What Happens If You Don’t Sand Cabinets Before Painting?

Cabinet painting is more than just a way to change the color of your kitchen or bathroom cabinets. It’s a method to breathe new life into a room, to give it a fresh face without the cost of replacing the cabinets. But like any good story, there’s a twist in the tale. The debate over whether to sand the cabinets before painting them has DIY enthusiasts and professionals alike scratching their heads. Let’s dive into this intriguing surface preparation, techniques, and home improvement world.

Why Sanding Matters: The Role of Sanding in Painting Cabinets

Sanding is often seen as the unsung hero of painting projects. It’s the step that many want to skip, yet it holds the key to a smooth and lasting finish. But why does sanding matter so much?

  1. Smooth Finish: Sanding removes imperfections and creates a smooth surface. It’s like smoothing out the wrinkles in a bedsheet before tucking it in. The paint adheres better, and the final appearance is sleek and polished.
  2. Paint Adhesion: Imagine trying to paint over a layer of dust. It would be a mess, right? Sanding removes old paint, dirt, and grease, allowing the new paint to bond directly to the surface. It’s the handshake between the paint and the wood, ensuring they work harmoniously.
  3. Durability: A house built on sand won’t stand, but a cabinet sanded before painting will. Sanding ensures that the paint sticks long, resisting peeling and chipping. It’s the foundation that ensures your hard work stands the test of time.
  4. Common Misconceptions: Some believe sanding is an optional step, a mere suggestion in the painting process. But the truth is, skipping this step is like skipping breakfast; you might get by, but you’ll miss out on something essential.

Techniques and Tools

Sanding isn’t just about rubbing sandpaper against wood. It’s an art, with various techniques and tools to master:

  • Grit Selection: Different surfaces require different grits. A thorough sanding with 120-grit paper and a final pass with 220-grit is often recommended.
  • Sanding Blocks and Tools: The tools you choose can make or break the process from sanding blocks to electric sanders. Knowing when and how to use them is the key to a perfect finish.
  • Medium-Density Fiberboard (MDF) Sanding: Not just solid wood, but MDF can also be sanded. The process might differ, but the goal remains a smooth surface ready for painting.

The Road Less Traveled: Painting Without Sanding

But wait, there’s a plot twist! Some argue that sanding isn’t always necessary. It’s a less-traveled road that might lead to the same destination. Here’s how:

  • When to Skip Sanding: If you’re painting raw, genuine wood cabinets or changing from one newly painted surface to another, you might get by without sanding.
  • Prep Work: If you choose not to sand, you’ll need to use mineral spirits and a rough sponge to clean and lightly rough up the area. It won’t open up the wood as much as sanding but will provide some grip for the primer.
  • Cabinet Painting Kits: Some commercial kits contain a de-glosser to remove older coats of paint, eliminating the need to sand or prime surfaces that are already finished.
  • Quality of Paint: The better you buy, the better your results will be. Look for formulas with high percentages of titanium dioxide pigment, moisture, and mildew-resistant paint.
  • Risks: Skipping sanding might save time, but it’s a gamble. If the cabinets are damaged or have peeling paint or shiny surfaces, you’ll probably need to sand to help the new paint bond better lightly.

Sanding vs. No Sanding: Comparing the Effects on Different Materials

The debate between sanding and not sanding before painting cabinets is akin to a culinary debate over the best way to cook a steak. Both methods have their proponents and detractors, and the choice often boils down to personal preference and the specific materials involved.

Effects on Different Materials


  • Sanding: Oak, with its strong grain pattern, benefits greatly from sanding. It smoothens the surface and allows the paint to penetrate deeper, ensuring a lasting finish.
  • No Sanding: Oak’s rough texture might lead to an uneven finish. The paint might also not adhere, leading to potential peeling or chipping over time.


  • Sanding: Laminate surfaces are often slick and require sanding to create a surface to which the paint can adhere. It’s like giving the paint something to hold onto.
  • No Sanding: Without sanding, painting laminate can be a slippery slope. The paint might not bond well, leading to a less durable finish that might wear off quickly.

Varnished Cabinets

  • Sanding: Varnished cabinets often require sanding to remove the glossy finish. It’s like taking off a suit before jumping into the pool; it allows the paint to bond directly with the wood.
  • No Sanding: If not sanded, varnished surfaces might reject the paint, leading to uneven finish and lacking durability. However, using a liquid sander or deglosser can sometimes replace the need for physical sanding.

Pros and Cons

  • Sanding Pros: Better adhesion, smoother finish, increased durability.
  • Sanding Cons: Time-consuming, creates dust, requires tools and expertise.
  • No Sanding Pros: Faster, less messy, suitable for certain materials with proper preparation.
  • No Sanding Cons: Risk of peeling or chipping, uneven finish, might require special products like deglossers or bonding primers.

Expert Opinions

  • Sanding Advocates: Many professionals swear by sanding, considering it essential for a professional finish, especially on materials like oak and varnished surfaces.
  • No Sanding Advocates: Some experts argue that with proper cleaning, degassing, and priming, sanding can be skipped, especially on laminate surfaces or when using specific painting kits.

