Do you have cabinets with an outdated look, and you want to bring them back to life? Great news: we have a complete guide for you here of how to refinish kitchen cabinets and make them look new again.

It is a cost-effective method of reusing old cabinets and materials with some neat repairing and refurbishing jobs. Sure, you’ll need to invest some time, but what is more satisfying than putting old pieces of furniture to use again?

The refurbishing could be as simple as repainting the cabinets or installing new doors, and the result would still be fascinating. You can get a whole new look for your room and without spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars! All you will need is some simple tools, patience, and a good guide of how to refinish kitchen cabinets, which we are here for you.

Be prepared to spend a couple of weekends or a week or two to turn your old, dusty cabinets into completely new and attractive ones. Here’s how to refinish kitchen cabinets to make them look new once again.

You will need:

  • Basic tools such as screwdrivers, a saw, a utility knife
  • Sandpaper
  • Ammonia, mineral spirits to clean the cabinets
  • A rag
  • Paint

Should You do It?

First of all, you should know if this project is right for you. Are you prepared to spend some time on refurbishment? Usually, the job won’t be that complicated and could be done by beginners. Although it also depends on the material; repainting wood, wood-laminate, or metal is relatively simple. Plastic laminate, though, can be more stubborn when it comes to painting. You should check that the paint will work for the plastic laminate first if you have it of course.

Consider the Material

Image source: Fresh Coat Painters of Allen McKinney Frisco Plano

Also, some materials pass the test of time better than others. High-quality wood cabinets made from cherry, maple, ash, hickory, or oak, should be sustainable in the long-term. At least, more than some others. It would make sense to refinish and refurbish these types of cabinets instead of spending fortunes on new cabinets.

If the cabinet has a simple design, it is more appropriate for refinishing. This includes cabinets with flat-front doors and drawers. If your cabinet has raised panels, for example, it will require a lot more work. The same also goes to cabinets in an especially poor condition, or for cabinets with routed profiles or other architectural details.

It Can be Time-Consuming

Image source: Crisp Architects

Again, don’t expect to do everything in one day, or in a couple of hours. Instead, it takes patience and a lot of precision, and that means that you need to be prepared to spend three or four weekends to refinish the cabinets.

Although it might not involve as much complex work and carpentry than other projects, and it is also not as messy as other refurbishments, there is still a considerable amount of work to be done. You’ll also need to spend time cleaning, sanding, and preparing the cabinets to do your work. Think about this before you undertake the project, and be sure you really want to do it. Or else, it might go into the folder of “unfinished projects” infinitely.

How to Refinish Kitchen Cabinets

Here is a step-by-step tutorial of how to refinish kitchen cabinets as effectively as possible.

Step 1: Clean and Prepare the Cabinets

When an old kitchen cabinet has been left stranded for years, it is bound to collect a lot of dirt, dust, grime, and grease. Before you start applying that new coat of paint, don’t just jump in and start painting. Instead, you will have to indulge in a much more boring process – cleaning the dirt, dust, and grime from the cabinets. This includes all surfaces, such as shelves, knobs, handles, and the rest.

First, take the cabinet off the pegs. In some cases, you will have to unscrew the cabinet from its spot. The screws might be painted, which might leave some residue of paint in the holes of the screws. Clean them out with a small screwdriver. Then, remove the screws without doing any damage to the surface.


Use mineral spirits to remove the contaminants from the cabinet. You can use a rag and dip it into the mineral spirits. That should get rid of most of the contaminants. However, for better effectiveness, use a 50/50 solution of water and ammonia. Lastly, clean with water and dry.

If you will be disassembling the cabinets (which you should), mark the doors with stickers to allow you to assemble them easier later on. Put on stickers with names such as “front”, or “left”. But once you sand the cabinet, make sure you don’t remove these tags.

Step 2: Sanding the Wood

Right, so now it is time to start sanding the cabinet. First, use a wood filler to fill out the holes and imperfections in the wood. Let it dry, and sand it down.

