9 Cabinet Painting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Find out how to avoid the most common cabinet painting mistakes when it comes to updating your old cabinets so that you can achieve a high quality finished look just like the pros.

cabinet painting mistakes

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure policy for more details.

Full disclosure: This isn’t a tutorial on how to paint cabinets, it’s a list of all the mistakes I made during my first attempt at painting our bathroom cabinets. Which were awesome lessons learned in my opinion. But once I feel a bit more confident about my technique I’ll likely create a full tutorial on my process.

Make sure to download my complete cabinet painting checklist so that you’re prepared with all the tools and products needed to tackle painting your own cabinets! I share everything I used during my own project and even show you where to get it.

To say I was intimidated by this cabinet painting project is putting it lightly. I was downright terrified of ruining our bathroom cabinets and wasting a ton of money on paint. Which, by the way, I did waste some money on paint. But that’s okay, lessons learned right?

So what exactly are the cabinet painting mistakes I learned the hard way?

Top 9 Cabinet Painting Mistakes

  1. Not Labeling Doors
  2. Not Properly Prepping
  3. Not Priming
  4. Sanding Too Much
  5. Using Cheap Tools
  6. Using cheap paint
  7. Not Letting the Paint Cure Long enough
  8. Applying the paint too thick
  9. Rushing the Process

Cabinet Painting Mistakes and how to avoid them

Not Labeling Doors

I was so eager to get started on our recent bathroom cabinet project that I completely ignored the advice of every professional out there about labeling the cabinet doors after removing them. It wasn’t until I was finished painting everything and tried to reinstall all of our doors and drawer fronts that I realized just what a pain this mistake was.

None of the doors or drawers would align properly and it took us a ridiculous amount of time to try to match them all back up with their correct hinges. I probably could’ve saved myself at least an hour if I’d labeled where they originally came from.

Not Properly Prepping

I actually did a pretty good job on this step, but it’s totally worth mentioning because it is by far THE BIGGEST CABINET PAINTING MISTAKE I’ve seen people make when DIYing for the first time. It also happens to be the most time consuming part of the entire process.

cabinet painting mistakes

Prepping cabinets for paint includes a thorough cleaning and de-greasing of all surface areas that are going to be painted as well as sanding them to ensure that your paint adheres.

Lucky for you, I’ve tried out a number of kitchen cabinet cleaners and have an entire post dedicated to teaching you how to properly degrease any cabinet before you paint them.

Not using Primer

No matter what some how-to articles promise you, don’t attempt to paint your cabinets without applying primer first. Just like with the prep work, I was careful not to skip this step. But I’ve seen what can happen when you do.

cabinet painting mistakes

Not using a proper primer is one of the biggest reasons for paint not sticking to the cabinets. Not only does it make sure your paint bonds to the surface of your cabinets, but it’s also great at blocking stains and tannins that can easily bleed through lighter paint colors. Priming is also one of the best ways to keep paint from peeling off cabinets later down the road.

Sanding too much

This isn’t really as much a mistake as it is a time suck. When I first began painting our bathroom cabinets I thought you needed to sand down past the existing stain to get to the raw wood. I was so proud of my sanding efforts that I snapped a pic of my work and sent it over to my friend, who just so happens to be a professional cabinet painter.

cabinet painting mistakes

She was quick to tell me that I only needed to roughen up the surface for the primer to adhere, and also that I was lucky I wasn’t painting my cabinets white because all that extra sanding I did could’ve caused the wood to bleed through the light paint.

I guess you could say over sanding is probably just as bad as trying to paint cabinets without sanding at all.

Using Cheap Tools

If you want to learn how to paint cabinets like the pros, then you need to be willing to invest in some decent tools for your project. I’ve gone through two semi-expensive paint sprayers during my DIY adventures, but both broke and I didn’t feel like spending a pretty penny on a new one for this job.

cabinet painting mistakes
My $20 spray gun that failed me miserably

I picked up a very cheap (you get what you pay for) spray gun and was so disappointed in the finish of the paint. Using this cheap tool extended the time of my project out by weeks because I had to continuously fix uneven spray jobs and re-sand and re-paint several times.

Avoid yourself the headache and invest in a decent paint sprayer. Even if you purchase the best roller for painting cabinets, nothing compares to the smooth glass like finish you can get by spray painting your cabinets. You can read all about my favorite paint sprayer that I recently purchased here.

Using Cheap Paint

The best cabinet paint is going to cost you a little more, but the results are worth it. I probably read at least a hundred cabinet paint reviews on the market before I settled on the Advance line by Benjamin Moore. I’m not an affiliate for them, and this is my own honest review. But if you think you can achieve a quality look with an inexpensive kit from the hardware store, just run.

cabinet painting mistakes

This stuff is beautiful and looks just like the finish on the new cabinets we had installed in our old house a few years ago.

Not Letting the Paint Cure Long enough

Be prepared to play the waiting game when painting cabinets. Before you try sanding between coats or applying second coats, you need to make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions regarding drying time.

If the paint hasn’t fully dried and cured, then you risk nicking up your paint job. Or worse, trying to painfully sand down a gummy surface like I did because I was so eager to apply a second coat. It wasn’t until later that I found out my paint actually doesn’t cure for a full 30 days! Although that’s more for everyday use than it is for a simple recoat time.

So make sure to allow for a little extra drying time before installing your finished doors and drawers or you’ll likely scuff and scratch them.

Applying the paint too thick

If I had used better tools the first time around, I wouldn’t have learned this lesson the hard way. Make sure to apply your paint in very thin even layers to avoid extended drying times and uneven finishes, or worse; bubbles, drips and runs.

cabinet painting mistakes

After I wrapped up our bathroom cabinets I did a little more research and invested in a fine paint spray tip for my sprayer so that it distributes the paint in more even mist and less glob-like and heavy. I’m pretty confident I won’t end up with large bubbles like this the next time around.

cabinet painting mistakes

Rushing the process

Refinishing cabinets is not for the faint of heart. You need a whole lot of patience, persistence and a good sense of humor at times. But by pacing yourself and taking the project step by step you can better spot all the little imperfections and act quickly to fix them before your paint hardens.

If I’d had taken the time to carefully inspect each door as I sprayed them then I wouldn’t have ended up with paint drips that needed to be sanded down causing the entire surface to need re-coated with paint. Thus spending more money in the process.

Don’t forget to download my complete cabinet painting checklist so that you’re prepared with all the tools and products needed to tackle painting your own cabinets!

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  1. Hello! Do I need to sand and prime if the cabinets are already painted? If so, will the paint with primer combined work? They are an oatmeal color now and I want white.

    1. Hi Kimberly! I always recommend sanding and priming. I wouldn’t skip priming in favor of a 2 in 1 product though. Those are nost likely latex and you’ll want an enamel or alkyd made specifically for cabinets.

  2. Love this!!! Do you by any chance know the paint color that you used? I’m about to attempt this project and your paint color looks identical to my bathroom vanity color

      1. Hi Martina,
        I love the color blue on the cabinets that you show on the bathroom cabinets.
        Will you please tell me the color of the paint and whether it is Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams.
        Thank you,

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