Restaining kitchen cabinets can breathe new life into an outdated kitchen by transforming the color and finish. With some preparation and effort, you can completely change the look of your cabinets. This guide will walk you through the process of restaining kitchen cabinets, from deciding on a new stain color to applying the finish. We’ll also provide tips for achieving professional results. Follow along to learn how to revitalize your kitchen with stunning new cabinet stains.

Why Restain Kitchen Cabinets?

There are many reasons you may want to restain your kitchen cabinets rather than replace them:

  • Cost savings – Restaining cabinets is far less expensive than installing brand new cabinets. You can upgrade the look of your kitchen for a fraction of the cost.
  • Preserve existing cabinets – If your current cabinets are high-quality wood and sturdily constructed, they are worth preserving through restaining. This avoids having to send usable cabinets to the landfill.
  • Change color scheme – Restaining allows you to easily alter the color palette of your kitchen. Lighter stains can brighten up a dark space, or rich tones can add drama.
  • Update style – Outdated oak or walnut stains can feel very 1990s. Restaining to a modern on-trend tone is an easy style update.
  • Refresh worn cabinets – Over time, cabinet stains may fade, discolor, or wear unevenly. A new stain coat hides these imperfections.
  • Personalization – Choosing a custom stain color allows you to put your personal stamp on the kitchen.

As long as the cabinet boxes are in good structural condition without signs of damage or wear, restaining can work wonders.

Prep Work for Restaining Cabinets

Restaining kitchen cabinets requires careful preparation to ensure proper adhesion and a smooth finished look. Plan to complete these tasks before applying any new stain:

Remove Cabinet Doors and Drawers

The first step is to detach all doors, drawers, shelves, and hardware from the cabinet frames. Remove the hinge screws or cam pegs to separate cabinet doors. Place door pairs together and label locations to simplify reinstallation. Dismantling the cabinets allows for staining all surfaces evenly.

Clean Cabinets Thoroughly

It’s imperative to thoroughly clean cabinets prior to applying stain. Use a degreasing cleaner or solution of TSP substitute and water to cut through grease and grime. For stubborn areas, scuff with steel wool. Rinse several times to eliminate soap residue. Let cabinets dry fully before sanding.

Sand Cabinets and Drawers

Sanding roughens the existing cabinet finish so new stain can penetrate the wood grain. Use 100-150 grit sandpaper to scuff all surfaces evenly. Follow with 220 grit paper for a smoother texture. Be sure to sand inside drawers and on the backs of cabinet doors. Vacuum thoroughly after sanding to remove all dust.

Fill Any Holes and Imperfections

Inspect cabinets closely and use wood filler to patch any small holes, scratches or gouges in the wood. Let filler dry completely and sand smooth. Addressing flaws prior to staining prevents them from being accentuated.

Remove Hardware and Install Cabinet Door Pulls

Take off all knobs, pulls and hinges from cabinet doors and drawers. For a streamlined look, consider installing recessed cabinet door pulls instead of traditional hardware. Fill any hardware holes with wood filler so they don’t show through the new stain.

Apply Wood Conditioner

For the most even stain coverage, pre-treat bare wood with a wood conditioner. It regulates absorption to prevent blotchiness and dark streaks in the final finish. Follow the product directions for application and drying time prior to staining.

Choosing a Cabinet Stain Color

Selecting a stain shade for your kitchen is an exciting design decision. The options are nearly endless! Keep these tips in mind when choosing a color:

  • Style of your kitchen – Traditional kitchens tend to use richer, darker wood tones while contemporary spaces shine with lighter neutrals.
  • Color scheme – Complement existing paint colors in the kitchen. Warm stains look beautiful against cool gray or blue walls.
  • Natural light – Dark stains can feel imposing in rooms with minimal sunlight. Pale driftwood or white-washed finishes brighten up a dark space.
  • Wood type – Work with the natural undertones of your cabinets. Golden oak takes well to medium warm brown. Cherry looks stunning with deep red mahogany.
  • Personal preference – You’ll look at your kitchen every day, so select a hue you’ll love long-term. Don’t just follow temporary trends.

Test stain samples on cabinet interiors to view how the color takes to your exact wood species. Allow samples to fully dry before deciding.

How to Apply Cabinet Stain

Once fully prepped and with your new stain color selected, you’re ready to tackle staining your cabinets. Follow these key steps:

Work in Sections

Stain a few cabinets or a bank of drawers at a time before moving on. This prevents the stain from drying on any area before you finish wiping.

