How to Refinish Kitchen Cabinets in 10 Steps

Scrub, sand, and paint or stain your way to a new space

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Reviewed by Robert Tschudi
Updated August 17, 2022
The interior of a modern kitchen with white cabinets
Photo: Niklas Skur / EyeEm / EyeEm / Getty Images


Only DIY if you know what you're doing.

Time to complete

50 hours

Set aside two to three days.



Make room—this DIY requires a lot of supplies!

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What you'll need:


  • N95 standard disposable respirator
  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Box fan
  • Drop cloths
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Screwdriver
  • Rags
  • Cotton balls (optional)
  • Soft brush
  • Paint scraper
  • Putty knife (optional)
  • Orbital sander
  • Foam sanding block
  • Shop vacuum with a brush attachment
  • Tack cloths
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint roller
  • Paint sprayer (optional)
  • Paint tray
  • Steel wool
  • Fine-grit sponge


  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
  • Painter’s tape
  • Paint stripper
  • Chlorine bleach (optional)
  • 100-grit sandpaper
  • 180-grit sandpaper
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Wood filler
  • Primer (if painting)
  • Caulk (if painting)
  • Enamel paint (if painting)
  • Paint conditioner (if painting)
  • Wood conditioner (if staining)
  • Denatured alcohol (if staining)
  • Stain (if staining)
  • Wood sealer
  • Mineral spirits

Your kitchen cabinets are in good condition. Yet, their stain or paint color no longer works well with your aesthetic. You can refinish your cabinet doors, drawer fronts, and boxes for a whole new look by removing the finish and applying a new one. Read on for a refinishing how-to. 

The cost of kitchen cabinet installation is $10,00 to $12,200 on average, and it costs about $7,100 to reface cabinets. If you refinish your cabinets yourself, then you’ll only have to pay for the tools and supplies. Keep in mind if your cabinets are in poor condition, made of fiberboard, or feature an outdated design, then it’s probably wiser to reface or replace them.

  1. Take Precautions

    Refinishing cabinets releases a lot of dust and requires stripping chemicals and paint. Wear safety glasses, an N95 standard disposable respirator, and chemical-resistant gloves to protect yourself. If you can’t work outside (or in a shed or garage with the door open), open the windows and use a box fan to keep air flowing. 

    Protect your home from stray drops of stain by laying canvas drop cloths or builder’s paper on the floor and covering backsplashes, appliances, and cabinet interiors with plastic.

  2. Remove Hardware, Drawers, and Door Fronts

    A man removing a kitchen cabinet door handle
    Photo: DragonImages / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

    Uninstall cabinet hardware and remove cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Number or label each one so you can keep track of where they belong.

  3. Clean Thoroughly

    To remove grease, wax, and dirt, scrub doors and drawer fronts thoroughly with a mixture of trisodium phosphate (TSP) or soap and water. Allow time for everything to dry completely before moving to the next step. 

    Submerge all hardware in a large basin full of soapy water for 30 minutes. Scrub with a soft brush, then rinse, polish, and dry.

  4. Strip Finish

    You’ll need to remove the original finish to make sure that the new finish adheres properly. Wearing protective equipment, use a rag or moistened cotton balls to apply the right stripping agent for the type of finish on your cabinetry (such as turpentine for wax, denatured alcohol for shellac or latex, or lacquer thinner for lacquer). 

    Before using a stripping agent everywhere, test it out on a small, inconspicuous area. You might need to go with more than one coat or use chlorine bleach instead. Scrape off paint or finish with a putty knife or paint scraper.

  5. Sand, Vacuum, and Dust

    Use an orbital sander with 100-grit sandpaper, then 180-grit sandpaper, and finally 220-grit sandpaper to remove any remaining finish. Then lightly sand again with a foam sanding block to roughen up the surface, which will help the primer adhere better (if painting). Vacuum after sanding to remove debris and clean your work area. With a tack cloth, remove all dust so the finished surface will look smooth.

  6. Fix Issues

    Fill in any dents, scratches, or holes with wood filler. (Make sure not to fill in holes for hardware, like drawer pulls, though.) Then lightly sand for a smooth surface. Vacuum up any debris, wipe, and allow it to dry.

  7. Prep to Paint or Stain

    Whether you’re painting or staining, prep surfaces for the new finish. Here’s how:

    If you’re painting cabinets, apply a coat of primer. Primer helps to prevent chipping, an uneven finish, and stain bleeding. With a paintbrush, roller, or sprayer, apply one coat uniformly and let it dry. Lightly sand again, then vacuum and dust with a tack cloth. 

    If there are any cracks (say where the cabinets meet crown molding or walls), apply caulking. But don’t caulk any floating panels on the doors since they need to move with seasonal temperature and humidity fluctuations. Let it dry completely.

    If you’re staining your cabinets, apply one coat of pre-stain conditioner, which will help prevent the stain from penetrating unevenly on cherry, pine, and birch. If necessary, thin it with an equal amount of denatured alcohol. Let it dry, then wipe with a damp tack cloth. Let it dry one more time.

  8. Paint or Stain

    A woman using a brush painting a kitchen cabinet door
    Photo: zoranm / E+ / Getty Images

    If painting, use enamel paint made specifically for cabinets. If the paint is too thick, consider mixing in some paint conditioner. Paint quickly, finishing one area before moving on to the next one. 

    Avoid brushing over paint that’s partially dry. Apply two or three coats, letting each coat dry completely before proceeding, and then lightly sand and vacuum.

    If staining your cabinets, apply the stain with a soft brush or rag. If it’s too dark, rub some off. Let it dry completely. If you’d like a darker effect, add another coat. Let it dry thoroughly one more time, then lightly rub the cabinets with steel wool and a cloth.

  9. Seal

    Sealing will help to protect the new finish. Apply one coat of sealer, such as clear polyurethane varnish (mixing in a few drops of mineral spirits, if necessary, to keep it flowing). Let it dry, then sand with a fine-grit sponge. Vacuum up any debris, and apply a second coat. Let it dry, then sand and vacuum.

  10. Reassemble Cabinets

    Put your cabinets back together and re-install doors, drawers, and hardware. Now, you should feel as if you’re in a new kitchen!

DIY Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing vs. Hiring a Pro

Refinishing kitchen cabinets is a messy, time-consuming, and tedious task. Yet, if you tackle it yourself, your only cost will be the materials. If you prefer to leave the job to a cabinet refinishing pro, expect to pay an average of $4 to $10 per square foot or a total of about $2,700.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.