How Many Coats of Primer on Cabinets? Best Priming Practices In 2022

How many coats of primer on cabinets? Well, this question depends on the type of surface of you cabinets. Here’s what you need to know…

Painting is a pretty affordable and easy way to revamp old cabinets.

However, applying the paint is not the only exercise in this process.

You’ll have to prime the surface for a durable finish but how many coats of primer on cabinets? 

In most cases, cabinets need only one primer coat. In cases of unfinished wood surfaces, you will need two coats.

Unfinished wood are highly absorbent and will take so much of your primers, it would be best if you did two coats of primer.

Also, you can apply two coats for darker-colored surfaces.

In addition, feel free to add a second coat for a more solid finish if the cabinet looks white-washed.

Besides, you may not get 100% coverage until you add the first paint coat.

The primer only helps to enhance paint adhesion and gives the project superior protection and added durability.

Read the article below for more guidelines on priming and painting a wood cabinet.

 What Is Wood Primer?

Image of surface prepared with the best oil based primerA primer is a unique white paint formula used to make cabinet surfaces more adhesive to paint.

Besides, cabinets are not flat surfaces, and some may not be compatible with painting.

Therefore, the finish may have a shorter lifespan.

Fortunately, a proper wood primer can help the paint adhere for longer.

It also fixes cracks on cabinet doors and conceals stains to keep them from bleeding through the finish.

The formula ensures the lumber does not soak paint after the painting period.

Moreover, it neutralizes the cabinet’s color, allowing the paint to showcase its brilliant form.

Primer is suitable for multiple materials, be it wood, metal, or plastic.

Thus, you won’t have to worry about chipping or flaking paint finishes.

Using the product is mandatory for surfaces susceptible to the elements yet are not water-resistant.

In addition, it hides knots, seals odors, and protects the workpiece from rust, mold, and mildew.

As a result, you deliver a surface free from imperfections.

Similarly, a primer seals porous objects that would otherwise soak in the first few paint coats.

Thus, you won’t need multiple layers to deliver complete and uniform coverage.

However, we have scenarios where a primer is not necessary.

For instance, you do not need to use the product on previously painted surfaces. 

But it is prudent to check whether the workpiece is in good condition.

Also, most modern quality interior and exterior paints are self-priming.

They adhere to previously painted workpieces without needing a prime coat.

Eggshell and flat finishes on ceilings and walls do not require a primer, especially when smooth and clean.

However, lightly sand and primer before painting over certain gloss surfaces or if the drywall need repairs.

Always ask the paint store to tint the primer to match your desired finish color. 

Also, although the hue will still look lighter than the final hue, there is nothing to worry about.

The tinted primer helps the next paint coat to retain the new shade better.

In addition, it also comes in handy when you’re covering a dark color with a lighter one.

Tinting the primer coat does not replace an extra paint layer. The formula only acts as glue for the paint to stick to the surface.

For example, you can’t get away with one tinted primer coat and one paint layer. Instead, you’ll still have to add a second top coat.

Further, we have paint and primer in one product.

The formula acts as primer and paint: thus, you won’t have to use different solutions.

Nonetheless, applying two coats is still advisable. You keep the old color from flashing through the new paint layer.

Priming is an absolute necessity. Besides, skipping the process when needed is a recipe for big headaches.

Below are scenarios where priming is mandatory:

  • Major Color Changes

Use a primer when transitioning from a darker color to a light one.

In addition, you can go for high-build latex primers to help hide vivid colors like yellow or red.

These colors are also generally tough to conceal. Therefore, plan for two or three primer coats.

  • Surfaces With Mildew or Mold

Apply a mold-neutralizing oil or solvent-based primer. It kills any remaining mild spots and hinders future mold growth.

Also, use mold-resistant paint with some sheen like semi-gloss or satin.

Wash the surface thoroughly with water and bleach to remove mold and mildew. Then, gently rinse with water and let the wood dry.

The next step is lightly sanding the lumber and applying the primer before the finish coat.

Consider painting with more sheen, as it repels future water and moisture damage.

This way, your bathroom or mudroom project lasts longer.

