Kitchen, Painting

Best Paint Finish for Kitchen Cabinets (Paint Finishes Compared)

paint kitchen cabinets

When painting a kitchen, many choices you make during the design stage can dramatically impact the final look and functionality of the space. A significant decision you must make is what paint finish you would like on your kitchen cabinets, which can prove difficult if you don’t know the ins and outs of interior paint.

Generally, professional painters choose a semi-gloss paint finish for kitchen cabinets. It’s best to choose glossier finishes for kitchen cabinets for improved durability and ease of cleaning. However, too glossy paint shows imperfections easily, so it’s crucial to find a middle ground.

With all the choices you must make when painting or redoing your kitchen, the paint sheen you choose might seem pretty insignificant. But choosing the right paint finish can be the difference between an easy to clean, well-put-together kitchen and a one that doesn’t blend well with the rest of your home and looks disheveled.

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Interior Paint Finish Options for Kitchen Cabinets

When choosing an interior paint for your home’s kitchen cabinets, there are five different primary paint finishes to consider:

  • Matte finish
  • Eggshell finish
  • Satin finish
  • Semi-gloss finish
  • High-gloss finish

Paint finishes range from flat (matte finish) to extremely glossy (high gloss finish), with many options in between. Each sheen comes with its own sets of pros, cons, and qualities, so it’s essential to look at your best options before making a final decision. Below we’ll take an in-depth look at the five best paint finishes for kitchen cabinets.

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1. Matte Paint Finish

Hides painting and surface imperfectionsHigh maintenance
Perfect for introducing color to your homeDifficult to clean
Wear and tear are less visibleCan make the space feel boring
Gives your home a cozy feeling

Matte paint, also called flat paint, has many excellent qualities that make it quite appealing to many homeowners. However, it is not ideal for kitchen cabinets in most situations. Not only is matte or flat finish paint challenging to keep clean, but it also can make your home seem drab and boring if not correctly implemented.

Kitchens naturally receive quite a bit of foot traffic and must withstand a significant amount of wear and tear compared to the rest of the house. Cleaning your kitchen cabinets is extremely important as people regularly grab and open them. You’ll want to use paint on your kitchen cabinets that can stand up to wear and tear while also remaining easy to clean. 

Unfortunately, matte finishes only partly fulfill one of these requirements: withstanding wear and tear effectively. It can be challenging to clean matte paint because it is not slippery and glossy as alternative paint finish options. Grime and dirt tend to gather on matte paint more than on other sheens, and cleaning it can be very time-consuming.

The quality of matte finish paint that can either be a pro or a con, depending on the use of the paint, is the matte look. In well-put-together homes with good lighting and color coordination, matte kitchen cabinets can be an excellent design element. But without proper planning or enough light, flat finish paint can quickly cause the room to seem dull and lackluster.

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2. Eggshell Paint Finish

Provides a flat look with a bit of reflectionDifficult to touch up
Hides paint and surface imperfectionsChallenging to keep clean
Easier to wipe down and clean
Has a more extended lifespan

Eggshell finishes are slightly more glossy than matte paint. However, it still has many downsides associated with a flat finish, so it is not an ideal choice for kitchen cabinets in most cases. Though, eggshell finish kitchen cabinets can make a great addition to your home if you know what to expect and do the necessary prep work.

There are many great things to like about eggshell finish paint, chief among them is that it provides a somewhat flat look with a bit of reflection.

Compared to actual matte paint, eggshell gives a similar look but helps remedy some of the significant problems that a matte surface brings. Eggshell finish paint is easier to wipe down when dirty, helps hide surface imperfections and tends to have a slightly longer lifespan due to its increased durability.

All of the above sounds excellent, but eggshell finish paint is also prone to wear and tear. Because it has a somewhat matte surface, nicks and scratches aren’t too visible, but they tend to build up quickly and become an eyesore in a highly trafficked area like the kitchen.

Doing touch-ups to eggshell finish paint is nearly impossible, so it will usually require a complete repaint to remove wear and tear marks.

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3. Satin Finish

Good for high-traffic areasDifficult to touch up
Easy to wipe down and cleanSurface and paint imperfections are visible
Has a long lifespanShows wear and tear
A good middle ground between glossy and flat

For most situations, satin finish paint is the perfect blend between glossy and flat for kitchen cabinets. It’s not too shiny, but it has enough sheen to enable easy cleaning, resistance to wear and tear, and many other benefits that you’d miss out on with a flatter paint finish.

Satin finish paint is excellent for high traffic areas in your home, including your kitchen cabinets. The slight sheen of satin paint makes wiping down surfaces quickly and easy. Cooking in the kitchen often exposes the cabinets to all kinds of splatter and moisture, which makes ease of cleaning very important.

While satin paint has a very durable finish, the markings are often visible once it succumbs to wear and tear. And once you need to touch up some areas on your cabinets, it often means a complete repaint because repairing small areas are usually quite visible. Satin finish paint does not hide surface and paint imperfections as effectively as flatter sheens.

When painting kitchen cabinets, satin finish paint is typically the most matte finish you should choose. Anything paint with a flatter sheen needs a lot of upkeep and is difficult to clean in such a high-traffic area of the home. Many people choose to paint their kitchen cabinets with more glossy paint, which we’ll explore next.

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4. Semi-Gloss Finish

Easy to clean and wipe downImperfections are quite visible
Perfect for high-traffic areasGlossy finishes can look tacky
Reflects some light and livens up the space
Very durable

Semi-gloss finishes are another timeless and popular kitchen cabinet paint option. It’s one of the more glossy paint finishes, so you must be careful to plan things out so as not to overdo anything. Glossy finishes can look overwhelming and tacky if not done right.

