How to Clean Cabinets Before Painting: The Ultimate Guide for a Flawless Finish

Bob Thomas


Are you planning to give your cabinets a fresh, new look with a coat of paint? 

Before you dive in with your paintbrush, it's essential to prep your cabinets properly.

A critical step in this process is cleaning them to ensure a smooth and lasting finish.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk you through the steps to clean your cabinets before painting, so you get professional-looking results.

Quick Summary

  • Gather necessary cleaning materials
  • Remove hardware and doors
  • Clean the surfaces with a trisodium phosphate (TSP) solution
  • Rinse the cabinets with water
  • Sand the surfaces
  • Vacuum and wipe down the cabinets
  • Gather Necessary Cleaning Materials

Before starting, gather the following materials:


Trisodium phosphate (TSP)

A powerful cleaning agent used to remove grease, grime, and dirt, ensuring a clean surface for paint adhesion.


To mix the TSP solution and hold water for rinsing.

Warm water

Used in combination with TSP for creating the cleaning solution and for rinsing the cabinets.

Rubber gloves

To protect your hands from the TSP solution and any chemicals during the cleaning process.

Sponge or cloth

For applying the TSP solution to the cabinets and wiping them clean.

Sandpaper (120-150 grit)

To smooth the cabinet surfaces, remove any remaining dirt, and promote better paint adhesion.

Vacuum cleaner

To remove dust and debris from the cabinets after sanding.

Tack cloth or microfiber cloth

To wipe down the cabinets after vacuuming, ensuring they are completely dust-free before painting.

Remove Hardware and Doors

First, remove all the hardware from the cabinets, including handles, knobs, and hinges. Keep the hardware and screws in a safe place, so you don't lose them. Next, remove the

cabinet doors and drawers, making sure to label them to make reassembly easier later on.

Clean the Surfaces with a Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) Solution

Mix a TSP solution according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Generally, this will involve adding a small amount of TSP to a bucket of warm water. Make sure to wear rubber gloves to protect your hands while working with TSP.

Dip a sponge or cloth into the TSP solution and thoroughly clean all the cabinet surfaces, including doors, drawers, and frames.

The TSP solution will help remove grease, grime, and other contaminants that may prevent the paint from adhering properly.

Rinse the Cabinets with Water

After cleaning the surfaces with the TSP solution, rinse them with clean water to remove any residue.

Use a clean, damp cloth or sponge to wipe down the surfaces and ensure all traces of the TSP solution are gone.

Allow the cabinets to air dry completely before proceeding to the next step.

Sand the Surfaces

To create a smooth and even surface for painting, lightly sand all cabinet surfaces with 120-150 grit sandpaper.

This step will also help remove any remaining dirt or grime and promote better paint adhesion. Be sure to sand in the direction of the wood grain to avoid scratches.

Vacuum and Wipe Down the Cabinets

Once you've sanded the cabinets, use a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment to remove dust and debris from the surfaces.

After vacuuming, use a tack cloth or a slightly damp microfiber cloth to wipe down the surfaces, ensuring they are completely dust-free.

With your cabinets now thoroughly cleaned, you're ready to proceed with priming and painting for a flawless finish.

By following these steps, you'll create the ideal surface for your paint to adhere to, resulting in a professional-looking paint job that lasts for years to come.

Prime the Cabinets

Before you start painting, apply a high-quality primer to the cabinet surfaces.

Priming helps to create a better bond between the paint and the cabinets, ensuring a smooth and durable finish.

Choose a primer that is appropriate for the type of paint you will be using (e.g., water-based or oil-based).

Apply the primer using a brush, roller, or paint sprayer. Make sure to cover all surfaces evenly, including the edges and any grooves.

Allow the primer to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Choose the Right Paint

Select a paint specifically designed for cabinets or furniture.

These types of paint are more durable and provide a smoother finish.

You can choose from various sheens, such as satin, semi-gloss, or gloss, depending on your preference.

Paint the Cabinets

Stir the paint thoroughly before applying it to the cabinets.

Use a high-quality brush, roller, or paint sprayer to apply the paint in thin, even coats.

Start with the cabinet frames, followed by the doors and drawers.

Allow the paint to dry for the recommended time between coats.

Most cabinets will require at least two coats for full coverage, but you may need additional coats depending on the color and type of paint you are using.

Lightly sand between coats using a fine-grit sandpaper (220-320 grit) to ensure a smooth finish.

Be sure to wipe away any sanding dust with a tack cloth or microfiber cloth before applying the next coat of paint.

Allow the final coat of paint to dry completely, as per the manufacturer's instructions.

This could take anywhere from a few hours to a full day, depending on the paint type and humidity levels.

Reassemble and Reinstall Hardware

After the paint has completely dried, it's time to reassemble the cabinets. Attach the hardware back to the doors and drawers.

