Painting Latex Over Oil-based Paint

The cabinets in our kitchen (and bathroom too!) were an off-white color when we moved in. Painting the cabinets white – though just a shade lighter and a sizable amount of work – was completely 100% worth it.  It instantly cleaned things up.

painting latex over oil based paint white cabinets stainless bar pulls hardware kitchen bathroom

The trouble with these was that they had oil-based paint on them. Originally, low-VOC-hippy-me had given in and was going to repaint with an oil based white both for the ease of oil over oil and for the long term durability (it was hard to find, but I tracked some down and even purchased it). But then it dawned on me that oil based paint yellows over time – especially pronounced in the color white! If I wanted a crisp long lasting white, oil was a waste of time. Latex it was, unfortunately. It required a bit more steps but I’m so happy to have a bright white kitchen. After a ton of research and talking to every paint person who works at Home Depot and some previous experience (failures) in this department, here is the process we used:

1. Test the surface to see if its oil based paint. Luckily the previous owners were meticulous and left us a little notebook full of all paint formulas on every surface of this house. But I tested anyways with a Q-tip dipped in mineral spirits. Dab it on the painted surface. If the paint comes off on your Q-tip, its latex. If it’s unaffected, its oil-based. (Do this in an inconspicuous place if you aren’t sure you are going to paint over it soon…it will leave a noticeable change in color/finish on latex paint.)

2. Remove cabinetry doors and set up in a separate workspace.

3. Tape off everything and completely cover surfaces that won’t be painted. I covered our counters and floors.

4. TSP the heck out of everything. I hate this stuff. I really try to avoid using any strange chemicals in our household. If you are supposed to wear gloves, I’m out. But in this circumstance, this seemed like a really necessary step for deep degreasing (it is a kitchen after all, and a well used one) and to knock down the existing paint finish so that the coats going on top of it can strongly adhere. Thoughts of an overthinker: in the big picture, a bottle of TSP is probably better for my family and the environment than dumping good cabinetry into a landfill and installing new stuff. Wear gloves. Wear a mask. Ventilate properly. Follow the directions on the bottle.

5. Sand the heck out of everything. (Only after testing for lead paint and getting a negative!!!) Mask up again. Things are going to get ridiculously dusty.

6. Tack rag every surface diligently. And then do it again. And again. Wear gloves to avoid be covered in sticky paint dust.

7. Prime. We went with Gripper Primer from Glidden after a few recommendations. I did two coats and used a small foam roller.

8. Finally paint. For our cabinets we used Behr Interior/Exterior Hi-Gloss Enamel in Ultra Bright White. I ended up doing 3 coats with a small foam roller (and small brush for corners) and even another coat in some places. On our walls we used Behr Premium Plus in Semi-Gloss in Ultra Bright White. It’s honestly hard to tell the difference between the two so I probably could have saved myself some trouble and just cut-in instead of taping between these two.

9. Reinstall cabinets and install hardware. Make sure things are truly dry or the doors will stick to the cabinet frames and peel your paint. Bummer.

painting latex over oil based paint white cabinets stainless bar pulls hardware bathroom kitchen

The paint has held up well with daily use, almost 2 years in. I have had to do small touch ups where I accidentally banged up the paint with some object being put away, but otherwise it’s doing great. The finish is really easy to clean, something white cabinets in a home with kids need kinda frequently!


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