Should You Paint or Stain Your Kitchen Cabinets For an Easy Upgrade?

September 19, 2019

If you’re looking to change or update the look of your kitchen on a budget, simply changing the face of your cabinets can work wonders. Not only is this a cost-effective option, it can completely alter the look and feel of your kitchen.

Two ways to make a change to your kitchen cabinets is to either paint or stain them. The question is, which option should you choose?

Painting Your Cabinets

If you’ve been paying attention to the world of interior design, you probably noticed that painted cabinets are on-trend lately. Whether they’re steel blue, mustard yellow, emerald green, or classic white, painted cabinets are all the rage.

The exact type of paint that you choose for your cabinets will affect how they look, how well they can withstand wear and tear, and how resistant they are to water. Aside from the color, there are many paint options, including oil-based, water-based, or even varnishes. You will want to discuss each option and their effects (such as lifespan, off-gassing, and so forth) with a paint professional before you make your choice.

Another factor to consider is how the paint will be applied to the cabinets: either sprayed on or brushed on. Spraying the paint typically provides the most even, smooth finish; however, if you ever need to touch it up in the future, it could be a challenge to get a blemish-free finish. On the other hand, brushed-on paint might not have as consistent a finish as a spray-on version, but it will be a lot easier to touch it up as the need arises.

The type of wood also matters if you’re leaning towards paint over stain. In order to achieve a smooth finish, the wood needs to have a completely flat surface and be void of knots and heavy grains.

Paint offers certain benefits that stain simply can’t deliver:

It’s modern

If it’s an updated, contemporary look that you’re after, then paint is the way to go. If you’ve got old-fashioned wood cabinets – such as oak, which has fallen out of style – paint can disguise any grains in the wood that you’re no longer a fan of.

It provides a ton of options

Considering the seemingly endless variety of paint colors to choose from, the options are vast when it comes to creating a truly unique look to your kitchen.

It hides dust easily

Compared to stained wood, painted cabinets hide dust much better, especially lighter colors.

However, there are some downsides to painted cabinets as well:

It’s expensive

Generally speaking, it costs more to paint cabinets than to stain them because it entails a lot more time and elbow grease. If you are having your cabinets painted by a professional, you’re looking at paying anywhere between $2,000 to $5,000, depending on the size of the kitchen, how complex the job is, and where you live.

It can crack over time

Painted cabinets are more susceptible to cracking as time passes which can make the cabinets look worn and dated.

Staining Your Cabinets

If you love the grain of a certain type of wood, then staining your cabinets is a fantastic option. While stained cabinets are more traditional-looking than painted cabinets, they still provide a classic, timeless look.

Stained cabinets let the natural features and grains of the wood show through. You can choose from a variety of stains, from clear to a very dark mahogany or chocolate brown that adds a dramatic touch while still letting the wood’s grain and texture show through. You also have the freedom to choose the type of finish you’d like, including glossy, semigloss, and matte. Some stains even have UV protection.

Stained wood cabinets come with their own set of advantages over paint:

They’re classic

While old oak cabinets are somewhat dated, many other types of stained woods are timeless. As such, stained wood cabinets are still rather popular among homeowners simply because they are less prone to going out of style and are not dependent on the latest trends in kitchen design.

They’re good for resale value

Because of their classic and timeless look, stained cabinets are often better for resale value than painted cabinets.

They’re more affordable

Since staining cabinets doesn’t take as long as painting them, staining is the cheaper way to go.

On the other hand, there are some disadvantages to stain:

The wood needs to be attractive

Stain is meant to show the grain of the wood, so if you are not a fan of the type of wood your cabinets are made of, stain is likely not the best option.

There aren’t as many design options

You can’t get nearly as much variety with your stain as you can with paint colors.

The Bottom Line

When it comes time to make a decision about the finished surface of your kitchen cabinets, make sure you test each option with your actual cabinet material so you can have an actual visual of what the finished product will look like. In addition, have samples of your countertops and backsplashes readily available to match up with the cabinets so you can verify how everything goes together before making your final decision.