Refinishing your kitchen cabinets can breathe new life into an outdated kitchen without the high cost of a full remodel. Whether your cabinets are scratched, peeling, or just looking dull, refinishing them is an affordable way to give them an updated facelift. There are several refinishing techniques to choose from depending on your budget, skills, and desired results. Read on for refinishing ideas to transform your kitchen cabinets.

Assessing Your Cabinets for Refinishing

Before deciding on a refinishing method, thoroughly examine your cabinets to determine their current condition. This will help you choose the proper techniques for the job.

Consider the following:

  • What material are the cabinets made of? Veneer, solid wood, thermofoil, and laminate will need different prep and refinishing techniques.
  • What is the existing finish? Is it paint, stain, thermofoil coating, or laminate? You’ll need to remove the current finish before refinishing.
  • What condition are they in? Look for worn areas, peeling spots, cracks, drips, or damage. Note any repairs needed before refinishing.
  • Are doors and drawers warped? Warping needs correction for an even final finish.
  • What is the current color? Think about the color you want to end up with.
  • Are there areas that need extra prep like grease or dirt buildup? Clean thoroughly before starting.

Carefully inspecting the cabinets saves you hassles down the road and helps ensure a quality finished product.

Cleaning Kitchen Cabinets Before Refinishing

Thoroughly cleaning cabinets prior to refinishing is crucial for proper adhesion and an attractive finish. Follow these steps to clean kitchen cabinets before applying a new finish:

Supplies Needed:

  • Rags or paper towels
  • All-purpose cleaner or degreaser
  • Tack cloth
  • Sandpaper (180-220 grit)
  • Vacuum cleaner with brush attachment

Steps for Cleaning:

  1. Remove doors, shelves, and hardware (handles, hinges etc.).
  2. Mix all-purpose cleaner with warm water in a spray bottle. For especially dirty cabinets, use a degreaser like TSP.
  3. Spray cleaner over entire cabinet box and doors. Let soak for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Scrub with a rag or scrub brush and rinse with clean water. Repeat as needed for heavy soils.
  5. Use Tack cloth to remove any residue or dust after scrubbing. Going over every surface ensures a clean finish.
  6. Lightly sand any damaged or peeled areas to rough them up before refinishing.
  7. Vacuum out cabinet boxes and wipe down one final time with a damp rag.
  8. Allow cabinets to fully dry before applying new finish. Moisture under the finish could cause problems later.

Thorough cleaning may take time but it helps the new finish properly adhere for a flawless look.

Refinishing Cabinet Doors

Kitchen cabinet doors take the brunt of wear and tear. Refinishing or replacing just the doors can give your kitchen a whole new look without the cost of a full cabinet replacement. Here are convenient ways to refinish cabinet doors:

Sand and Paint Existing Doors

With this budget-friendly method, you simply scuff up the existing doors lightly with sandpaper and apply a fresh coat of paint for an updated color.

Supplies Needed:

  • Sandpaper (220 grit)
  • Tack cloth
  • Painter’s tape
  • Paint primer
  • Paint in desired color
  • Foam rollers and angled paint brushes


  1. Remove doors and hardware. Fill any holes from removed hardware.
  2. Lightly sand to rough up surface and remove gloss.
  3. Dust doors and wipe clean with a tack cloth.
  4. Tape off hinges, edges, and any areas you don’t want painted.
  5. Apply 1-2 coats of primer, allowing drying time between coats.
  6. Finish with 2 coats of cabinet paint in your color choice, allowing proper drying time between coats.
  7. Reattach doors and hardware once fully dry.

Painting existing doors is an easy DIY option. Use high quality primer and cabinet paint for a durable finish.

Replace Old Doors with New

For a more dramatic update, you can replace old cabinet doors with brand new prefabricated or custom doors. The steps are:

Supplies Needed:

  • New cabinet doors sized to your existing boxes
  • Hinges
  • Handles or knobs
  • Tools for installation


  1. Remove old doors and hinges.
  2. Transfer hinges to new doors and install hardware.
  3. Hang new doors in place and make any needed adjustments.
  4. Touch up paint around hinges if needed.

