Cabinet Painting – Why Prep is Most Important

Feb 23, 2022

Some of the most common questions we get when meeting with a homeowner in the Columbus area are regarding the prep work we do before painting kitchen cabinets.

A new marketing pitch from the major paint vendors is “no prep need”. The hope is that you can just use a good primer or expensive trim paint and get good adhesion. This is completely not true in most situations but especially with something as important and regularly used as your kitchen cabinets. If you don’t properly prepare the surface, you will have peeling and general paint failure.

The first thing we need to do when professionally painting kitchens in the Columbus area is to remove all of the doors and the drawer fronts. Then we are ready to remove all hardware, bumper pads and other miscellaneous items such as scotch tape, stickers, etc.

Cabinet Painting - Why Prep is Most Important

Even if you are a meticulous cleaner and your home is tidy and organized, you will be shocked as how dirty kitchen cabinets get. Think about all of the cooking oils, pasta sauce, coffee and wine let alone the oils and dirt from hands (big and small). This all needs to get thoroughly cleaned so it doesn’t get pushed into the wood when sanding. Every surface that will be painted needs to be meticulously cleaned. Before we’re ready to refinish the cabinets in a kitchen, we usually clean with Gloss-Off Krud Kutter mixed with water. We’ve tried everything from windex, Dawn dish soap but our best result has been with the Krud Kutter product. One important factor when choosing a cleaner is to make sure it doesn’t have any silicone in the cleaner that would prevent the primer from adhering to the surface. We mainly use a rag that is fairly heavy duty. You’ll be surprised just how dirty kitchen cabinets can get. Don’t worry we’re not judging and we won’t tell anyone! ha!)

Now that the cleaning is done and the surface has had time to dry, we are ready to sand. Why is sanding necessary when others say it isn’t? It is simple. Primers and paints can not adhere or stick to a smooth, slick surface. Sanding breaks down the top layer of the existing coating to give the primer a surface to “grip” to. We mostly need to remove the clear coat protecting the stain on the cabinets and it is very rare that we need to sand down to bare wood completely. We may need to sand down to bare when the existing coating is not adhering and is peeling off. We need the surface to be sound as our coating is only as good as the underlying surface.

We use expensive dustless sanding equipment made by Surfprep attached to Festool HEPA vacuums. We use sanding sponges on the rounded parts of the doors so you don’t lose any of the details. We typically need to use a 120 or 220 grit sanding sponge and just like with cleaning, all sides and surfaces that will be painted must be sanded.

Proper PPE
Wear a dust mask when sanding may not be completely necessary with the Festool system but it is still a best practice. For obvious reasons, you should always wear safety glasses.

Finally, before we are ready to prime we do a light final cleaning. We then use a vacuum and a wet rag to pick up any remaining dust.

Now we are ready to prime. As important as all of the steps above are, one could argue that this may be the most important. (They are all important) We use the Zinsser BIN shellac-based. We feel it adheres better to anything else we’ve ever tried. While this is a fairly harsh chemical (must wear a respirator). We spray all of the doors and drawers in our industrial spray booth at our shop. All of the parts of the cabinets that we cannot remove from the house (the actual cabinet box) are primed with a sprayer (After we protect the entire kitchen) or with specific brushes and rollers.

Finally, we are ready to apply the first of two coats of paint. We typically use the Milesi 2k Polyurethane (water-based), which is imported from Italy. After all of this meticulous prep work, we want to be sure to use the most durable, highest quality finish possible.

Want to learn more about why we are the best cabinet painting company in the Columbus area? Give us a call at (614) 221-0505.