  • Interior Walls With Stains

Interior walls need priming if they have stains or need extensive patching and repairs.

Mostly, stains on these surfaces come from smoke, mildew, water damage, and wood tannin bleeding.

Use an oil-based stain block primer to neutralize interior wall stains. Or get a shellac product to seal heavily stained surfaces.

However, priming can only go so far. For instance, replacing damaged drywall is advisable when working with a flooded basement.

  • Gloss Finishes and Oil-Based Paint

Sand and prime surfaces previously coated in oil-based or glossy finishes.

Also, go for a bonding primer to help the paint adhere better.

Fortunately, woodworkers rarely use oil-based paints. So, more often than not, you will be working with latex paint.

As a result, you will not need a primer.

However, painting over a gloss surface needs more skill and patience than typical home improvement jobs.

Therefore, hire a professional to help instead of trying to DIY the project.

  • New Drywall Priming

Apply primer to recently skim-coated walls or new drywall. Further, use a specialized latex-based primer to seal the porous surface.

Fortunately, most drywall primers are water-based. Therefore, they have low or no VOCs, making them suitable for indoor use.

How to Apply Primer to Kitchen Cabinets

Image of kitchen cabinets but How Many Coats of Primer on CabinetsRepainting is the most affordable and simplest way to give kitchen cabinets a fresh new appearance.

Moreover, you can paint over old stains and paint after proper cleaning and preparation.

Apply a primer before painting to ensure the finish has a clean and smooth surface to adhere to; thus, you won’t stress about peeling or chipping paint.

You can skip this stage if the paint has an in-built primer. But it is critical if you stay in rainy, humid, or damp climates.

The application process is as follows:

  • Choose the correct formula for the project. Latex-based primers do not cover blemishes well but dry quickly.

In addition, they feature fewer VOCs and clean up with water and soap.

On the other hand, oil-based primers are thicker. They work well over old stain and paint but dry slowly.

Further, they need a natural- bristle paintbrush for better application and mineral spirits for cleanup.

  • Take off all hardware and remove the cabinet doors. Then, position them on a flat surface covered with rags and drop clothes.

This way, you protect it from spills and drips.

  • Clean the doors with one degreasing cleanser tablespoon blended with one water quart.

Also, dishwashing soap works well.

  • Let the surface dry and sand lightly with medium-grit sandpaper to eliminate the chipped finish and minor flaws.
  • Wipe away the sanding residue with a tack or damp cloth.
  • Apply the primer with a brush using long, uniform strokes. Feather the edges where brush strokes overlap to deliver a flat, even surface.
  • Finally, let the primer dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Here’s a Video on Priming Kichen Cabinets:

 How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

The shopping list includes latex primer, degreaser spray, roller sleeves, water-based trim, and cabinet enamel paint.

Other tools include an orange cordless drill, screw gun, screwdriver, rags, permanent marker, tack cloths, paintbrush, paint roller, foam sanding block, and a paint tray.

Then, follow the procedure below for a successful result.

  • Prepare the Work Area

A successful project involves diligent preparation and ensuring the room and cabinets are ready for painting.

Thus, start by emptying the cabinets, removing any freestanding appliances, and clearing off the counters.

In addition, relocate tables and other furniture to another room.

Tape rosin paper over flooring and countertops and tape plastic covering over the backsplash.

Mask off surfaces around the cabinets and set up a worktable for drawers, doors, and shelves.

You can work with a brown bird design that provides access to all the cabinet door’s sides. It also reduces downtime during drying.

Alternatively, set up a pair of 2x4s at eye level between ladders for painting the doors.

Then, screw hooks to the set-up for hanging painted doors.

Add corresponding hooks to the upper cabinet door’s edges and the drawers and lower doors’ bottoms.

This way, you’ll conceal holes left behind after the project.

  • Remove the Drawers, Doors, and Shelves

Mark each drawer’s front and back to avoid mixing them up. The best position is behind the hinge location.

Remove the hinge screws from the kitchen cabinet and detach the doors.

Label each door with a numbered tape piece from top to bottom, left to right.