Custom doors offer endless design options but cost more. Prefab doors are affordable and come in many styles. Updating just the doors transforms the look instantly.

Refinish with Veneer or Thermofoil

For a sleek modern or rustic look, overlay new veneer or thermofoil onto existing cabinet doors.


  1. Remove doors from cabinets and prepare surfaces.
  2. Spread adhesive over door fronts.
  3. Press new veneer or thermofoil sheet over adhesive.
  4. Use a veneer roller to smooth out any air bubbles.
  5. Trim excess material from edges using a router or trimmer.
  6. Reattach doors, adding new hardware if desired.

Veneer and thermofoil cover flaws beautifully while mimicking woodgrain or sleek painted finishes.

Refinishing Cabinet Boxes

Along with the doors, refinishing the cabinet boxes completes the kitchen’s transformation. Here are handy techniques for freshening up your cabinet interiors:

Paint Cabinet Boxes

Painting the cabinet interiors is one of the simplest ways to refresh their look.

Supplies Needed:

  • Paint primer
  • Interior paint
  • Angled paint brushes
  • Painter’s tape


  1. Remove doors, shelves, and hardware.
  2. Clean boxes thoroughly and sand if needed.
  3. Tape off edges and areas you don’t want painted.
  4. Apply 1-2 coats of high adhesion primer.
  5. Paint with 1-2 finish coats in your color choice, allowing proper drying time between coats.
  6. Replace shelves and reattach doors and hardware once fully dry.

Choose a semigloss or gloss paint for easy wipe-down and durability. Soft white or neutral shades work well for cabinet interiors.

Stain or Color Wash

For a warm wood tone inside your cabinets, use stain or color washing techniques.

Stain Cabinets

  • Remove all shelves, doors, and hardware
  • Lightly sand box interiors
  • Wipe away any dust with tack cloth
  • Use a gel stain and applicator pad to apply an even coat
  • Allow to dry fully before reassembling

Color Wash Cabinets

  • Mix paint thinner with paint to make a wash
  • Brush wash over boxes in random motions
  • Immediately wipe with a rag before drying
  • Repeat for a buildup of color
  • Seal with polyurethane for protection

Staining and color washing allow the wood grain to show through for a rich, natural look.

Wallpaper or Contact Paper

For a quick fix, lining the cabinet boxes with wallpaper or contact paper can give them a finished look.


  1. Thoroughly clean interiors and remove any shelves or hardware.
  2. Cut paper to fit each cabinet back, bottom, and side panel.
  3. Apply adhesive and smooth paper into place, removing any bubbles or wrinkles.
  4. Carefully trim excess paper with a sharp utility knife.
  5. Reattach shelving and hardware.

Choosing a lively print or texture transforms the cabinet interiors in just an afternoon.

Refinishing Cabinet Hardware

Replacing dated hardware with new knobs and handles is a fast way to update your entire kitchen’s style.

  • Measure existing hardware and purchase new pieces in the style desired. Matching finishes gives a cohesive look.
  • Remove old hardware and install new using a screwdriver. Fill any unused holes with wood filler before refinishing.
  • If reusing hardware, remove it, clean thoroughly, then spray paint with a fresh coat of spray paint in a desired accent color.

Hardware comes in many finishes like brushed nickel, bronze, chrome, and more to match any style. Durable metal pulls and handles move easily and feel great under your hand. Replacing worn out hardware makes your freshly refinished cabinets feel brand new.

