The Right Pantry Paint Makes a Difference


In this guide you will learn to pick the right paint for pantry walls and shelves.  Included are the most common questions people have about choosing the right paint and primer, drying times, when to apply second coats, and how soon you can put pantry items back on shelves.

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DISCLAIMER:  Houses painted before 1978 may contain lead.  If you scrape, sand or remove old paint, you may release lead dust.  Lead is toxic and can cause serious illness, such as brain damage, especially in children; pregnant women should avoid exposure.  Wear a NIOSH-approved respirator to control lead exposure.  Clean up carefully with a HEPA vacuum and wet mop.  Before you start, find out how to protect yourself and your family by contacting the National Lead Information Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD or log on to www.epa.gov/lead.  Credit:  Zinsser primer paint label.

Common pantry-related paint questions

What kind of paint do you use for a pantry? The best paint for pantry shelves and walls is a latex water-based paint in satin or semi-gloss finish that is resistant to mold and mildew.

What kind of paint do you use on pantry shelves?  Is there specific paint for interior wood? Both latex water-based paint and oil-based paint are fine to paint wood pantry shelves.  In addition, there are special formulations from paint manufacturers for painting kitchen cabinets to assure smooth, brush-free results.

Can I paint over wire shelves?  Yes, you can paint over wire shelves.  Use spray paint formulated especially for metal and plastic to paint over metal or plastic-over-metal pantry wire shelves.  Shelves should always be thoroughly washed and dried to remove dust, grease, and dirt before painting.

Can I spray paint my pantry?  Yes you can spray paint your pantry.  However, many pantries are small and it would be difficult to spray at an ideal angle to perform a quality job.  Most pantries, like closets are usually not textured for the same reason: the difficulty of application in a small space.  Also, spraying in a small, confined space is not healthy for the person spraying. It would be fine to remove shelving to a well-ventilated area and spray it there.

What is the most durable paint for wood? Oil-based paint is the most durable, but it takes longer to dry and the fumes are more powerful when applying.  New latex non-odorless paint formulations have been developed that are nearly as durable as oil-based paint options.

Can I use chalk paint on pantry shelves?  Many do-it-yourselfers may be tempted to use popular types of paint specifically designed for furniture, such as chalk or milk paint, but they are not durable enough for shelving that gets heavy use. Chalk paint could be used on upright wood pieces if you are seeking a specific decorative effect.

Painting a deep pantry shelf

Painting a deep pantry shelf with semi-gloss paint.

Latex water-based paint takes 14-30 days to fully cure; oil-based paint takes 3-7 days.  Food items can be placed back on shelves after painting has cured.  Do the "thumbnail" test to check cure progress.

What paint will give me the smoothest brush-free texture?  Oil-based paint will the smoothest texture, but your paintbrush and roller and technique affect the final job.  Using products like additives to paint slows down the drying process which allows the paint the time to "lay down."  Well known additives are Floetrol (for water-based paints) or Penetrol (for oil-based paints).

When can I put food cans back on my pantry shelves? If you put food cans back on pantry shelves too soon before the paint completely dries, you will run into "sticky shelf" problems.

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Understanding the difference between drying and curing paint. Latex paint dries to the touch in 30 minutes, oil based paint can take several hours to dry (which is frustrating when you want to put your pantry back together!).  Curing means that the paint is dried all the way through, not just the surface.  

Shelves can be sticky because the inside isn't dry... even though the outside is. Putting heavy cans or loaded pantry can storage racks back onto freshly painted shelves can result in marring and denting the paint surface.

According to PPGPaints, "Depending on color choice, atmospheric conditions, and other variables, latex paint may take up to 60 days for a “full cure”. Latex paint can be put to normal use after a day or two, but should be allowed to cure for at least 14 days before attempting to wipe or wash the walls."

You may be surprised to learn that oil-based paints cure faster than latex-based paints. According to Burnett Painting, latex paint cures slower because it dries on the outside first. Burnett agrees with the statement above that it can take 14 days for latex-based paints to dry, but it can take up to 30 days if in poor drying conditions.  Oil-based paint is cured within three to seven days. 

Based on this information, painting your pantry shelves with oil-based paint seems to be a better action to take if you want to put your pantry back together sooner. You can always paint the walls with a latex-based paint and apply oil-based paint to your shelves.

You can paint latex paint over oil-based paint.  Sand the surface of a fully-cured oil-based painted surface, wipe down to remove any gloss, and apply a primer.

Note:  Sometimes an oil-based paint or oil-based primer is used to block stains.  Maybe you want to paint over old pantry shelves that were previously painted over with oil-based paint, You can paint latex over oil-based paint!  The oil-based paint must be fully cured, sanded enough to remove the glossy finish, and then primed with a primer.

