How to transform kitchen cabinets with a distressed paint finish

Giving your cabinets a distressed finish can make a huge impact on your kitchen. This technique will not only add character to your kitchen, but it will also give it a timeless rustic charm. This detailed guide will take you through every step to ensure your cabinets come out exactly the way you imagined.

Materials Required

Gather all materials before you begin the transformation. You’ll need the following materials:

1. Sandpaper (Various Grits)

  • Coarse sandpaper (80-100 grit): The coarse sandpaper creates a surface that is slightly textured, which helps the primer adhere better.
  • Medium (120 to 150 grit) This step smoothes out the surface and prepares it for paint application.
  • Fine (240-240 grit). This grit is the finest and provides a smooth finish. It ensures that the distressed look at its end is well-balanced.

2. Cleaning Supplies

  • Trisodium Phosphate (TSP): A powerful cleaner that removes grease, grime and residues from cabinet surfaces.
  • Clean Cloths & Sponges: Essential to wipe down cabinets after cleaning and Sanding.

3. Paint and Primer

  • Choose Your Desired Colors: The matte finish of chalk paint and its excellent adhesion qualities make it a popular option for distressed finishes.
  • Primer Water-based: High-quality primer water-based ensures that the paint adheres to the surface evenly.

4. Paintbrushes, Rollers and Rollers

  • Angled brushes: These brushes are useful for reaching corners and edge with precision.
  • Foam rollers: Ideal to apply paint evenly over larger flat surfaces.

5. Distressing Tools

  • Sanding block: Used to create a distressed look at edges and corners.
  • Chain Creates a unique pattern when struck lightly against the surface.
  • Hammer Creates deeper grooves and dents for a more prominent distressed effect.

Step-by-Step Guide

Let’s start the process of painting your kitchen cabinets in a distressed finish now that you have all your materials.

Step 1: Remove Cabinet Hardware

Start by unscrewing all knobs, handles and hinges on the cabinet doors. This will ensure a smooth, even painting.

Step 2: Cleanse and degrease

Clean all surfaces with a TSP solution and warm water. Use a clean sponge or cloth to clean the surface. This step is essential to remove all grease and grime that could prevent paint from adhering properly.

Step 3: Sanding

Coarse Sanding

Sand the surfaces using the coarse-grit (80-100-grit) sandpaper. This will create a rougher texture that allows the primer to adhere better.

Medium Sanding

Then, switch to medium-grit (120-150-grit) sandpaper. This step prepares the surface for paint application by smoothing the surface.

Fine Sanding

The sanding is finished with fine-grit paper (220-240 grit). This will give the distressed look a refined and balanced finish.

Step 4: Apply primer

Apply a uniform coat of a water-based primer to all cabinet surfaces. This is a vital foundation for the paint, and will ensure a smooth finish. Let the primer dry completely before continuing.

Step 5: Apply the Base Coat of Chalk Paint

Choosing Your Colors

Choose your favorite colors of chalk paint for the base coat. Apply a uniform coat to all cabinet surfaces using a foam brush or roller. Let the paint dry completely before continuing.

Step 6: Distressing

Sanding Blocks

Use the sanding blocks to gently distress the raised areas, corners and edges of the cabinet doors. The base coat will be revealed, giving the cabinet a weathered appearance.

Chain Distressing 

Hold the chain up against the surface of the cabinet and lightly tap it. This technique adds to the distressed look by creating small imperfections and controlled dents.

Hammer Distressing

Use a hammer to lightly tap on the surface in order to create deeper grooves and dents. This step gives the distressed look more depth and character.

Step 7: Finish the Chalk Paint Coating

Use a chalk paint of a color that contrasts to the final coat. This will enhance the distressed look, and add depth to the finished product. Allow the paint time to dry completely.

Step 8: Sealing the Finish

Apply a clear sealant or wax to protect the distressed finish. This will give it a subtle shine. This step adds a polished finish to the finish while ensuring its longevity.


You’ve transformed your kitchen cabinets into something stunning with the distressed paint finish. Enjoy the rustic character and charm it adds to your kitchen.


1. How long is the typical distressed finish?

With proper maintenance, the distressed finish can last several years.

2. Can I distress different types of cabinets?

This technique can be used on cabinets made from wood, MDF or other materials.

3. Can I distress painted cabinets?

You may have to remove the old paint first.

4. Can I distress with a different paint?

Other paints, such as acrylics and varnishes, can be used if they are applied with the right techniques.

5. Sealing the finish is necessary?

Sealing the finish will protect it and prolong its life.

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