In addition, number the cabinet shelves’ edges and the drawers’ bottoms.

Uninstall any self-hanging hardware.

Also, remove hinges and pulls at the worktable to create a convenient space and avoid confusion.

Transfer the tape number to the exposed lumber under one hinge and cover it with new tape.

  • Clean the Surface

Use a degreaser solution to clean the cabinet and wipe it down with a clean cloth. 

Also, consider getting a more powerful cleaner like trisodium phosphate if ordinary cleaners are ineffective.

Fortunately, the solution is available in paint stores and hardware. Only ensure you follow the manufacturer’s safety precautions.

Rinse the cabinet pieces thoroughly after cleaning and let them dry.

  • Prep the Boxes

Open windows for ventilation and wear protective clothing.

Further, scrub down all the surfaces with an abrasive pad soaked in a liquid deglosser.

Hold a cloth underneath the table to catch drips.

Quickly wipe away the excess deglosser before it evaporates.

Ensure you use a clean, deglosser-dampened rag for the best outcome.

Fill old screw holes with autobody or two-part polyester wood filler. Then, give it five minutes to set.

Remove excess product with a sharp paint scraper. Next, let it harden and sand the surface.

The other step is to scuff the cabinet, doors, and drawers with a foam sanding block. It gives helps the primer adhere better.

Use a tack rag to wipe away the sanding dust and move on.

Lastly, vacuum cabinets to keep dirt particles from marring the finish. Then, rub them using a tack cloth.

  • Prime the Cabinet Boxes

It’s time to use the primer.

Use a stain-blocking formula to seal knots and other wood defects threatening to bleed through the finish.

However, stain blockers are not necessary in most cases. A 100 percent acrylic latex or oil-based primer works just fine.

Pour the solution into the paint tray and load the brush and roller.

Use the roller on the large and flat cabinet surfaces and the brush along the tight spots and edges.

Start at the cabinet’s top and brush on the primer to cross the wood grain. Then, pass the paintbrush lightly over the wet surface.

Always tip off the brush in a single stroke from one end to another.

Follow the underlying cabinet’s structure.

For instance, paint the rail first and overlap slightly onto the stile if the rail butts into a stile. Then, paint the stile before your overlap dries.

Wash the roller sleeve and brush while letting the primer dry.

In addition, pour the excess formula back into the can before cleaning the paint tray.

  • Sand, Caulk, and Fill

Sand the surface with 220-grit paper after the primer dries.

Further, sand any profiled areas using a medium-grit sanding accessory. As a result, the wood will feel glass smooth.

Squeeze a thin latex caulk bead into open seams. Pull the tip as you go and smooth with your finger.

Also, fill any scratches, dings, or dents with vinyl spackle and smooth it with a putty knife.

Sand the surface again with 220-grit paper once the spackle dries, say after sixty minutes. Then, vacuum and wipe with a clean cloth.

Spot-prime the spackle and other areas where the sandpaper ‘burns through the primer.

Then, spray a fast-drying oil-based primer for a better outcome.

Give the project a one-hour drying duration and sand with 280-grit sandpaper.

Finally, vacuum the surfaces and wipe with a tack cloth.

  • Paint the Cabinet Boxes

Two paint coats are enough when using the same color as the existing shade. Further, you can even get away with one.

However, painting over a darker finish with a lighter hue is tougher and needs up to three layers.

Get a new paintbrush for each coat.

Pour some cabinet enamel paint into the tray and load the roller and brush. 

Next, use the paintbrush for edges and corners and the roller for large flat surfaces.

Also, utilize a smooth-surface mini roller for the cabinet interior as it leaves a slightly bumpy, orange-peel texture.

You’ll have to wait for the first roller to dry before adding a second coat.

Thus, cover the paint applicants with plastic bags to prevent them from hardening.

Sand the surface lightly between coats and clean up the debris afterward.

Apply a second paint coat to the surface to deliver a consistent finish.

In addition, you won’t have any light or thin areas showing through the topcoat.

  • Prepare, Prime, and Paint the Drawers, Doors, and Shelves

This step is the same as painting cabinets, except that you work on a table to reduce runs, drips, and sags.

