12 December 2008

Cheap Fixes: Get ready to paint.

My cheap fixes so far have been the scrub and purge and the replace the hardware. When they don't work, maybe it's time to paint the things already. I've been dragging my feet over this because I think of cabinet painting as a nuclear option. You cannot turn back once you start this. It sounds like such a simple thing but don't be fooled. Painting existing cabinetry properly is neither simple nor is it painless. It's hard to get a good result and that's due to a whole host of reasons. For starters, the paint job can only look as good as the condition of what you're painting. Old, falling-apart cabinetry will end up looking like old, freshly-painted, falling apart cabinetry. Also, this is not something you can rush through or take a bunch of shortcuts with. Painting kitchen cabinetry is time consuming but there's a time and a place for it.

Everybody has a different way of doing this and this is my way. I've done this before (though I'm not proud of it) and I've achieved a good result. I see enough bad results out there to know that sound instructions on this gentle art are sorely needed. Here goes.

Empty all of your kitchen cabinets and store everything in an out of the way place. You won't be moving anything back for a while so get used to the inconvenience. Once they're empty, you have to remove all of the doors and drawer heads in order to paint. You have to. If you're unwilling to take this important step then turn back now. When you remove the doors and drawer heads, mark the backs of them so you know which cabinet the door or drawer front came from. You will end up with a pile of loose doors in the course of this project and you will be lost if you don't let yourself know what goes where when it's time to put everything back together.

If your cabinetry has exposed hinges, the hinges will need to be removed as well. If the hinges are hidden, then you can leave them in place. Remove all of the knobs and pulls from the doors as well.

Once all of the doors have been removed, sit them on a canvas or other fabric drop cloth. Whatever drop you use, it has to be absorbent. Don't use a plastic sheet or tarp. You want drips to be absorbed quickly by the drop cloth.

You're going to need to clean all of the doors and drawer heads first. You're also going to have to clean the frames and insides of the cabinetry that's still in place. The best cleaner you can find for this is trisodium phosphate, or TSP. TSP is sold at paint stores in its powdered form and when mixed with water, it becomes a powerful, alkaline cleaner and degreaser. It's pretty caustic stuff, so wear gloves and eye protection when you're using it. Now before you get too upset about using trisodium phosphate, know that it's also a food additive and a common fertilizer; so it's not as if you're using plutonium for this project. Trisodium phosphate reacts strongly to metal so you're going to want to keep it away from the hinges of your doors. As a side note too, do not dump trisodium phosphate solutions down a drain when you're done with them. TSP, as a fertilizer, causes algae blooms when it ends up in surface water. Rather than flushing it, just dump it on your lawn. The grass will use it up and prevent it from going anywhere. Please correct me if I'm wrong about that disposal suggestion.

Follow the instructions on the label and mix up a batch of TSP and water. Wipe down all of the surfaces of the doors with it and then wipe down the cabinet boxes that are still attached to the walls in your kitchen. TSP is the ultimate degreaser and it will remove years of built up kitchen gunk without a whole lot of trouble. Once clean, then let them dry.

Now that they're dry, you need to prepare the surfaces to be primed and painted. You need not remove all of the existing finish, all you're trying to do is rough up the surface enough so that a primer can adhere to it. This is best accomplished with a random orbital sander and 150 grit sandpaper. You can do it by hand, but the sander will make much faster work of it. Rough up the doors and then go into the kitchen and rough up any surfaces you're going to paint in there too. Usually, that's just the frames on framed cabinetry. Sometimes though, you'll want to paint the cabinet interiors as well. If that's the case, get sanding.

Once you're done sanding everything, wipe everything down with a tack cloth to remove the dust. You can find tack cloths at the same paint store where you bought the TSP.

OK, so now your surfaces are clean and ready to be primed. Now what? Now you're going to prime everything obviously, and I'll go over that in my next installment of Cheap Fixes. Tune in tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion of this post.


  1. You're my hero. EXACTLY the kind of advice I was looking for! Thank you!!

  2. I'm glad Jodie, thansk for finding this old post and telling me so!


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