An honest review of how our painted cabinets are holding up after two years, along with tips for what we would do differently next time.
Two and a half years ago, I painted our oak kitchen cabinets white and it completely transformed our kitchen.
I shared all of the details about the process I used to get a perfectly smooth paint finish even with deep wood grain of our oak cabinets.
Painting our kitchen cabinets was time-consuming, but it was so worth it. When I finished, the cabinets looked beautiful and fresh again and the entire room looked lighter and brighter.
Fast forward to today.
Now that a few years have passed, I’ve been getting tons of questions from readers about how our painted cabinets are holding up, and decided it was definitely time for a full update.
I’ll be answering all your questions about how our painted cabinets look today and what I would do differently if I were starting this whole process again.
If you are considering painting your cabinets but are questioning how the painted finish will last, hopefully this post will help.
And yes, I will be sharing a completely honest update so you can have all of the info you need before tackling this project in your own home.
Along those lines, I want to note that all of the photos in this post are current photos of our kitchen, taken just this week. So what you see here, good and bad, is exactly how our cabinets truly look after 2.5 years.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission but it won’t cost you a penny more. Click here to see my full disclosure policy
How have your painted cabinets held up?
Let’s be real, this is the big question everyone is wondering about.
Our painted kitchen cabinets looked beautiful when they were finished, but how do they look now?
I know that when anyone paints their cabinets, their biggest fear is that the beautiful paint finish will quickly turn into a peeling, chipping mess.
At first glance, our white cabinets still look beautiful and I would love to be able to say that our cabinets look just as flawless as they did when I finished painting them 2.5 years ago.
Sadly that is not the case.
While the cabinets still look great as a whole, when you look a little more closely, you can see there are noticeable flaws in the finish.
There are several small places where the paint has chipped and the wood beneath can be seen peeking through.
In particular, this seems to have happened around four of the cabinet knobs.
It appears as though when grabbing the knobs, fingernails have lightly scratched away the paint on some of the most used cabinets.
There are also some small chips along the edges of a couple of doors.
Again, it appears as though the paint has been scratched as the cabinets were opened.
To be fair, it has been over two years since I originally painted these cabinets, so a small amount of wear and tear isn’t a total surprise, especially with our active family.
Even so, the cabinets are considerably more dinged up than I had hoped they would be at this point.
What caused the paint to chip?
I’ve tried to be objective in figuring out why the paint on our cabinets hasn’t held up as expected.
Was it the paint itself? Was the spackle I used to smooth the wood grain a problem?
Was my method of cleaning the painted cabinets too abrasive? Is my family just really rough on our home?
I don’t believe this was caused by my family being too rough. We do have three small boys and these cabinets have put up with lots of spills and stains and hard knocks from toys and dishes.
But because most of the scratches are centered around the hardware, it doesn’t seem like they were caused by hard use.
While my kids do occasionally bang the cabinets and hit them with toys, those small areas are somewhat protected by the hardware sticking out and are really only touched when cabinets are being opened.
For the same reason, I don’t think my cleaning method is to blame.
I wipe these cabinets down often and I certainly don’t clean them around the hardware and edges more than anywhere else.
I also don’t believe my method of using spackle to fill in the wood grain before painting is to blame.
I didn’t use any spackle on the edges of the cabinet doors because I wasn’t concerned with the wood grain being perfectly smooth there. Even so, these areas are also scratched.
In the end, I believe the paint itself was probably the weak link. I used DecoArt Satin Enamels paint.
This paint seemed like a great choice for cabinets because it doesn’t require primer or sealer, has a beautiful satin sheen, and is supposed to dry to a hard finish.
I have used this same paint on several pieces of furniture with no problems or excessive scratching.
But perhaps it just wasn’t quite hard enough to stand up to the wear and tear of a busy family kitchen.
Because of the way the paint appears to have been scratched whenever doors were being opened and closed, I believe the paint just wasn’t quite hard enough to withstand the wear and tear of a busy kitchen.
What would you change if you were painting your cabinets all over again?
First, I have to say that even with these chips, painting our cabinets was one of the most worthwhile DIY projects we have done in our home.
A few coats of fresh white paint instantly updated our worn oak cabinets and also made our dark kitchen feel much brighter.
It wasn’t exactly a quick DIY but it made a huge impact for a pretty small price tag.
If I had the chance, I would definitely do it all over again.