Start with the area around the panel when working on panel doors.

Then, do the panel’s main field and finish with the rails and stiles around the edges.

Wipe up paint running on adjacent dry surfaces as you go along. This way, you avoid lap marks.

Twist two screw hooks into holes in an invisible door edge to speed up the door’s drying time.

Paint the doors outside area and give it an hour to dry. Further, ensure it rests flat before tilting it onto its hooks.

Moreover, install a drywall screw into a hardware hole. Then, hold the tilted door up the screw to paint its backside.

When you finish painting, pick up the door by the screw and hang it on a sturdy clothes hanger.

Suspend the structure from a curtain rod until it dries.

  • Reinstall all the Pieces

Attach the drawer and door fronts when the second paint coat dries.

Remove the painter’s tape on each door, install the knobs and hinges, and hang them in their original position.

Finally, remove the drawer pull or install new ones and reinstall each drawer.

How to Attain a Smooth Finish on Kitchen Cabinets

Painting gives your kitchen cabinets an upgrade. However, it is challenging to deliver a smooth finish without proper preparation work.

Below are some true and tried painting tips to deliver a professional finish.

  • Do Your Preparation Work

This step is the most important in the whole painting process. Further, a paint coat can only be as good as the preparation work.

First, remove all shelves, doors, and cabinet hardware.

It may seem okay to paint the cabinets as they are, but painting over or around may give a drippy, ugly paint job.

Thus, start the project by removing all the shelves and doors from the cabinet.

Then, fasten all the handles and hinges from the doors and cabinets.

Ensure you label every hardware piece from left to right. It will help to know how to reinstall the pieces after painting.

The kitchen will collect grime even in unsuspecting places.

Similarly, you’ll find grease, smoke, dust, and food particles on the cabinets.

As a result, the thin dirt coating will prevent the paint and primer from adhering to the cabinets.

Use a strong degreaser and clean the cabinets thoroughly. Also, wipe off any remaining cleaner and let the surface dry.

Fill scratches and holes in the cabinet with high-quality filler. Please be thorough to guarantee a smooth finish.

Sand the surface after filling all indentations. Use 100-150 grit sandpaper.

The exercise has a two-fold purpose. First, you’ll be smoothing the wood filler and other raised imperfections.

Moreover, you will break through the original finish. Otherwise, a smooth glaze or varnish will prevent the paint from sticking to the surface.

So, sanding will guarantee a long-lasting finish.

Finally, sanding leaves fine wood particles on the surface. Hence, wipe it again and use a dry brush to clear the corners.

  • Choose Lacquer Paint

Lacquer paint gives the smoothest and most durable surface to kitchen cabinets. However, it only works if you have a sprayer.

The other point to note is the formula’s drying time. It dries too fast for you to brush it.

  • Use a Good Primer

Another step to guarantee a smooth finish is using an excellent high-quality primer.

The formula acts as a bonder and grips the cabinets and the paint. As a result, you deliver a smooth and durable finish.

In addition, a primer blocks existing surface colors, necessitating fewer paint coats.

Ensure that the chosen primer is compatible with the paint. Fortunately, most primers work well with oil-based and latex paints.

Lightly sand the cabinets with 120-grit sandpaper after the primer dries. Then, wipe them clean.

  • Use a Paint Sprayer

A paint sprayer delivers a smooth, professional finish with minimal hassle.

Spraying the surface also eliminates brush marks and provides a uniform paint coat.

Fortunately, you can rent a paint sprayer from a home improvement store or woodworking hardware.

However, spraying existing cabinets has an overspray risk, meaning you’ll have to cover surrounding areas.

Otherwise, you might end up with a paint coat on everything.

  • Purchase A High-Quality Paintbrush and Foam Roller

Quality matters when you are painting kitchen cabinets. Sub-par accessories will give sub-par results.

Therefore, choose wisely when painting cabinets with a brush and roller.

A narrower paintbrush is a better choice, whereas an angled cutting brush helps to cover corners.

Also, get a foam roller with high ratings recommended for a smooth finish.

