Best Paint For Cabinets—Oil, Enamel, or Hybrid?

Caroline Gilbert
Written by Caroline Gilbert
Updated October 15, 2021
Kitchen cabinets painted a rich blue
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If you’re looking for a way to update cabinets in your home, painting over outdated cabinetry is a budget-friendly fix that gives the space a modern look. There are different paint options available and some work better in certain situations than others. Learn more about the best paint for cabinets depending on your specific paint job to give your room a brand new look.

Should You Paint Your Cabinets?

There are a few factors to take into consideration when deciding whether to paint cabinets. If your cabinets still have life in them, painting them is a more cost-effective option than replacing them entirely. However, if you have significant wear or damage to your existing cabinetry, it’s a good choice to replace them.

While painting cabinetry is much more straightforward than replacing cabinets entirely, it still requires extensive prep work and careful painting skills to complete the project. Consider hiring a pro to paint your cabinets to provide flawless and durable results. Weigh the pros and cons of painting cabinets versus replacing them to determine the best option for you.

Painting Cabinets

  • Cost-effective option

  • Provides an updated look for cabinets that still have a lot of life

  • Work within the layout of your existing space

  • Only requires the removal of the cabinet doors and drawers

  • Your cabinetry will be unusable for about a week

  • Requires extensive prep work 

  • Can be done professionally or as a DIY project

Replacing Cabinets

  • More customizable and modern options like glass inserts of soft-close drawers

  • Best option for damaged cabinets

  • Significantly more expensive

  • May require reworking the layout of the room

  • Your room may be unusable for an extended period of time

  • Almost always requires a professional

Choosing Paint for Your Cabinets

Couple painting cabinets white
Jeffrey Markowitz /Corbis via Getty Images

If you decide to paint your cabinets, it’s important to properly prep them and choose the right type of paint to get the best results. Because most cabinetry has a smooth surface, it is difficult for certain paints to adhere to them, which is why more prep work may be necessary. For most types of paint, you will need to sand and clean the cabinets with a tack cloth first before applying.

Moreover, take into consideration the amount of wear-and-tear your cabinets are exposed to on a daily basis when picking the best type of paint and finish for the project. Kitchen cabinets may require a different type of paint or finish than bathroom cabinets or cabinetry in low-trafficked areas. Choose between a high gloss or semi gloss paint finish for your cabinetry.

High Gloss

A high gloss finish is more durable and harder than other types of finishes, making this a good choice for cabinetry. Of all the finishes available, high gloss is the easiest to wipe down and clean. Using a high gloss finish will add more sheen to the cabinetry but is more prone to scratches and scuffs. High gloss finishes work well in modern kitchens or bathrooms and can make the room feel larger.

Semi Gloss

A semi gloss finish has less sheen than high gloss but still works well on cabinets that are frequently used because it is easier to clean than a flat or matte finish. Semi gloss paint still has a good amount of sheen and can make the color of the cabinets appear brighter and more vibrant. Because semi gloss does not dry as hard as high gloss, it better can withstand scuffs, fingerprints, or scratches. 

Types of Paint for Cabinets

Learn about the differences between oil-based, latex water-based, and hybrid enamel paint to determine the best choice for your cabinetry. 

1. Oil-Based Paint

Oil-based paint (sometimes referred to as alkyd paint) is composed of either a natural oil (such as linseed) or synthetic oil (alkyd) as its base. Because the base is an oil, the paint can take longer to dry than other types of paint. However, once dried, it creates a hard surface that allows for more durability and longevity. Oil-based paint is considered one of the best paints for bathroom cabinets because of its mold and mildew resistance. Keep this in mind if you are painting bathroom cabinets or a vanity that is exposed to high levels of moisture.

Oil-based paint also works well on wooden kitchen cabinets because it holds up to temperature fluctuations where other types may make the wood swell. It’s important to note that these paints release high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and should not be used for extended periods of time or around children and pets. 

Pros:

  • Creates a more durable finish and wears better than other paint types

  • Dries as a hard enamel

  • Can best handle temperature fluctuations

  • Provides good mold control for high moisture areas

  • Holds up well to dirt and staining

Cons:

  • Slow drying

  • Requires light sanding before painting

  • Releases high levels of VOCs and fumes

  • Requires a more extensive cleanup process

  • Requires a higher level of painting skill

2. Latex Water-Based Paint

Latex water-based paint is the most popular type of paint on the market because it can be used for a variety of home improvement projects. Compared to oil-based paint, latex paint releases lower levels of VOCs and is a safer option for kids and pets. However, latex paint does not wear as well and will likely require more touch-ups in high-traffic areas. 

Latex paint is also more sensitive to temperature fluctuations and can shrink as it dries, which means you will need to seal the wood before painting. Because latex paint is not as durable as oil-based paint, it will require a more extensive preparation process as you sand and clean the surfaces.

Pros:

  • Widely available for many uses

  • Easy to cleanup

  • Releases low levels of VOCs and fumes

  • More forgiving for inexperienced painters

  • Least expensive option

Cons:

  • Requires sealant before painting

  • Requires more extensive prep work and sanding before painting

  • More prone to staining

  • Less durable than oil-based paint

  • Takes longer to dry

3. Hybrid Enamel Paint

Hybrid enamel paint is essentially a mix between oil-based and water-based paint. Hybrid enamel paint has a water base (like latex paint) but still contains alkyd resins (like oil-based paint). It is a good choice for cabinetry because it has a hard and durable finish (similarly to how oil-based paint dries) but does not emit as many fumes or VOCs, and is easier to clean up. Another major bonus is that because this type is strongly adhesive, less prep work and sanding is required. Hybrid enamel paint is often considered the best paint for kitchen cabinets because of its low-maintenance properties.

Pros:

  • More durable and resistant to wear-and-tear compared to latex paint

  • Releases less VOCs and fumes than oil-based paint

  • Can be cleaned with soap and water

  • Dries in a hard and glossy finish

Cons:

  • Not as hard as oil-based paint

  • Requires more painting skill

  • Not available in as many varieties

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