Priming and Sanding: A Comprehensive Guide

Primer is like the opening act of a concert, setting the stage for the main event. It creates a uniform surface, covers imperfections, and ensures the paint adheres well. It’s the unsung hero of the painting process, working behind the scenes to ensure a flawless finish.

When to Sand

  • Before Priming: Sanding before priming ensures that the primer adheres well. It’s like preparing the soil before planting; it creates the perfect environment for growth.
  • After Priming: Sometimes, a light sanding after priming is done to smooth out any imperfections and create a perfect canvas for the paint.

Effects of Not Priming Before Painting

Skipping primer is like skipping the warm-up before a workout; you might get by but risk injury. Without priming:

  • Poor Adhesion: The paint might not stick well, leading to peeling or chipping.
  • Uneven Appearance: The paint might look blotchy or uneven without the uniform base that primer provides.
  • Increased Material Use: You might need more coats of paint to achieve the desired color and finish, as the primer also acts as a barrier to prevent the underlying color from showing through.

Expert Tips

  • Choosing the Right Primer: Not all primers are created equal. Look for bonding primers designed for cabinets containing resins that create a strong bond between the paint and the surface.
  • Cleaning and Deglossing: If you choose not to sand, proper cleaning, degassing, and using a quality bonding primer are key to a successful finish.
  • Quality of Paint: Pairing a good primer with high-quality paint ensures a beautiful and durable finish.

Painting Over Cabinets Without Sanding: Techniques, Risks, and Solutions

Painting your kitchen cabinets can transform the entire look of your kitchen. But the traditional sanding, priming, and painting method can be messy and time-consuming. What if there’s a way to paint your cabinets without sanding?

Techniques: An Easier Way to Paint

The traditional method of painting cabinets involves stripping, sanding, and priming. But now, with products like DecoArt’s Satin Enamel paints, you can skip the sanding altogether. Here’s the step-by-step process:

  1. Clean cabinet doors: Use a good degreaser like Krud Kutter.
  2. Prime cabinet doors (if needed): Not all cabinets need priming with Satin Enamels.
  3. Paint cabinet door fronts: Paint while hanging to save space.
  4. Remove cabinet doors: Label them clearly before removing.
  5. Clean, prime, and paint frames: Repeat the same process as with the doors.
  6. Paint edges of cabinet doors: Ensure the paint is dry on the frame and doors.
  7. Reattach doors: Once everything is dry, rehang your doors.

The key to this process is the paint’s consistency and drying time, allowing you to work on the doors in place without sanding. The paint holds its shape while wet, goes on smooth, and has the perfect drying time.

Risks: What Could Go Wrong?

While this method sounds great, it’s not without risks. Here’s what you need to be cautious about:

  • Choosing the Right Paint: This process works best with DecoArt Satin Enamel paint. Using regular latex or oil-based paint without sanding might lead to problems.
  • Drips and Uneven Application: Though Satin Enamel paint holds its shape, you still need to apply it evenly and look for corners where paint can build up.
  • Hinges and Hardware: If you’re buying new hinges, ensure they are the same size and shape as the old ones. Small differences can lead to big problems.

Solutions: Tips for Success

Here are some tips to ensure a successful no-sand painting project:

  • Use the Right Products: DecoArt Satin Enamel Paint and Zinsser BIN Advanced Primer are recommended.
  • Label Everything: Label your doors and hinges clearly to avoid confusion later.
  • Be Patient with Drying Time: Allow the paint to dry enough to avoid sticking.
  • Choose the Right Color: Mix colors from the available line to get the desired shade.
  • Consider Laminate Cabinets: If you have laminate cabinets, check out specific guides on painting them without sanding.

Best Paint for Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding: Recommendations and Product Brands

Choosing the right paint is crucial when painting kitchen cabinets, especially if you skip the sanding process. Let’s explore the best paints and brands for kitchen cabinets without sanding, application tips, and user reviews.

Best Paints and Brands

  1. DecoArt Satin Enamel Paint: This paint is specifically formulated to adhere well to wood without sanding. It’s available in various colors, and you can mix them to achieve the desired shade.
  2. Zinsser BIN Advanced Primer: If priming is needed, this primer does an excellent job of stain-blocking and dries in 45 minutes.

These products are recommended for their consistency, drying time, and ability to adhere without sanding. They can be found online or at craft/hobby stores.

Application Tips

  • Clean Well: Use a degreaser like Krud Kutter to remove grease buildup.
  • Prime if Needed: Not all cabinets need priming, but old or stained wood might benefit.
  • Use the Right Tools: A mohair roller and soft paintbrush are recommended for a smooth finish.
  • Avoid Drips: Apply the paint evenly and watch for buildup in corners.
  • Label Doors and Hinges: This will save you confusion later.

User Reviews and Feedback

The feedback from users who have tried painting without sanding is generally positive. Many appreciate the time saved and the ease of the process. The key to success seems to be choosing the right products and following the proper techniques.

Grit Considerations: What Grit to Use If You Decide to Sand Cabinets Before Painting?