High-traffic areas such as kitchen cabinets require a paint that is easy to clean and durable, both of which semi-gloss finish paint can do exceptionally well.

Semi-gloss durable paints hold up well on cabinet doors and drawers which withstand the brunt of daily use.

Wiping grease, cooking splatter, dirt, and nearly anything else from a semi-gloss finish is quick and easy. It has enough sheen where grime doesn’t stick to the surface, and you don’t have to worry about staining.

The other thing that paints in high-traffic areas need is very durable qualities, which semi-gloss finish paint can handle easily. However, once the surface breaks down to wear and tear, the high sheen makes every mark and scratch visible. Touch-ups on semi-gloss finish paint are easier than matte paints, but it’s hard to make them blend in perfectly.

Semi-gloss paint has many outstanding qualities that make it extremely popular for kitchen cabinets, but one of the most noticeable is how it reflects light and livens up the space. Kitchen cabinets with glossy paint do not work in every situation, but it’s a timeless look that works with various decor schemes.

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5. High-Gloss Finish

Quick and easy to cleanImperfections are quite visible
High moisture resistanceWear and tear is very noticeable
Perfect for high-traffic areasGlossy finishes can look tacky
Very long lifespan

In many instances, high gloss finish paint is a great option for painting kitchen cabinets because it is durable, easy to clean, and has many other favorable qualities. But while high-gloss finish paint has many things that make it great, you must also consider a few downsides that come with glossy paint.

One of the biggest appeals to high gloss paint is how easy and quick it is to clean. The high sheen means you can wipe off most splatter and grime with just a towel and some water. There is no need to worry about the substance seeping into the paint and staining your cabinets in most cases.

High gloss paint is excellent for high traffic areas and spaces that experience lots of humidity. It handles humidity very well and has a long lifespan due to its extreme durability. So far, all of this sounds pretty great, but there are some cons to high gloss paint.

The main downside to high gloss finish paint is the visibility of imperfections on the surface. Any shortcuts during prep work, wear, or imperfections in your cabinet’s materials are instantly noticeable. The glossy sheen creates a very reflective surface and any mark that interrupts that reflection immediately draws the eye.

Another consideration is the overall look of high gloss finish paint in your home. It’s essential to plan things out and make your house look cohesive because high gloss paint can easily appear tacky and out of place.

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Considerations When Choosing a Kitchen Cabinet Paint Finish

We’ve covered all five of the primary paint finishes you’re likely to encounter when choosing paint for your kitchen cabinets. However, there are some other important considerations to factor into your decision.

  • Prep Work – Doing the proper preparation before you start priming or painting your kitchen cabinets is essential to doing the job right. If you are doing the project yourself, always clean your cabinets thoroughly and use fine grit sandpaper to prepare the wood to receive the paint.
  • Primer – Applying a primer base coat to your kitchen cabinets before painting is crucial to effectively ensure the paint adheres to the surface. Make sure to choose the correct primer for your cabinet material.
  • Paint Base – There are three main types of interior paint: oil, water, and latex paint. You’ll typically want to avoid using oil-based paints indoors because they emit high levels of VOCs, so it’s best to go with water or latex-based paint.
  • Paint Color – Planning ahead is always a good idea when making changes to your home to ensure everything works nicely together. The color of your cabinets plays an essential role in how well they blend with the rest of your home, so take your time and choose wisely.
  • Paint Coats – It’s best to paint wood cabinets with at least two coats of paint. Allow ample drying time between coats. The first coat of paint should be a thin base coat. The second coat creates a more even and consistent color. You may need a third coat to create a smooth finish.
  • Clear Coatings – While not always necessary, adding a clear coat to your cabinets can add some gloss to the surface and improve durability. There are many clear coat types available for kitchen cabinets, but some of the most popular ones are lacquer or polyurethan-based.

What is the Most Popular Paint Finish for Kitchen Cabinets?

It is best to use a glossier finish paint in most kitchens instead of a more matte finish. Paints with more sheen are generally easier to clean, more durable, and handle humidity better. But which paint finish is the most popular for kitchen cabinets?

Semi-gloss finish paint is the most popular sheen for kitchen cabinets. You’ll also regularly see satin and high gloss finish paints used in kitchens, but less frequently.

Even though semi-gloss paint is the most popular, that does not automatically mean it is the right option for your situation. Make sure to look at the pros and cons of each paint finish, consider the other factors at play, and consult a professional if you’re still unsure.

Final Thoughts

Picking the right paint finish for your kitchen cabinets is often an afterthought when renovating or installing a kitchen. However, it can significantly impact the overall longevity and look of the space, so spend the appropriate amount of time to choose the right sheen for your needs.

Generally, glossy paint finishes work better in kitchens than more flat ones. But you also don’t want to choose a paint that is so glossy it’s distracting and clashes with the rest of your home’s decor. Choosing the right paint sheen can be difficult, but it becomes almost unnoticeable if you do it right because the space looks so beautiful and cohesive.


Hubert Miles | Licensed Home Inspector, CMI, CPI

Hubert Miles is a licensed home inspector (RBI# 2556) with more than two decades of experience in inspection and construction. Since 2008, he has been serving South Carolina through his company, Patriot Home Inspections LLC. As a Certified Master Inspector, Hubert is dedicated to providing his expertise in home inspections, repairs, maintenance, and DIY projects.