up with something brilliant to tape the hinges. 

Instead of trying to rip tiny pieces of tape to cover the hinge I cut a shape out of vinyl with my Cricut, that was similar to the hinge shape. I then counted the number of hinges and cut out that many (I think we needed 45). 

It saved us having to take the hinges off and then putting them back on when we were done. Which could have resulted in the hinge not fitting back because of extra paint getting in the holes. 

For the part of the hinge that extends out of the cupboard, we just folded a piece of tape over it.

I didn’t get crazy about making sure that every inch of the hinge was covered. I covered the majority of it, and as long as the small pieces that were still showing didn’t affect the motion of the hinge I didn’t worry about it.

How To UpDate Your Kitchen Cupboards-
Step 7: Taping/Prepping For Sanding & Paint

Using 1″Scotch Painters tape that can be found on Amazon-

we taped the inside of the cupboards off (sticky side facing out).

I used 3 rolls. (It’s a good Idea to make sure the inside of the cupboards are clean so the tape can get a good grip) 

We lined the inside of the cupboard and then cut our plastic drop cloth (like these, I believe I ended up using 9, to tape up the kitchen and cover the floors, fridge, carpet etc…) down to size and stuck it on there. Or we would stick the plastic to the tape and cut around the edges.

The key here is to make sure you’re not leaving any plastic long enough to touch or cover the wood, because if it does the plastic will block the paint from that spot.  Once we had the cupboards all taped off we moved on to the ceiling, walls,countertops, and we did the floors last.


If you are going to sand in your house, the dust WILL get everywhere! You’ll need to cover everything. I used some old sheets to cover my carpet in the living room that connects to my kitchen. The plastic drop cloths were really inexpensive and came in huge sheets, I used one to cover my large couch and one to cover my fridge.

When we covered the counters we used a whole drop cloth, and rather than cutting it down to size left it really big and bunched it up on the counter tops.

I did this so that when the time came to paint the top cupboards, I could cover the already painted bottom cupboards. (the top cupboards are white and the bottoms are gray)

Try to keep the areas that have a lot of plastic out of the way of the cabinets. If there’s plastic hanging in front of  the cupboards (even a few inches away) the sprayer won’t be able to reach the part that’s blocked. So make sure there’s an open space for the paint to be able to reach the cabinets.

Step 8: Sand The Frames

The next step is to sand the frames. For this is used a palm sander and 220 grit sandpaper. My sister was helping with this project (bless her) and so we started out with two palm sanders. But when the dust started flying I felt it was more important to have one person sand and the other run the shop vacuum behind the sander. 

When you sand you want to sand until you get to the wood. This is when you’ll see the wood filler step pay off.

The grain should be filled and visible. Make sure you get any drips that may be on the inside of the frames or it will look like dripped paint once everything’s painted. It will also make a weak spot in your cupboards because the wood filler isn’t hard like the wood.

Be careful sanding on the inside of the frames because if you bump the tape it’s going to be very difficult to stick it back in place.

when the sanding was done, I blew the dust off the plastic with the shop vac, then I vacuumed around the frames and anywhere that had dust piled up. 

At this point the frames were ready to be wiped using a damp microfiber rag. (not too wet because you don’t want to re-wet the wood filler). 

How To Update Your Kitchen Cupboards-
Step 9: Prime and Paint

Now’s the moment you’ve waited for!! It’s time to prime. Once it got to this point the process went a lot faster! It only took me about 30 minutes to spray my whole kitchen! 

at this point you’ll need to follow the instructions on your paint sprayer.


yellow stain showing through the primer

There was some very obvious yellowing that appeared after the primer had been applied. The primer I used can be found on Amazon, it’s Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 water based primer.

It said it was stain blocking. The instructions said that if a stain shows through the primer, then it should be locked into the primer and should’nt bleed through the paint.

It also said that if there’s staining in the primer, that you should wait 2 hours (instead of 1) to apply the top coat.

Because I was painting my top cupboards white, what I decided to do was wait 2 hours then do another coat of primer. Then if I would’ve had the time that night I would have waited another 2 hours and then done the top coat. But I let it dry overnight and then did the top coat in the morning.

I did 3 layers of the white top coat, and 2 layers of the gray on the bottom, following the guidelines on the paint can for dry time.

So far the yellowing has not shown through the paint at all!! It’s been 1 week. 

The paint I went with is Behr Ultra with enamel. Enamel paint cures harder and is supposed to be more durable. I went with satin sheen so that I can still wipe them down easily, but they aren’t extremely glossy.

For the process of the cupboard doors, you can check out the How To Update Your Kitchen Cupboards- Part 2 post.

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