How to Refurbish Kitchen Cabinets: For a New Look

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Refinishing existing cabinets is the perfect solution when you want a new kitchen but don’t have the energy, time or money to invest in removing the old one and starting over.

“Rather than replacing with new, refinishing your kitchen cabinets not only saves money, but it’s also a more environmentally friendly and sustainable solution,” says Lucy Searle, global editor for Homes & Gardens. “Painting kitchen cabinets is a great option for wooden or painted kitchen furniture, for example, and it can easily be done in a weekend. Overall, refinishing is a great way to update kitchen cabinets without replacing them.

“Before you even begin this process, the cabinets need to be super clean,” advises Looeeze Grossman, founder of The Used Kitchen Company. Wipe them down with a good all-purpose cleaner or dish soap and water, which also works great. Follow with a sugar soap training to remove any residue. Once done, you should lightly sand cabinets.Use a low-grade sandpaper and go over the surface gently.Fill all chips with wood putty.

Below, we walk you through the process of refinishing kitchen cabinets step by step.

How to refinish kitchen cabinets

In addition to painting or staining kitchen cabinets, it is possible to varnish them.

“After sanding, I always choose a non-toxic finish to varnish the cabinets,” adds Looeeze. “It’s more durable and less harmful to your household members and pets. I use an extra-large paintbrush to stain the front of the cabinet, using a waterproof finish.

Here’s how to refinish kitchen cabinets, regardless of the existing finish, with expert advice.

1. Protect the area

Before you start, make sure the kitchen is well protected. This means laying down plastic sheeting, construction paper (which is more environmentally friendly), or canvas drop cloths on the floor as well as on counters, appliances, table and chairs, and any other items in the space. This will protect them from dust and sanding during your finishing process.

Next, you want to remove the doors and drawers from your cabinets. Don’t forget to label or number them so you know which door or drawer goes where when you’re done. Now you need to laminate and tape the inside of the cabinets to protect them from dust and don’t forget to cover the backsplashes as well.

2. Prepare the surfaces

Preparation is key and results will depend on the care and attention you give during the preparation process. “To refurbish wooden kitchen cabinets, first remove the doors, handles and hinges,” says Ryan McDonough, interior design expert at My job quote. ‘Clean all surfaces with sugar soap to remove stubborn grease and dirt. Sand lightly with a fine grit paper and work with the grain rather than against it. Hand sanding is best for working around details such as beveling on cabinet doors and decorative trim.

Cleaning doors and drawers is a lot of work. You can scrub and wash them with synthetic steel wool and soap and water and for stubborn greasy stains, use TSP (available on Amazon) and water. Let everything dry when you’re done.

3. Clean the material

In addition to the doors and drawers of the cabinets, it is advisable to also clean the handles and hinges. Place in a large bowl of warm, soapy water for about 30 minutes and gently scrub to remove grease and residue. Rinse with clear water and dry. If necessary, you can always polish them.

3. Strip cabinets

Be sure to open all windows and doors to ventilate the room. Even better if you can get the doors and drawers out of the cabinets. Next you need to check what finish is already on the wood as this will determine what stripping agent is needed. In most cases, a nail polish remover will do. After stripping the finish, you can repair any holes or scratches in the wood.

If yours is a painted kitchen, it may not be wood. If so, skip this step and move on to sanding.

4. Sand the kitchen cabinets

Then hand sand with sandpaper or use an abrasive sponge to scuff the existing finish and provide an adhesive surface. Ideally, you should use a lower quality 100 or 15 grit sandpaper.

A hand-held vacuum is great for removing dust afterwards, but it’s also worth wiping down sanded surfaces with a slightly damp microfiber cloth to remove any dust. Allow to dry before continuing.

5. Finish with varnish, wax or paint of your choice

Finally, you can apply the chosen finish. For wooden kitchen cabinets, you can use a product that brings out the natural beauty of wood, such as Restore-A-Finish or Feed-N-Wax (both at Amazon). You can find tips for painting kitchen cabinets in our separate guide, including the best paint finishes to choose.

Once you’re done and everything is dry, attach the handles and put the cabinets and doors back in place.

How can I refinish cabinets without sanding?

To refinish cabinets without sanding, simply use mineral spirits and a rough sponge to clean and gently scuff the area.

What is the difference between refinishing and refacing?

Kitchen cabinet refinishing involves changing the finish or color of the existing material, while resurfacing involves placing new material on top.


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