DIY Renovations

How NOT to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

In this post: How not to paint kitchen cabinets. Unless you want your cabinets to resemble a piece of furniture found in a dilapidated shed after 50 years!

How not to paint kitchen cabinets

When it comes to painting kitchen cabinets, a Google search will get you any number of tutorials. Everyone from DIY bloggers, to HGTV and the DIY Network seems to have a tutorial on painting kitchen cabinets.

In case you’re short on time, the gist of all of them is to remove your cupboards, clean them really well, sand them, prime and paint a couple of coats.

(Don’t mind the paper skeletons. The kids were learning about bones in homeschooling!)

There are a few variations such as using more than one coat of primer or sanding between each coat of paint.

Some people use tack cloths to remove sanding dust while other use a vacuum or wet paper towels.

A few brave souls skip sanding all together and just use a deglosser.

But everyone – EVERYONE – insists upon cleaning the cabinets to remove cooking grease and splatters. And lots of those people say to use TSP.

According to Wikipedia TSP is:

Trisodium phosphate (TSP, E339) is a cleaning agent, lubricant, food additive, stain remover and degreaser. It is a white, granular or crystalline solid, highly soluble in water producing an alkaline solution.

If you want to take the easy way out with TSP (and not have to mix the powder yourself), you can buy it in a spray bottle like I did. Nothing really wrong with that. But you should probably put your glasses on, or get a magnifying glass out when you read the directions.

The directions say “Spray on and wipe clean with a cloth soaked in clean water.”

Yeah. Unfortunately I read it as “spray on and wipe clean with a cloth.”

When really it meant “be darn sure to wash off all TSP with clean water or else your corners and edges won’t take paint or primer no matter how hard you try or how much you wish they would!

One coat of primer + one coat of enamel paint on top of TSP = no adhesion! The photo above is NOT sanded. That is what applying paint on top of TSP not washed off looks like!

On the other hand, I did discover a new way to get a really chippy painted look!

chippy painted white cabinet doors

I suppose instead of “How NOT to Paint Kitchen Cabinets” this post could be titled “For the Love of Pete, Wash Off ALL the TSP!”

chippy painted white cabinet doors

But I think you get the picture. If you don’t wash off all the TSP, your paint job is going to resemble a piece of furniture found in a dilapidated shed after 50 years! Not cool.

Unless you’re going for that look in your kitchen. Which was definitely not what we were going for!

Oh and you probably shouldn’t use enamel paint that has a cure time of 30 freakin’ days either. Don’t ask me how I know. I don’t really want to talk about it.


Subway Tile Wall Rustic Coffee Bar Kitchen

Have you tried painting your own kitchen cabinets? Any good or bad stories to tell?

shannon sign off

home made lovely book on table with get it now text button

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  1. You don’t have all your kitchen cupboard doors off while your in-laws are visiting, do you?? Yikes! I would never, ever! Too bad about your doors though and now you know for next time! I’m sure they will look beautiful when they are done.

    1. Yup, we’ve had lots of company here while the doors have been off. Lol. My in laws aren’t the scary kind everyone else seems to have! They’re really awesome!

  2. Oh my. Thats all bad. I could tell you of a horror story of mine thats similar, but it looks like you are doing just fine with what you are dealing with 😉 {By the way, mine have been off for two years, and we have yet to put the doors back on the cupboards. I like to think of it as ‘very’ open concept} { ahem }

    1. Yes, I know! And I may like the look on a piece of furniture. I just can’t seem to see it in my kitchen with the stainless counters and nice crisp white subway backsplash!

  3. All that work you did… what a bummer. On the upside though, I have been looking for a way to make a new bench I have look old, you may have just given me my answer! Good luck with round 2!

