Is It Better to Paint or Stain Kitchen Cabinets?

Image of Kitchen Cabinets. So, Is It Better to Paint or Stain Kitchen Cabinets?Rebuilding or remodeling a kitchen involves making many tough decisions – from the materials you use to the overall kitchen design. The biggest choice that homeowners have to make concerns the type of finish to choose for the cabinets. Kitchen cabinets often take up a large space in the kitchen, and the type of finish you choose will dictate the final look of your kitchen. Because of this, homeowners ask, Is It Better to Paint or Stain Kitchen Cabinets?

The choice to paint or stain your kitchen cabinets will depend on your budget and the aesthetic you want. It is best to paint your cabinets if you desire a sleek modern look and stain if you are going for a rustic style kitchen that requires the natural wood grain to pop.

Both finishing methods have pros and cons; hence it is up to you to weigh the two and pick a method that best suits you. We suggest staining kitchen cabinets instead of painting them because stained wood is easy to clean with water, and the stain will last twice as long as paint.

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

Major steps involved in the painting of the kitchen cabinets are:

Prep the Area

  • Start by clearing the counters and emptying the cabinets. Also, move tables and other furniture to another room to avoid getting paint on them.
  • Next, protect the countertops and floor with rosin paper and use plastic sheetings to cover the backsplash, fixed appliances, interior doorways, and windows.

Remove the Drawer Fronts, Cabinet Doors, and Hardware.

  • Pull out all drawers, then loosen hinge screws from the cabinet frame to remove the doors.
  • Label all parts with a numbered piece of tape to avoid confusion when you put them back after painting.

 Clean the Surfaces

  1. Using regular household cleaners, remove the dirt and grime from the doors and drawers, and frame faces. If the normal cleaners don’t work, mix some trisodium phosphate (TSP) with warm water, then scrub the surfaces with a clean cloth.
  • Once you clean all the pieces, rinse them well with water, then leave them to dry.

Repairs and sanding.

  • Use wood filler or spackle to fill cracks and knots visible on the cabinet pieces. Let the fillers set, then sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper to level the surface.
  • If the surface has old paint or a poor varnishing job, start sanding with coarser 100-grit sandpaper to remove paint and bumps, followed by 120-grit sandpaper to remove any sanding marks.
  • Finally, vacuum the cabinets thoroughly to remove any dust that could ruin the paint, then rub them down with a tack cloth as an extra precaution.


After sanding, you need to apply primer to the cabinet pieces to level the wood grain and provide a good surface for the paint to stick. If you’re painting previously stained cabinets, I suggest using a stain-blocking primer to seal knots and prevent any surface defects from bleeding through the paint. However, a 100% acrylic latex primer or an oil-based primer will do the job for bare wood.

  • Apply the primer starting at the highest point of the cabinet in a single stroke from one end to the other. 
  • Next, pass the brush over the wet primer in the direction of the grain to remove bubbles or runs. 
  • Apply the primer like this until you cover the whole cabinet, let the first coat dry, then apply a second. Ensure that you follow the structures of the cabinet pieces carefully with the paintbrush to avoid uneven coats.

Paint the Cabinet Boxes and Pieces.

Once the primer fully cures, your kitchen cabinet is ready to paint. Two coats of paint will give you an excellent finish; however, you may require three coats if you use a light color over a dark finish.

  • Use a smooth surface mini roller to paint your cabinet interior because it leaves a rough orange peel texture on the surface. Ensure that you sand the surface lightly between coats to ensure that each coat sticks perfectly to the previous one.
  • To paint the paneled doors, begin with the area around the panel, followed by the main field panel, then finish with the rails and stiles around the edges to get a flawless finish.
  • Once you finish painting all parts of the cabinet, let the paint cure 

Put the Cabinet Back Together.

Once the paint cures put back all shelves and drawer fronts in their place.

Remove the marking tags on each door, install knobs and hinges then fix them in their original opening.

How to Stain a Kitchen Cabinet

Note: If you have previously stained kitchen cabinets and want to re-stain with the same color shade or darker, you do not have to remove the stain completely—sand down the top coating enough to expose the wood grain so that the stain products stick better.

You will have to remove old paint for painted cabinets before applying the stain to avoid bleed-throughs and discoloration.

Remove Hardware and Other Removable Cabinet Parts.

Using a cordless drill or manual screwdriver, remove drawer pulls and handles from the drawer fronts and doors. Place the hardware in plastic bags and use a permanent marker to label each of them.

Next, unscrew the hinges then remove the doors from the cabinet. Put the doors aside, then remove the hinges on the cabinet boxes.

Remove all drawer fronts from the drawer boxes if possible. If removing them will damage the drawers, leave them in place and stain them as they are.

