kitchen cabinets painted white under a black countertop

How to Paint Previously Varnished Kitchen Cabinets

Answers to pro painters’ most pressing questions by Rick Watson

What is the best way to prepare varnished kitchen cabinets to be painted over with latex finish paint? Is sanding and undercoating with shellac sufficient?

After removing the hardware, I would recommend thoroughly cleaning the cabinets to remove all greases and oils that normally build up on kitchen cabinetry over time. Once cleaned, I would apply a test sample of Extreme Bond Primer in an inconspicuous area.

Testing tips

After preparing the surface, apply a test area of Extreme Bond, allow to dry properly and test for adhesion. Because of the exceptional adhesion of this product, sanding may not be necessary for most clean, paintable surfaces.

Once you have established good bonding, you can prime the entire surface. Keep in mind that any surface prep short of the total removal of the existing coating may compromise the service length of the system used.

A quality wood filler/putty should be used to patch holes or imperfections in the surface. Shellac-based primers are not normally necessary unless you are working on a fire restoration project.

Topcoat selection

Since you wanted a latex finish, I would recommend ProClassic® Interior Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd Enamel Semi-Gloss coating or Pro Industrial™ Water Based Alkyd Urethane.

The ProClassic product has excellent flow and leveling characteristics for a smooth and durable finish on cabinets, doors and trim.

Pro Industrial Water Based Alkyd Urethane is a premium quality interior/exterior enamel formulated with a urethane modified alkyd resin system. This provides for a harder, durable and higher performing finish.

As with any paint project I recommend clean, dry, dull and sound. And with any surface prep I must include the following warning.

Important! Read this before you prep

WARNING! Removal of old paint by sanding, scraping or other means may generate dust or fumes that contain lead. Exposure to lead dust or fumes may cause brain damage or other adverse health effects, especially in children or pregnant women. Controlling exposure to lead or other hazardous substances requires the use of proper protective equipment, such as a properly fitted respirator (NIOSH approved) and proper containment and cleanup.

For more information, call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (in the US) or contact your local health authority. Removal must be done in accordance with EPA Renovation, Repair and Painting rule or similar state regulation.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of PPC magazine. Rick Watson, director of Product Information and Technical Services at Sherwin-Williams, answers questions from pro painters in the Ask Your ProPartner™ column in PPC magazine.

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