If someone did a poll on chores people love to postpone, painting cabinets would surely be near the top of the list. The task itself isn’t unpleasant — far from it. Still, waiting for the paint to dry and cure really sucks all the fun out of it. But how long does it take for painted cabinets to cure?

That’s the problem, isn’t it — there’s a difference between drying and curing. Before we talk about that, though, let’s break down the process of painting cabinets.

Cabinet Painting 101

If your cabinets are long overdue for a fresh coat of paint, the first thing you should do is get your supplies. Depending on the materials the cabinets are made of, you’ll need different kinds of paint and accompanying accessories.

Wood is pretty easy to paint, as is any other material you can go over with sandpaper. However, laminate cabinets need a special primer, and the laminate itself has to be in a pretty good condition. Otherwise, you’d have to completely replace sections of the cabinet.

Next up, you’ll need to get high-quality paint that will last for a couple of decades. Most people prefer acrylic paint to vinyl, at least when painting their cabinets. Lastly, you may also need a finishing coat — but that’s not a requirement.

In any case, once you get started, you’ll find that the process moves pretty quickly:

  • First, you’ll want to cover your painting area with plastic. Prepare the cabinets by emptying and disassembling them if possible.
  • Patch up any dents you see with wood putty and sand everything down. If plain old sandpaper doesn’t remove all the old paint, there are chemical stripping products you can use with a scraper.
  • After removing the old paint, you should vacuum up the dust and clean the cabinets with a degreaser.
  • To ensure an even result, you should prime your cabinets. Some paint manufacturers claim that this step is optional when using their products, but you should do it, just to be safe.

Finally, it’s time to paint. You’ll need to let each coat dry before applying the next. And before you put the cabinets back into your home, they’ll need to cure completely. With this general overview in mind, let’s talk about the difference between drying and curing.

What’s the Difference Between Paint Drying and Curing?

Before you even start painting your cabinets, you should know that the whole process will take at least a few days from start to finish. Most of that time will be spent waiting for the layers of primer and paint to dry, so you won’t have much to do in the meantime.

Most primers need to dry for a full day before you get to slather on the paint. Moreover, when the primer dries, you’ll have to do the whole “sand and clean” dance one more time, to make sure your surface is flat. In fact, you should ideally sand each coat of paint with a very fine, 220 grit paper.

After everything is ready, start by painting the back first, then hit all the sides. Once again, it’s best to let the first layer of paint dry for at least a full day — and even then, it won’t get a chance to completely cure. So what’s the difference between these two processes?

Well, most paint labels say that the product will dry in an hour or two. However, that doesn’t mean that the paint won’t shift or scuff easily. Rather, “drying” implies that the solvents have evaporated from the paint, leaving it relatively hard to the touch. Curing is a process that takes much longer, depending on the kind of paint you’re using.

How Long Should Painted Cabinets Cure?

If drying means that the liquid parts of the paint have mostly evaporated, curing signifies the completion of that process. It means that the paint is completely hardened and that it won’t budge at all. But as we have established, different types of paint have different drying and curing times.

Confusingly, most paint labels only state the drying time, which doesn’t tell you much about when your cabinets will be completely cured. For example:

  • Water-based latex paint labels will tell you that their drying time is only an hour or two, but will take three or four weeks to completely cure
  • Oil-based paint will be dry to the touch within six to eight hours, but they’ll be cured within a week
  • Chalk paints often promise an incredibly short drying time of up to an hour, but they take about a month to fully cure — and the same goes for milk paint

If you work with latex paint, you’ll be able to apply another coat of paint after about four hours. However, if you’re reapplying oil-based paint, you should let the previous coat sit for at least a day — unless you use products like Japan Drier.

Of course, there are factors that can affect the drying and curing times of all these paints. So let’s name a few!

Tips for Speeding Up the Curing Process

Some tried-and-true tips that can help you get through this whole process faster can seem counterintuitive. For example, most people will tell you that it’s best to apply several thin coats of paint than go for one thick layer.

Slathering on a thick layer of paint may seem more convenient in the moment, but it’ll only leave you with a streaky mess that won’t dry properly for weeks. So it’s best to go for even and thin layers. And remember to gently sand and wipe the cabinets before applying each additional coat.

If possible, let your painted cabinets dry in a warm but well-ventilated room. A room heater and dehumidifier will help you achieve the optimal conditions for drying paint. Alternatively, if you end up doing this project on a warm, dry day, you could also just leave the cabinets outside. The wind and heat will help the solvents evaporate faster.

On the other hand, if you’re working indoors, you could apply localized heat with a hairdryer or a similar device. The fast-moving air will also help the paint dry and cure faster.

Like Watching Paint Dry…

If you need to paint your cabinets, you should get your supplies ready as soon as possible. After all, the sooner you start, the sooner the paint will cure. But remember, just because it’s not tacky when you touch it doesn’t mean it’s fully cured.

Rushing to put your stuff back into the cabinets before the paint sets is a surefire way to damage the paint. And since painting your cabinets isn’t something you do every other year, those marks will stay there for at least a decade or two! So before you restore everything to its place, press your fingernail into the paint in an inconspicuous area. If it doesn’t leave a dent, you should be good to go.

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