Clean the Cabinet Surface

Pour some warm water in a clean bucket, then add ½ cup of TSP to it. Dip a clean towel into the solution, squeeze it to remove excess water, then wipe down all the surfaces you intend to stain.

The areas near stoves and ovens are usually dirty and greasy; hence they may need a deeper clean. Use mineral spirits instead of TSP to get the grime out.

Sand the Surfaces

  • Put 220 grit sandpaper on a sanding block, then sand all flat surfaces of the cabinet. For textured or carved-out areas, bend a piece of sandpaper to fit the wood profile, then sand lightly to avoid flattening the curves – you can fit the sandpaper to the wood profile by using your finger or a wood dowel to bend it.
  • Use a brush attachment on your vacuum to remove as much sanding dust as you can, then wipe down the cabinets with mineral spirits to remove any remaining dirt.

Apply the Stain

  • Stir the stain product thoroughly with a wooden stick to pull up solids from the bottom of the can.
  • Next, the tip of a brush into the finish, then apply a thin, even coat following the direction of the wood grain.
  • Let the first layer dry for about 6 hours before applying the next one.

Note: Always use high-quality paintbrushes when staining because low-quality ones may leave bristles on the surface and ruin the finish.

Replace the Cabinet Parts.

After the stain has dried for 6-10 hours, put back the hinges on the cabinet boxes, then fix the doors. Remember to return the knobs, drawer fronts, and any other hardware to their original space.

Why You Should Never Paint Cabinets

Painting a cabinet has more disadvantages than advantages. It may be the easiest way to give your space a makeover, but you will spend most of your time and energy trying to keep the finish from getting tarnished. Below is an in-depth look into the disadvantages of painting your kitchen cabinets.

  • The paint is hard to touch up.

We all use the kitchen frequently, so the wear and tear of kitchen structures are inevitable. Between pets scratching on everything, high heat, and the frequent opening of cabinet doors, painted cabinets will need a touch-up often.

One of the biggest setbacks when sprucing up a paint finish is color matching. You will have to use the same paint as before so that the touched-up spot complements the rest of the finish perfectly. Without the exact color, the touch-up may stand out more than the blemish did before.

Moreover, even if you can find an exact match for the paint, the colors may still not match 100%, especially for older finishes. Paint fades over time, so if you touch up a single spot, that area will be shinier than the rest of the surface.

  • Painting doesn’t work for all Cabinets.

The current condition of your cabinets is what determines whether you can paint it or not. If you have a warped or chipped cabinet, painting it will not cover the flaws -instead, it will highlight them even more. 

However, if you are determined to paint an old cabinet, I suggest repairing all damages and replacing warped parts to ensure a flawless finish.

  • Painting is a time-consuming process.

The biggest setback of painting cabinets is the process itself. It takes too much time because you have to take apart the cabinet, prepare & paint each part, then put it back together again. Furthermore, painting requires patience because you have to allow the paint to set in between coats to achieve the perfect finish. So, if you have limited time to revamp your cabinets, painting is not the best solution for you.

Is It More Expensive to Paint or Stain Cabinets?

It will cost more to paint your cabinets than stain them, and the biggest reason for the pricing difference is the cost of paint and stain. Paint products cost more than stains. Additionally, if you decide to paint your cabinets, you have to factor in the price of other essential products that will help you achieve a perfect paint job. 

For instance, you need to purchase a wood preservative to protect your surface from paint ruin. Wood preservatives cost about $20 – $40 per gallon depending on the brand; hence, they add a few dollars to your budget. Furthermore, before painting any surface, you need to apply a primer to get the paint to adhere properly, and the best quality primers cost about $15-30 per gallon. 

You will also incur extra charges if you decide to hire a professional to carry out your painting project. Most professional painters charge by square footage for big projects, but they charge by the hour for cabinets since they aren’t that big. Moreover, if your cabinet is too weathered for a DIY, the professional will add extra charges for carrying out repairs before painting your property.

On the other hand, stains cost as little as $20 per gallon, with each gallon covering about 300 square feet. Furthermore, you do not need to purchase a wood preservative because most manufacturers incorporate them in the stain formula. You also don’t need a primer when staining.

Painters use primers to seal wood grain to provide a level surface for the product to adhere to, but stain needs direct contact with the wood grain to make the surface pop. 

What Is The Most Durable Kitchen Cabinet Finish?

Choosing the right finish for your kitchen cabinets is vital because it affects the durability of your cabinets in the long run. We subject Cabinet doors and drawers to pulling, slamming, and other brutal actions, making them vulnerable to scratches and chips. However, you can lessen the risk of quick damage by choosing the most durable kitchen cabinet finish.

