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Can You Use Exterior Paint On Kitchen Cabinets? Expert Advice

Exterior paint on kitchen cabinets

Can you use exterior paint on kitchen cabinets?

This article will explore the benefits and potential drawbacks of using exterior paint in this unique application.

We’ll discuss the differences between exterior and interior paint, and what considerations should be kept in mind when making your decision.

You may reason that exterior paint, designed to withstand the elements, could offer increased durability and protection for your kitchen cabinets.

However, it’s crucial to understand the properties of exterior paint compared to those of interior paint, as well as the impact on the overall finish and appearance.

In the next sections, we’ll cover the essential information you need to make an informed choice for your kitchen cabinet project.

Exterior Paint Vs Interior Paint

When considering a paint job for your kitchen cabinets, it’s essential to understand the differences between exterior and interior paint.

In this section, we’ll explore the key differences, durability, and finish of exterior and interior paint and help you make an informed decision for your project.

Key Differences

Exterior and interior paints are formulated with different purposes in mind.

Exterior paint is designed to withstand harsh weather conditions, UV rays, and moisture, while interior paint focuses on providing a durable, easy-to-clean surface within your home.

Some important distinctions include:

  • Resins: Exterior paints use softer, more flexible resins to resist cracking and fading, whereas interior paints use rigid resins for easy clean-up and stain resistance
  • Additives: Interior paint contains additives that reduce drying time and distribute pigment evenly. Exterior paint, on the other hand, has additives to make it weather-proof
  • Volatility: Exterior paint tends to emit higher levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than interior paint, which can be harmful to your health if used indoors
  • Fungicides: Exterior paint often contains mildewcides or fungicides to protect against mold and mildew growth, while interior paint does not typically include these additives.


One of the primary concerns when choosing paint for your kitchen cabinets is durability.

Interior paint formulas have been developed to provide a tough surface that resists everyday wear and tear, such as scuffing, staining, and cleaning.

This is especially important in high-traffic areas like your kitchen, where your cabinets need to withstand constant use and cleaning.

On the other hand, the main strength of exterior paint lies in its ability to resist the harsh outdoor elements.

While it might seem advantageous to use exterior paint to achieve maximum durability, its composition isn’t optimized for indoor use.

Ultimately, using exterior paint on your kitchen cabinets could lead to a subpar and potentially hazardous result due to its higher VOC content.


Type of finish is another consideration when selecting the appropriate paint for your kitchen cabinets. Interior paints typically offer a broader range of finish options, including flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss finishes.

The versatility of interior paint finishes allows you to select a finish that best suits your design preferences and cabinet surface.

Exterior paints, however, typically are available in flat, semi-gloss, or gloss enamel finishes.

Moreover, exterior paint may not adhere as well to some cabinet surfaces as interior paint, which is specifically formulated for use on interior surfaces.

To sum up, while exterior paint may seem like a viable option for your kitchen cabinets, it’s important to consider the differences in composition, durability, and finishes when selecting the right paint.

Using interior paint specifically designed for your project will ultimately lead to a safer, more visually appealing, and longer-lasting result for your kitchen cabinets.

Black exterior paint

Applying Exterior Paint on Kitchen Cabinets

While it is possible to use exterior paint on kitchen cabinets, particular care must be taken during preparation and application.

This section will discuss the necessary steps to take in order to achieve a successful result.


To begin with, remove the cabinet units as much as possible and clean them thoroughly.

This process may involve some sanding, but it is essential to perform all preparations in a well-ventilated area with optimal airflow.

When sanding, make sure to remove any previous finishes to help the exterior paint adhere to the surface.

After sanding, wipe down the cabinets with a damp cloth to remove any dust and let them dry completely.

Also, cover surrounding areas with drop cloths or plastic sheeting to protect them from paint splatters.

Application Techniques

Once the cabinets are clean, dry, and properly prepared, begin applying the exterior paint. Follow these steps to ensure a smooth and long-lasting finish:

  1. Prime the surface: Using a primer is crucial when applying exterior paint to your kitchen cabinets. Priming ensures a proper bond between the paint and wood surface, preventing peeling and other damage over time
  2. Brush application: Apply the paint with a high-quality brush, starting at the top of the cabinet and working your way down. Use a brush with synthetic bristles for water-based paints and natural bristles for oil-based paints.
  3. Smooth application: After brushing on the paint, pass the brush lightly over the wet finish in the direction of the wood grain to eliminate brush strokes and achieve a smooth finish. This technique, called “tipping off,” should be done in a single stroke from one end to the other
  4. Allow to dry: Let the paint dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions, typically overnight. This will give the paint enough time to harden and reach its full potential resistance against moisture and other environmental factors.
  5. Apply additional coats: Depending on the desired coverage and finish, apply additional coats of paint, allowing sufficient drying time between each coat.

Remember that exterior paint on kitchen cabinets requires a well-ventilated space and sufficient airflow to maintain the proper drying process.

By following these preparation and application techniques, you can achieve a durable and aesthetically pleasing finish on your kitchen cabinets.

Pros And Cons Of Using Exterior Paint On Kitchen Cabinets


Using exterior paint on kitchen cabinets has some benefits that might be appealing to homeowners.

Firstly, exterior paint is designed to withstand various outdoor elements, which means it can provide your cabinets with protection against moisture, sun damage, and everyday wear and tear.

This kind of durability can help extend the life of your cabinets and maintain their appearance over time.

Additionally, since exterior paint is formulated to endure outdoor conditions, it generally comes with better resistance to chipping, peeling, and fading.

