New kitchen cabinets

The best paint for kitchen cupboards

Getting a new kitchen is something a lot of people would love but a remodel can be extremely expensive. So, a great alternative most people turn to is to give it a little bit a refresh instead. One of the best ways to do this is by re-painting your kitchen cupboards.

However, just popping on a few coats of any old paint is not the best way to go about doing so. A little bit of research and thought will help you to get the best result possible.

Type of kitchen cupboards

New kitchen cabinets

So, first things first, what material are your cupboards made out of? This is an important factor when it comes to using the correct type of paint.


Pure wood cabinets are great for painting/re-painting as they have a more textured finish. This makes it easier for paint to be applied to it. If the wood has a stain or paint already applied you will probably need to remove this by sanding the surfaces before re-application of your chosen paint. Alternatively you can follow our instructions below as for laminate surfaces in order to skip this step.

If the wood is completely bare and natural, you may not need to do a lot to prep it other than perhaps a very light sanding. Be aware though that natural wood will likely soak up a lot of paint due to its porosity, especially so if you decide to use a water-based paint so you’ll want to use a primer first.

Wood veneer

Wood veneer is essentially a thin strip of real wood glued onto particleboard. Similarly to the natural wood, if the wood has a finish applied to it, you will want to sand it before application. Care and attention must be taken though as veneer strips are usually very thing and you do not want to go down to the particleboard. Alternatively you can follow our instructions below as for laminate surfaces in order to skip this step.

If there is no finish, a simple light sanding should suffice.

After sanding, we highly recommend you check over the entire cupboards to make sure there are no loose areas that are lifting. If there is, you will need to repair these with wood glue before continuing the process.


Painting MDF can be a little fiddly, but it is still doable. The hard work is in the preparation. To have a safe surface to paint onto you will firstly need to seal the wood. It is recommended that you use a specific MDF or oil-based primer. This is because MDF is very porous and using any other type of primer will simply soak in and cause it to swell.

However, once dry, you are then free to apply your chosen finish.


Painting over laminate at one point was arguably the most difficult. However, using a priming product such as Owatrol Easy Surface Prep (E.S.P) makes the application so much easier! Gone are the days that required you to complete difficult and time-consuming sanding to get the surface ready for a finish. You can also use this process to paint over other surfaces which have already been painted, including ceramics, plastics, wood and veneer.

The application of ESP couldn’t be simpler:

If your cupboards are simply laminated

  • Clean the surface to remove any grease and grime
  • Shake the container and then apply the ESP with a clean, dry, lint-free cloth.
  • Leave the product to work for 5 mins, then using a clean cloth, lightly wipe over the surface in one direction to remove the excess.
  • Leave the cupboards to dry for 2 hours.
  • After this time, you can apply your chosen finish.

If your cupboards have a waxy or varnished finish

  • Scrubbing the surfaces with a green scourer or by using 00 steel wool soaked with ESP.
  • After 5-10 mins wipe clean.
  • After this, simply follow the standard application instructions.

And that’s it! After this, your cupboards can be painted with any oil or water-based paint or finish.

The best type of paint for kitchen cupboards

woman painting kitchen cupboards

When it comes to the type of paint to use there really is no right or wrong answer. Both oil-based paints and water-based paints have advantages and disadvantages.

Oil-based paints


  • Used for many years in the trade to achieve a smooth glossy finish.
  • If used correctly you can achieve very good coverage, especially so when painting over wood grain.
  • Very resilient and has a durable finish. If the surface becomes dirty from grease or grime, it is quick and easy to wipe the dirt away without worrying about causing damage to the paint.


  • Prone to yellowing if using white paint. This is something that is almost inevitable and are a few reasons as to why it happens: If the paint is exposed to too little natural light, ammonia-based cleaning products, high humidity and moisture, cigarette smoke and grease build-up.
  • High levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are dangerous to health and oil-based paints contains much more than water-based ones. This can be helped by painting in a well-ventilated room and using a mask but care should still be taken.
  • Very slow drying time. Some oil-based paints can take 16 hours to dry between coats which can significantly slow down the entire process.

Water-based paints


  • Much quicker drying times when compared to oil-based paints. Depending on the paint you use you could be able to repaint within only a couple of hours. Perfect if you are restricted on time.
  • Little to no VOC formulas available make water-based paints a lot easier and safer to work with. We still recommend good ventilation but it is not as dangerous as the VOC levels in oil-based paints.
  • Water-based paints can easily adhere to surfaces that have previously been painted with either type of finish. Oil-based paints will not adhere well to surfaces that have previously had water-based paints applied and so you would need to completely remove the water-based finish thoroughly before application.


  • Some water-based formulas are not very durable, especially when it comes to cleaning. You may need to take care to keep your surfaces as clean as possible.
  • You may find you will need to apply more coats compared to oil-based paints to achieve a nice clean finish.
  • Can require more prep work before application as it can cause things like MDF and particleboards to swell.

Paint application

Even using the best quality paint can still be a little tricky to use to get the best possible finish. This is especially so if you are working in cold Winter or hot Summer conditions. For easier application and workability of your chosen paint, we recommend using a paint conditioner.

For water-based paints, we recommend using a product such as Easy Flow. Easy Flow is a paint additive that helps to alleviate brush and roller marks and increases the workability of the paint, meaning your paint will go further by increasing the wet-edge time.

Similarly, if you are using an oil-based paint you, could use Owatrol Oil paint conditioner. It does everything that Easy Flow does but it is formulated for use in oil-based paints instead.

Both keep the inherent colour and qualities of the paint but just help with the application to give a more professional looking finish.

Paint swatches with and without Easy Flow

Should I remove the cupboards/doors?

Now, whether you choose to remove your cupboards and doors is up to you. Some people may not be able to remove the units and/or doors so although it may be do-able on the walls, you may find it more difficult in the long run. Regardless, at the very least we do recommend removing any internal shelving and handles though.

If you are going to remove your doors, you may as well remove the hinges too. This will help you to get the best looking finish possible and to be honest, it just makes the application a lot easier too!

Regardless of if you are going to remove your doors, be sure to protect your surfaces before painting and if necessary, label your doors so you know which has come from where! The handy way to do this is to make a drawing plan of your kitchen and number the units/doors. You can then write the corresponding number on a sticky note and place it next to the units/doors, or if you like, you could write the number on the inside recess of where the hinges are.

So there you have it, this is our guide to the best types of paint for kitchen cupboards! We hope you found it helpful. If you have any handy tips or advice, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. We love hearing from you!

Please also feel free to follow us on social media. We love seeing and sharing your hard work using Owatrol products! You can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @Owatrolusa

Owatrol Team
About Owatrol Team

Our team are ready and willing to support you with your requirements whether it is protecting your newly laid deck or renovating a luxury yacht, whatever the application Owatrol US has the solution you are looking for.

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