Gloss finishes are the most durable because manufacturers use more resin and binders to formulate them. The abundance of resin and binders provides a hard, durable shell that will protect your cabinets for a long time. Gloss finishes are the shiniest of all the choices and are a great option for modern kitchens.

Semi-gloss finishes are durable, just like glossy finishes, but they are not as shiny. They have some sheen so that they can reflect a bit of light. Painters often describe semi-gloss finishes as washable because they clean up easily with soap and water and are resilient to constant scrubbing action.

What Kind of Stain Should I Use On My Kitchen Cabinets?

There are three types of stain that you can use on kitchen cabinets – oil-based, water-based, and gel stains.

Water-based interior stains are a popular choice for kitchen cabinets because they are easy to apply, and you can tint them to various shades. They have less odor and dry quicker than other kinds of stain, allowing you to complete your projects faster. Furthermore, you can easily clean water-based stains with soap and water; hence it is perfect for the kitchen where regular clean-up is required.

Water-based stains often raise the wood grain, so I suggest applying a wood conditioner before putting on the stain. If you don’t have a wood conditioner, lightly sand the surface after applying the stain to level the surface, then apply a top coat to protect your kitchen cabinets even better. 

Oil-based interior stains penetrate wood grain deeper leaving behind a richer and more vivid color. Their deeper adherence to the surface makes them easy to apply, especially when working on larger kitchen cabinets. Furthermore, oil-based stains penetrate wood without raising the wood grain; hence you don’t need to use a wood conditioner before staining.

Oil-based stains’ excellent surface adhesion makes them one of the longer-lasting stain types, perfect for high traffic areas such as kitchens.

On the downside, oil-based stains take much longer to dry, and they produce a bad odor as they cure. The bad smell may take several days to clear, so be ready for a bit of discomfort at home after staining your kitchen cabinets. Moreover, these products contain high Volatile organic compounds(VOCs), so they may not be a good fit for environmental enthusiasts.

Gel stains are also oil-based, but they are thicker than regular liquid stains, ideal for vertical surfaces such as kitchen cabinets. Gels lie on the wood instead of soaking into the grain. Because of this, they’ll produce a more even appearance for your kitchen cabinets and reduce the chances of a patchy appearance on cabinets made of softwoods.

How Much Does It Cost to Have a Painter Paint Kitchen Cabinets?

The cost of painting kitchen cabinets ranges anywhere between $4000-$9000 or even higher.

Professional painters charge depending on the overall size of the project, meaning that the larger your kitchen is, the more it will cost to paint the cabinets. However, painters do not arrive at the figures above by solely looking at the size of the kitchen cabinets. Other small factors contribute to the full quote, and below is an in-depth look at some of the common ones.

  • Size

Larger kitchens have more cabinets than smaller ones meaning the painter will require more time and labor to get the job done. The more labor your project requires, the more the painter will charge you. Additionally, the more cabinets your kitchen has, the more material the painter will use, and the cost of all the materials will also factor into the overall cost.

  • Condition of the cabinets

Painters charge a lot more for painting over damaged kitchen cabinets than those in good shape. A professional will suggest that you repair all damages and fill up cracks instead of painting over them. Fixing damages equals more time and labor to complete the project. So the painter you hire will assess the level of damage on your cabinets then provide an estimate depending on his findings. The more the damages, the higher the cost.

Apart from damages, painters charge more to paint surfaces that have an old finish. For instance, if you are repainting the kitchen cabinets, the painter will have to strip the old finish first. Doing this will add to the time and labor required to finish the project, and the painter will charge you more for it.

  • The layout of your kitchen

Kitchens with complex designs may require more work to paint the cabinets properly. The painter may have to maneuver around tight spots to ensure that the paint covers every surface part. Painting tight spots are hard work, so be prepared to spend a few extra dollars to get the perfect finish.

Can You Stain Cabinets Without Sanding?

You can stain cabinets without sanding if they are still new and bare or if you plan to re-stain old cabinets that are still in great shape. Stain, unlike paint, highlights the wood grain, including all the flaws on it, so if your cabinets are too chipped or dented, don’t skip the sanding.

The trick to staining without sanding is using quality liquid sandpaper to remove the gloss of the old finish. Liquid sandpaper, aka deglosser, enables you to apply finish to any surface without manual sanding. It saves time and doesn’t produce sanding dust, so you won’t have to worry about cleaning up afterward.

However, you should know that liquid sandpaper only removes gloss. Unlike solid sandpaper, it doesn’t smooth the surface or correct imperfections, and that’s why it will only work best on cabinets that are in good shape.