Stir Stain Frequently

Vigorously mix the stain every few minutes as you work to incorporate solids that settle on the bottom of the can. Stirring prevents blotchiness.

Apply Stain with a Cloth or Brush

Use a clean lint-free cloth or a good quality staining brush. Apply stain in the direction of the wood grain to prevent streaking. Work systematically and maintain a wet edge.

Remove Excess Stain

After 2-5 minutes, wipe off any excess stain using a clean cloth. Lighter wood species require less stain dwell time. Heavily wipe in the direction of the wood grain.

Reapply if Needed

If any areas appear uneven after drying, reapply stain in lighter areas. Allow to sit briefly before wiping again. This avoids a patchy final appearance.

Remove Backspatter

Use a razor blade remover tool to carefully scrape off any stain drops that land on hinges or hardware. Avoid abrasives that can damage surfaces.

Patience is required for stain to fully cure before reassembling cabinets. But the payoff of richer, warm wood tones is worth the effort.

Top Tips for Restaining Kitchen Cabinets

Follow these pro tips as you take on a cabinet restaining project:

  • Test stain on a hidden area first to ensure you like the color. Preparing a sample board is also wise.
  • Always sand with the wood grain, never across it. Excessive cross-sanding can damage the surface.
  • Wear gloves to prevent skin staining and eye protection when sanding. A dust mask is also recommended.
  • Do doors laid flat. Staining them upright risks drips marring surfaces. Lay cabinets on sawhorses for stability.
  • Maintain ideal staining temperature of 65-80°F. Colder conditions inhibit absorption. Heat accelerates drying too quickly.
  • Stain the cabinet interior and exterior faces in one session to get an exact color match.
  • Let stain dry for a minimum of 24 hours before applying protective topcoat in thin, even layers.

With careful prep and application, you can stain kitchen cabinets to look like new. Enjoy your updated kitchen!

FAQs About Restaining Kitchen Cabinets

Still have some questions about the process of restaining kitchen cabinets? Here we answer some of the most frequently asked questions:

What’s the best way to remove existing cabinet stain?

Sanding with an orbital sander and 100-150 grit sandpaper is ideal to remove old stain and rough up the surface. Be sure to vacuum up dust before wiping with a tack cloth.

Do I need to use wood conditioner before restaining?

Conditioner helps prevent blotchy areas by regulating stain absorption, especially on soft or porous woods like pine, maple and birch. It’s an important pre-stain step.

What are the best stain colors for small kitchens?

Pale neutral wood tones like light gray wash, driftwood or whitewashed finishes visually open up smaller kitchens. Soft sage greens and antique whites are also great small kitchen stain choices.

How long does it take for cabinet stain to fully cure?

Oil-based stains take up to 3 days to fully cure while water-based options cure in 1-2 days. Do not replace doors, drawers or hardware until stain has cured completely.

Can I apply a gel stain over existing paint or laminate cabinets?

Yes, gel stains can adhere to painted, laminated and veneered surfaces. Scuff sand first and apply with a foam brush. Multiple coats may be needed for full coverage.

What sheen should I use for stained kitchen cabinets – satin, semi-gloss?

A satin sheen is ideal for cabinet stains, providing subtle luster. Semi-gloss has high shine that can look too slick. Use satin clear coat for protection without too much glare.

How do I avoid blotchy areas when staining cabinets?

Pre-conditioning, proper sanding, stirring stain frequently, wiping evenly and maintaining ideal temperature will all prevent unsightly blotchiness in the final stain.

What’s the easiest way to stain inside cabinets and drawers?

Use a staining pad that attaches directly to the spray nozzle of liquid stain. Point and spray stain right onto interior surfaces for the most convenient application.

Can I stain just my cabinet doors rather than the whole frame?

For the most cohesive look, the cabinet boxes, doors, face frames and drawers should all be stained in one stage. Staining only doors risks mismatched tones.

Restaining your kitchen cabinets can totally transform the look of your most used space. With the right tools and techniques, you can achieve stain results worthy of any luxury kitchen.


Restaining kitchen cabinets is an involved yet incredibly rewarding project for DIYers. With proper preparation like thorough cleaning, sanding and filling imperfections, high-quality stains can be applied to give cabinets renewed luster. Choosing colors that complement your kitchen style and existing elements will result in a cohesive and polished look. Follow application tips like working in small sections, frequently stirring stain, and immediately wiping away excess for the most professional results. And remember that patience is key – allow sufficient drying time before reassembling your cabinets to show off the exquisite new stain. With some diligence and these helpful guidelines, you can expertly restain your kitchen cabinets.