And even though the chips and dings really bother the perfectionist in me, they are really very small in relation to the kitchen as a whole.
The photo below is a wider view of the cabinet doors shown above.
So, while yes, the paint is definitely not perfect, those scratches really are small when you look at the big picture.
Even so, if I were to paint my cabinets all over again, I would either try a different paint or use a sealer over the paint for added protection.
Better Paints for Painting Cabinets
There are two paints in particular that I would consider.
General Finishes Milk Paint is a popular choice for painting cabinets. General Finishes is actually an acrylic paint, not an actual milk paint, and doesn’t always require a primer or a sealer.
I used this paint recently to paint my bathroom vanity and have also used it on several furniture projects and it goes on smoothly and holds up well.
I have also heard great things about Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint.
It is a self-leveling, non-yellowing paint that dries to a hard finish and doesn’t require a separate sealer. Many painters swear by this paint.
In addition, I would strongly consider finishing my painted cabinets with a couple of coats of sealer.
I know that all of the paints I have mentioned don’t require the use of a separate sealer, but General Finishes does recommend using a topcoat over their paint on high-traffic pieces.
When I think about all of the abuse our kitchen cabinets endure, it only makes sense to give them an extra layer of protection.
My favorite sealer for painted furniture is General Finishes High Performance Top Coat and this would also be my first choice for sealing cabinets. It is water-based, non-yellowing, and extremely easy to work with (unlike many other sealers).
I used this sealer when I painted my bathroom cabinets and so far, it is holding up well.
Several people have asked for more info on putting a topcoat over white paint without yellowing.
I have a lot more info about sealing white paint here if you want to do more of a deep dive.
And if you want to know more about furniture sealers, I’ve got a whole post packed with info about different paint sealers.
What will you do about your cabinets now?
Since taking these photos, I have fixed all of the little imperfections in our painted cabinets and I shared the whole process of how to touch up chipped cabinets in case anyone else is in the same boat.
As much as I hate that the paint didn’t hold up as I had hoped, I can also look at these photos and see that our dated kitchen has never looked better.
And that’s good enough for me.
More budget kitchen DIY projects to check out:
- Budget Kitchen Makeover Reveal
- Painting Oak Cabinets White
- Stenciled kitchen backsplash
- Painted countertops: How to paint your countertops to look like marble
- Updating hinges with Rub n Buff
Google Web Story: Painted Cabinets Two Years Later
Leslie Wood says
Your kitchen is beautiful – and other than that small amount of chipping those white cabinets have held up wonderfully. I also painted my kitchen cabinets a couple years ago. i used a chalk paint with a sealer. They are showing a bit of wear around some of the handles, but I think that’s to be expected. I would definitely paint again. It was a fairly low cost, albeit time consuming job, but the difference that it made to the kitchen was absolutely worth it!
Thanks Leslie – and thank you for sharing your own experience! And I agree – even if paint doesn’t last forever, it is so worth it!
Hi Carrie, thanks for sharing! I painted my upper cabinets years ago and have seen some chipping around the edges. Since then, I have seen specific Cabinet paint in my local Home Depot. I’ll be trying this for my next go ’round!
Hi Sue, I have seen some of those paints too and that sounds like a great plan. Thanks for sharing your experience and good luck with you next go round!
Michael S Davis says
Pro painter for 30 years,the best product for cabinets Sherwin Williams pro industrial multi surface acrylic,dried in 1hour cures in 7 days to a extremely hard, also Les prep it STICKS
Thanks for the tip – I am going to give that one a try next time!
No need for a primer? What about cleaning the cabinets if they are 15 + years old? What are your recommendations?
With this type of paint primer isn’t needed. (Unless you are painting cabinets that are cherry or a very dark wood. In that case, it is always better to be safe and use primer to prevent bleed-through.) Cleaning is definitely a must. I just used a mix of dawn dishsoap and water – this actually works really well as a degreaser. I have also used Krud Cutter TSP substitute to clean really nasty furniture before painting and it works really well.
Laura Harrie says
Thanks for your honesty. We had painted our cabinets with the Rest-o-Leum paint kit from a big box store. After 5 years of use we had about the same amount of scratches as you showed on your cabinets in the exact locations. But, the paint job plus new cabinet pulls did help the kitchen look updated and when we sold the house, it was a good thing!
Thank you so much for sharing Laura. Maybe I have overly-high expectations and this is normal wear. And I agree – regardless, the paint is so much better!
