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Painting Cabinet Doors: Oil Still Available, but Latex Gaining Ground

What's a person to do? You've always heard that oil-based paint is much better to use on kitchen cabinets than latex, though maybe you didn't know why. But now you hear oil-based paint is a no-no, even outlawed in some states--kind of.

Here is a 7-step look at the oil-latex argument.

  1. How they work. An oil-based paint (alkyd) penetrates the surface, whereas latex merely forms a film that sticks to the surface; hence, an oil paint holds more firmly.
  2. Hardness. Back in the day, oil paint was by far the harder coating. Nowadays, the high-quality acrylic-enamel latex paints are a very close second. Oil paints also will cure faster, so that there is no sticking to another surface when a door is shut; used to be that a latex paint took weeks to truly harden and would stick to anything it pressed up against. Again, however, acrylic-enamel latex has mostly cured that problem.
  3. Appearance. It's always been argued that oil paint has a much smoother finish, that latex is more likely to show brush strokes. However, oil paint is known to fade and yellow (in the lighter colors) much faster than latex.
  4. Clean-up. Unless you have an affinity for mineral spirits (paint thinner), latex is by far the easier to clean up--just use warm water and detergent. Oil paint requires cleanup with thinner.
  5. Toxicity. Aha! Here is the crux. Oil-based paints spew toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Latex paint is not nearly so bad, and very-low VOC latex paint is available. California has led the charge of states banning high-VOC paints, which mainly means oil paint. New Environmental Protection Agency regulations, though not as strict as California's, are forcing paint manufacturers away from oil paint and into formulating better latex paints. The days of painting a house with oil paint are nearing an end. However…
  6. Quarts? Even if you are in a region that bans oil paint, it may be available in quarts, though four quarts will cost more than twice what a gallon of oil paint used to cost. If you are painting kitchen cabinets, you can probably handle the inflated cost, if you still want oil.
  7. Over oil? You may have heard that you are not supposed to paint latex over old oil paint, as there will be severe adhesion problems. So what are you supposed to do if you want to repaint kitchen cabinets that have oil on them now? Well, you can paint latex over oil, but first you must use an oil-based primer so the new latex will hold. Fortunately, oil primers do not have serious VOC problems and still are available.

So if you want to paint your kitchen cabinet doors, and you are glued to oil-based paint, you may be able to buy some in quarts. Just remember you will be releasing some pretty toxic fumes into the air. But newer acrylic latex paints almost match the benefits of oil paint, and don't have nearly the toxicity problem. Plus, they are much easier to clean up.


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Kitchen Cabinet Refacing
When remodeling your kitchen, an alternative to replacing your cabinets entirely, is to reface them. With refacing cabinets, you can achieve a beautiful new kitchen while spending half the amount of money. You will literally be giving your cabinets a face-lift! In the refacing process, existing doors, drawer fronts and hardware are removed and replaced with new ones

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