Carefully reinstall the doors and drawers back onto the cabinet frames, ensuring that they are properly aligned and functional.

Protect Your Newly Painted Cabinets

To keep your cabinets looking fresh and new, protect them from everyday wear and tear.

Avoid using abrasive cleaners, and wipe up spills promptly to prevent staining or damage to the paint.

Regularly clean the surfaces with a gentle cleaner and soft cloth to remove dirt and grime.

By following this ultimate guide for cleaning and painting your cabinets, you'll achieve a flawless finish that revitalizes your space.

Maintaining Your Painted Cabinets

Keeping your cabinets looking their best doesn't require a lot of effort, but regular maintenance will go a long way in preserving their appearance.

Here are some tips to help you maintain your freshly painted cabinets:

  1. Regularly clean: Wipe down your cabinets with a soft cloth and gentle cleaner at least once a week. This will help remove dust, grease, and grime that can accumulate over time and mar the finish.
  2. Avoid direct sunlight: Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can cause your paint to fade or become discolored. If possible, use window treatments to limit direct sunlight on your cabinets.
  3. Use felt pads: Apply felt pads or soft bumpers to the inside of doors and drawers to prevent chipping or scratching when they close.
  4. Address chips or scratches: If you notice any chips or scratches on your painted cabinets, touch them up with matching paint as soon as possible to prevent further damage.
  5. Be mindful of moisture: Kitchens and bathrooms are prone to humidity and moisture, which can damage your painted cabinets. Ensure proper ventilation in these areas and wipe away any condensation that forms on your cabinets.

Frequently Asked Questions Section (FAQs)

Q: Why is cleaning cabinets before painting so important?

  A: Cleaning cabinets before painting is crucial because it removes grease, grime, and other contaminants that could prevent the paint from adhering properly.

A clean surface also ensures a smooth and even finish, resulting in a professional-looking paint job.

Q: What alternatives can I use if I don't have trisodium phosphate (TSP) to clean my cabinets?

  A: If you don't have TSP, you can use a mixture of warm water and a mild detergent or a vinegar and water solution as an alternative.

However, TSP is more effective at removing stubborn grease and grime and is recommended for the best results.

Q: How can I determine if my cabinets are clean enough for painting?

  A: After cleaning and rinsing your cabinets, inspect them for any remaining dirt, grease, or grime.

The surface should be free of visible contaminants and feel smooth to the touch. If you still notice any residue, repeat the cleaning process until the surface is completely clean.

Q: Can I paint over my cabinets without cleaning them first?

  A: While it's possible to paint over unclean cabinets, it's not recommended.

Failing to clean your cabinets properly before painting may result in poor paint adhesion, an uneven finish, or the paint peeling off over time.

Q: How do I clean cabinets with intricate details or grooves before painting?

  A: To clean cabinets with intricate details or grooves, use a small brush, toothbrush, or cotton swabs dipped in the TSP solution to reach into the crevices and remove dirt and grime.

Be sure to rinse these areas thoroughly with clean water and allow them to air dry completely before proceeding to the next step.

You may need to repeat this process multiple times to ensure all the dirt and grime is removed from the detailed areas.

Q: Should I clean the inside of my cabinets as well before painting?

  A: While the focus of this guide is on cleaning the exterior surfaces of your cabinets before painting, it's a good idea to clean the interiors as well.

This will ensure a cohesive and thorough refresh of your cabinets.

Follow the same cleaning steps as you would for the exteriors, making sure to remove any dirt, grease, and grime.

Q: Can I paint my cabinets without sanding them after cleaning?

  A: Although some paint products claim to adhere well without sanding, it's still recommended to sand your cabinets lightly after cleaning.

Sanding helps to create a smoother surface and promotes better paint adhesion, ensuring a lasting and professional-looking finish.

Q: Do I need to clean and sand the cabinet hardware before reinstalling it?

  A: It's a good idea to clean and, if necessary, sand your cabinet hardware before reinstalling it.

This will help ensure a consistent, clean appearance across your cabinets and hardware.

If your hardware is particularly tarnished or worn, consider replacing it with new hardware to complement your freshly painted cabinets.


In conclusion, proper cleaning and preparation of your cabinets before painting is crucial for achieving a flawless and long-lasting finish.

By following this ultimate guide, you'll ensure that your cabinets are primed for success, resulting in a professional-looking paint job that will transform your space.

Remember to maintain your painted cabinets regularly and address any issues promptly to keep them looking fresh and new for years to come. 

About the author 

Bob Thomas

A fully certified interior decorator and house painter , Bob Thomas brings immense expertise and knowledge amassed from many years of hands-on experience with residential, commercial and specialty painting and decorating projects of all sizes and scopes.

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