DIY Refinishing Methods

With some simple tools and products, you can tackle refinishing cabinets as a DIY project and save on labor costs. Follow these techniques to transform your outdated cabinets:

Sand and Stain


  1. Remove doors, drawers, shelves, and hardware.
  2. Fill any holes from removed hardware with wood filler. Allow to dry.
  3. Sand surfaces thoroughly with 120, 150, then 220 grit sandpaper until smooth.
  4. Wipe away all dust with a tack cloth.
  5. Apply gel wood stain using a foam applicator. Allow to dry per product directions.
  6. Apply protective polyurethane for added durability and richness.
  7. Replace hardware, doors, shelves, and drawers once fully dry.

Sanding back to bare wood allows you to achieve any stain color desired. Use a combination of stains like gel and penetrating for deeper color saturation.

Paint Cabinets


  1. Clean and dry surfaces thoroughly. Lightly sand to rough up the finish.
  2. Apply 2 coats of high-adhesion primer, allowing proper dry time between coats.
  3. Lightly sand again to ensure a smooth finish.
  4. Finish with 2-3 coats of durable cabinetry paint in your color choice. Allow thorough drying between coats.
  5. Replace hardware and doors/drawers once fully cured.

High-quality paint adheres well and resists damage over time. For added durability, use paint designed specifically for kitchen cabinets.

Use Paint Strippers


  1. Remove doors, hardware, shelves, and drawer fronts.
  2. Apply paint stripper evenly over cabinets with an old paintbrush. Allow to sit for the directed dwell time.
  3. Use a plastic scraper to remove the existing paint. Reapply stripper and scrape as needed.
  4. Neutralize stripper residue with mineral spirits. Rinse surfaces thoroughly.
  5. Once fully dry, sand lightly to remove any remaining finish or residue.
  6. Clean thoroughly and finish with your desired stain, paint, or sealer.

Chemical strippers help lift old paint for full customization of your new finish. Use them in a well-ventilated area and follow safety precautions.

Refinishing your own cabinets takes some effort but offers big savings over a professional remodel.

Hiring a Professional

While DIY refinishing can save money, hiring a professional ensures an immaculate finished product. Reasons to hire a pro include:

  • Experience – They have the skills and knowledge for a top-quality final result. They know all the tricks of the trade.
  • Specialized tools – Professionals have commercial grade equipment like sprayers to apply an even finish quickly.
  • Efficiency – They can complete the job much faster than a DIY job.
  • Ideal results – A flawless, salon-quality finish requires professional expertise.

When researching professionals, read reviews and ask to see photos of past refinishing work. Get an estimate in writing after they evaluate your specific project needs. While pricier than DIY, the time saved and expertise offered by a pro pays off with dream cabinets you’ll love.

Refinishing Cabinet Finish Options

There are several finish options when refinishing kitchen cabinets, each giving a distinct look and feel. Consider the following popular options:


Painted cabinets provide a fresh, updated look. Paint fills scratches and evens tone for a like-new appearance. Popular colors include:

  • Bright whites
  • Soft neutrals like cream and grey
  • Deep hues like navy and emerald green
  • Glossy and sleek finishes

Use high-quality cabinet paint for a durable, scratch resistant finish. Add decorative details like distressing or a contrasting accent color on island cabinets.


Stain shows off the wood’s natural color and grain pattern. Gel stains penetrate deep for richer color. Consider these staining techniques:

  • Match existing cabinet stain color
  • Complement counters and floors with a lighter or darker stain shade
  • Create a dual-tone look with different stains on upper and lower cabinets
  • Whitewash technique using thinned white paint as a stain for a beachy look

Seal stained cabinets with polyurethane for protection.


Glazing involves applying a translucent colored topcoat over stained cabinets to accentuate wood grain and distressing. Application techniques like ragging or sponging add an artisanal touch. Cool undertones like blue, gray, and green work well on top of warm wood stains.

Glazing adds dimension, depth, and a high-end custom aesthetic.


Iron-on veneer sheets provide an instant facelift by adhering a thin layer of real wood over existing cabinet surfaces. Popular options include:

  • Wood veneers like oak or walnut
  • 3D veneers with raised textures and patterns
  • Faux marble or granite patterns
  • Metallic finishes

Veneer resurfaces cabinets affordably compared to full cabinet replacements.


