Decor, DIY

How to paint cabinets without removing doors

A few weeks ago, I painted my master bathroom white. The countertop is also white. The tiles are a light neutral color. It was starting to bother me that the vanity was dark wood. For me, it sort of seemed to interrupt the space, so I decided that I would paint it, of course.

This is the cheater’s guide to painting a cabinet. Here’s how I painted our master bathroom double sink vanity without removing the doors and without taking anything out the of the cabinets or drawers.

The cheaters guide to painting a cabinet - without removing any doors

How to paint cabinets without removing doors using one can - before and after

How to paint cabinets without removing doors using one can - before and after pictures

I researched DIY tutorials and was put off by taking everything out of the cabinets, taking the doors off, deglossing, bond coat, top coat, waiting for one side to dry, flipping … too much for me.

So I decided to give a quart of Cabinet Coat enamel for $14 a shot. I bought it knowing full well I would not take off all the doors and keep track of what hinges belong where. My plan of attack was a flat artists’ brush.

Use a small artist brush when painting cabinets

I used the brush to go over stroke marks from the large brush with thicker bristles, to smooth over drips, and to reach in the crevices and molding.

Cabinet Coat recommends removing doors and painting them on a horizontal surface, but I’m always looking for a shortcut. Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn’t! This time, thankfully, it worked. (It’s still a good idea to read the brochure that comes with the paint, though.)

Tools you need to paint your bathroom cabinets

Tools needed for painting a vanity

  • screwdriver
  • 180-220 grit sandpaper or sanding wedge
  • quart of Cabinet Coat
  • quality paintbrush
  • small flat artists’ paintbrush

Time it took me

  • Prep: 15 minutes
  • First coat: 2 hours
  • Second coat: 2 hours
  • Third coat: 2 hours
  • Touch up: 1 hour


  1. Remove knobs and drawer/door stoppers.
  2. Put an old towel on the floor and sand the cabinets well. Pay special attention to areas around knobs and corners so they are less likely to wear after touching them day after day.
  3. Wash cabinets well to get off sand dust and grime. Let them dry. (There was a spot I apparently didn’t wipe the varnish dust off well enough and the stain on the dust seeped through the paint no matter how many coats I added. Make sure you wash them well.)
  4. Start painting!
  5. Use thin, methodical strokes in the same direction. Don’t paint over half-dried paint or you’ll create smudges. If there’s a half-dried drip, you’ll have to wait until it is dry to sand it out. I tried the lesser-seen side of the cabinet first to test my method.
  6. Use a small artists’ brush to go around hinges and get inside narrow spaces. (This is the key to not taking the doors off the hinges.)
  7. Let your first coat dry overnight. (I wrapped my brushes in plastic wrap and then put them inside a plastic bag to use them the next day.)
  8. Apply second coat. Let it dry overnight. I had to do even a third coat the following day because the cabinets were so dark.
  9. Touch up any neglected spots if necessary. (Keep in mind that it can take up to a week or two to fully set. We still used our vanity during that time, we were just careful not to scratch it with anything.)
  10. Add knobs after the cabinet is dry and admire your handy work!

DIY instructions to paint cabinets white

I used 3/4 of the quart can with this project — that’s with three coats and a final touch up. Here is how the doors looked after each coat of paint:

Four coats painting progress of painting cabinet

I painted the insides of the doors and interior edging, but I didn’t focus my attention there, as you can see below. I like that the inside of the doors are white, but it didn’t matter enough to me to do a final touch up.

How to paint a bathroom vanity 

I didn’t paint the inside of the drawers or interior of the cabinets because, for me, this light wood tone works fine with the white.

Bathroom drawer organization - makeup in bowls

I found these knobs to add a little sparkle at Home Depot for $4 a piece.

Liberty Design Facets 1-1:4 in. Acrylic Faceted Cabinet Hardware Knob

I’m pretty surprised they turned out so well. You’re probably not supposed to say that after a tutorial! I’ll be sure to include an update of how they hold up.

How to paint cabinets without removing doors with one can

See the final room here!
UPDATE: Here are four things I did differently when I painted my kitchen cabinets.

My master bathroom update project list

Glamorous bathroom accessories for inspiration
How to paint cabinets without removing doors and with only one can
How to shorten a lamp cord for bath countertop
How to reupholster an occasional chair

46 thoughts on “How to paint cabinets without removing doors

  1. Hi Kate! I am SO glad I came across your blog today. I have decided to paint my kitchen cabinets too and like you, I also plan to start with a bathroom vanity, both are 30 year old oak…dull finish. Also, like you, I am always trying to find a shortcut and when I googled “painting cabinets without removing hinges” and there you were! I always use a small artist brush for painting projects as well, and after reading your posts, I think this is the route I will go. I am glad to know about the Cabinet Coat paint…I had never heard of it and then read that it was soap & water clean-up…yeah! Will definitely be checking that out too. So after boggling my mind after reading WAY too many blogs and DIY’s ranging from using chalk paint to Benjamin Moore Advanced, you have inspired me to give your method a try! BTW, your cabinets look fantastic! Thanks for the awesome tutorial and great inspiration!

  2. I happy I could help, Debby. Let me know how they turn out! By the way, when I did my kitchen cabinets I used something at the end called polycrylic to keep them from scratching. Just a thought for your bathroom in case it gets a lot of wear and tear. It’s in this post, in case you’re interested. Good luck!

  3. Just ran across your blog. Again, like above, want to try on kitchen, for spruce up, short term, a few years before possible move. I was going to use the Rustoleum
    Oil Rubbed Bronze Spray Paint for the knobs

  4. I like how you went step by step, cause I was thinking of painting my bathroom vanity and I hadn’t thought of some of the things you described that needed to be done.

