Should I Paint or Refinish My Kitchen Cabinets?

Lauren Murphy
Written by Lauren Murphy
Updated August 19, 2021
Kitchen painted pretty green-blue
Photo: Jason / Adobe Stock

Both painting and refinishing cabinets will give them a fresh, new look, but each option has pros and cons

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Painting your cabinets will allow you to cover up blemishes and add some stylish flair to your space. Refinishing cabinets (sanding and stripping them down to reach their more natural state) can have similar results, but there are a few key differences. Repainting can look bright and modern, but it doesn’t repair blemishes. Refinishing will get to the root of any issues, but the process can be meticulous.

If you’re debating whether to paint or refinish in order to save money on kitchen remodeling costs, read more below on which option may be best for you.

Cabinet Painting

Young woman painting kitchen cabinets
Photo: bilderlounge / Tips RF / Getty Images

Pros

  • Many color options

  • Can refresh cabinet appearance

  • Looks modern

Painting your cabinets is a great way to update the look of your kitchen without purchasing all new materials, which can be costly—new cabinets can cost upwards of $18,000. 

Paint makes cabinets look much more modern than stains and other finishes. Plus, you can choose whatever color you like and some companies even offer custom color options. If you prefer the crisp, clean, minimal look, opt for a bright white. For a pop of color, consider a wash of blue or yellow. With a few coats of paint, you’ll have solid-colored cabinets with no wood grain peeking through.

Cons

  • Time-consuming

  • Can leave marks

  • Maintenance required

Unfortunately, painting cabinets is time-consuming and requires meticulous work. You’ll need to remove all cabinet doors and drawers, labeling each one to keep track of where it fits, to paint them all individually.

You’ll also need to carefully paint around decorative details and corners and paint multiple coats to avoid brush strokes and streaks. If you’re not detail-oriented or simply don’t have the time to focus on careful artistry, hire a professional custom cabinet painter. Professionals are experienced, so they can usually get the job done significantly quicker than DIYers can.

Painted cabinets must also be maintained occasionally. Paint can attract dust, dirt, and grime. And depending on the color paint you choose, messes may show up clearly. Wipe them down regularly to maintain the color—the longer messes sit on the paint, the more likely they are to damage it.

Cabinet Refinishing

Dark stained wood in kitchen
Photo: JenD / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Refinishing cabinets involves sanding them down or chemically stripping their existing finish to re-do it (or leave it bare). With refinishing, you keep all of the components of your existing cabinetry and only change the finish.

Pros

  • Looks natural

  • Corrects blemishes

  • Maintains integrity of cabinets

Painting your cabinets can make them look striking and modern. Refinishing them, on the other hand, strips them down and makes them look natural. If you have wood cabinets, refinishing them will show off the wood grain and make your kitchen look more traditional.Instead of simply covering up blemishes, like scratches and dings, refinishing cabinets gets to the root of the problem to correct them. By sanding down your cabinets, you can address any aesthetic issues before staining or adding a finish over top.Refinishing cabinets is a great choice if yours are made from high-quality materials, like solid wood. While refinishing will not camouflage imperfections or create a dramatic change like paint will, refinishing can enhance the original look of cabinetry. 

If your cabinets have details that make them look dated, you may need to reface them completely rather than refinish or paint them.

Cons

  • Can be messy

  • Can take longer than painting

Resurfacing your cabinets generally requires a ton of sanding, which results in lots of dust. So, when you resurface kitchen cabinets, expect a layer of dust to cover everything from the stovetop to the tile floor. It gets everywhere, so you’ll want to avoid the area or be prepared to get dirty while the job is underway. Afterwards, clean away! Minimize the mess by sanding as much as you can in the backyard instead of in the kitchen.Painting cabinets can take a few days, depending on whether you’re doing it yourself or if you hire a professional painter. It takes a similar amount of time to refinish cabinets as you’ll need to remove all cabinet doors and drawers before getting to work.

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