The Right Paint for Cabinets and Bookcases

The right paint can make all the difference when you're painting cabinets! Don't make the same mistake I did! Read on for tips on choosing the correct paint!

painted cabinets

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I have painted a lot of room and several piece of furniture, but even so that doesn't make me an expert! I recently made a really big mistake and chose the wrong paint for a project! Save yourself a do-over and keep reading to find out what paint is BEST for cabinets and bookcases!

Room Makeover

You might remember our large, dare I say 'ugly' living room that was all dark and cave-like with its wood paneling and dark wood bookcases when we moved into this house.

The faux wood was an orange-y-yellow and really made the room (already light-challenged because of the large, brick, double-sided fireplace) look rather bleak!

I was overwhelmed with the thought of painting all that wood I hired it out.

Don't make this mistake

I asked the painters to use latex paint instead of enamel...which was totally fine for the walls, but not the best choice for the bookcases.

You might be wondering WHY latex paint is a bad choice for bookcases

And I am here to tell you exactly why... leaves the surface tacky!

Sadly, I know this from first-hand experience!

After the painters were finished, I let everything cure for about 3 weeks before putting items back, but here's what happened.

Everything we set on the cabinets left ugly black marks on the recently painted surfaces!

And when I picked something up, it didn't really want to move at first... it was stuck to the paint!

Urghhh...frustrating! Freshly (expensive!) painted bookcases that looked bad already!

Aside - I have lots of experience painting furniture with chalky paint, and even waxing and sealing. And never have I experienced this issue with items leaving marks on the paint! Chalk paint cures to a hard finish and doesn't leave a tacky surface.

So learn from my mistake and don't paint your cabinets or built-ins with latex paint unless you plan to add a protective sealer! I was bummed and knew I needed to do something to fix this.

The timing was perfect because I had just read about DecoArt Satin Enamels... a great choice for painting cabinets! You can read more about this paint here and why it's perfect for painting cabinets.

According to DecoArt,

This formula was specially designed for revitalizing old cabinets. It gives them a durable finish making it ideal for high-use kitchen areas.

I figured if it was good enough for the kitchen, it would be a good choice for bookcases as well!

The helpful folks at DecoArt sent me a few samples so I could try to match my painted bookshelves.

After experimenting with the pure white and warm white, I found a match! By mixing 4 (pure white) to 1 (warm white), I came up with a color that was almost a perfect match to the Valspar Bistro White of the bookcases.

Here are the tools I used to fix my mistake.


I started by removing everything from the surface of the bookcase.

It's a huge bookcase, so I had several large piles spread out around the room! I took a picture beforehand so that I could put everything back where it had been.

I also taped up my WiFi receiver so we didn't have to lose service while I was working. Frog tape is great because it's strong but won't pull the paint away when I remove it!

There was no need to paint the sides and back of the bookcase because nothing sits on them, just the flat surfaces.

I lightly sanded the surfaces smooth, removing any lumps and bumps. This also prepares the surface for new paint.

The damp rag wiped any sanding dust away and I was ready to paint.

I rolled on two coats of the satin enamel paint, using the brush to edge in and paint the corners. I won't bother showing you pictures of this step as white paint on a white surface won't show up well!

But the results speak for themselves!

After giving the paint 3 days to cure, I carefully, fingers-crossed, replaced items on the bookshelves.

wall of bookcases

And I'm happy to report that nothing is sticking to the surface!

white painted bookcases

And while I don't have a dramatic before/after to show you because the new white paint matches the old, I am very happy to have a functional, non-sticky bookcase again.

I love moving items around and changing out the decor on these cabinets, and now there is no damage!

white bookcases with farmhouse decor

Whew, crisis averted!

I definitely learned from my mistake and will be careful in the future when selecting paint for cabinets!

Pin this image for future reference!

Have you ever done something like this or had issues with tacky surfaces after painting?

It just proves the point that there is always something new to learn...even in an area that you may be quite familiar with!

You can read more about this dramatic room makeover and see pretty pictures here. You'll find the DIY farmhouse clock tutorial here and I'll be sharing a fresh magnolia wreath tutorial very soon!

