How to Prevent Painted Cabinets From Chipping

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The expression “good things come to those who wait,” a synonym for the proverbial saying “Patience is a virtue,” certainly applies to kitchen cabinets. If your current or planned woodworking project is new cabinets, or even just new cabinet doors, keep this in mind. 

In professional cooking, the term “mise en place” refers to everything in its place, that preparation is key to a good night of cooking.  Preparation plays a major role in a good kitchen cabinet project outcome, too.

The first rule, then, of a kitchen cabinet project is to take your time.  Don’t pass by the preparation of the doors or the faceplates to get the fun part – the painting.  Paint will peel if it does not adhere well to the surface, so surface preparation will go a long way to helping you avoid paint chipping in the future.

Prepping The Surfaces of Kitchen Cabinets

Sanding Cabinets

Preparation is everything.  A smooth, clean surface is essential before anything is applied to it.  We’ll get to that “anything” might be, but for now, it’s prep time.

Sanding.  Start with a lower grit number to remove all irregularities in the surfaces of the doors and faceplates.  Vacuum the dust, and move to a higher grit count paper, one that will then begin the fine smoothing part of sanding.  Then vacuum again thoroughly, wipe with a clean cloth, and examine the surfaces closely.  Any dust will give a textured look to the cabinets as soon as you paint them, and that’s not what you’re looking for.

Degreasing.  If you are resurfacing cabinets, rather than building anew, and since these are kitchen cabinets we’re talking about, grease buildup is inevitable.  Be sure to use a grease-cutting cleaner on all surfaces.  Even if the surfaces don’t look greasy, it’s still likely there.  Neither paint nor a primer will adhere and bond to the surfaces over grease. 

These steps are crucial to the success of your project, and we can’t emphasize this strongly enough.  Don’t skip and don’t skimp if you want a good outcome. 

Do I Need a Primer?

Zinsser Rust-OLEUM 249933 1-2-3 Plus Quart, 32 Fl Oz (Pack of 1), White, 11

While any primer is better than no primer, and since we want the best outcome possible, choose wisely.  There are some primers that are specifically made to prevent chipping and peeling.  These primers are good choices that will form a tight bond and help your paint job last a lot longer before needing a redo.

Search for primers that are labeled “peel bonding primer” or ‘peel stop.”  A popular choice is Zinnzer Peel Stop Clear Binding Sealer from Rust-Oleum.  It’s a clear coat, low-odor, water-based product that is often recommended by professionals, and is easily applied by brush.

Another choice is KILZ 2 Latex Primer, another water-based primer, sealer, and stain-blocker.  It provides excellent adhesion for the paint that will follow, and the strong bond created by that adhesion will prevent chipping and peeling down the road.

What Caused Your Paint To Chip?

You should be able to answer this question for yourself now.  The single most common causes of chipping and peeling paint on your cabinets is the lack of patience in prepping them.  The surfaces were not properly prepared by cleaning, sanding, and removing grease and dust before painting.

Follow the steps above, sanding, cleaning, and priming the surfaces, before painting, and you’re more apt to get the results you want for your cabinets.  

Choosing Paint For Your Kitchen Cabinets

Wide angle of modern open living room interior overlooking floor to ceiling windows with white furniture and grey kitchen counters in minimalistic Scandinavian design by sunlight, copy space, nobody

We all know that we get what we pay for, and this is as true for paint as it is for anything else. 

In the process we outlined above, choosing a high quality primer for your cabinets designed specifically to prevent chipping and peeling goes a long way to provide good adhesion for the paint coats.  When it comes time to choose your paint, you want a super high quality paint, applied in 2-3 thin and even coats, being sure to allow a lot of drying time between each one.

For instance, Benjamin Moore Advance paint is designed specifically for cabinets.  It’s a super high quality paint that doesn’t require a top coat.  With a quality primer to adhere to, it forms a strong bond, and if the rest of the prep work (sanding, cleaning, degreasing) was done well and carefully, it will offer a durable and long lasting finish to the cabinets.

Latex paints have come a long way in the last decade, and many cabinet makers have moved on from oil-based paints entirely.  Latex paints dry quickly, and clean up well with just water.  They do take up to about 3 weeks to cure completely, and can be damaged during that curing period.  But, they are more commonly used now for cabinet finishing. 

Those cabinet maker pros will sometimes apply a top coat of oil-based paint, believing it will provide a harder and more durable finish, and level out to a smoother finish.  We’ll address topcoats in a moment.

How To Apply Paint To Your Cabinets

How To Apply Paint To Your Cabinets

Your cabinets are prepped and primed, and you’ve selected your paint.  How is the paint best applied to the cabinets?

Since you want that professional finish, you’ll want to start with the backsides of the doors.  A brush can be used for these areas, and be sure to allow ample time for the coat to dry.

Then, flip the doors over and use a brush to paint the detailed areas, making sure the paint does not pool in the corners.  You can feather out the edges using the brush, too.  Use a foam roller for the larger areas.  Use the roller for any parts of the cabinet frames that lend themselves to roller application – the detail is likely just on the doors, so a brush won’t be necessary.

Be sure to allow each coat to dry fully and completely before adding the next coat.  As we said above, 2-3 coats at least for the cabinets will give you a professional finish.

While spray painting is another option, it does take some time to learn the process and acquire that touch for applying paint well and evenly.  Of course, professional cabinet makers use this application method, but they are professionals.  For us amateurs, perhaps we should stick with the brush and foam roller method.

Do You Need a Topcoat For Cabinets?

If you’ve prepped well, primed well, and painted well with a super high quality paint, the answer is probably not.  The clean surface, the peel & chip preventing primer, and the paint will provide all the protection the cabinets need for years to come, or at least until you decide you want a different color.

The sheen in the paint provides that protective surface that a topcoat would provide, reducing or eliminating the need for another layer of protection.  So, again, a topcoat for your cabinets isn’t necessary. 

But as we mentioned earlier, some cabinet makers will add a topcoat of oil-based paint for that extra measure of hardness and durability it can provide.  You can choose for yourself if your project needs that topcoat.

Here’s a video you should watch.  It presents 11 of the biggest mistakes people make when painting their kitchen cabinets.  Notice how many of the mistakes are about adequate preparation.

We have learned that preparation is the key to preventing cabinets from chipping and peeling.  Sanding, cleaning, degreasing, choosing and applying the right primer, choosing and applying well the right paint, and showing patience at each point along this process, all represent the best practices in making your kitchen cabinets the showcase of your home. 

Patience is a virtue, as we said at the outset.  This is true of life, and it is true of finishing your cabinets well.  Take the time, follow the process completely, and you’ll prevent that chipping.

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