Old and dated kitchen cabinets can really make a kitchen feel tired and worn out. Even if you’ve just recently updated your countertops and backsplash, old cabinets that are scratched, peeling, or just out of style can make the whole room feel dated. Luckily, there are plenty of budget-friendly ways to give your old kitchen cabinets a fresh new look. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about updating old kitchen cabinets to revitalize your kitchen space.

Assessing Your Existing Cabinets

Before determining the best options for your kitchen, take some time to assess the current state of your cabinets. Here are a few things to look for:

Cabinet Doors and Drawer Fronts – Check if they are in good shape structurally. Look for peeling veneers, cracks, missing pieces or excessive wear. Also take note of the style – are they dated flat panel doors or do they have more timeless Shaker-style doors?

Cabinet Boxes – Open and close all the doors and drawers to make sure the boxes and tracks are sturdy and operating properly. Look inside the boxes for any signs of damage or water stains.

Hinges and Hardware – Test to make sure all hinges are solid and hardware like knobs and pulls are securely attached. Take note of the style and finish of hardware.

Paint/Stain Finish – Check if there are areas with scratched, chipped or worn paint or stain, as well as any noticeable variations in color.

Trim Pieces – Look for any decorative trim pieces around the tops, bottoms or sides of cabinets and make note if any are missing, damaged or loose.

This quick evaluation will help determine which parts of your old cabinets are salvageable and which parts may need replacing or refinishing.

When to Refinish or Reface Existing Cabinets

If your cabinets are structurally sound with minimal damage or wear, refinishing or refacing can be a great budget-friendly option:

Refinishing Cabinets

This involves stripping cabinets down to the bare wood and applying new stain or paint. It’s ideal if:

  • Cabinets are in good shape with only minor cosmetic flaws
  • You want to change the color or stain of cabinets
  • You want to keep the existing cabinet style

Refacing Cabinets

This involves replacing cabinet doors and drawer fronts and applying new veneer to visible cabinet surfaces. It’s ideal if:

  • Cabinet boxes and interior structures are in good condition
  • You want to change the cabinet style/look
  • You want to update exterior surfaces and finishes

Refinishing or refacing can make worn cabinets look brand new for a fraction of the cost of full cabinet replacement.

When to Replace Old Kitchen Cabinets

If your existing cabinets are damaged, poorly constructed, or the layout no longer works, full cabinet replacement may be the best option:

Consider Replacing Cabinets If:

  • Cabinet boxes or doors are warped, cracked or water damaged
  • Doors and drawers don’t function properly
  • Cabinets were poorly installed or constructed
  • Desired layout changes aren’t possible with existing cabinets
  • You want to change the whole look with different cabinet styles

While more expensive than refinishing, high-quality new cabinets can transform the look and function of your kitchen.

Cabinet Refinishing Process

Refinishing involves taking cabinets down to the bare wood and applying new stain or paint:

Steps for Refinishing:

  1. Remove doors, drawers and hardware: Detach everything for easier access to cabinet surfaces.
  2. Clean surfaces: Use a degreaser to remove grime and grease buildup. For stain, use a wood cleaner formulated for cabinets.
  3. Sand surfaces: Lightly sand to rough up finish. For paint, sand more thoroughly to remove stain/clear coats.
  4. Repair flaws: Fill any holes or cracks with wood filler and sand smooth.
  5. Apply primer: Use bonding primer formulated for laminate or wood. Allow to fully dry.
  6. Apply new finish: Apply 2-3 thin, even coats of new stain or paint, allowing proper drying time between coats.
  7. Replace hardware: Install freshly painted or stained doors, drawers and hardware.

With some diligent prep work and new stain or paint, old cabinets can look refreshed and renewed.

Cabinet Refacing Process

Refacing replaces cabinet doors/drawers and veneers visible surfaces:

Refacing Cabinet Steps:

  1. Remove doors, drawers and hardware: Just like refinishing, everything needs to be detached.
  2. Clean boxes: Wipe cabinet box exteriors and interiors to remove grease and debris with a degreaser.
  3. Sand boxes: Lightly sand to rough up surface for adhesion.
  4. Repair flaws: Fill any gouges or cracks with wood filler and sand smooth.
  5. Prepare new veneer: Cut veneer pieces to size for each cabinet face and side.
  6. Apply adhesive: Brush adhesive onto cabinet boxes where veneer will be applied.
  7. Apply veneer: Press veneer pieces firmly onto cabinet sides and faces. Use a roller to adhere fully.
  8. Install new doors/drawers: Attach new cabinet doors, drawer fronts and hardware.