  • Apply With a Brush and Finish with a Roller

The paintbrush and roller work together to give a smooth, flawless surface.

Apply the paint in smooth and uniform strokes. Then, roll over it with a foam roller to smooth the finish.

This way, you will remove any brushstrokes.

  • Use Thin, Even, Multiple Coats

More is not better in the painting world. Further, applying more paint at once results in a poor paint job.

In addition, excess paint drips and does not dry properly.

Therefore, apply the paint in thin, uniform coats. Also, allow each coat to dry well before adding another.

  • Sand Lightly Between Coats

Your paint finish will benefit from gentle sanding, even if it looks smooth.

Minor imperfections are hardly noticeable but will stand out after the paint dries.

Let the paint dry, then sand it with 220-grit sandpaper. Also, wipe it before applying the next layer.

Should I sand Between Coats of Primer?

You don’t need to sand between primer layers as the formula has suitable adhesives.

Thus, each coating adheres well to the existing one without sanding.

But lightly sanding between primer coats is advisable when working with an oil-based primer.

Oil-based primers dry slowly and absorb dirt.

Further, dust and debris fall and stick on the wet oil-based primer.

Then, the particles dry with the project and compromise the outcome.

So, sanding the existing coat allows the next one to sit well.

Fortunately, oil-based primers deliver good coverage thanks to their thick nature. Therefore, you do not need many layers for a good finish.

Besides, one coat is enough in most cases.

On the other hand, a water-based primer dries quickly and does not allow dirt to settle. Hence, you do not need to sand between coats.

The formula features a textured finish, allowing the next coat to adhere properly.

However, sanding between coats is prudent when working in a dusty area like a construction site.

How Long Should Primer Dry on Cabinets? 

Water-based primers need around 30 minutes to dry. But waiting three or more hours before adding the paint coat is safer.

In addition, woodworking experts recommend giving the project 12 to 24 hours of drying time.

Conversely, oil-based formulas need about 24 hours to dry.

You can touch the finish before the day ends and not observe a tacky residue.

However, please wait until the surface dries completely to avoid damaging the paint job.

Besides, the second primer coat prepares the surface for colored paint.

Therefore, adhere to the manufacturer’s drying time for a successful project.

Generally, apply a thin primer layer, regardless of your chosen primer. Also, you may need multiple coats, depending on the workpiece.

Lastly, consider a sprayer for your project. It automizes the primer and ensures you apply a small layer.

Should I Sand Primer Before Painting Cabinets?

You do not need to sand primer before painting your cabinets.

Further, primers are preparatory products used on bare surfaces before applying paints or finishes. 

The product also has adhesives allowing it to stick virtually to the workpiece.

However, ensure that the cabinet is dry and in good condition to guarantee the best result.

In addition, you can apply a primer without sanding as long as the surface is dry and uniform.

Although you do not need to sand the cabinets after applying a primer, the exercise increases the chances of a smooth finish.

Frequently Asked Questions

 Some of the questions are:

  • How Much Do I Need to Paint Kitchen Cabinets?

Renovating kitchen cabinets is a pricey remodeling project. Moreover, replacing them is nearly 40% of the total renovation cost.

Cabinets in a ten by 12-foot kitchen top $5,000. And the new cabinets may be lower quality than the ones you are replacing.

Fortunately, fresh paint coats contribute significantly toward the transformation journey. Yet you only need a fraction of the above price.

The painting cost is less than $200 plus a weekend or two.

  • Should I Paint My Cabinets?

Examine your cabinets to confirm that they need resuscitation before going to the paint store.

Unfortunately, even the highest quality painting project cannot revive old, frail, cheap cabinets.

Thin veneers delaminate or peel, hanging rails become loose, and shelves or particleboard cabinet bottoms sag and break.

If the above is the case, you are better off replacing, not painting, the kitchen cabinets.

However, paint the cabinets if everything is in good shape and working order.

  • What Type of Paint Do I Need for Cabinets?

Oil and latex-based paints will deliver a high-quality finish. 

However, ensure you use a latex product with 100% acrylic formulation for long-lasting results.

In addition, you will get better adhesion attributes.

