How to Refinish Kitchen Cabinets


  1. Introduction
  2. Tools and Materials Needed
  3. Preparation
  4. Sanding the Cabinets
  5. Repairing and Priming
  6. Painting or Staining
  7. Finishing Touches
  8. Cleaning Up
  9. FAQs


Refinishing kitchen cabinets is a cost-effective way to give your kitchen a fresh, updated look. This guide provides step-by-step instructions to help you refinish your cabinets, whether you choose to paint or stain them.

Tools and Materials Needed

  • Screwdrivers
  • Drop cloths
  • Painter’s tape
  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP) or a degreaser
  • Sandpaper (100, 150, and 220 grit)
  • Wood filler
  • Putty knife
  • Primer (if painting)
  • Paint or stain
  • Paint brushes and rollers
  • Foam brushes or rags (for staining)
  • Clear protective finish (polyurethane or polycrylic)
  • Safety glasses
  • Dust mask
  • Cleaning cloths


Remove Cabinet Doors and Hardware

  • Label Doors and Hardware: Label each door and its corresponding hardware to ensure easy reassembly.
  • Unscrew Hinges and Knobs: Use a screwdriver to remove all doors, drawers, and hardware.
  • Set Aside: Place the doors and hardware in a safe, organized area.

Clean the Cabinets

  • Degrease Surfaces: Use TSP or a degreaser to clean all cabinet surfaces. This removes grease, grime, and any buildup.
  • Rinse and Dry: Rinse with clean water and dry thoroughly with a cloth.

Sanding the Cabinets

Choose the Right Sandpaper

  • 100 Grit: For initial rough sanding to remove old finish.
  • 150 Grit: For smoothing out surfaces after rough sanding.
  • 220 Grit: For final smoothing before painting or staining.

Sand the Surfaces

  • Initial Sanding: Use 100-grit sandpaper to sand all surfaces, removing old paint or varnish.
  • Smooth Sanding: Follow up with 150-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface.
  • Final Sanding: Use 220-grit sandpaper for a fine finish, ensuring the surface is smooth and ready for primer or stain.
  • Wipe Clean: Wipe down all surfaces with a damp cloth to remove sanding dust.

Repairing and Priming

Fill Cracks and Holes

  • Apply Wood Filler: Use a putty knife to fill any cracks, holes, or imperfections with wood filler.
  • Sand Smooth: Once the filler is dry, sand the repaired areas with 220-grit sandpaper until smooth.

Apply Primer

  • Choose Primer: Use a high-quality primer suitable for the material of your cabinets.
  • Apply Evenly: Apply a thin, even coat of primer using a brush or roller. Allow to dry completely.
  • Sand Lightly: Lightly sand the primed surfaces with 220-grit sandpaper to ensure smoothness.

Painting or Staining

Choosing Paint or Stain

  • Paint: Choose a durable, high-quality paint specifically designed for cabinets. Semi-gloss or satin finishes are recommended for their durability and ease of cleaning.
  • Stain: Select a wood stain that enhances the natural grain of the wood.

Apply Paint or Stain

  • Painting:
  • First Coat: Apply the first coat of paint using a brush or roller. Use even strokes and avoid drips.
  • Dry and Sand: Allow the first coat to dry completely. Lightly sand with 220-grit sandpaper before applying the second coat.
  • Second Coat: Apply the second coat of paint and let it dry thoroughly.
  • Staining:
  • Apply Stain: Use a foam brush or rag to apply the stain. Follow the wood grain and apply evenly.
  • Wipe Excess: Wipe off any excess stain with a clean cloth to ensure an even finish.
  • Repeat if Necessary: Apply additional coats for a deeper color, allowing each coat to dry before the next.

Finishing Touches

Apply a Protective Finish

  • Choose Finish: Select a clear protective finish such as polyurethane (for oil-based paints) or polycrylic (for water-based paints).
  • Apply Evenly: Apply the finish with a clean brush, following the wood grain.
  • Allow to Dry: Let the finish dry completely between coats. Apply 2-3 coats for maximum protection, lightly sanding between coats with 220-grit sandpaper.

Reattach Doors and Hardware

  • Reattach Hinges and Knobs: Once the finish is dry, reattach the cabinet doors and hardware using your labels as a guide.
  • Check Alignment: Ensure all doors and drawers are properly aligned and function smoothly.

Cleaning Up

Clean Brushes and Tools

  • Immediate Cleaning: Clean brushes and tools immediately after use with soap and water (for water-based products) or mineral spirits (for oil-based products).
  • Store Properly: Store your tools and leftover materials properly for future use.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Safe Disposal: Dispose of paint, stain, and solvent waste according to local regulations. Many areas have specific disposal sites for hazardous materials.


How long does it take to refinish kitchen cabinets?

The process can take several days to a week, depending on the size of your kitchen and the drying times for primer, paint, or stain.

Do I need to remove the cabinets from the wall?

It’s usually sufficient to remove just the doors, drawers, and hardware. The cabinet boxes can be refinished in place.

Can I refinish laminate cabinets?

Yes, but special preparation is required. Clean and sand the laminate surface thoroughly, and use a primer designed for glossy surfaces.

What type of paint is best for kitchen cabinets?

Acrylic latex paint is a popular choice for its durability and ease of cleaning. Oil-based paints are also durable but have a longer drying time and stronger fumes.

How can I prevent brush marks when painting cabinets?

Use high-quality brushes or foam rollers, apply thin coats of paint, and lightly sand between coats.

By following these steps and tips, you can successfully refinish your kitchen cabinets, giving your kitchen a fresh and updated look. Patience and attention to detail will ensure a professional-looking finish.

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