Satin Or Semi-Gloss Paint For Kitchen Cabinets?

Michael Oconnor
by Michael Oconnor
Choosing one finish over another for your kitchen cabinets can completely change the look and feel of the room. Satin finishes are ideal because of the stain resistance whereas semi-gloss can withstand moisture in the air more easily. The choice comes down to personal preference, so let’s take a look at the benefits and downsides of satin and semi-gloss finishes.

It is difficult to choose the right paint for your cabinets, especially if you want to get it right the first time. Each type of paint has a unique style, finish, and reflective quality that completely changes how your cabinets look. Two of the most popular options are satin and semi-gloss, so which is the better paint?

Satin paint is best for cabinets if you want forgiving paint that isn’t too reflective. Semi-gloss paint is vibrant and reflective, but it can make smudges and scratches on your cabinets appear more clearly. It is much more difficult to apply satin paint, but you’ll need to clean your cabinets more often if you have semi-gloss paint.

Both satin and semi-gloss paints are rightfully beloved for their distinct styles. Semi-gloss paint is timeless, whereas satin paint looks better on cabinets in a kitchen with a modern aesthetic. Follow along as we explore the important question; satin or semi-gloss for kitchen cabinets?

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Satin Or Semi-Gloss Paint For Kitchen Cabinets?

Homeowners are often torn between satin and semi-gloss paint for kitchen cabinets. Both are excellent options and are certainly timeless, but each offers a unique style and finish. Satin and semi-gloss paint are standard go-to options, but they complement different aesthetics.


Satin paint is a happy medium between matte and gloss. The eggshell style of satin paint makes it reflective without bouncing too much light around the room. Homeowners use satin paint for walls and ceilings, but it works just as well on cabinets where it is close to level with lights.

Well-applied satin paint looks great, but it can be difficult to apply perfectly. It is best to hire a professional to paint your cabinets with satin paint to avoid streaks and bare spots. Luckily, it is easy to clean cabinets that have a coat of satin paint as long as you don’t scrub too hard and damage the surface.


The reflective nature of semi-gloss paint makes it vibrant and lively. One of the main benefits of semi-gloss paint is that it reflects light in the room and can help illuminate the space with less effort. You can’t go wrong with semi-gloss paint whether you choose a calm, neutral, or vibrant color.

Unfortunately, semi-gloss paint isn’t very forgiving when it comes to smudges and scratches. The sheen that semi-gloss paint has can highlight imperfections and make the surface look dirty. You may need to clean your cabinets frequently if you have semi-gloss paint or they will look bad under bright lights.

Do I Need a Special Paint for Kitchen Cabinets?

There is no special kind of paint specifically for kitchen cabinets. Most kitchen cabinets are made of wood, which is very receptive to all kinds of paints. As long as you prep the surface properly, you can use almost any paint.

It is not a matter of whether or not you are choosing a paint specifically for cabinets, it is more that you are choosing a paint specifically for your life. There is hardly ever a catch-all for interior design. Almost everything will be depending on how you use it.

Any paint you use for your kitchen cabinets should be rated for indoor use. However, this is more of a safety issue than a taste issue. Most paints that you find at your local big-box hardware store will be rated for indoor use.

Should I Use a Brush or Roller to Paint Cabinets?

Most professional cabinetry painters will use neither a roller or a brush. They use highly pressurized airbrushes that evenly distribute the paint using an air compressor. However, most DIYers will not have access to this professional equipment.

In general, you should always use a small roller for applying paint to cabinets. This will allow you to make long, even strokes that will give you a clean coat of paint. Brushes are good for small areas or touching up but should be avoided for long strokes intended for coverage.

It should be noted that brush marks will show up in a semi-gloss paint much more prominently than a satin one. Semi-gloss paint has a way of amplifying imperfections. If you are using semi-gloss, be sure to use a roller and not a brush.

Do I Need to Prime Cabinets Before Painting?

Any professional painter will tell you that proper preparation is the key to a long-lasting paint job. This includes priming and ensuring that your paint has a surface to stick to. It is absolutely necessary to prime your cabinets before painting.

While you do have to prime your cabinets, it is not recommended that you sand them before priming. Sanding the wood of your cabinets will open up the pores inside the wood itself. This leaves them vulnerable to moisture and mold or mildew.

