Painting Kitchen Cabinets

By Robert Robillard on Kitchens

How To Paint Over Polyurethane Or Varnish Finishes

Tips On Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Painting kitchen cabinets has become more and more popular.  Many times clients have solid, quality cabinets but hate the color or they are slightly worn.

As with all projects the paint type and condition of the surface will determine which direction to take.   Typically a Cabinet surface that is painted with oil based paint or a Polyurethane or a latex based paint will be top coated with a like-minded top coat.  The process to prepare the surface and subsequently apply paint is very similar to the process of painting any other surface.

I reached out to a trusted painting contractor, and friend, Mark O’Lalor, to confirm my belief. Mark owns and operated O’Lalor Painting Concord MA. (978) 944-1569.

Etch the Cabinets

According to Mark, he always gives the surface a light etch with 220 grit sandpaper and a thorough washing with a strong detergent cleanser like TSP.

“Of course most Kitchen Cabinets have a highly durable, perfect factory finish so the preparation of the surfaces of Kitchen Cabinets needs to be extra thorough.   Kitchen cabinets get a lot of wear and tear and are constantly being subjected to air borne oils and hand oil, so making sure every square inch of surface gets a thorough etching and cleaning is essential,” said Mark.

How To Paint Over Polyurethane Or Varnish Finishes

Paint Cabinets

Mark also advises that once the surfaces are cleaned and etched paint can be applied with a spray gun or rolled out and tipped smooth with a brush.  If a homeowner wants to change the surface type of their cabinets from say a wood grain polyurethane to an opaque white or colored finish the steps may include a primer coat to bridge the different surface types.

There are hybrid paints that combine Polyurethane and latex with incredible leveling action that can be applied by brush.  So a wood grain finished surface that has a polyurethane finish can be painted white or some other color by simply etching and cleaning the surface and applying this hybrid paint directly to the cabinets surface.

This avoids the primer step and takes advantage of an already factory smooth surface.  The leveling action on these “hybrid” paints is amazing.


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About the author

Robert Robillard

Robert Robillard

Carpenter / Remodeler / Editor / Writer / Video Talent

Robert Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter and operates a remodeling company located in Concord, MA. He is the editor of and ToolBoxBuzz, and a has a weekly column in the Sunday Boston Globe. Rob is a recognized leader in tool and how-to information for building professionals, he hosts the Concord Carpenter Cable TV Show, offering advice on home repairs and maintenance. On his website, Rob uses his knowledge and experience to help and educate on best practices in the remodeling industry. His motto: “Well done is better than well said!”. Contact Rob at:

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