Natalie at NeliDesign says
Your kitchen still looks great! I’m thinking of doing the same so thanks for your honesty. It confirms that I should use a sealer when I do take on this project!
Thank you! And I’m glad I could help!
Joan Macdonald says
I have done my oak cubords over like going on 2 years love them and can’t believe I painted them and put them back up alone ..I washed them down primed and primed again wanted a few days like 6 and then painted bright white it did coast a bit but so worth it .I took my time and I would say like 3 to 4 weeks wow had a new kitchen.
Great job tackling your cabinets on your own! It is a time-consuming project but so, so worth it.
Did you have any cracking on the door inserts at all? I painted mine using the valspar cabinet paint and all of the joints cracked the following winter.
No, I don’t have any cracking or separating anywhere. How disappointing that cabinet paint did that!
Linden Peters says
I’m so sorry they didn’t hold up as expected! You are totally right, it is due to having no sealer on top of the paint. Paint salesmen like to say you don’t need a coat of poly, but for super-high-traffic areas like the kitchen, you really do. I don’t know if they are just not educated in how the real world works, or if it is a tactic to try and sell more paint when it doesnt hold up as promised. Are you able to touch it up, and clean and seal the cabinets with some polycrylic?
Thanks Linden – I think you are right. I have used paint on furniture without sealer without a problem but it just can’t hold up in a hardworking kitchen. I am planning to touch them up and go from there. Fingers crossed!
Your kitchen is beautiful. I would love to paint my cabinets and lighten up the kitchen but I have no clue what these blasted things are made of.
Thank you! If they are wood, you should be good to go. I know that you can also paint laminate cabinets, there is just a much higher chance of chipping. But it may be worth a try if you hate them!
Thank you for the honest review. I’m super interested in how your stenciled backsplash has held up? And also I need that aqua paint color please!!! <3
Shelley, The backsplash has held up so well. Cleaning hasn’t been an issue for the paint at all. I am actually working on repainting it this week – not because of problems but because I am fickle and wanted to use a different design – and I feel quite confident that it will last for years. I am hoping to post pics of the new backsplash and an update in the next few weeks. And the aqua color is a custom paint color. I used Valspar Mint to Be and mixed in a little white to make it slightly lighter. I hope that helps!
Hello Carrie! First off, great job and way to have the courage to tackle such a task. We took on our kitchen cabinets 3 years ago. We did everything we were supposed to do. Cleaned with a degreaser, sanded, primed with Stix primer, a waterborne bonding primer. (We pretty much sanded between each coat of everything). We chose Ben Moore Advance paint in the color of White Dove. We brush painted the cabinet boxes, and I rolled the doors/drawers. They are holding up beautifully! They clean up well with soap and water, and sometimes we have to use magic eraser, which works well. No chipping around any handles. The only part where it is cracking is under the cabinets where the granite meets the box itself. You cannot see the cracking (and its not everywhere) unless you are looking underneath it. I have since, cleaned it, primed those few areas, and repainted. It looks so much better. I am thinking that I may have not prepped those areas underneath, since everything else has held up so well. I hope this truthful statement helps. Keep calm and paint on. :)
Thank you for sharing Mary! It is so helpful to hear other people’s processes and how they are holding up!
That is really helpful! I see so many of these cabinet paints and having someone’s experience really helps. I have painted a master in our last home with Annie Sloan chalk paint and her topcoat. I knew the wax wasn’t what I wanted to do in a high use area. I loved it, but it di have to be touched up a few times. So now I’m in a different home, painting my new cabinet in our laundryroom. So I am going to paint with enamel cabinet paint this time. I want it to last so I’ll be sparkling the wood grain, priming and using the paint that worked for you. Thank you!!
Good luck! I am glad it is helpful!
Thanks for the update – I first read your original details a year and a half ago and hadn’t started our kitchen repainting project yet so I’m glad to revisit your page to see a 2-year review! So glad to know it’s worth it to for a sealer coat or use different paint to prevent chipping/scuffing so that I don’t skip that on my project.
Great tutorial and photos!
Glad to be helpful!