While you don’t have to sand them, you should definitely ensure that your cabinets are clean before priming. Wipe them down with a damp cloth and let them dry completely. Then, add one coat of primer and let it dry before adding your finishing paint.

Do I Need to Seal Cabinets After Painting?

It may seem like a good idea to add a topcoat of clear polyurethane to your cabinets after painting them. However, this will only allow more dirt and moisture to stick to the wood or soak in. If you properly clean and paint your cabinets, you do not need to seal them.

It is recommended that you use one coat of primer and one to two thin coats of finishing paint after that. If you do this properly, you will not have to add any kind of sealer or topcoat. The primer and paint will be enough to protect the wood.

The main reason why you do not want to add a topcoat to cabinets is that it tends to be sticky. You want to avoid that tacky feel for any furniture that is consistently touched. This tends to attract dirt and trap moisture, leading to damage.

How Do I Get the Smoothest Paint Finish?

The best way to get the smoothest paint finish is to do less. If you can apply the coat of paint in the least amount of strokes, this will give you the cleanest, smoothest finish. As long as you have properly applied your primer, the paint should lay down smooth.

While you shouldn’t sand your cabinets before priming them, you should lightly sand them afterward. This will give the primer a grittier surface that will allow the paint to stick and hold. Uninterrupted finishes are usually the result of paint that has been properly applied and dried.

Can I Paint Satin Over Semi-Gloss?

The nice thing about having both satin and semi-gloss finish available to you is that one can easily be painted over the other. Satin paint can be painted over semi-gloss without sanding or priming the wood. This gives you lots of options to see which one you like best.

If you have semi-gloss paint in your house already that you want to paint over, satin paint might be the best option. Old semi-gloss paints sometimes contain lead. In these cases, you should not sand it, and just repaint over it with the satin paint.

What Color Is Best for Cabinets?

There are rarely any hard-and-fast rules when it comes to painting your kitchen cabinets. These things will always rely on a degree of taste. However, there are some guidelines that can help you get your desired results.

Darker colors high up in a room tend to make the room look smaller. If you already have a small kitchen that you want to open up, you should paint your cabinets a lighter color like white or off-white. This will give the illusion of space and open up the room.

However, if your kitchen has a contemporary, modern look. You may want to paint your cabinets a darker color to match that vibe. Kitchens with stainless steel appliances tend to look better with darker cabinets that complement the modern-looking equipment.

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Related Questions

Why are my white cabinets turning yellow?

Things like oil and grease in the air tend to make paint go yellow over a period of years. This can be avoided by using a satin finish instead of semi-gloss. Semi-gloss paint soaks up and holds onto particles in the air. This includes substances that turn yellow such as oil.

How do you keep painted kitchen cabinets from chipping?

Kitchen cabinets are a high-touch, high-use item in your home. Because of this, you need a durable, high-quality finish. If you have painted your cabinets with the proper amount of primer and one to two thin coats of paint, you should not have issues with chipping.

How can I paint without brush marks?

If you must paint your kitchen cabinets with a brush, you should use a low gloss satin paint. Satin paint hides imperfections in both the wood itself and in the finish. It will help cover any brushstrokes that may have ended up showing in the final paint job.

Summing It Up

Satin paint isn’t as shiny as semi-gloss paint, and it looks similar to an eggshell finish. You can generally find satin paint on modern kitchen cabinets and walls because of its contemporary look. When it dries, satin paint can hide imperfections in the cabinets or the finish which makes them more forgiving than semi-gloss paint.

Semi-gloss finish is much shinier and more reflective than a satin finish. It can also withstand moisture better than satin paint which makes it great if you live in a humid climate. Semi-gloss paint is more viscous than satin paint, and that means that it can easily show imperfections.

It all comes down to personal taste and the existing aesthetic within your home. Satin paint looks better on cabinets in a kitchen with a contemporary aesthetic. Otherwise, semi-gloss paint is the best option if you want a reflective, vibrant finish for your cabinets.

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Michael Oconnor
Michael Oconnor

I am a writer and editor from The Bay Area, CA. When I'm not typing, I enjoy hiking, woodworking and gardening. I love sharing tips and discovering new trends in home improvement.

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