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The Absolute Best Paint for Cabinets in 2021

You might be wondering, why bother researching the best paint for cabinets?

There’s a reason everyone congregation in the kitchen during a party. It’s the heart of your home. Plus, all the snacks are there. But what about when the center of your home reflects the taste of the previous owners? Or some impulsive cabinet purchases you made years ago?

Enameled Kitchen Cabinets

If you dread spending even a minute in your kitchen, it’s time to treat yourself to an upgrade. You can get a stylish kitchen without the expense and hassle of a major renovation. Did you know you can paint kitchen cupboards?

It’s true, with just a little planning and the best paint for cabinets, you can transform your kitchen. Make sure 2021 is the year when your house feels like a home. Using the best kitchen paint for cupboards, you’ll change a regular room in your house into the heart of your home.

Common Types of Kitchen Cupboard Paint

The best paint for cabinets is a latex hybrid which has the benefits of both latex and oil paint.
The types of paint for kitchen cabinets can be overwhelming at first.

Painting your kitchen cabinets isn’t quite as easy as grabbing a gallon of eggshell and going to town. It takes a little more prep than painting a room. You’ll have to remove the doors from the cabinets, for starters. And there’s special paint for kitchen cabinets.

It used to be the case that professionals swore by oil-based paint. As you’ll read in the following section, technology’s improved paint formulas. Oil-based paint is no longer the best paint for cabinets, just as it’s no longer suitable for residential applications. Many professionals now use latex paint, citing the improvements to the formula and the as-good-as finish they can get on most surfaces. We actually prefer a third type of paint for cabinets, the hybrid enamel.

There are three common types of kitchen cabinet paint:

Oil-Based Paint

Oil-based use to be the best paint for cabinets, but VOCs and difficult cleanup rendered it obsolete.
Traditionally preferred by professionals, the quality of latex and toxicity of oil paint has rendered it obsolete.

Oil-based paint is the go-big-or-go-home of interior paints. In it, the color pigment is suspended in oil and then thinned with an agent like mineral spirits. It was the preferred type of slow-drying paint to use on wood in homes because of the uniform paint surface. Plus, it’s durable–perfect for things like trim and cabinets that experience a lot of wear. Historically, it’s considered the best paint for cabinets.

You can’t even buy oil-based paint in California anymore, and more states are following suit. Not because California hates lustrous, hardy paint in the home. It’s high in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which is dangerous to breathe and harmful to the ozone.

It’s also messy and wasteful. You need mineral spirits on hand to clean up any mistakes and spills. You have to take special precautions when disposing of leftover paint, painting equipment, and used-mineral spirits.

Oil-based paint is a lot of hassle, dangerous, and bad for the environment. Also, you can get a durable, beautiful finish on your kitchen cabinet doors with other kinds of paint.

Latex, Water Enamel Paint

Latex paint works great for interior rooms, but the best paint for cabinets needs a more even finish than water-based paint.
Latex paint is safer and easier to clean up but doesn’t provide the finish of oil paint.

Compared to the history of paint, latex paint is still the new kid on the block. Sherwin-Williams used a synthetic rubber, latex, in the 1940s to create the first water enamel paint. Since then, its safety, environmental friendliness, and ease of use have motivated the ongoing development of latex paint technology.

Because of the improvements in latex paint formulas, it’s almost as durable and polished as the finish you’d get from oil-based paint. Almost, but not entirely. Latex paint dries much faster than oil-paint, making it difficult to get as even and lustrous of a finish. Using a paint sprayer will minimize unevenness. But if you’re using a roller or brush–you’ll notice a difference while painting kitchen cabinets.

So what’s the solution? Oil-based is dangerous and a hassle, latex is natural and safe but compromises quality. Luckily, you can have the best of both worlds.

Hybrid Enamels

The best paint for cabinets is hybrid enamels with high-luster finish, no VOCs, and easy clean up.
Hybrid enamels give you the best of both worlds–pristine finish with easy cleanup.

Science didn’t stop with just latex. In developing low VOC paints, pursuing an exceptional finish and excellent protection when painting wood kept researchers going. Within the past few years, they came up with the answer–Acrylic Alkyd paint. It gives you oil paint’s beautiful finish, but with the easy clean-up of waterbased paint. An oil molecule surrounded by water molecules carries the pigment. As the water evaporates, it leaves behind the oil–and that lustrous, durable finish we talked about earlier.

Plus, it takes just soap and water to clean up. If you have leftover paint, just let it dry out and throw it right into the garbage–no annoying trips to the hazardous waste disposal sites. And you can pick your method to paint kitchen cabinets. A paint sprayer will give you the easiest, even coat. But with hybrid enamel paint, your wood cabinets will look great if you opt to brush or roll the paint.

