Sometimes, the cheapest way of giving your entire kitchen an overhaul is to select a new color palette for the walls, cabinets, and countertops.
You can shift a 90s layout and pattern straight into the 21st century just by making the most of the light and by choosing complementary shades and metallic accents on door handles.
Deciding how your kitchen is going to look for the next decade or so can be pretty time-consuming. Sometimes even more time consuming than the business of taking all the doors off your cabinets and doing the physical prep.
But so long as you have a clear idea of the colors and finish you’re looking for, you’ll ideally be full of stamina before you begin.
Table of Contents
- In a hurry? This is our winner!
- Best Primers for Kitchen Cabinets – Comparison Table
- Buyer’s Guide
If you’ve never bought primer before, the range of products out there can seem a little intimidating. There are almost as many products as there are different professional opinions about the “only” way to apply primer or paint.
To make this a little easier, we’ve narrowed down the list of the most popular products to the top five, including oil-based and latex-based primers.
Following this, check out the buyer’s guide for a primer (ha ha) on how to adapt the traditional typical seven steps of cabinet painting to the kind of cabinets that you have, and the primer that you choose.
In a hurry to get those doors unscrewed? Here’s our top five.
In a hurry? This is our winner!
Best Primers for Kitchen Cabinets – Comparison Table
|KILZ Adhesion Primer, Interior/Exterior, 1 Gallon||1,947 Reviews||$73.18||Check Details|
|ALL-IN-ONE Paint by Heirloom Traditions, Cobblestone (Gray), 32 Fl Oz Quart||10,580 Reviews||$41.99 $37.79||Check Details|
|Rust-Oleum 286258 Primer, 31.5 Fl Oz (Pack of 1), Gray||3,860 Reviews||$17.99||Check Details|
|Rust-Oleum Corporation 271009 Advanced Synthetic Shellac Primer, 1-Quart, White||921 Reviews||$23.59||Check Details|
|KILZ 3 Premium Primer, Interior/Exterior, 1 Gallon||1,182 Reviews||$46.33 $42.43||Check Details|
Last update on 2022-11-28 at 19:14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
The composition of primer paint has become increasingly sophisticated over the past few years to make them more chemically versatile in terms of the surfaces they could be used upon, and the topcoats they can be used beneath.
In the days before specialist, high-adhesive primers came onto the market, the rule of thumb for selecting paint and primer was that you can only combine water-based primers and paints or oil-based primers and paints.
Because of the inconvenience associated with handling oil-based primers (having to buy respirators along with all the normal gear), sales of oil-based primers are now nominal compared to their competing water-based latex options.
Oil-based primers have been almost impossible to find in Europe for the past decade and more because they’re considered too dangerous to handle in homes with insufficient ventilation.
Thankfully it is now much easier to be spontaneous about grabbing a quart or gallon of primer off the shelf and then choosing a paint at your leisure, not restricted by the kind of primer you chose.
It’s also great that the quality of the primers currently available can help you to skip a few steps on the traditional process of painting kitchen cabinets, which used to look like this:
Step 1 – Degrease all surfaces with a pre-paint cleaning solution
Step 2 – Sand off all residue varnish, lacquer etc. using coarse grit paper (between 80-120grit as appropriate).
Step 3 – Clean off dust and apply the first coat of primer.
Step 4 – When the first coat has dried, sand the primer down, clean off dust.
Step 5 – Apply the second layer of primer.
Step 6 – Sand with a smoother paper (240-grit) just to remove any excess primer. Clean off dust.
Step 7 – Apply topcoat
For your ease of reference, we’ve set out a few scenarios featuring cabinets of different qualities and suggested a suitable approach, referring to the steps above.
It could be that you’ve bought a property at auction to refurbish and the cabinets are structurally sound and serviceable, but not nice to look at.
For example, they’re nicotine or water stained, or they still have remnants of ancient varnish or lacquer clinging to them.
In this situation, if you’ve had to spend a lot of time with a coarser-grit paper to smooth off the surface, then you should go through the full seven steps to get the best finish for your cabinet.
Heavy tannin or wood stain
Adopt steps 1, 2, and apply Shellac primer, which is a stronger option for providing a seal against tannin and stain bleeding.
If you’re painting over a dark material, then you may want two layers of primer, though you probably do not need to sand in between them. Following your second primer layer, resume the process from step 6.
Handling MDF cupboards with vinyl/plasticated surfaces
Adopt step 1 first. It used to be the case that the only way of applying primer or paint evenly across vinyl was with a HVLP spray gun because it was so non-adhesive and required multiple thin layers of primer before the paint could be applied.
However, you now also have the option of applying high-adhesion primer in spray form (choose a 0.15-0.21” tip) or with a roller. For more porous surfaces, use a roller with ½ or ¾” microfiber/mohair nap. For a smooth base, use ⅜ or ½ inch nap.
Although high-adhesion layers dry quickly, within the hour, we still recommend giving the primer a couple of hours of drying time to see how evenly it has settled into the grains of the surface before getting your topcoat out of the garage.
If you’re painting over something super-dark or bold
Say you’re going from bright orange to pale dove gray, or a wood which is almost mahogany in shade to an off-white. Having gotten your work surface as clean and bare as you can get it (steps 1 and 2) then you might want to use two layers of a gray primer like the Zissen 3-2-1 as a solid color block.
You would only need to sand with 240 grit in between to remove any excess. You can do the two layers in a morning since it dries in around 30 minutes. The alternative is two coats of premium stain/color block.
If you have a humid kitchen
Most formulations are inherently mold-resistant, but if you want to take extra precautions then you can look out for a mildew-resistant kitchen and bathroom version of your favorite primer.
Picking the best roller
If you’re picking up your painting supplies in advance of deciding on your paint, then you can’t go wrong with a two-pack of mini rollers which include a microfiber sleeve with a ½” nap, and a foam roller.
Foam tends to give the smoothest finish, but it’s not particularly absorbent. Pick a door which will see less use over the years and try your rollers out on the back of it. Follow the grain of the wood.
You’ll get a feel for which sleeve works best with your paint and gives you a pro finish. You may want to roll on the paint with a microfiber sleeve and finish with foam, for example.
Getting the best result from any primer
Regardless of which primer suits your needs, we strongly recommend that you always carry out step 1. Always take the time to protect your counter and surfaces with rosin or builder’s paper before you begin painting. Always take all the doors off to paint them.
Make a cupboard map of your kitchen and find a way of labeling each cupboard as you remove them. And don’t be in too much of a rush to move right to top coat once you’ve put your primer in place. Because it’s soft to the touch, it can give the impression it will just peel off.
Give it time to settle and then brush it lightly before seeing how consistent the layer is. Then either add another coat or get that topcoat out.
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