How to Stain Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding

  • Start by covering all walls and countertops with old newspapers and painter’s tape to prevent damage from the staining products. Next, remove all doors and removable drawers using a screwdriver.
  • Wipe all the cabinet parts with a tack cloth to remove dust and other dirt that may ruin your finish. For previously painted cabinets, apply a chemical stripper, let it sit for a few hours, then use a plastic scraping tool to scrape off the old finish.
  • Next, pour some deglosser on a scouring pad, then rub the surface working in the direction of the wood grain. Make sure not to miss any spots to avoid a patchy finish. Liquid deglossers are strong chemicals that produce heavy fumes, so ensure that your workspace is well ventilated and wear safety goggles and disposable gloves to protect yourself. Once you finish, use a damp towel to clean the surface to remove all traces of the deglosser, and then let the cabinet parts dry. 
  • After that, use a natural bristle paintbrush or an old rag to apply the new stain. Work carefully from top to bottom, ensuring that you cover all spots evenly. Allow the first coat to dry for a few hours, then apply a second one. Apply as many layers of the stain as you want until you achieve the desired color for your cabinets.
  • Finally, apply a clear top coat to secure the surface better, and once that dries, reassemble the cabinet.

Do You Paint Both Sides of Kitchen Cabinet Doors?

You do not have to paint both sides of kitchen cabinet doors because, technically, most people consider the inside of cabinet doors as part of the cabinet’s interior. You can only see the interior when you open the cabinet doors, so if you don’t mind the contrast, you’re good to go.

Even though you don’t have to paint both sides of the doors, you don’t have to leave the wood bare. Sometimes moisture penetrates the surface from the unpainted side, causing the surface to warp and the paint on the other side to start chipping.

You can prevent this by applying a clear sealer on the unpainted side. The sealer will keep moisture out and provide a unique contrast between the natural popping wood and your favorite color.

If the wood-paint contrast doesn’t satisfy you, you can paint both sides of the door to make the finish look complete. Start by coloring the back of the doors so that if you smudge the paint by flipping the doors too soon, the flaw will face the inside of the cabinet.

Mistakes to Avoid When Painting Kitchen Cabinets

  • Leaving on doors and drawers

Most people think that painting kitchen cabinets with everything in place will save time, but I advise against that because it is not a long-term fix.

Leaving hinges and knobs on the cabinets will mean that you have to take extra steps to cover them to avoid getting paint on them. Doing this will make your job longer and harder.

If you don’t cover the hardware, you risk getting paint on them. And after a few months, the paint job will start cracking and chipping then you’ll be saddled with extra retouch work.

  • Unlabeled cabinet parts.

Once you remove parts of your cabinets, you need to ensure that you know where everything goes before reassembly. You can stick a piece of masking tape at the back of each piece to keep track of them. This way, you’ll spend less time trying to figure out where each piece goes.

Additionally, stash all screws and hinges in a jar or ziplock bags to avoid losing them.

  • Unclean surface.

Kitchen cabinet surfaces accumulate oils and grease over time from cooking, frying, and boiling food. Even if yours looks clean to the naked eye, subtle layers of dirt will ruin your finish if you paint over them without the proper clean-up.

You can use TSP or normal dish soap to clean your kitchen cabinet, depending on the amount of grease on it. Ensure that you rinse off all the cleaning agents thoroughly after scrubbing your surface to prevent your paint from forming “fish-eyes” as it cures.

  • Skipping the primer

Even if you spend days cleaning and sanding your cabinets, skipping the primer will make all your efforts futile. Most interior paints will not stick well to bare wood without a prime coat to help them adhere. Primers serve as surface sealers preventing wood tannins from seeping through the paint and ruining the finish. So ensure that you don’t skip this step to achieve a flawless finish.

  • Heavy paint application.

Some people think that slathering on thick layers of paint will save them from applying a second layer, but that is wrong.

Painting too heavy will extend the drying time and increase the risk of bubbles forming in the finish. When bubbles form, they pop as the paint cures, leaving craters all over the surface, and the only way to fix this is by wet sanding everything then repainting.

You can avoid the extra hassle by applying several thin coats because they will dry faster and more evenly.


Choosing a finish for kitchen cabinets is the most important decision homeowners have to make during remodeling. The look of the cabinets is what determines the aesthetic of the whole kitchen. The most common way of revamping a surface is by painting or staining them, which is why many people ask,

Is It Better to Paint or Stain Kitchen Cabinets?

The painting will give you several colors and finishes to choose from for your modern kitchen, while staining will make the wood grain of your cabinets pop for that rustic look. You can choose either method depending on the vision you have for your kitchen.

Whether you prefer to stain or paint your kitchen cabinets, you must follow a strict procedure before applying the products. This way, the finish you choose will go smoothly on the surface then stay on for longer without constant retouching.