A few weeks ago, I shared my finished kitchen. It’s been so fun cooking in this pretty space! After the big reveal, I kept getting asked how to paint IKEA cabinets since the pink paint is one of the main attractions in this room. I thought I’d share everything that worked and what didn’t work and what I regret. Let’s get this painting party started!
buy the right cabinets
If you are doing a full renovation, start by buying the easiest cabinets to paint. Most of IKEA’s cabinets are laminated which are hard to paint since the paint doesn’t easily stick to the smooth surface.
For a little more money, you can buy the Torhamn cabinet doors and drawer fronts. They are made of natural ash- they are actual wood. Which means they accept paint nicely! And are less likely to have the paint scratch off in the future.
Another good option are the Vedhamn cabinet doors.
how to paint Ikea cabinets
Note, although I bought and used the Torhamn cabinet doors, the below tutorial will also work for laminate cabinets. I’ll make notes when you need to do extra steps to prep and paint the laminated IKEA door fronts.
Cupcake Pink Paint – satin finish in the Urethane Alkyd Satin Enamel (made for cabinets)
TSP– to prep the cabinets
Sand Paper– use fine grit 120-150 grit
Can you paint Ikea furniture without sanding?
If you are painting laminated cabinets, you need to lightly sand with fine grit sandpaper before painting. I know sanding sucks, but it’s just for roughing up the surface so the paint will stick. There’s nothing worse than spending hours painting and then having it scrape off with a finger nail- that’s no good.
For the Torhamn, no sanding is needed.
step 1- How do you prep cabinets for painting?
Next, continue by cleaning the surface well. Mix TSP (a common cleaner for degreasing and cleaning to prep for paint) with water. Dissolve well and then clean all of the cabinet doors and drawer fronts with the cleaner. Rinse and then allow to dry before the next step.
If you are painting cabinets that have already been in use, cleaning is a VERY key step. Little bits of grease or old food will make it so the paint doesn’t stick or for a lumpy finish. Scrub those cabinets clean!
step 2- Do I need to prime cabinets before painting?
Yes! You definitely need to prime IKEA cabinets before painting! For the Torhamn cabinets, I primed with Slick Stick. I painted one coat of the primer on all sides of the cabinet doors. I choose to paint the front and back of all my cabinets. So they all got primed too!
If painting laminate cabinets, prime with one coat, then wait two hours for it to dry. Then, repeat with a second coat of primer. Let that dry overnight before painting.
You can also use Zinsser BIN Shellac primer for this step.
I have the Slick Stick on hand and I trust it. Six months ago, I primed my laminated cabinets with Slick Stick and didn’t have a single scratch or dent or ding. And that is after renting out my house all summer. It worked so I used it again.
Also, small note, priming and painting cabinets when they aren’t installed is the easiest. So take a minute to remove the doors off the cabinets. With IKEA, this is super fast. Or just paint before putting the doors on.
step 3- What kind of paint do I use to paint my cabinets?
The number one question I’ve been asked on this kitchen is the color I painted the cabinets. It is Cupcake Pink Paint. This is the perfect soft pink with just a hint of orange. I love it!
For cabinets it’s best to paint them with specially formulated paint for cabinets. This will give the best result.
And now, what finish should cabinets be painted with? I’d suggest one of these three- satin, semigloss, or gloss. Personally, I went with satin. The harder and shiner the finish, the easier it’ll clean up and the more durable it is. Matte paint isn’t suggested on kitchen cabinets as it isn’t easy to wipe clean.
Also, you can see that I did all my painting on this folding workbench. It is SO nice to use! I painted in the corner of my living room so I could hang out with my son while doing my painting work. Most of the time it is folded up in our garage. But when we do a project, it’s the first thing that gets put up. It was worth every penny.
You can tell it’s been used well over the past few years.
step 4-Should you paint cabinets with a brush or roller?
Alright, here’s where I went wrong. I painted with a brush, but I should have painted with a mini roller for a smooth surface. For the record, I suggest rolling all the flat parts with a roller. Then use a brush for the edges and raised trim. Apply the paint lightly. It’s better to do a few light coats than thick ones- that’s when you get an uneven paint job.
Another tip- paint the back first. Then flip the cabinet and paint the front and sides. I did it opposite and had a bit of a ledge of paint on the front of the cabinets. I’d rather this be on the back. Or be less sloppy when painting the edges ;). I tried hard to do it perfectly, but this was a tricky part for me.
a note on perfection
One thing I do want to say is that people are obsessed with a smooth finish with cabinets. And a roller will give that to you! Or you can spray your cabinets.
But really, I painted this kitchen and I don’t mind that it has a bit of my signature on it with the very subtle brush marks. Be careful, do the best job you can, but a little character never hurt anyone ;).
I’ve noticed, when renovating, it’s easy to get obsessed with each minute detail. You’re staring at it as close as you can. And it can make you crazy. Step back. Will this actually drive you crazy? Will this bug you down the road?