Update: this room has undergone more changes, with new farmhouse wood floors that we installed ourselves, a painted fireplace and a gorgeous new rug!

bringing beauty to the ordinary,

Disclosure: I am a member of the DecoArt Blogger Outreach program and received free product to use in this post. My opinions are always my own!

Sharing with :  The Pin JunkieFrench Country Cottage


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  1. Awesome work. I believe that following your guidelines, I will be able to have the best paint for my home to use and have shiny home.

  2. Your room is so much brighter painted white. It's amazing what a difference painting made! While it was a bit of a bummer with the shelves at least it was a fairly easy fix and a lesson learned. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Pam, yes the lighter paint has made a HUGE difference in this room! The cave-like feeling is gone! Appreciate your commenting :)

  3. Your room came out great! It's hard to believe it's the same one!

    Kate | The Organized Dream

  4. So, this info would have been very helpful to me if I had seen it before I repainted my shelf! I am glad to know why latex isn't good for cabinets now, though. It explains why every diyer I know who has painted their own doors, cabinets, etc., ends up with doors that stick, paint that pulls off, and so on. I don't know when I'll get around to fixing my mistake since I only did it because I happened to have paint on hand, but I will definitely keep this in mind when my next painting project rolls around. Thanks for sharing all the details!!

    1. Oh man, you too?! So sorry!! It is such a bummer to spend all that time and money... only to have sticky results!

  5. Thank you for all of your tips! When I started working in my home's paint department, your blog really enlightened me to be able to give advice that our training didn't exactly cover! You're awesome!

    1. Thanks Mary, I'm so happy to hear that you've been able to pass these tips along to others so they can avoid costly mistakes!! Thanks so much for letting me know!

    2. Thanks Mary, I'm so happy to hear that you've been able to pass these tips along to others so they can avoid costly mistakes!! Thanks so much for letting me know!

  6. Your experience brings back memories, & not pleasant ones! When I attempted to sand surfaces to begin correcting my mistake, the tacky paint rolled into gooey little bits which stuck to the sandpaper. At that point, I threw up my hands in defeat & called the professionals. I spent the night away from home & didn't return until they were finished.
    I certainly do wish I had discovered your site before I made such a mess! Your photos are inspirational & beautiful! Thank you! Best regards!

    1. Oh my goodness Ariel, what a mess! Some things are definitely better left to the pros 😉 Thank you for your sweet words!

  7. I just made this mistake! Thankfully, I have only painted the fixed shelves, not the adjustable, removable ones. I ised latex enamel and they are sticky! Do you think that a water-based polycrylic top.coat would work?

  8. How many containers of the paint jars did it take you to redo the bookcase?

  9. You didn't need to seal the enamel paint? I've been researching paint options for Ikea shelves that will go in my kitchen. I don't want sticky shelves, nor do I want to have to apply 3 layers of wax with chalk paint. This may be what I've been looking for.

    1. Cheryl, the paint has a sealant built right into it... so no additional product is needed!!!

  10. Cindy, can you recall how long you waited before coats?

  11. Hi, would you mind telling me where you found this paint? I'm looking around and am not sure where to find it. Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Helen, you can get it on Amazon. Did you try clicking on the link in this post?

    2. I just checked the link and it appears the white is sold out. You can try ordering it directly from 🤞

  12. I used the Decoart Satin Enamel paint to paint an old small dresser that had been my sisters when she was little. My mother had painted it in a thick coat of latex that 30 years later was still wet and gooey underneath the hard outer dried shell. Stripped and painted with the Satin Enamel paint and 3 years later, despite abuse from my 2 sons and 1 1/2 year old grandson is still in perfect shape. No topcoat needed. It's not a shiny paint like you'd think satin would be. It has a soft glow to it. Very durable! I painted it in black - usually a hard color to get an even sheen with but that wasn't the case with the Satin Enamel. That is some wonderful paint!

  13. Thank you for providing this article. I however have already used a paint that may be sticky and was looking to provide a topcoat. I see someone else here asked that question as well. With non-white paint that doesn't seem to be an issue but with white paint, I've read where most topcoats yellow quite badly and no one wants that. Anyone here know of a topcoat to prevent sticking that will also keep whites white? Thanks to any advice!


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