With new veneer and updated doors and drawers, your cabinets can look completely transformed.

DIY or Hire a Pro?

While it’s possible to refinish or reface cabinets yourself, it’s a time-consuming process that requires dexterity and expertise for the best results. The potential for mistakes or subpar outcomes is high.

Hiring a professional ensures the job gets done quickly and correctly:

Benefits of Hiring Pros:

  • Have proper tools, materials and work space
  • Disassemble and reassemble cabinets methodically
  • Spot and repair flaws like cracks and holes
  • Apply finishes evenly without drips, runs or brush marks
  • Work around plumbing and electrical
  • Have experience getting optimal results

The cost for refinishing or refacing averages $2,000-4,500. While not cheap, when you factor in how drastically it updates the look of your kitchen, it can be money well spent compared to a full remodel.

Ideas for Refinishing Cabinets

Refinishing can update worn cabinets or transform the whole look with a new color or stain:

Paint Color Ideas

  • White – Clean, bright and timeless
  • Light Gray – Soft and elegant
  • Navy – Dramatic and rich
  • Charcoal – Bold and contemporary
  • Forest Green – Warm and earthy

Stain Ideas

  • Light Oak – Natural and casual
  • Dark Walnut – Sophisticated wood look
  • Espresso – Deep, mood-enhancing tone
  • Weathered Gray – Rustic farmhouse vibe
  • Cherry – Traditional rich red tones

Whatever color or stain you choose, use a top-coat finish for protection and sheen. Matte is popular for a subtle sheen while semi-gloss boosts shine and depth of color.

Ideas for Refacing Cabinets

When refacing, choosing new doors and drawer fronts can completely transform the style:

Door Style Ideas

  • Shaker – Clean lines, versatile style
  • Slab – Minimalist and contemporary
  • Raised Panel – Traditional and ornate
  • Glass Insert – Light and open feel
  • Distressed – Rustic, aged appeal

Don’t forget new hardware! Matte black, brass or chrome pulls and knobs accent the new style.

Cost To Refinish or Reface

Here are average costs for refinishing or refacing an average 10×10 kitchen:

  • Cabinet Refinishing Cost
  • Refinish existing doors: $350-$700
  • New doors: $1000-$2000
  • Full cabinets: $2000-$3500
  • Cabinet Refacing Cost
  • New veneer, doors & drawers: $2500-$5000
  • Add glass inserts: $3000-$6000

Extra costs may include new hardware, modifications like adding cabinets, or repairs needed before refinishing or refacing.

While not cheap, these updates come at a fraction of a full cabinet replacement which averages $7000-$12,000.

Updating Interior Surfaces

Along with exterior surfaces, don’t forget to update tired old cabinet interiors:


Replace worn shelves with new wood or glass for a fresh, modern look. This allows you to customize the interior storage space.

Drawer Liners

Use drawer liner paper for an instant update. Self-adhesive vinyl rolls or sheets are also durable and waterproof.


Use a cabinet-formulated enamel paint to coat shelves and interiors. White makes spaces feel open and clean.

With fresh new interiors, you can really maximize the impact of cabinet refacing.

Ideas for Repurposing Cabinets

When doing a full kitchen remodel involving new cabinet layouts, you can often repurpose old cabinets:

Cabinet Repurposing Ideas

  • Potting bench for garden shed
  • Mudroom lockers and storage
  • Garage shelving or workshop cabinets
  • Built-in study nooks or home office furniture
  • Laundry and pantry cabinetry
  • Bathroom vanities

With some creativity, quality cabinets can be given new life in various spaces beyond the kitchen.

Signs You Need New Cabinets

While refinishing or refacing can allow you to salvage old cabinets, there are times when full replacement is needed:

🚩 Structural Damage: Warping, cracking, water damage or infestations.

🚩 Improper Installation: Shoddy construction, misaligned doors and drawers.

🚩 Limited Functionality: Outdated storage options, no accessibility features.

🚩 Layout Limitations: Poor workflow, inefficient use of space.