This can be especially handy in a busy kitchen, where cabinets might be exposed to hazards like steam, spills, and frequent use.

Moreover, exterior paint often has an extensive range of colors and finishes available that can be exciting to experiment with during a kitchen renovation.

This expansive selection makes it possible to find unique paint options, allowing you to customize your cabinets and create a standout aesthetic within your kitchen space.


Despite the potential benefits, there are some downsides to consider before using exterior paint on your kitchen cabinets. One notable drawback is the potential for fumes and off-gassing.

Exterior paints often contain strong chemical additives that make them durable and weather-resistant.

These additives can lead to strong odors and off-gassing, which might be more noticeable in an enclosed space like a kitchen.

Another issue is that exterior paint may not adhere well to certain types of wood commonly used for kitchen cabinets, like maple or other close-grained species.

As a result, you might need to strip the existing finish to ensure proper adhesion or choose another paint option altogether in case of adhesion problems with certain woods.

Furthermore, exterior paint can be costlier and harder to work with than standard interior paints.

This is due to the additional performance properties and additives that make it tough and durable.

As a result, you may face extra expenses and difficulties when applying exterior paint to your kitchen cabinets.

Lastly, using exterior paint indoors can pose potential health risks.

Some exterior paints contain high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause respiratory issues or other health complications if used in enclosed spaces without proper ventilation.

Therefore, it’s important to check the VOC rating of an exterior paint product and choose a low-VOC option if you decide to use it on cabinets.

exterior paint fumes

Alternative Paint Options For Kitchen Cabinets

While some may consider using exterior paint on kitchen cabinets, it’s essential to explore alternative paint options specifically designed for cabinetry.

In this section, we will discuss cabinet-specific paints, different paint types, and some popular paint brands to help you make an informed decision.

Cabinet-Specific Paints

These paints are formulated to adhere well and provide a durable, long-lasting finish on kitchen cabinets.

These paints are usually easier to clean, resistant to moisture and mildew, and have a smoother, more professional-looking finish than regular or exterior paints.

It’s always a good idea to opt for cabinet-specific paints when painting your kitchen cabinets to ensure a high-quality result and increase the longevity of your cabinets.

Paint Types

There are several paint types you can choose from for painting your kitchen cabinets. Some popular choices include:

  • Latex Paints: Latex paints have improved considerably over the years and are now a popular choice for many DIYers due to their quick drying time and easy clean-up with water. However, you should look for high-quality latex paints with higher titanium dioxide pigment percentages for better coverage and durability.
  • Alkyd Paints: Alkyd paints are water-based paints that have an enamel finish similar to oil-based paints but without the oil content. They have a tough, semi-gloss finish and are more durable than oil-based paints. Alkyd paints can be a great choice for kitchen cabinets as they do not need a topcoat
  • Satin or Semi-Gloss Paints: Satin or semi-gloss paints are ideal for kitchen cabinets because they are moisture and mildew resistant and easy to clean. Their finish also holds up well against steam and general wear and tear

Paint Brands

Now that you’re familiar with different paint types, let’s look at some popular paint brands known for their high-quality cabinet paints:

  1. Benjamin Moore: Known for their premium-quality paints, Benjamin Moore offers a wide range of cabinet-specific colors and finishes to choose from.
  2. Sherwin-Williams: Offering a variety of cabinet paint options, Sherwin-Williams is a trusted brand with a reputation for durability and excellent coverage.
  3. Farrow & Ball: Farrow & Ball is a high-end paint brand known for its unique color palette and superior finish, making it a popular choice for designers and homeowners alike.
  4. PPG Paints: PPG Paints offers a range of high-quality paints formulated to withstand the demands of kitchen environments, ensuring long-lasting results.

Keep in mind that no matter which paint type or brand you choose, proper preparation and application are essential to achieving a professional, long-lasting finish on your kitchen cabinets.

Benjamin moore interior kitchen cabinet paints

Final Thoughts – Is Exterior Paint Good For Kitchen Cabinets?

Using exterior paint on kitchen cabinets is indeed possible, but it’s essential to keep a few crucial factors in mind.

Because exterior paint is more durable than interior paint, some homeowners may consider it a valid option for their cabinetry.

However, this extra durability comes with potential drawbacks.

One critical consideration is the fact that exterior paint is typically thicker and less breathable than its interior counterpart.

This means moisture from cooking and steam might get trapped behind the painted surface, which could lead to issues such as cracking, peeling, and overall damage over time.

Proper prep work is vital when using exterior paint on your kitchen cabinets.

Removing the cabinet units, cleaning them, and possibly doing some sanding are essential steps to ensure a smooth application process.

Ideally, this should be done in an outside area with plenty of airflows.

Moreover, maintaining the dryness of exterior paint on kitchen cabinets can be challenging since these surfaces usually require a regular amount of airflow.

Thus, be prepared for possible maintenance issues if you choose to go with exterior paint on your kitchen cabinets.

In summary, using exterior paint on kitchen cabinets can be a viable option, but it comes with its own set of challenges.

Weigh the benefits of durability against the potential downsides carefully. If you decide to proceed with exterior paint, be sure to dedicate time to proper preparation, application, and ongoing maintenance.

By taking these factors into account, you can make an informed decision for your kitchen cabinetry.

Can you use exterior paint on kitchen cabinets?

About Savannah Phillips

Savannah Phillips is an NCIDQ certified Interior Designer with a Bachelors of Science in Interior Design from Illinois State University. She is skilled in Space Planning, Furniture Layouts, Material and Finish Selection and FF&E Procurement.

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