The Best Hybrid Enamel Paint

The best paint for cabinets is usually semi-gloss or satin, from popular brands like Behr and Sherwin-Williams.
Picking the best hybrid enamel for your kitchen comes down to available sheen and tint.

If you agree hybrid enamel paint is the best material for your kitchen cupboard painting project, we’ve rounded up some of the best products available on the market today.

  • Sherwin-William ProClassic Interior Waterbased Acrylic Alkyd: available in semi-gloss and satin, it flows and to self-level for a pristine finish on wood trim, cabinets, and doors.
  • Benjamin Moore Advance: the most sheens available, including a hybrid enamel primer. It has low VOC, comes in 3,500 colors, and dries furniture-hard.
  • Behr Urethane Alkyd Enamel: adheres to a variety of surfaces, including masonry, wrought iron, and stucco. It’s resistant to household cleaners after drying with high flow and leveling.
  • Valspar Oil-Enriched Enamel: resists scuffing and scratches in busy homes. Its unique formula doesn’t require primer or sanding. It’s perfect for prep-resistant people who still want a beautiful finish on their cabinets.

Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore put out superior products that provide a finish as good as oil but without toxic and illegal VOCs and easy clean-up. In particular, Benjamin Moore provides a primer besides topcoats and the most sheens out of any brand. It’s the best kitchen cabinet paint if you want to make a powerful statement with a high-gloss or matte finish.

Which Sheen Is Best for Kitchen Cabinets?

The best paint for cabinets comes in a variety of sheens, most commonly semi-gloss and satin.
Picking the right sheen can be stressful, but it’s ultimately a matter of personal preference.

Do you go deer-in-the-headlights when you’re picking out the right paint sheen for your home? Don’t feel bad; it happens to the best of us. It feels like there’s a correct answer, but it’s also about preference. Sheen refers to how shiny the paint surface is after it dries. When you’re painting kitchen cupboards, the sheen is part of the total package, along with the luster and color.

Which sheen should you pick for the best paint for cabinets? Whatever you like. We recommend saint paint for cabinets because satin looks the best hands down. Semi-gloss tends to be too much sheen and can cause too much glare on your cabinets.

Chalk paint and matte finishes have their place on wood furniture. But for the daily wear and tear wood cabinets withstand, you need to protect them. Unless you enjoy repainting.

Most hybrid enamel paints come in satin and semi-gloss. Satin falls right between semi-gloss and eggshell finish. Benjamin Moore makes a broader range of products, including high-gloss for that candy-coated finish on your cabinets. And they also make a matte finish for a more durable paint specific for wood cabinets.

Again, pick whatever sheen makes you happiest. Just know that the more matte you go, the more it’ll show dirt and wear. The more high-gloss you go, the more difficulty you’ll have getting a smooth finish on your cabinets.

How Do I Get a Smooth Finish on Kitchen Cabinets?

The best paint for cabinets is only as good as the prep work for your DIY project.
The perfect color and sheen mean nothing without a perfect finish.

Patience and prep work are vital to getting a professional-quality smooth finish on your kitchen cabinets, even when you use the best paint for cabinets. All DIY-paint projects involve a lot of prep work, just like the professionals do. The more thorough your prep, the easier the painting will be, and the better the finished product. Check out our ultimate guide to painting kitchen cabinets for all the tips and tricks from start to finish.

One of the easiest ways to get a smooth finish on your kitchen cabinets is to use flood coating with your primer. Always sand in between coats of paint. It helps the new layer of paint bond with the previous layer and the primer to make a more even coat.

What is Flood Coating?

The best paint for cabinets goes on over a flood coat of paint which fills in the pores and grain in the wood.
Learning how to flood coat can transform old or worn-out cabinets with a perfect top coat.

You can use two methods to apply primer to your cabinets:

  • Sprayer: slow down the sprayer and use twice the amount of paint you usually would.
  • Brush: apply two to four coats of primer with a brush.

Use a fine grain sanding sponge to even out the primer after you’ve flooded the wood grain. Then you’re ready for the topcoat of paint, which will dry to a perfectly smooth finish thanks to your hard work prepping the cabinet surfaces.

What is the Best Paint for Cabinets of 2021?

Transforming your kitchen into the room of your dreams is a lot easier than you might think when you use the best paint for cabinets.
Your dream kitchen is easier and more affordable than you might think.

Use a the best paint for cabinets, hybrid enamel paint, and check out our post on the best kitchen paint colors for this year. Take your time with the prep work, and use care to sand and clean in between coats of paint. DIY painting is an affordable way to transform a room. Taking the time to repaint kitchen cabinets is a brilliant way to spruce up a lackluster kitchen and fall in love with your home’s heart.

