Because cabinets are such a strong focal point in the kitchen, changing them up can transform the look and feel of the entire space. But new units can set you back thousands of dollars, even if you choose low-cost stock cabinets. The good news: If you like the layout of your existing cabinets and they’re structurally sound (no sticking drawers or doors falling off their hinges), you can achieve a new look for as little as $100 with a fresh coat of paint.
Certain cabinet styles and materials lend themselves to this project more than others, according to the experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute. The best candidates are wood cabinets with plain, simple fronts, often referred to as Shaker Style. Cabinets with a lot of intricate details and applied moldings will be harder to paint, and our pros don’t recommend this project for cabinets covered in plastic laminate or rigid thermofoil, since they’re difficult to refinish.
Assuming your cabinets are a good fit for the project, the critical first step is choosing the right paint. Through decades of paint testing, Good Housekeeping has seen steady improvements in paint performance, even as formulations become better for the environment. Our durability tests include the use of an abrasion machine to measure scratch-resistance and an accelerated weathering machine to see how well paints withstand fading from UV light. We also measure splatter resistance, dry time and smoothness. Meanwhile, our engineers study paint cans and spec sheets to understand chemical content, which tells them about toxicity and provides a better understanding of how much odor and emissions paints will give off as they dry.
What type of paint is best for cabinets?
It used to be that oil-based paints were the best way to get a durable finish for high-touch surfaces in the home, like cabinets and furniture. But water-based latex paints have gotten so much better over the years, without the heavy VOC content (short for “volatile organic compounds”) of oil-based formulas, even with the color tinting added in. “Any high-quality latex paint should work on cabinets,” says Gary McCoy, Lowe’s store manager serving the Charlotte, NC, market, with 8 years of expertise across all home improvement categories, including the paint aisle. McCoy adds that it’s important to “ensure the paint is acrylic, not vinyl.” Cheap, contractor-grade paints are often loaded with vinyl, which compromises their adhesion and durability.
There’s another option to consider, especially if your cabinets get a lot of wear and tear: hybrid alkyd enamel paints (a.k.a. waterborne alkyds). This is a newer category of paint geared toward professional painters, but consumers can find it too. “Hybrids bring together the best of water-based paints with the best of oil-based paint for a durable and glossy finish that’s water-resistant,” says McCoy. The downside to hybrid paints is that they tend to be pricey.
Whichever type of paint you choose, our engineers recommend going with a semi-gloss finish (as opposed to flat or high-gloss). The hard, durable coating will stand up better to staining, fading and chipping, and its shine makes it easy to sponge clean without the risk of dulling.
Here are the best cabinet paints you can buy in 2022:
Best Overall Waterborne Alkyd Cabinet Paint
Demonstrating the best that hybrid alkyd enamel paints can be, Benjamin Moore’s Advance interior paint was formulated specifically with kitchen cabinets in mind, as well as doors, trim and other high-touch surfaces in the home. Benjamin Moore is a favorite with professional painters and the engineers at the Good Housekeeping Institute because of it smooth, easy application, and that’s the case with Advance. The paint also cures to an exceptionally hard, furniture-grade finish that can stand up to the busiest kitchens. You might expect more chemical content with all that durability, but Advance is a low-VOC formula, even after the tinting for one of its 3,500-plus colors is added to the bucket.
- Smooth application
- Extremely durable
- Cleans with water
- Not as easy to find
Best Value Waterborne Alkyd Cabinet Paint
Urethane Alkyd Semi-Gloss Enamel
Though many hybrid paints cost upwards of $100 per gallon, Behr’s more affordable version is comparable to many high-quality latex paints. It boasts most of the same properties of other alkyd enamels, including excellent flow and leveling, meaning your cabinets won’t be marred by brush marks. The paint dries to a hard, durable finish. Paintbrushes and spills are easily cleaned with plain water, not the turpentine or mineral spirits that oil-based paints require. Our experts also like Behr’s extensive online color-selection tools and the fact that Home Depot waives shipping fees on peel-and-stick sample orders.
- Superb value
- Durable finish
- Free color samples
Best Overall Latex Cabinet Paint
You likely won’t get a smooth, durable finish from a cheap, $10 paint. But some designer paints can sell for more than $100 a gallon, and they don’t always hold up either. This Infinity paint falls squarely in the middle, price-wise, while delivering exceptional results. Its semi-gloss formula is particularly well-suited to kitchen cabinets, thanks to its cleanability and superb stain resistance. While our experts strongly recommend priming your cabinets before painting, if you decide you want to save time and money on that step, Infinity’s self-priming feature adds to its excellent coverage, often in a single coat (though we also always recommend a second coat with cabinets, since they get handled all day, every day).
- Excellent hiding
- Superb stain-resistance
Best Value Latex Cabinet Paint
Our experts recommend Behr for homeowners needing to refinish their cabinets on a tight budget. Though it costs half as much as other top picks, the Behr Premium Plus paint delivered above-average coverage and stain resistance in our tests, plus it can handle the scrubber side of a kitchen sponge without marring. In our lab tests, we found that it was easy to apply, and consumers rated it highly for overall style and appearance. The paint is GREENGUARD Gold Certified, meaning it’s been third-party tested for low odor and emissions. As with the Behr alkyd paint on our list, Home Depot offers free shipping on peel-and-stick sample orders.
- Excellent value
- Low odor and emissions
- Not as stain resistant as some options
Best Zero-VOC Cabinet Paint
While the shift to laxed-based paints means that paints are less toxic than in the past, Zero-VOC are the healthiest of them all. Sherwin-Williams’ Ovation Plus line eliminates the chemicals for low-odor results without any compromise on durability. Though we didn’t test the claim, Sherwin-Williams says that the paint’s anti-microbial properties protect against mold and mildew. All that plus a competitive price tag, which you’ll appreciate if you have a lot of cabinets to refinish.
- Zero VOCs
- Low odor
- Solid hiding
- Not as stain resistant as some options
Best Cabinet Paint Sold at Lowe’s
Valspar is to Lowe’s what Behr is to Home Depot. So if Lowe’s is your home center of choice, this brand is a good one for your cabinet project. The latex Reserve is a step up in price from other Valspar products, including its Signature and Ultra series, but our experts say it’s worth it for the superb coverage and stain resistance, as well as its resistance to fading, which is nice if your kitchen is flooded in sunlight. Our experts also like the online paint calculator, helpful for figuring out exactly how much paint you’ll need for your project.
- Excellent coverage
- Resistant to fading
- Access to Lowe’s paint calculator
Best Cabinet Paint Sold at Walmart
High Endurance Plus
Another fine option for budget remodelers, the competitively priced Glidden punches above its weight when it comes to hiding and coverage, especially if you apply a separate primer coat, as our experts recommend. While the base paint is zero-VOC, the VOC count might rise significantly depending on which color you choose (some tints are more chemical-heavy than others).
- Great value
- Solid coverage
- Color tints can contain VOCs
Best Luxury Cabinet Paint
Luxury paints are favored by many designers and architects for their curated color palettes. Sure, you can go to home center and have a mainstream paint color-matched to any hue. But luxury paint makers insist their formulas are unique, including Donald Kaufman, which touts “proprietary pigment combinations on each color’s own unique character.” In field tests, the boutique brand’s semigloss paint has held up extremely well on cabinets in a busy kitchen setting. The hard finish is scrub- and stain-resistant, with little fading despite receiving intense southern sunlight throughout the day.
- Custom colors
- Durable finish
- Scrub resistant
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