  5. I am about to paint my kitchen cabinets. Am I understanding your post correctly, tha you used latex paint? Also, in what order did you paint your cabinets so that you were able to paint without smudging parts already painted? And, if you used latex, how is it holding up? I guess I’m concerned with the long drying time of oil based if I leave the cabinets up.

    Thanks so much!!

  6. I did use latex paint, but I bought this Cabinet Coat brand because it boasts to have a “urethane-modified acrylic formula” that provides a “tough, scratch-resistant finish.” First I painted the side of the cabinet to get a feel for the paint, then moved across the front, and finishing inside the cabinets, going top to bottom. The cabinets have held up well so far and it’s been a year and a half. I bet oil paint would do a nice job, but I didn’t have the time or patience for the 16 HOURS of recommended drying time for each coat! Good luck and let me know how it turns out if you try it!

  7. Love the cabinet doors as well as the back door. Am so going to do this! What colors did you use? Undercoat as well as the top coat? And is the “undercoat” simply one coat of latex? Thanks

  8. Hi Jennifer. I assume these tips would also work on dark colors, but I haven’t tried it myself, so I’m hesitant to say with certainty.

  9. I really like the information provided in this article and I really like the way you have explained each and everything so well. Very well done with the article, hope that you will continue to do posting

  10. Hey thanks for your infor. As you I like shoutcuts that wok going to paint my kitchen cabinets. Thant’s again your vanity looks great.

  11. I got the paint from Home Depot’s website, but they also have it on Amazon. Most stores don’t seem to have it in stock. I’m sure you could take it in and ask them to mix it with color. Hope that helps!

  12. Hi – your cabinets look great! I’m wondering though, if I use a deglosser first instead of sanding if it might be easier. Also, how did you secure the doors while painting them? i mean if they are open for painting the inside of the door won’t it be hard to paint if it tends to move a lot?


  13. Hi Kathleen. I’ve never used a deglosser before, so I can’t be much help. If you try it, I’d love it if you remember to tell me how it goes!! My doors don’t open all the way, so I didn’t have to secure them to hold them steady. Do you your cabinets open so that they would hit closed cabinet doors?

  14. I just bought the same paint you used for my kitchen cabinets. Did you use a primer first and did you seal it with poly? How’s the finish holding up? I love DIY short cuts, thanks for sharing!

  15. Hi Kate, I just loved those kitchen/bathroom cabinets! They are an inspiration for me as I am trying to brighten up my small kitchen, with the honey oak 1990s cabinets! I really like the idea of not taking off the doors and hinges, you’re a girl after my own heart. :) I know this is an older post, and I hope you are still answering questions. I clicked on the link for the cabinet coat paint and it says it is now discontinued! Figures, it’s a good product so discontinue it right? I am in Canada and checked our Home Depot site and can’t find it at all there. So do you have any other suggestions for something of the same quality? Thank you in advance, and good job!

  16. Thanks Kate for the speedy reply! I took a look and it’s $30.39 CAD on the Canadian Amazon site, plus tax I guess so a bit pricey. Everything is always more expensive for us on this side of the border! :( Couldn’t find it on the Canadian Home Depot. I’ll have to give it some thought. Maybe there’s another version of the same thing over here. Have a wonderful Christmas, and if I ever get to it, I’ll definitely send you a photo!

  17. Hi Kate… me again. Just looking for paint and found someone who did their kitchen cabinets without priming or sanding! They took them off the hinges however. They used General Finishes Milk Paint, and put on a top varnish coat. It apparently goes on great, and is a “high quality acrylic paint that is durable”. They claim their cupboards look great 5 years later! Ever heard of using Milk Paint? Here’s the link:
    I can’t get this either unless I pay through the nose, but we have a version called Buttermilk Paint… there’s likely others but haven’t looked that far yet. Anyway, thought you might be interested. I wonder if I could leave the doors on like you did and also get away with no sanding and no priming? If you want the link to the blog let me know, I didn’t think you’d want it here.

  18. Thanks, Avis! I have heard of milk paint, but I’ve never tried it. Knowing me, probably because I thought it was too expensive too, haha! Maybe test it on something else first?? I’m curious.

  19. I was watching cabinet painting videos, even though I have already painted for years. Everyone took the hinges off and wondered why I never did. So I googled it and you came up. Thank you so much because now I won’t feel so guilty.

  20. Haha! I watched those videos too and thought no way. I’d probably accidentally switch the doors up anyway! Glad to meet a fellow crafty painter :)

  21. The good technique actually to try this painting. I loved the way. The main issue was the same regarding the doors. Thanks for your article to fix my issue :)

  22. I am going to try this to paint both bathroom vainities. They have old dark hinges (gold/black) I want to paint them silver. Which should I paint first, the hinges or the cabinets? Also, can I get the Cabinet Coat tinted?

  23. I would paint the cabinets first and then go in with a smaller artist’s brush for the hinge details :) It’s hard to find Cabinet Coat in the stores nowadays, so I don’t think they will tint it if you didn’t buy it in-store. BUT there are so many more products for cabinets than when I originally wrote this post. So you could see what other options the hardware store has that can be tinted.

  24. My vanity is the same color with which you started I used 4 coats of inslx and it looks more like your 2 coat picture. Should I keep going with more coats, or scrape off, prime, and start over? I’ve already spend so many hours I would hate to start over but I don’t want it to look too layered. Thanks.

  25. Oh I’m sorry, Kala! I know how much work that is! I’d hate for you to start all the way over. Is the paint still going on smoothly? Or are there any drips or heavy brush strokes showing up? I would probably sand those down a bit and keep painting, but it’s hard to say without seeing it. I’m wishing you the best! Don’t give up :)

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