Latex paints dry quickly and are easy to clean with soap and water. They are also more eco-friendly than oil-based products.

On the other hand, oil-based topcoats deliver a more rigid and longer-lasting paint finish. They also level up to a smoother surface.

Latex formulas also take longer to dry, usually up to three weeks. But in the meantime, they are vulnerable to damage.

  • Can I Just Paint Over Cabinets, or Should I Strip Them?

Strip the surface when the existing finish is a clear coat. This way, you eliminate potential adhesion problems.

However, although the strategy is ideal for purists, it is not always necessary or practical.

You will still deliver a successful project by thoroughly cleaning and lightly sanding the surface.

  • Should I Use Regular or Faux Finish for My Cabinets?

Incorporating a faux finish into your cabinet project can transform it into a rustic, provincial, shabby, chic, or modern style.

The crackling glaze gives the surface a weathered appearance with minimal effort.

Apply the glaze over a dry base layer and brush it in one direction. Then, allow it to dry thoroughly.

Finish with a flat layer. Brush it on perpendicular to the glaze. As a result, the paint will form cracks as it dries.

Alternatively, you can go for the distressed look. It does not need special paint.

The finish consists of spattered dark paint and layered colors. Then, the paint dries to reveal the underneath colors.

Also, distress the paint coat by hitting it with a chain. Next, lightly sand the cabinet areas exposed to regular use.

You can achieve an antique, slowly aged look with some paint creativity and magic.

Dip the paintbrush’s tip in a lighter color and dab the excess on a rug.

Then, wait till the brush is almost dry and graze the trim, seams, and corners.

Finally, you can opt for a high-gloss finish. It transforms your cabinets into polished and modern structures.

Paint a high-gloss clear acrylic formula over the final coat. This way, you add depth to the existing color and deliver a glossy sheen.

  • What Happens If I Don’t Sand Between Coats of Primer?

Nothing will happen if you don’t want sand between primer coats, except you have an oil-based formula.

The primers dry slowly and thus absorb dirt while drying. In addition, the finish may become bumpy.

Therefore, it is prudent to sand between layers to deliver a smooth, professional finish.

Primer paints also feature adhesives allowing them to adhere virtually to any surface. Thus, the product will still adhere well.

  • How Many Coats of Primer is Too Much?

Ideally, you do not need more than two primer coats, but how you apply them is more important.

For instance, the formula will crack, peel, bubble, and not dry properly if you use too thick and many layers.

Unfortunately, the paint will not conceal these blemishes. Therefore, sand the surface or remove the primer when you apply too much.

  • How Soon Can I Paint Over Primer?

Patience is vital when you’re about finish your project.

Before adding a topcoat, wait until the primer dries to the touch. Otherwise, you compromise the project’s success.

Generally, wait for 24 hours before top coating a primer finish. But you can check if the primer is dry if 24 hours is too long.

Start painting if the surface does not feel tacky or sticky.

  • What Happens if I Don’t Paint Over Primer?

The answer is a big no-no!

You may want to leave the primer without a paint coat, especially if you plan on a white finish.

But primer is not a topcoat. Moreover, it will soon become yellow, and you won’t get the desired finish.

In addition, unlike paint, a primer does not seal a surface from moisture. Thus, the surface with stain if it contacts any leaks.

  • What Paint Finish Do I Use on Bathroom Cabinets?

Bathroom cabinets are in high moisture and traffic area. Thus, using a weatherproof finish is advisable. 

For example, consider a semi-gloss paint finish. It is easy to clean and long-lasting.

Also, you can use the product anywhere in your bathroom, from the trim to the walls.


Priming your wood cabinets is crucial in a painting project.

It allows the paint to adhere better and more uniformly across the surface.

Further, a primer keeps the paint from chipping and peeling off easily. But most woodworkers wonder:

How Many Coats of Primer on Cabinets?

Wood cabinets need two primer coats unless the product label explicitly claims to work in one coat.

In addition, unfinished lumber is highly absorbent and needs a thick coating before painting.

Image of a woodworker wearing hearing protectors for woodworking

Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.