  4. When I first bought TSP, the woman behind the counter forewarned me TSP needs to be thoroughly cleaned off before any paint/primer is applied. Because I’m a little paranoid (and I don’t like using chemicals if I can avoid) I only use it as a last resort…if a piece is disgustingly dirty/grimy. Otherwise it’s just water & vinegar or warm water and good ol’ elbow grease =)

    I’m so glad you shared this Shannon… obviously the woman behind the counter wasn’t whistling dixie…lol. I can’t wait to see the kitchen cabinets the way you “really” want them!

    1. I can’t wait to see them either! Ha! And nope, not whistling Dixie! Wash that stuff off good!

  5. I am so sorry you did all that work and now need to start over. At the same time I want to thank you for sharing this. Often we learn more from our mistakes than when things go smoothly. Now we can learn from what happened too! Good luck to you in your second round.

  6. I’m gobsmacked.
    Isn’t this the best news EVER???
    Is this not a tutorial for “Shabby Chic” weathered wood? If I understand correctly, you’re telling me I can avoid spending money on crackle mediums and not have to sand paint off corners if I simply wash my wood with TSP and ignore the proper directions.
    Is there something I’m missing? The doors look fantastic to me. Perhaps they look better in photo than IRL?

    1. Lol. Natasha you crack me up! I did sand the doors after the whole incident to prepare them for repriming and repainting. But what you see really didn’t take much sanding at all! And they do look super – for a piece of furniture. Not quite what we were going for in the kitchen though!

  7. Why would you blog about something you did wrong and then blame the product? The problem is you did not read the directions. The directions say “Spray on surface, wait 15 minutes and then RINSE WITH CLEAN WATER”. TSP and a kitchen scrubbie work extremely well to clean kitchen cabinets and prepare them for paint but you have to rinse it off. Anything you clean or degrease your cabinets with needs to be rinsed off.

    1. Hi Helen,
      Thank you for you concern. Perhaps you misunderstood. I did not blame the product…I did say that unfortunately I read the directions wrong. As for the reason for blogging about it, the point was to share that I goofed and to help anyone else out there who may be prone to making the same mistake.

    2. Hi Shannon. Sorry, on re-reading my comment it should have been friendlier and clearer as to why I was making the comment in the first place. I had just read some posts on Facebook saying NOT to use TSP for some very uneducated reasons and then referring to your blog post as a reason why. It was them that misunderstood and I should have made it clear why I was making the comment on your blog. I just went back onto their Facebook page to copy one of their erroneous comments and I can’t find it so I assume the thread was removed. By the way I love the doors all chippy!

  8. As you know I am planning on doing my kitchen in the spring so thank you for sharing a mistake I probably would have made If i had not read your blog. very informative … Your so inspiring and I am so glad that your still excited to share a different approach for getting the warn look also!!! Have a great day and happy painting!

  9. Well darn it all! How frustrating! I know you will perservere though and make your kitchen stunning and cozy! Can’t wait to see how it turns out when you do the ta-da reveal!

  10. I’ve heard of that before…so when I go to paint mine, I’ll be sure to clean off the TSP really, really well! Have to admit, I kinda like the chippy look too, maybe not for the kitchen cupboards, though. lol
    Debbie 🙂

  11. My sympathies! We just undertook a one week kitchen reno blitz for my parents that included sanding and painting cabinet doors…I feel your pain! It will be beautiful! Thank you for sharing the TSP warning so we don’t go through it ourselves!

  12. Oh Shannon, I’m so sorry. However I love that chippy distressed look. But when it isn’t what you are going for it could be very disappointing. Thanks so much for the heads up on TSP. Happy Easter!

  13. Awwww, I hate to laugh, but you really made me giggle… In bold big letters, for godsakes make sure all TSP is washed off!!! should be bigger on the label! I really look forward to seeing how they are supposed to look, in case they don’t, chippy is in! 😉

    Laurie @ Vin’yet Etc.

    1. 🙂 They are turning out better. Tsp may work for chippy furniture in the future!

  14. I’m glad I saw your post. I just used TSP to clean cabinets and was fixing to prime this weekend when I see your blogg. Thanks for the info. It just saved me alt of grief. Lol