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Should You Paint Oak Kitchen Cabinets White?(Tips and Tricks)

Oak is one of those cabinet colors that was so popular in the 1970’s through the early 90’s (until cherry cabinets made an appearance)  that almost any home built in that time period, or had a renovation in that time period will have.  When we moved into our 1950’s home, the kitchen wasn’t really pretty, bit very usable and was updated sometime in the 1980’s so we had those orange-y wood oak cabinets. If you have similar cabinets, you are probably wondering if you should paint your oak cabinets white (or even another color!). The one thing we noticed  about our dark kitchen was how light sucking oak kitchens can be. The old, grainy oak cabinets just made it even drabber and darker. Not to mention the floor that just matched right in. We were terrified with painting our cabinets white because we felt like there was no going back if we hated it or if they chipped. When we finally took the plunge, we were thrilled with our painted oak cabinets and how they changed the entire look of our kitchen! 0ver 10 years later we still love them! Check out the tips and tricks below for painting your own oak cabinets!

Oak cabinets in kitchen before painting

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Painted oak cabinets completely transformed our kitchen

We had contemplating painting our kitchen cabinets but were worried that once it was done, it couldn’t be undone. And, what if we hated it? Would the oak cabinets actually look better painted? Could we actually do this DIY project? We had so many worries about painting our kitchen cabinets that we waited far too long to do it!

Looking for wood cabinet inspiration? See how we wrapped cabinets in wood veneer.

Oak cabinets before painting

When we finally took the plunge, we wished we had done it sooner. Since the day we initially painted them, we’ve never regretted it once! I have a list of a few of the supplies for painting cabinets here. In fact, we’ve actually painted our kitchen cabinets a few times already for a color change!

Oak grainy oak cabinets

Cabinet painting isn’t just for oak cabinets. One of our clients decided to paint their dark cherry cabinets and remove a set around the window and they saved thousands in kitchen remodeling. They also opted to lower their bar height counter to make it more useful and paint the island.

See this blog post for more about different white paint colors

Dark kitchen cabinets before painting white and adding open shelving

It’s a brand new kitchen with the painted cabinets, new tile backsplash and updated fixtures and hardware.

Removing the cabinets really opened up the beautiful window that seemed swallowed before! Sometimes less is more in a kitchen if you have enough storage! You can see the total transformation here.

Modern farmhouse kitchen update

Check out these how to painting kitchen cabinets steps, especially if yours have a heavy an oak wood grain, are a lot like the preparation for painting any piece of furniture

First, always take proper safety precautions with eye protections, gloves and a dust mask, and always follow the directions of the products and tools being used for a safe DIY experience.

Clean cabinet door to remove any grease, grime or oil. Use a product such as TSP or a grease cutting soap and let dry. Tarp area and plan for a day or two or prepping and painting. Good cabinet prep before painting makes a difference!

Painted white kitchen cabinets with the cabinet doors back on after drying

Empty cabinets and remove cabinet doors and drawer fronts from their hinges, and use a deglosser or manually sand the glossy finish. It does not need to be sanded to bare wood, but it does need to have a smooth finish.

If you are changing the cabinet pulls or knobs from their original position fill the holes with wood filler (make sure to put all of the screws in a baggie!) and drill your new holes before painting. See this post here for a few tips.

If the cabinet doors have a deep wood grain you want to change, fill with a skim coat first of a grain filler like wood putty with a putty knife to cover the oak grain, let dry, and resand until you have a smooth finish. Use a tack cloth to remove any dust.

Paint finish matters when painting white cabinets. While semi-gloss always used to be the go to for a durable finish, the newer more high end paints such as Benjamin Moore Advance offer various finishes specifically made for cabinets and doors.

Choosing a white paint color for your cabinets

Whites paints come in all kinds of shades, and they can range from cool to warm undertones going from bright white to warm white. Paint samples seen in various lighting can help make a decision before the big painting project begins. Some of my go to’s are Simply White for a bright, clean white, White Dove for a warm white with yellow undertones, and Linen White for a creamy yellow undertone. You can read more about warm and cool whites color families on Benjamin Moore’s site.

Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets White

After sanding and smoothing, prime and paint the cabinet frames and boxes with the first coat of paint. You can use either a high quality latex, water-based paint such a Benjamin Moore Advance with a clear sealer or an oil based primer and oil-based paint. There are pros and cons to both types of paint. Oil based tends to be more resilient but has more VOCs, takes longer to dry, and is harder to clean up. Personally, latex paint is always my first choice. This article from This Old House talks more about painting cabinets and the type of paints to use. When applying paint (if you don’t have a paint sprayer), using a high density foam roller will help to minimize paint texture and brush strokes. A soft, angle brush and even a smaller artist’s style brush can help to get into any nooks or crevices.

Prime the doors with several coats of a high quality primer such as Zinsser or Bin primer. Use a tinted primer from the paint store if you are painting your cabinets a dark color such as green or black to help minimize coats and increase paint coverage.

Once the primer is dry, paint the cabinets, cabinet frames and  drawer fronts with a high quality paint in a satin finish and apply 2 -3 coats of paint, sanding with a high grit sandpaper between each dry coat and using a tack cloth between coats of paint to pick up any left over sanding dust or grit.

Vintage painted dresser makeover before and after with paint sprayer

When painting you can use a high density foam roller to minimize orange peel or other paint brush textures, or you can use  a paint sprayer for a smooth finish just as you would on a piece of furniture.

When painting the boxes, clean up will be much easier if you use painter’s tape and a tarp to protect the  tile backsplash, appliances and the countertop. If you are creating  sanding dust, you may want to tape off the kitchen. Even a little sanding can make a lot of dust.

Jennifer Rizzo Kitchen White painted Cabinets

Once the oak kitchen cabinets are painted, you can decide if you want to seal them or not, using the same finish as your paint. I recommend a high quality polyurethane or polyacrylic. Stay away from shellac. Shellac is made from the shell of a beetle and  actually has a yellow tint and will continue to yellow over time. You can also spray your sealer on your painted cabinet doors for an even finish.  Once your sealer is dry, rehang your cabinet doors  and add new hardware!

Painted dark green lower cabinets with white uppers

We have loved our white kitchen cabinets from the moment we painted them!  They have held up fairly well, and needed a little touch up after a few years here and here, as would any surface that is high-use. Our wood countertop is still holding up as well!  Some day we may replace it with a stone countertop, but I worry about trending stone color sometimes. Our clients painted their granite counter and it looks amazin




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  1. Hi there,

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  2. It is beautiful. You have done everything that one day I hope to do in my kitchen. Thank you for the inspiration!

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