Thermofoil covers cabinet surfaces with a thin, thermally-fused plastic laminate finish that resists scratching, staining, and moisture damage. Available options:

  • Solid matte colors
  • Realistic woodgrain patterns
  • Metallic sheens
  • High-gloss colors

Thermofoil provides a very durable and low maintenance finish.

Consider the amount of prep needed, cost, durability, and your style preference when selecting a refinishing technique.

Refinishing Cabinets by Color

Choosing a fresh color updates the entire look of your kitchen. Follow these tips when selecting a color palette:

White Cabinets

  • Bright white paint always gives cabinets a clean, fresh look. Use different sheens like glossy or matte to match decor.
  • Softer whites like alabaster, pearl, or buttermilk provide a warmer, cozier feel.
  • Accent with contrasting hardware and light countertops for a crisp contrast.

Gray Cabinets

  • Light grays work well with stainless steel and marble countertops and modern chrome hardware.
  • Charcoal or slate gray stained cabinets look striking against white marble counters and brass fixtures.
  • Greenish-gray stained cabinets complement granite counters nicely. Use antique bronze hardware.

Gray is versatile and pairs well with most color schemes.

Black Cabinets

  • For a sophisticated, trendy look use flat black painted cabinets with brass hardware and light counters.
  • Ebony stained cabinets look rich with off-white marble and satin nickel fixtures.
  • Soft charcoal cabinets with black granite counters and oil rubbed bronze hardware give an elegant, traditional feel.

Deep black cabinets make a dramatic, eye-catching statement.

Neutral Two-Tone

  • Combinestained lower cabinets and crisp white uppers for a classic look.
  • Use light gray lower cabinets with creamy white uppers and marble counters for a refined but soft feel.
  • Try deep blue-gray stained bases with pearl white uppers for a striking combo.

Two-toning with neutrals is versatile for blending with other kitchen elements seamlessly.

Bold Color

  • Navy blue painted cabinets give a nautical feel paired with brass hardware.
  • Sage green cabinets complement butcher block counters and nickel hardware nicely for a farmhouse vibe.
  • Bright red painted cabinets make a fun, retro statement. Use stainless appliances and chrome hardware to match.

Don’t shy away from color to give your kitchen an exciting focal point.

Choose a color that complements countertops, floors, and backsplashes rather than clashing. Trust your taste and personality to select the perfect shade for your home.

Ideal Preparation for Refinishing Cabinets

To achieve flawless results from refinished cabinets, proper preparation is a must. Follow these best practices:

  • Empty cabinets of all contents. Remove doors, drawers, shelves, and hardware.
  • Clean surfaces thoroughly with an all-purpose cleaner, deglosser, or degreaser as needed.
  • Fill any holes or imperfections with wood filler. Allow to dry completely.
  • Sand to remove existing finishes, smooth rough areas, and prep for good adhesion. Begin with 150 grit or coarse sandpaper first, then smooth with 220 grit.
  • Wipe away all sanding dust with a tack cloth. Vacuum cabinet interiors.
  • Use painter’s tape and plastic sheeting to mask off nearby walls, countertops, floors, and areas you don’t want refinished.
  • Turn off A/C vents to prevent dust circulating and landing on freshly finished pieces.
  • Work in a well-ventilated, dust-free area. Tent off work area if possible.

Adequate prep removes any barriers to the new finish bonding tightly. Paying attention to details ensures the refinishing process goes smoothly from start to finish.

Tips for Achieving an Flawless Refinished Finish

Refurnishing kitchen cabinets brings disappointing results without careful attention to detail throughout the process. Follow these top tips for fabulous finishes:

  • Allow adequate drying time between paint coats. Rushing the process creates tacky spots and affects adhesion.
  • Lightly sand between paint coats for smoother results. Use fine (220) grit sandpaper and wipe away dust.