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- Painted vs. Stained Cabinets for Kitchens or Bathrooms
- Painting vs. Staining by Wood Type
Painted vs. Stained Cabinets for the Kitchen or Bathroom
The choice between painting and staining your cabinets will depend on a number of factors. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages. See how each stack up in categories like budget, water resistance, maintenance and return on investment.
|Paint is best for:||Stain is best for:|
|Aesthetic||Smooth, modern look||Traditional, natural look|
|Low Budget||Higher-cost supplies||Lower-cost supplies|
|DIY||Tougher to do as it’s less forgiving to mistakes||Easier to apply yourself|
|Water Resistance||More resistant to water||Less responsive|
|Cleanliness||Shows less dust and more dirt||Shows more dust and hides more dirt|
|Longevity||10 years||20-30 years|
|Low-Maintenance||Not washable and prone to crack||Washable and less prone to crack|
|ROI||High ROI||High ROI|
White or Wood Cabinets – Comparing Types & Styles
You have many options for style and type with both products. Stain may be more limited, but you can still deepen or change hues with certain types.
- Streamlined, clean look
- More color options
- Covers natural grains
- Natural look
- Shows grain
- Fewer color options
- Will expose imperfections
- May look dated
Paint is a popular choice for homeowners who want a solid, modern color. Stain is a great way to display the natural grain of the wood beneath.
For those on a budget, the decision may come down to the price. Paint is a little more expensive. However, both options are more affordable than replacing the cabinets or doors.
- Paint: Supplies will cost about $200
- Stain: Supplies will cost around $100 to $150
Expense of Professional Application
In most situations, repainting is more expensive because the professional has to take more care and may need extra coats to get a smooth finish. The difference in price is small, however, and depends on how many cabinets you have and how many coats you’ll need.
- Paint: Professional paint application costs an average of $2,000 to $5,000
- Stain: Stain application costs between $1,500 to $4,000
You can save a bit of money by doing this project yourself. For the best results, you’ll need to prepare the surfaces properly and be patient through the drying process.
- Shows even the slightest application mistakes.
- Poor surface preparation will be apparent.
- Often calls for extra coats, adding to project time.
- Won’t show mistakes as easily.
- Doesn’t usually require as many coats, lessening project time.
Hides Dirt & Dust
When it comes to dirt and dust, it all depends on the color of your cabinets. Dust will blend in with light paint or stain. Dark colors can disguise dirt in either finish.
Length of Life
Maintenance & Touch-Ups
- Washable options have made maintenance simpler.
- Applying a top coat can make cleaning easier.
- Touching up is more complicated.
- Harder to clean.
- Easier to touch up.
- Easier to clean (soap and water).
- Aggressive cleaners can dull the surface.
- Harder to remove spills that you don’t clean right away.
Resale Value & ROI
Whichever option you choose, updating your cabinets is always a good decision for ROI and resale value. Refinishing or painting cabinets is typically part of a minor kitchen remodel, which has a return on investment of about 81 percent based on Remodeling Magazine’s 2018 Cost vs. Value Report.
- Paint: Neutral colors are good for resale, but bold ones can detract from the home’s appeal.
- Stain: Classic, natural look could appeal to more buyers.
Painting Cabinets vs. Staining by Wood Type
Aside from the general pros and cons of each option, you’ll need to consider the type of wood your cabinets are before you make any decisions.
Paint-Grade vs. Stain-Grade Wood
Paint-grade cabinetry is usually a smooth, flat wood made of lower-quality materials because the paint will cover the grain. Stain-grade is typically a higher quality wood. It can also have a rougher surface.
Is Paint or Stain Better for Hardwoods like Oak?
Hardwoods benefit from staining because it brings out their inherently beautiful grains. However, either option will work as long as you prep the surface.
Should I Paint or Stain Softwoods like Cedar?
Standard cabinetry is softwood and looks best painted. Cedar requires extra care. You’ll need to use a quality primer to trap the red tannins and prevent bleeding. However, if your softwood has a desirable grain, staining will allow that to show through. Use a conditioner to even out the pores.
Which is Best for MDF Cabinets?
Paint is the best option for refinishing MDF cabinets. Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is a non-wood, paint-grade material that doesn’t benefit from staining.Find the best cabinet refinishing services in your area
Gel stain vs. paint – Which is best for cabinets?
A gel stain is thicker than regular staining products and most surfaces don’t absorb it.
Compared to paint, gel stain:
- Hides mistakes better.
- Absorbs evenly across porous and non-porous spots.
- Is very DIY friendly.
- Doesn’t run.
- Can glob up in corners.
- Still bares grain but not as well as regular stain.
Are white cabinets more expensive?
White cabinets are typically more expensive than stained ones, both when you buy them and when you repaint them. White shows imperfections in the wood’s surface and application. Sand before painting and apply extra coats to get a smooth finish.
Can I paint over stained cabinet?
Yes, you can paint over a stain if you prepare it properly. Preparation typically includes cleaning, sanding and priming. In some cases, you may need to strip off varnish. However, there are paint products that contain bonding additives which eliminate the need to sand and prime.
Can I remove paint to stain?
Yes, you can stain cabinets that currently have paint on them. It is a lot of work to strip and sand the surface, but it will be worth it if you want a natural wood look.
Is stain and finish/varnish the same thing?
Stain and varnish are different products, though there are combination products like Minwax’s Polyshades.
- Absorbs into surface
- Enhances hue and grain
- Sits on top of surface
- Often diminishes grain appearance
- Can be flat or glossy
Should I stain or paint when refacing cabinets?
Both stain and paint can be used when refacing to match the existing wood of the cabinet with the new doors or drawers. However, the wood veneer used when refacing comes in a variety of grains and hues – even white – so you may not need to apply paint or stain at all. Still, if you want to change the color or style once you’ve added the new doors, the real wood will take either product in the same way as other woods.Still have questions about your cabinet refinishing project?