Then, you can start sanding the edges and sides of the doors. You should do this gently at first as to not round the edges too much. Use spackling compound flush with 120-grit sandpaper and apply it to the cabinet to complete the sanding. Let it dry, and you will need a mask for this process, as well.

  • Don’t remove the paint that is still immaculate completely; just rough it out as much so that the new paint will stick and stay on it better. Deglaze the existing paint, and pay special attention to the worn-out areas that get the most use. If there are any stubborn finishes, use denatured alcohol and rub it over the surface.

  • In some cases, the paint might start flaking off, meaning that it did not adhere to the wood well. That may happen due to moisture, or perhaps there is a greasy residue layer below the paint. In that case, you will need to sand down the cabinet to bare wood. But make sure you don’t sand too much, especially at the corners. The finished product should not be too different from where it started.
  • Look for holes and imperfect areas that require filling. This way, the paint will adhere better to the surface. Also, you can use a paint primer to allow for a better application of the new layer of paint.
  • Lastly, do this work outside, as it can produce a lot of dust. Wear a mask, and sand down the entirety of the cabinet. After that, you can start painting.

Step 3: Apply Paint

This is the step that most people will enjoy – the application of the new paint. Before you start, the wood should be immaculate, free of perfections, sanded and prepared for the application of the paint. Most importantly, it should be free of dust or dirt so that the paint adheres better to the surface.

  • Start by applying a paint primer or a primer-sealer to ensure the paint will stick better to the surface. A good primer-sealer will make it easier for the paint to get applied to the areas where there is still plenty of dust or imperfections, or where there is glazing. It is also a great solution if you intend to use high-gloss enamel paint, as it will provide a good surface for the paint. This will give the cabinet a nice and durable finish.
  • Picking the right color is important. For these sorts of refurbished cabinets, navy blue is very popular, as well as greige or light wood colors. You can also test the color simply by applying it to a board or a piece of wood, which can be done at the store. You can bring it home and see if it suits your style.

  • To apply the paint, use a high-quality brush. Then, you will also want to take a look at the directions of applying the paint; paint it within the time limit that is given on the package itself.
  • After you complete the painting, use a spray to get that glossy and smooth appearance. Make sure to use a mask for this, though.

  • Many people also decide to stain the cabinet to make it look more genuine. You can use a rag and rub the stain on it, and then start rubbing the stain onto the cabinet along with the grain. It will give the color a much better saturation, and it will darken the wood slightly. The more coats you use, the darker the color will be.

Step 4: Hardware

Lastly, we should consider the hardware. This is all the metal pieces of the cabinet, such as the handles or knobs and pulls. This is also sometimes referred to as the “jewelry of the kitchen”. And it deserves the same attention as the cabinet itself.

In some cases, the original hardware will still be in good condition, but that is not likely. You can use the original hardware if you want, but it most probably won’t fit the new look of the cabinet best. Consider investing in white ceramic hardware, or black, hammered metal handles for that Old World look. White antique glass knobs and pulls will give you the rustic look. You can even go with a more colorful look, giving you that whimsical look. Using contrasts might make sense here.

For some, investing in new hardware might also be out of the question, as it can be costly. In that case, you can refurbish the hardware with a few simple steps. Here’s how to do it:

  • Prepare a bucket of hot water and some dish soap. Soak the hardware into the bucket, and clean every piece individually with a toothbrush. Let it dry.

  • Then, use steel wool to sand the hardware. This will remove leftover grime and dirt, and it will make the hardware more acceptable for new paint.
  • Use primer or paint to complete the look. It might not be easy, but you will not have to touch them, so consider using a spray color or primer. Try to paint it as evenly as possible.

So this is how to refinish kitchen cabinets with a few very simple steps. Hopefully, you will be able to achieve your desired look and your kitchen will come to life again.

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