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  • Leah C.

Top Tips for Choosing the Perfect Cabinet Paint for Your Kitchen Makeover

Updated: Mar 7

Today we live in a world where we are bombarded with all different product offerings which can be really confusing. This is no different in the cabinet painting world. I see this everyday with homeowners, they are trying to figure out what paint is the best and what cabinet painter is using the top products. With so much confusion I have decided to give a couple of pointers when deciding which cabinet paint is best to use.

Here are the top things you will want to ask and look at:

Is it Water-based or Oil-based?

This question is especially important if you plan to have the cabinet frames painted in your home. This will be the case for most homeowners who are not installing new cabinets but plan to use their existing. Oil based paints are going to have a potent odor that can linger. This is ok if you do not plan to live in the home for a couple weeks. Water based products are going to have little to no odor. You will find that a lot of these products will also be low in odor and be low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds). Aim for products with a VOC content below 150 g/L. Water-based cabinet paints can put you at ease knowing your little ones or fur babies will not be exposed to such harsh chemicals.

What surfaces can the product be used on?

I like to ask this question because you will see that many different products are advertised as cabinet paint; however, many are used on other surfaces such as masonry, drywall, metal, etc. For spaces like kitchens and bathrooms it is ideal to use a product that is meant only for cabinetry as these areas that get a lot of manual use. Products used for areas such as drywall tend to not be touched or cleaned as often, therefore these products do not need to be as durable as those for cabinetry.

What is the dry time and cure time??

Most homeowners will need to use their kitchen as soon as possible, dry time and cure time will be critical. Dry time means; how long it takes before the paint is dry to touch. Cure time means; how long the paint takes before it is fully hardened (mar resistant). The best option here is a cabinet paint that is dry to touch in about 15 minutes and fully cured in 24 hours. Products that take 7-30 days to cure are not ideal for working spaces that are in use. There are however techniques like UV & infrared lighting to speed up the curing process. If a paint's cure time without lighting is 7-30 days, I would be extra cautious if someone says they can speed that process up into a day's time. Go for the product that has the 24-hour cure time without the use of UV or infrared lighting. This gives you the confidence that when your doors & drawers are reinstalled they will not stick to the frames.

Note: If your contractor plans to brush & roll the project, this is an indicator that they will most likely be using a product that takes 7-30 days to cure. The method of brushing & rolling requires a paint that is slow drying which allows more working time to achieve an acceptable finish. If they plan to spray the cabinets for a smooth factory finish, it is a good indicator that they will be using a fast-drying paint. Always double check!

Does it need a clear coat or not?

Another question I am asked a lot of the time is whether a clearcoat should go on top. Some paints do not require a clearcoat and are just a durable as the ones that do require it. There can be a couple different reasons a product requires a clear coat. One can be that the sheen needs to be added so the cabinets do not have a flat finish. Another can be that the paint has been tinted, or color added, and it has weakened the base product therefore it needs a clearcoat (or hardener in some cases) to ensure the end product is strong and durable. If a product does not require a clearcoat or hardener it does not necessarily mean it is inferior to one that does. Check what the manufacturer recommends (typically found on the product spec sheet) to know if it should have a clearcoat or not.

Is it KCMA Certified?

Finally, we want to look at is if the product is approved or meets the certification requirements from the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturing Association (KCMA). The KCMA is a non-profit organization that sets the standard in the cabinet world buy testing and certifying products.

You may be asking what this is and why is it important. This allows contractors and homeowners to purchase with confidence since products are put through rigorous testing to support the companies claim that the product is of high quality and durable. Finishes are put through a series of tests. Heat Test, Cold Test, Spill Test & Stain Test.

Heat Test: A cabinet door is placed in a hotbox at 120 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 percent relative humidity for 24 hours.

Cold Test: A cabinet door is placed in a hotbox at 120 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 percent relative humidity for one hour, removed and allowed to return to room temperature and humidity conditions, and then placed in a coldbox for one hour at -5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spill Test: Exterior exposed surfaces are subjected to vinegar, lemon, orange and grape juices, tomato ketchup, coffee, olive oil and 100-proof alcohol for 24 hours and to mustard for one hour.

Stain Test: A cabinet door edge is subjected to exposure to a standardized detergent formula for 4-24 hours depending on door type.

(A161.1 Quality Certification, n.d.)

Once they have passed the tests and the product is certified they will receive KCMA's stamp of approval.

Over the years I have found that majority of homeowners are new to the idea of cabinet painting and can become overwhelmed with a lot of the information that is coming at them.

The information above is a general guide to help make things easier. Now you may be asking "Where do I find this information? ". If you are planning to work with a cabinet painter for your project, ask them the exact product they plan to use and/or for the product spec sheet. If your plan is to DIY this project, ask your local paint store what they recommend and for the spec sheet.

Below here, you will see I have taken two different products and highlighted the areas that we want to look at. Based on the information above compare and contrast the two. If it hits majority of the items above, I would opt for that product.


Product 1 Spec Sheet:

Product 1 summary:

  • Does not appear to be KCMA certified or meet their standards.

  • Can be used on all different types of surfaces including cabinetry.

  • Application: brushed, rolled, or sprayed.

  • Does not give an exact dry to touch time or cure time. However, says "After 2 weeks, cured paint...".

  • Does not tell us about the VOC levels and has a warning on it.


Product 2 Spec Sheet:

Product 2 Summary:

  • Meets KCMA standards.

  • Meant for heavily used items such as cabinets and furniture. Does not mention use on other surfaces however does say "Contact with metal surfaces should be avoided".

  • Application: Spray. Does not mention brushing/rolling.

  • Breaks down dry and cure times.


After reviewing this information and considering these key factors, I hope you can confidently choose a cabinet paint that aligns with your project's requirements, ensuring a durable and aesthetically pleasing finish.

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