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Patricia

Saturday 28th of August 2021

Hi Ryan, we have knotty pine and 80's laminate kitchen cabinets. We would like to paint all of them white to brighten the kitchen. We read that BIN shellac primer works well for the knotty pine. What primer would you recommend for each type of surfaces? Would we be able to use Benjamin Moore Advance topcoat if two different primers are used? Thank you for the helpful articles.

Gg

Wednesday 4th of August 2021

I'm looking to have 10 yr old kitchen cabinets painted (they're builders grade cherry). I have inquired with a few (handy men) that do cabinets & they want to paint them (doors) in my garage. If they take them with them - they charge more. They would put a plastic sheet in the perimeter of garage to protect & from over spray. I live in Virginia, it is extremely hot & humid here. My garage is not air conditioned. I am not a painter or crafty, but I have read on spray paint cans, other articles & just common sense says do not paint (outside) with high humidity levels &/or temps. I am not interested in going this route, not only for the mess/hassle in garage, fumes penetrating the house, but the effects short or long term that the temp/humidity could cause to the paint job. Am I wrong? Thank you. (I feel if I paid the extra $ for them to take them & paint, they would be painted in that persons garage, not a climate controlled shop).

Randy

Friday 10th of September 2021

@Ryanc,

Hi Ryan, I am going to repaint my older white kitchen cabinets. They are painted with a water based acrylic polymer. I plan to clean and sand as you recommend and repaint white. My question is do you think that using a primer necessary for this? Thank you! Randy

Ryanc

Saturday 14th of August 2021

Hi Gg,

You are likely correct, they will probably be painted in that person's garage. There are amazing painters who do not own shops that likely can deliver an amazing product whether they finish them on your property or not. There are also terrible painters who may very well get paint on everything in your garage (I've seen it many times!). IF you hire someone who does the finish work on your property, make sure you trust them.

IF they had a shop, they would likely want to bring the cabinets to their shop rather than finish them in your garage. So, I think your hunch is right, they would have to prep off their own garage. I am not saying they are bad painters though, just that your guess is likely right.

If you want someone to take them to a climate-controlled shop, call around to different companies until you find someone with a shop. Ask for photos of the shop, address, anything. I know that here in Minneapolis there are many companies with amazing facilities, you just need to find them. I actually moved to a property that has an 800 square foot shop on site. I installed an air conditioner, dehumidifier, and a heater and it works amazing. It is easier than finishing on site in most cases.

Lilly

Wednesday 4th of August 2021

What category is cabinet rescue paint which is now primarily found at Lowes? Quality for kitchen cabinets? Thank you

Ryanc

Saturday 14th of August 2021

Hi Lilly,

I have never used Cabinet Rescue, but I will put it on my list of products to check out and review.

Randy K.

Sunday 18th of July 2021

Several questions regarding these waterborne hybrid paints, thank you. 1.) Advance is alkyd only, while others are urethane acrylic (Cabinet Coat, Emerald, Command). Does urethane impart better qualities? 2.) In states where oil/solvent based alkyd is still an option, is this a better choice vs. waterborne regarding highest durability, wear & tear, etc.? It seems the waterbornes still compare themselves to oil base (setting the standard). 3.) Does the quality of Advance supercede it's long dry/recoat time vs. other products?

Thank you. Sharing your expertise is appreciated and you are providing great information.

Ryanc

Saturday 24th of July 2021

Hi Randy,

Advance is actually a water-soluble alkyd. I classify it in the "hybrid" category along with the urethane acrylics. These paints are attempts (successful attempts) at achieving the same durability and lushious look as oil based finishes.

In states where oil/solvents are or aren't an option, I would still choose any of these new enamels. I am no longer willing to submit my body to the high VOCs of oil based finishes and I'm not interested in contributing to our ongoing environmental problems either. These finishes are a great solution.

I personally believe that the quality of Advance does supercede it's long dry times vs other products. In my opinion, Advance is the best product on the market for the DIY painter looking to refinish their cabinets. I also believe it is the best finish for most contractors depending on the circumstances.

Hope this helps.

Sandra

Tuesday 6th of July 2021

Hi Ryan, I'm getting ready to paint kitchen cabinets white. I'll be priming with Kilz adhesion due to laminate surfaces. My main concerns are VOCs, yellowing, and durability. I have heard the new alkyds can still yellow, and since the cabinets will be white, that's not an option. What do you recommend?

Ryanc

Saturday 24th of July 2021

Hi Sandra, My go to set up for low VOC, high performance, great looks, and minimal yellowing is to use Zinsser Smart Prime for the primer and Benjamin Moore Advance for the top coat. I use this on every one of my clients jobs. Hope this helps.