Sanding cabinets before painting is a common practice that ensures a smooth finish and better paint adhesion. But what grit should you use? The choice of grit can make or break your project. Let’s explore the different grit types, how to select the right one, and the effects on the finish.

Grit Types: Understanding the Basics

Sandpaper comes in various grits, ranging from coarse to fine. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Coarse (40-60 grit): Ideal for removing old paint or varnish.
  • Medium (80-120 grit): Suitable for smoothing out scratches and evening the surface.
  • Fine (150-180 grit): Perfect for final smoothing before painting.
  • Very Fine (220-240 grit): Used for light sanding between coats of paint.

Selection Guide: Choosing the Right Grit

Choosing the right grit depends on the condition of your cabinets and the desired finish. Here’s a guide:

  • Removing Old Paint or Varnish: Start with coarse grit (40-60) and work to medium (80-120).
  • Smoothing Scratches: Medium grit (80-120) is your best bet if the surface has scratches.
  • Final Smoothing: Use fine grit (150-180) for a smooth surface before painting.
  • Between Coats: If sanding between coats, very fine grit (220-240) ensures a sleek finish.

Effects on Finish: What to Expect

The grit you choose will significantly impact the final look:

  • Coarse Grit: Can leave noticeable scratches if not followed by finer grit.
  • Medium Grit: Provides a smooth surface but might still need fine grit for a perfect finish.
  • Fine Grit: Offers a sleek surface ready for painting.
  • Very Fine Grit: Gives a polished look, especially between coats.

Expert Recommendations

  • Always Start Coarse: If in doubt, start with a coarser grit and work your way finer.
  • Check the Surface: Feel the surface with your hand to ensure it’s smooth enough for painting.
  • Don’t Skip Grits: Gradually move from coarse to fine; skipping can lead to uneven surfaces.

Practical Tips and Tricks for Cabinet Painting

Cabinet painting is a popular DIY project that can transform your kitchen or bathroom. But it can be tricky if you don’t know the ins and outs. Here’s a hands-on guide with practical tips and tricks for a successful cabinet painting project.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Remove Doors and Hardware: Label everything to avoid confusion later.
  2. Clean the Surface: Use a degreaser to remove grease and grime.
  3. Sand if Needed: Choose the right grit as discussed earlier.
  4. Prime the Surface: Use a stain-blocking primer if needed.
  5. Paint the Cabinets: Apply thin, even coats, allowing drying time between.
  6. Reassemble Everything: Once dry, reattach doors and hardware.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Rushing the Process: Allow enough drying time between coats.
  • Skipping Sanding or Priming: Don’t skip these steps if needed, or the paint may not adhere well.
  • Using the Wrong Tools: Invest in quality brushes and rollers for a smooth finish.

Expert Tips

  • Use Additives: To reduce brush strokes, Floetrol can be added to latex paint.
  • Test the Color: Always test the paint color in the actual lighting of the room.
  • Watch Video Tutorials: Platforms like YouTube have excellent tutorials from professionals.

Popular Paints and Tools

When painting cabinets, the right tools and products can make all the difference. The market offers many options, from brushes for touch-ups to comprehensive refinishing kits. Let’s delve into an in-depth analysis of some top-rated products, user reviews, and expert analysis to guide your buying decisions.

Cabinet Touch Up Brushes

brush for painting

Price: $31.99

Description: This set of 15 brushes in various sizes is designed specifically for cabinet touch-ups. It includes flat, round, angle, filber, liner, fan, and glaze brushes packed in a carry case with a pop-up stand.

Anti-Shedding Synthetic Nylon: Ensures durability and longevity.

Easy Care & Reshape: Simply clean with warm water and reshape the brush tip.

Super Versatility: Suitable for all-purpose painting needs.

Source: https://paintlifesupply.com/products/cabinet-touch-up-brushes

Fusion KITCHEN REFINISHING KIT for Light Colours

paint refinishing kit

Price: $168.90

Description: This all-in-one kit is designed for those looking to paint their kitchen cabinets in light colors. It includes a prep kit, roller set, pointed sash, two Fusion pints in the color of your choice, Tough Coat in Matte, and an applicator sponge.

Non-Yellowing Tough Coat: Ensures a lasting finish.

Easy Application: Comes with a roller and brush for convenience.

Comprehensive Guide: Includes prep instructions and helpful blog posts.


Furniture & Cabinetry Glazing Cream

paint for furniture

Price: $34.97

Description: This water-based, slow-drying, translucent glaze is designed for sheer application on furniture and cabinetry. It offers excellent durability and fluid patterns.

Lower Viscosity: Allows for sheerer application.

Advanced Effects: Provides more fluid patterns and effects.

Quart Coverage: 10-200 sq. ft./quart.

Source: https://shop.artisticpaintingstudio.com/products/mm-furn-cab-glazing-cream

Final Thoughts

Cabinet painting is an art that requires careful planning, the right techniques, and quality products. Understanding the importance of sanding and exploring the world of no-sand painting are essential topics. This comprehensive guide offers everything you need to transform your cabinets, whether you’re a seasoned DIYer or just starting. Remember, a thousand-mile journey begins with a single step, and a paintbrush is the key to making your cabinets shine.