Being a good DIYer is having the wisdom of knowing what’ll irritate you and what won’t. Fix issues that’ll make it feel unfinished or like a mistake. If it isn’t big deal- let it go. Now that the kitchen is done, the slight brush marks aren’t even noticeable.
Also, I wanted to paint both sides of the cabinet doors and drawer fronts for a super finished and polished look. Honestly, I don’t know if that was necessary- it looks nice, but was a lot of work. Anyway, I used cans for risers. That worked well, but when I painted, it left marks on the back of the cabinets. I ended up putting rags over the cans to avoid the marks.
Step 5- let dry
For painting, I’d take one day for primer, one day for the first coat, and one day for the second coat. To let them dry, I put out cardboard on my bed (I have a small house with a kitchen renovation going on) and let them dry. Again, I put cans under the cabinet to not mess up the paint.
At the end of the night, when they had already dried for a few hours, I put them down on my floor to finish drying so I could go to sleep. This didn’t cause any damage.
Painting the cabinets slowly meant that I only painted for a few hours each day. And they had plenty of time to dry for a smooth finish.
step 6- touch up
Whenever you hand paint something, it’s important to do touch ups. Don’t skip this step! Do you have a run or a glob of dried paint? Sand it off!
In the above picture, you can see where there was a ledge of paint on the front that I had to sand off and then paint over. Half of it is sanded off. That is definitely something that bugged me and now is nice and smooth after sanding!
Another thing I noticed is that where the trim was, there were little air bubbles. Those caught my eyes and felt like a mistake, so I filled that section with caulk and then painted over.
You can see that some of my touch-ups were done once the cabinet fronts were installed. This is where I did my last bit of touch-ups. I found it much more obvious to see what needed to be fixed once the cabinets were in place.
Step 6- Do I need to seal cabinets after painting?
If you do 2-3 coats of a high quality latex paint on the cabinets, no sealer is needed. I didn’t need any. Like I mentioned above, I tested this method six months ago with these same steps on laminated cabinets. I wanted to test out the paint color and method before we gutted our kitchen. For me, I didn’t find a sealer necessary.
If a sealer will make you feel better, you can finish with a Polycrylic Protective Finish. This will give the cabinets more protection. But it is one more step that’s probably not necessary with the right prep and using the correct paint.
And here, here are those pretty pink cabinets in action! Isn’t the color perfect?! I think that it was worth the extra money to be able to easily paint these lower cabinets so I could get my Barbie dream kitchen ;).
A pink kitchen was always my dream and it’s so fun to have that become a reality. It took probably a week of hard work to get these painted correctly, but I think it’s worth it!
Side note, the Torhamn toe kick from IKEA is plastic, so we didn’t use that, but bought plain baseboards from the hardware store. That way, I could easily paint it to match the rest of the cabinets.
Another option besides painting your own IKEA cabinets is to buy fronts from another company who will paint them for you with a factory finish. Plus there’s lots of style options to choose from when buying cabinet doors for IKEA cabinets.
Wondering about the quality of an IKEA kitchen? Turns out, it’s excellent! I’ve included consumer reports, insights from professionals, and notes on actual tests on the quality of an IKEA kitchen and if it’s “worth it.”
Let me know if you have any questions about this project. I’m happy to help in anyway possible. Let’s all have beautifully colorful houses that we love!
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- Sand- If you are painting laminated cabinets, you need to lightly sand with fine grit (120-150 grit) sandpaper before painting. Get all edges and grooves). Roughing up the surface helps the paint stick.
- Clean- Next, continue by cleaning the surface well. Mix TSP (a common cleaner for degreasing and cleaning to prep for paint) with water. Dissolve well and then clean all of the cabinet doors and drawer fronts with the cleaner. Rinse and then allow to dry. Make sure all dust, oil, and food particles have been removed
- Prime- If painting laminate cabinets, prime with one coat, then wait two hours for it to dry. Then, repeat with a second coat of primer. Let that dry overnight before painting. Use a bonding primer. I suggest Slick Stick or Zinsser BIN Shellac Primer
- Paint- Use paint in a satin finish made for cabinets. Roll all the flat parts of the cabinet doors with a roller. Then use a brush for the edges and raised trim.
- Let dry- For painting, I’d take one day for primer, one day for the first coat, and one day for the second coat. Between each step, let the cabinet doors dry for a full 24 hours.
- Touch-ups- Sand off any uneven paint. Add caulk to the trim if there's gaps or air bubbles. Paint after doing touch-ups. It's easiest to spot imperfections once the cabinet doors are hung.
- Enjoy your beautifully painted kitchen!
Side note, the toe kicks from IKEA are plastic, so don't use that, instead, buy plain baseboards from the hardware store. That way, you can easily paint it to match the rest of the cabinets.
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