I am in process of painting old oak kitchen.I have already done both bathrooms . ( 2 yrs ago).Also did our previous house. I took advice from a painter regarding “it’s the prep and best paint you can afford. Must clean,sand,prime,sand,second prime if you want to get rid of oak look,sand,paint,sand,paint again.Do not over work those alkyd paints.lay it on,paint top to bottom,Paint horizontal so the paint can level”Wait 3 days between repainting.Takes 30 days to cure hard. It’s labor intensive but ours look great and have stayed chip free for yrs. I used Sherwin Williams Alkyd and Benjimn Moore. I have heard General Finishes good as well as Bher Alykid.Have read mik mill paint won’t hold up.My 2 cents worth anyway.
Holly Renae Kolvig says
Hello! Just found your blog via cutting edge stencils. I thought I’d jump on this past task quick and let you know the “wear” sound your knobs is because many paints break down from oils in the hands. I do cabinets professionally. There are great paints out there for diy. Wise Owl’s One Hour Enamel is one of them.
Thanks for the comment! That makes a lot of sense. And I definitely want to try Wise Owl’s One hour enamel – thanks for the suggestion!
I don’t know about the sealer. I had painted my cabinets with Rustoleum paint. It was specifically for cabinets. As of now, I have chips on my cabinets around the doorknobs including the doors. There are two of us in our house, so I don’t believe it was your children. At first on all my cabinets, I started out cleaning all of them and then painted them with a primer built into the paint of rustleum. I waited hours later to paint the 2 coats of sealer on them that was water base. They still chipped and turned yellow in spots. They were painted by hand. I’m very disappointed. Like you said, paint looks beautiful from a distance, but close up they look horrible. Either I’m needing to have them repainted by a professional, or I’m thinking about sanding the areas down, put a primer on them repaint with rustoleum again, and apply them with 2 coats of sealer, and wait hours between each coats. Sealer is tricky to work with, because painting an area with a little too much of even water base will turn yellow.
Be careful when you apply the sealer to your cabinets. Especially over white paint.
Tanya, thanks for sharing your experience! Painting cabinets makes such a difference but it really is tricky. Even when you think you are doing everything right.
Lindsay F says
So that no one else has this happen to them. I know you said if you could redo, this is what you’d do. General Finishes has this posted on their website.
“General Finishes background was originally on the professional side, and the incidences of yellowing topcoat over white paint were almost nil, and when our sprayable professional finish, Enduro White Poly, is used, there have been no incidences. But as the use of our paints has increased in the up-cycling and furniture refresh markets, we have heard more reports of our topcoat yellowing. Our original response was to teach about prepping, testing your finish schedule and finally creating Stain Blocker, our stain and tannin blocking primer, but this is not enough. Just as we advocate prepping all finishes, we are now advocating NOT using a clear water base topcoat over BRIGHT WHITE paint.”
Thanks for sharing this. This is a very good point. Personally, I have never had any problem using General Finishes over bright white paints of furniture and other projects but it looks like some have. A tip I was taught by a pro to prevent this is to mix your white paint into the top coat 50/50 for the first coat and then a bit less for the second coat to make sure absolutely no yellowing occurs.
Mary Ellen McNulty says
I bet if you had primed your finish would have lasted longer, even though the paint claimed to be self priming. I painted some cabinets several years back. I hated the cleaning part! Kitchen grease and finger oils are tough! But then I sanded lightly, primed with ? Can’t honestly remember. Maybe zZinzer 123? Put on my coat of good quality red, then top coated with Varathane, a non yellowing water based polyurethane. Two coats of this. They held up remarkably well despite considerable abuse from a tenant. I seriously recommend the vera thing for anything that’s going to take a beating. It comes in a high gloss and satin. All that being said, I think your kitchen looks lovely. And I’m very much inspired by those countertops!
Thanks for sharing your experience! And you are probably right about primer, I’ve learned that a lot of times paints say they don’t need primer but it sure does make them last longer!
I really want to paint my oak kitchen cabinets white. for a painter to come in will cost me about 3,000 is this something I can do own my own
Yes, you can definitely do it on your own! I painted my cabinets 100% by myself. You don’t need any special skills but you should know this isn’t a super fast project. Especially if you have a medium to large kitchen, painting cabinets is time-consuming which is why professionals charge so much. But if you decide to take the time to do it yourself, you definitely can and will save a ton of money. Good luck!
Denise M says
Your cabinets look great! Thanks so much for sharing both posts. DIY is so rewarding!! We are considering painting our oak cabinets, but we have questions around the existing finish – How did you treat the lacquer finish on the original oak cabinets before painting over it?
