4 Biggest Causes of Peeling Cabinet Paint

by Sep 12, 2019cabinet refinishing

Why Paint Peels


To kick things off, let’s learn how paint peels. Once we have an understanding how it peels, we’ll talk about the biggest causes of peeling.

First, to understand how paint peels–you need to know how it sticks. Paint is really just finely crushed minerals (pigment) suspended in a liquid (binder) with additives that give it special properties.

One of those special properties gives paint the ability to stick to certain surfaces. This is called a chemical bond.

The other way paints stick is through a physical bond. You create a surface that the paint can “grab”.

When either one of these isn’t up to par–peeling is sure to happen.

1. Latex paint

Latex paint is great for houses and terrible for cabinets.

We mentioned in the “why paint peels” section that paint needs to have a chemical bond with surface.

Latex (aka house paint) does NOT have a chemical bond with cabinet surfaces. It peels right off.

This often happens when a house painter is hired to paint cabinets or a homeowner doesn’t do their “do it yourself” diligence to learn about cabinet paint.

Painting a house is VERY different from painting a cabinet or other wooden furniture for that matter.

2. Cabinet paint painted over latex paint.


Say that 5 times fast. The second biggest cause of peeling isn’t this–but it’s a great segue into the other causes.

It doesn’t matter what you put over latex paint. If it isn’t done right the first time–you’re bound to have problems.

This is why re-paints can be very expensive. No one wants to touch a badly painted cabinet job. It takes a lot of extra work to bring it up to acceptable standards.

3. No sanding

THIS is the second biggest cause of peeling. When we talked about why paint peels we went over physical bonds.

Before you paint, you need to create a surface that can help the paint stick.

What allows paint to stick better are tiny little micro tears in a surface caused by sand paper. These tears create grooves that are filled with paint and allow the paint to grab onto the surface.

When you have a silky smooth surface, the paint has nothing to grab on to. This is the case for most cabinets–especially those with a smooth veneer finish.

4. No primer

A close second, but technically less important than sanding–primer.

Sticking to the into paragraph about chemical bonds–primer has the biggest baddest chemical bond of all.

Primer’s sole purpose in life is to stick to things and create a surface that paint can use to create a chemical bond.

It’s like the middle man between the surface and the paint for lack of better words.

That being said, the better the primer–the stickier it is. The stickier the primer the less likely any chipping or peeling will happen.

in conclusion


To close up shop: First, make sure you’re using cabinet paint–not house paint. If you already have paint, do a scratch test. If the test fails, then you need to remove the paint before repainting the cabinets.

Third, please make sure to scuff up the surface by lightly sanding with either 220 or 320 grit sand paper. If the grit goes any lower, the scratches can show up through the paint.

Fourth, use primer. Shellac and vinyl sealer primers both work really well for cabinetry.