It's a good idea to attempt to speed up the drying/curing process in small spaces such as pantries because you need to get your food items back on the shelves. This can be done by getting air movement into the pantry and making sure the room isn't too cold.

To know if your paint is fully cured, try the fingernail test as recommended by QAQC Professionals:  "To check if your paint is cured, use the fingernail test. In an inconspicuous area, press your fingernail into the coating. If it leaves an indent, your paint is not fully cured. If no indent is visible and the surface is hard, your paint has most likely cured."

Painting a deep pantry shelf.

Painting a deep pantry shelf.

Oil-based paint questions regarding pantry

What do I need to know about using oil-based paint on wood shelves?  Oil-based paint has a strong odor and you should work in a well-ventilated area when using it.  Oil-based paint requires special clean up.  This means using mineral spirits or paint thinner when cleaning .up spills, drips, paintbrushes, and your skin.

You can use natural products to clean your skin, like vegetable oil or Avon Skin-So-Soft.  It would be recommended to use disposable paint brushes, but it is possible to clean with mineral spirits, paint thinner, or gasoline.

Oil-based paint takes much longer to dry than latex paint, but you will be rewarded with a very tough, scrubbable surface.  Because the paint takes longer to dry, you will have the chance to remove drips from surfaces.  Oil-based paint is dry to the touch in 6–8 hours and ready to recoat in 24 hours depending on humidity and room ventilation according to Glidden Paints.

Most people paint over oil-based first coats on the second day.  It is even more important to clean oil-based paint drips because they become rock-hard when dry. Oil-based paint is more commonly used on heavy-use surfaces such as shelves and cabinets, floor, and outdoor products.  

When using oil-based paint it is highly recommended to use an oil-based primer first, since it will bond better to the oil-based topcoat.

Apply the second coat of latex paint within 4 hours after the first coat.  You are going to have to wait 24 hours to paint a second coat over oil-based paint.

Latex water-based paint questions regarding pantry

What do I need to know about using latex water-based paint on wood shelves?  Latex water-based paints have come a long way in formulations and are a very satisfactory paint to use for interior projects.  Some people refer to latex paint as "wall paint" because it is the most commonly used paint for interior walls.  

Hands-down, latex paint is the easiest to clean up using just soap and water. Latex paint can start to dry in as soon as 30 minutes, so you must be very diligent about catching all drips. According to Glidden Paint, latex paint is dry to the touch in about 1 hour, and you can safely recoat in 4 hours.  Not all latex paint brands are created equal.

Cheaper brands are watery, which means encountering constant dripping when attempting to paint.  Brands such as Sherwin Williams are thicker, helping to avoid the frustration of paint "rain."  Sherwin Williams also sells paint labeled for wood and cabinets - it's a thicker formulation for the intended purpose.  

Latex paint comes in different finishes from low gloss (satin) to semi-gloss.  The more glossy the latex, the longer it will take for the paint to dry.  Semi-gloss is a good substitute for oil-based paint for durability, but will exaggerate flaws in the surface.  When using latex paint, use a water-based primer underneath.

What is self-leveling paint?  According to professional painter Matt B featured on Dengarden, "Self-leveling paint is formulated to level out evenly over a surface as it dries, providing a smooth finish."  Matt provides his best tips and products for using self-leveling paint on cabinets on the Dengarden site.

It seems that self-leveling paint is the choice to reduce brush marks, especially on furniture and kitchen or pantry cabinets.  However, there can be a learning curve when applying by brush (Matt B sprays it on). Here is a very helpful thread about not "over painting" and best brushes to use to reduce brush marks (which isn't brushes but rollers and foam brushes!).

Paint primer questions for your pantry project

What is a "paint and primer in one" and can I use it without having to use a traditional primer?  Why do I need a primer?  Lex Guana from Paper Moon Painting says “paint and primer in one” products are just a clever marketing tool to convince the homeowner they’ll save time.

You will always need to use a primer first for the best adhesion possible and absolutely use it on bare drywall.  Although best practice is to use paint primer before new coats of paint, it is common for do-it-yourselfers to skip using a primer when painting over previously painted walls if they are similar in color.  

It is important to understand that the purpose of using a good primer is to create a smooth and consistent base layer for the colored paint.   If you are painting over a bold, dark color you must use a primer.

Experienced professionals and do-it-yourselfers will use a product such as KILZ paint block when painting over dark walls. If you skip applying a primer, you will find yourself using multiple layers of your expensive topcoat of paint in an effort to cover the dark paint underneath.

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About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. Years of being a stay-at-home mom and supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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