My cabinets were fairly worn so most of the shine was already worn off. If yours are in better condition and still pretty glossy, I would just lightly sand them with 220 -320 grit sandpaper first to rough up the finish a bit. That should give the paint a bit more to stick to. Good luck! DIY definitely is very rewarding!
So I used a high quality primer (INSLX-STIX – awesome primer) — you shouldn’t skip this step, even if your paint can says you can ! Or cleaning/sanding the cabinets either, for that matter. Just don’t, you’ll regret it. I used BM Advance paint for the kitchen cabinets (sprayed on with an HVLP sprayer) – turned out really nice and smooth and looks professional (for a DIY job). my only complaint is that when water gets on the cabinets, I see streaking (it shows lighter in color at first, then dries to normal color). I just about had a heart attack the first time I noticed this, thinking my entire job was for nothing, but it does dry back to the same color. Still, wish maybe I had topcoated with a high quality sealer product, esp. for the kitchen. I could probably remove all doors and add that still, if I choose to. I have 2 boys, and the cabinets look fantastic (painted last fall, so going on a year soon). Now that we are remodeling ALL of our bathrooms, I am back to painting/spraying cabinet doors, I am reading a lot about lacquer being the best and hardest paint you can use (professionals use this, usually). Wish I had used that for the kitchen, but I am thinking about trying that out – the learning curve seems a bit steeper, but I’m always up for a good challenge when it comes to lasting, high quality DIY projects.
Hello, it seems that the process to follow is to clean, clean and clean, let dry, prime and dry, prime and dry again, ensure the primer is cured, paint with a GOOD paint and let cure, paint a second or even a third coat (allow curing between each coat), seal and let cure, seal again! Over kill, maybe, but I want it to last when I do mine. It will still be cheaper than a full kitchen cabinet reno. I also think that getting hardware that will allow you to open the cabinet doors and drawers that is set out some would be very beneficial as it will (hopefully) not allow finger nails, rings etc. to scratch. I am NOT taking this on until I retire and the weather is not HOT (Florida), so future pictures to come (end of 2021). On another note, I was thinking about a more industrial look with metal cabinets… anyone have thoughts on that? I am afraid they will dent :(
Sounds like a very thorough process for sure! I would love to see pics when you finish! And I don’t know much about metal cabinets but it’s a great idea to explore.
We bought a house last November that came with basic oak cabinets. I was determined to have a white kitchen so I did the research and received recommendations from a few pros. I did the full step process (sand, prime, sand, paint, sand, paint, sand, paint and final poly layer. I used a higher grade “cabinet and trim” paint and the recommended primer and poly top coats. We also didn’t move in until the next March so the cabinets had a month between first step to last and at least another month to cure before we moved in. Unfortunately, six months later we already see wear and tear in spots with scratches and chips. :( My four year old is rather rough on them but I am definitely dissappointed that I didn’t do the java antique technique I originally planned (to help hide some flaws) OR just go with a different stain instead of white. But too late. I will have to live with patching white cabinets for at least ten years (when we plan to build our last home without white cabinets!)
Ugh, that is so disappointing! Especially when you try to do everything right. I’m sorry you are dealing with chipping too.
I’m looking to tackle this project in a new home I am buying. Did you choose flat, satin, semi-gloss? I see these are options for the paint and the sealer.
I used satin paint. Both satin and semi-gloss work well for painting cabinets because both are wipeable.
Flo Vrankovic says
thank you so much for these comments. I really want to update our oak cabinets but would have have to hire a contractor for about $5000. I worry so much that it’ll be a problem in a couple of years, so appreciate your honesty. I still want to change the oak to white, but will hold off and maybe just enjoy watching other’s enjoy their new cabinets at this point. Thank you again
I’m glad it was helpful!
I just came across your site! Love all the information! I have to tell you, I painted my oak cabinets with Valspar Cabinet paint in 2016. I do allot of furniture restoration and re-purpose. I used the same steps I used for these projects. I prepped properly. I used a Shellac based primer to seal the wood, 2 coats of the Valspar enamel, 2 coats top Coat.. And I had the SAME chipping like yours, right around the cabinet pulls!!! I think it is just from the heavy use and fingernails causing it! I am repainting cabinets in my new home, and I am coming up with some type of clear shield for around the knob area!!!
Thanks for your detailed posts!!
Connie, Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I think you are probably right – these areas just get so much use, it’s going to happen with time. Good luck with your new cabinet project!