Rite Painting - Can I repaint my kitchen cabinets?

Can I repaint my kitchen cabinets? (Birch cabinets, kitchen in Bellevue home.)

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Kitchen cabinets are one of the most challenging of items to paint, and for several reasons. Firstly, they take a lot of wear and tear, especially if you have young kids in the house. Secondly, they are often exposed to far more moisture than say, furniture in a living room or bedroom. Aside from cabinets in a much used bathroom, cabinets in a kitchen take extra attention when it comes to painting.

Does the old paint need to be removed first?

The first question to consider is, what condition is the existing paint in? Are you just thinking of refreshing the existing paint color, or is it a wholesale change of color. If you are painting a light beige on top of a deep burgundy, for example, the challenge will be to hide the dark burgundy completely. That means selecting a truly opaque paint to cover over the original dark color.

An alternative is to remove all of the old paint, down to whatever the cabinet doors, panels and trim are made of. They might be oak, birch, any other type of wood, and maybe even plastic. To remove the paint, you will want to use a kid of paint stripper. In the old days, paint stripper seemed – at least to my child’s eye at the time – something like the blood secreted by the creature from the Alien movie. Today, though, new environmental and health safety rules have made it impossible for manufacturers to put that kind of product on the market. Still, you have to be careful with anything that is capable of stripping old paint off a surface. If you do use such a product, make sure the room is fully ventilated, and remember that in a kitchen, you need to protect food, flatware and utensils from any splashes or drops of whatever you plan to use. As always, cover what you can’t move to a different room, and when you’re finished, a good cleanup is always good. If you’re hiring a paint contractor, one who has a great reputation for safety and cleanup is what you’re looking for.

What is the condition of the material under the existing paint?

For the same reason paint takes a hit in a kitchen, whatever the panels and cabinet doors are made of might also need attention. If the cabinetry in general was constructed correctly (for a kitchen), was treated how it should have been, and the appropriate paint or staining was done in the first place, you should have no problem. But what has happened to people on occasion after they move into a house is, they discover a few years later just how poorly the house had been maintained – or remodeled – by its previous owners. Wood cabinetry must be treated properly, or it will eventually rot. And you can’t always know there’s a problem until you strip off the old paint and see what’s going on underneath. For that reason, consider testing the cabinetry even by pinching the wood. Does it feel ‘spongy’? Even if it is rotten this test might not reveal anything, but if it does feel soft, you know you have a problem.

Painting time can also be a good time for cabinetry replacement

Replacing a kitchen is expensive. Certainly, you can skimp here and there on the costs, but every homeowner knows you pay in the end if you don’t do it right in the first place. Still, it’s the place on the house that people often spend most of their waking hours. Cooking, eating, chatting, or helping the kids do their homework, the kitchen provides the center of the home. It’s where worried couples try to figure out the bills when the children are all asleep. It’s where the candles of birthday cakes are blown out, and most family albums are full of shots in the kitchen. It’s no surprise, therefore, people invest a lot in making their kitchen great.

If the cabinetry is in need of repair, consider a remodel, perhaps only of the cabinetry itself. If the woodwork is in great shape, you’re off to the proverbial races. It’s time to plan the painting project!

Old homes and new homes are painted differently

Have you ever been in a kitchen where it’s clear the cabinetry has countless layers of paint on it? I remember, in my grandmother’s house, it seemed the cabinet doors had seven layers of paint on them! So much so, in fact, the doors were thicker, and as a result ‘larger feeling’. It just seemed at the time, grandma’s kitchen was where the cabinet doors always fell odd. In modern homes, however, science has entered the picture. Electric ‘elevator’ fans behind stove tops, glass stove covers, and all manner of oven, fridge and dishwasher equipment are now the exciting new items in a modern kitchen. That means the cabinetry must reach new levels of sophistication. To that end, specific paint types are needed to do the job right. You want it to look like it wasn’t actually painted, but was simply the color of the material used.

In a hundred year-old home, it might be a simple question of painting one more layer over the last one, but in a modern home, be sure to talk to your painting contractor of paint supplier – if you’re doing the work yourself – about the best types of paint to use on the project.

Painting where food is prepared

Many of us grew up around lead-based paint. In fact, I myself (my parents told me) used to chew on the top bar of my crib. For some reason, I remember the bitter taste of it, but I struggle to work out how old I must have been if I still remember the experience. Anyway, lead was in everything. It helped paint function, automobile gas burn, and pencils write. Perhaps it was the taste of chewing on the end of lead pencils. In any case, federal and other regulations have made the home a lot safer over the decades, and paint is far, far safer than it used to be. At least, that’s in relation to paint used in the home. It’s not the same for industrial use paints, of course. The hulls of supertankers are coated in paint-like materials you’ll never see in the home.

Home use paints are far safer today, but still, while the work is being done, you want to protect, cover or remove what you can from the kitchen so even tiny specks do not end up in your family’s food or on flatware of utensils. Putting that simple bowl of fruit into the fridge for the duration of the project, and getting everything out of the way is a good safety decision.

Keep windows and doors open as much as possible. Vapors, safer as they are these days, are still not anything you want to inhale.

See you next week!

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