🚩 Difficult To Repair: Low-end cabinets with laminate and thin backings.

🚩 Dated Look: Hard-to-salvage styles, cheap materials, worn finishes.

If your cabinets are plagued by any combination of these issues, new custom or semi-custom cabinets are likely the best solution for your kitchen.

Custom vs. Stock Cabinet Options

When replacing kitchen cabinets, you have two main options:

Stock Cabinets

These come in pre-set sizes and configurations. While affordable, customization is limited.

Custom Cabinets

These are made to order with customized sizes, layouts and design details. Allows for a fully personalized kitchen.

Semi-custom cabinets offer middle ground in terms of flexibility and cost. Determine how much customization you need when deciding which route to take.

Setting a Cabinet Replacement Budget

A cabinet replacement budget depends on factors like:

  • Type of cabinets: Custom, semi-custom or stock
  • Door style and materials
  • Number of cabinets needed
  • Special storage features
  • Hardware selections
  • Required installation modifications

Budget more for custom-built cabinetry with high-end details and finishes. Quality materials and good craftsmanship ensure long-lasting durability.

Tips for Remodeling Kitchen Cabinets

Remodeling your entire kitchen cabinet system is a major project, but worth it for a kitchen that looks and functions exactly how you want. Here are top tips for success:

Planning Tips

  • Set a realistic budget with a buffer for unexpected costs
  • Research design ideas but don’t over-customize
  • Minimize changes to cabinet footprint to reduce construction
  • Carefully measure existing space and create layout plans
  • Choose cabinet height, depth and organizational features
  • Select durable, easy-to-clean surfaces and finishes
  • Properly prepare – declutter kitchen and protect existing surfaces

Installation Tips

  • Hire experienced kitchen pro for proper installation
  • Check that new cabinets are plumb, level and stable
  • Adapt new cabinets for built-in appliances if needed
  • Update lighting, electrical and plumbing as needed
  • Add molding, trim and other finishing details
  • Properly seal around new cabinets to prevent moisture damage

Investing in gorgeous new cabinets makes everyday meal prep feel like a luxurious experience.

Maintaining and Cleaning Cabinets

Once your kitchen has beautiful updated cabinets, be sure to care for them properly so they maintain their good looks:

Cleaning Tips

  • Use mild soap and water to spot clean – avoid harsh cleaners
  • Immediately wipe up spills and splatters to avoid stains
  • Every few months, clean with a natural citrus-based degreaser
  • Use a cabinet-formulated wax to protect and polish wood cabinets
  • Vacuum out drawers and cabinet interiors regularly
  • Check for signs of damage at least annually

With regular gentle cleaning and polishing, your refinished, refaced or new cabinets will shine for years to come.

FAQs About Updating Old Kitchen Cabinets

Still have questions about updating your outdated kitchen cabinets? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What’s the easiest DIY update for old cabinets?

The easiest DIY cabinet upgrade is adding new hardware like knobs or pulls. Switching up the hardware style and finish can completely change the look of existing cabinets.

Can I paint over wood cabinets?

Yes, with proper prep and primer, you can paint existing wood cabinets. Lightly sand, fill flaws, degrease, use bonding primer and apply cabinet enamel.

Is it worth it to reface cabinets?

If your cabinet boxes are structurally sound, refacing by replacing doors, drawers and veneers can make worn cabinets look completely new at a fraction of full replacement cost.

What countertop goes with white cabinets?

White cabinets look beautiful paired with light countertops like white marble, quartz or laminate. Also popular are contrasting dark colors like black granite or butcher block.

Should I paint cabinets or replace?

If cabinets are quality wood and structurally sound, paint may be the more economical option. For cheap laminate cabinets with damage or layout issues, replacement is the better investment.

How long does it take to reface kitchen cabinets?

The refacing process of installing new veneer, doors and drawers generally takes 2-4 days from start to finish. The cabinets will need to be emptied out and everything removed, so plan accordingly.


Outdated kitchen cabinets don’t have to leave you stuck with an inefficient, tired-looking kitchen. With strategic refinishing, refacing or replacement, you can revamp your kitchen cabinets to create a beautiful new kitchen space you’ll cherish. Use the information in this guide to decide the best update route for your needs and budget. Investing in high-quality cabinets – whether new, refaced or refinished – can make your kitchen not only gorgeous but functional for many years to come.