Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing vs. Painting
Interior House Painting

Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing vs. Painting

Posted on March 31, 2022

As our families grow and seasons change, we often feel the need to give our spaces a makeover so they continue to reflect who we are today. The good news is there are easy and affordable ways to help your kitchen keep up with your changing times–refinishing or painting your cabinets. 

Whichever you choose, you can rest assured that a fresh look in your kitchen goes a long way to making your home reflect you, your family and the friends you invite to sit around your table.

Are you looking to cover up blemishes or add some colorful flair to your space? If so, painting might be the way to go! Conversely, if you’re more interested in restoring the natural glow of your wood or maintaining the integrity of your cabinets, you might choose to refinish them instead. 

Let’s take a look at the difference between cabinet refinishing vs. painting. 

Cabinet Refinishing

The most significant difference between refinishing and painting your cabinets is the process. In the end, either technique should result in an updated, fresh look to your kitchen and one that will provide a beautiful background to the memories you make there. That said, let’s look at the overall process involved in refinishing your cabinets. 

  1. Begin by sanding every surface of the cabinets using an electric sander or hand-held sandpaper, or you can choose to strip the wood chemically. 
  2. Apply a stain to your wood cabinets. Simply use a fine bristle to apply the stain to the cabinets, wait a few minutes for the stain to set, and then use a clean, lint-free rag to wipe off excess stain. After that, you simply wait for the stain to dry. 
  3. Apply at least two coats of compatible varnish or polyurethane, using either a sprayer or a high-quality brush. Sand the cabinets lightly between coats for a smooth, durable finish.

The process of refinishing your cabinets generally takes 3-5 days, depending on the amount of square footage you have to cover as well as the amount of time you have to dedicate to the task each day.

Now that you have a general idea of the process involved in refinishing your cabinets, and before we move on to the painting process, let’s summarize with a list of the pros of cabinet refinishing!  

Pros of Cabinet Refinishing

  • Depending on the existing condition of your cabinets, this may be the cheaper option.
  • Show off your beautiful cabinets–if your cabinets are made of real wood, you can enhance the beauty of what you already have by refinishing them. 
  • Refinishing usually lends itself to minimal mistakes, whereas poorly painted cabinets can result in visible flaws. 

Cons of Cabinet Refinishing

  • Sanding your cabinets creates a lot of dust. Unless you decide to strip your wood cabinets chemically, there’s no getting away from the clouds of dust this method will leave behind.
  • Requires specialized tools that average homeowners might not have access to.
  • The project can take a long time depending on how many cabinets your kitchen has.

Cabinet Painting

The main difference between cabinet painting and cabinet refinishing is the steps they each take to complete the project. It takes longer to refinish cabinets than it does to paint them. That said, the extra time can be worth it if you want your result to be a look that includes a more colorful and modern aesthetic. 

interior of kitchen showing large island with painted cabinets

To paint your cabinets:

  1. Remove your cabinet doors and prep your painting area.
  2. Prime your cabinets.
  3. Spot-sand any protruding surfaces in the primer, as well as caulk any open seams and fill any dings, dents or scratches with a putty knife.
    While this process can be a bit tedious, the more detailing you do in this step, the smoother your cabinets will look in the end. 
  4. Apply the first coat. Then, depending on the type of paint you choose and the color you’ve selected, you may want to add a second or even a third coat.

Pros of Cabinet Painting

  • Inexpensive when compared to other kitchen cabinet upgrade options.
  • Highly versatile in terms of color, finish and aesthetic.
  • Fairly quick for the amount of aesthetic impact it has on your space.

Cons of Cabinet Painting

  • Time-consuming to prep your workspace for a quality finish.
  • DIY painted cabinets may scuff, crack and chip faster than a professional application.

For a closer look, check out our Kitchen Cabinet Painting process video below:

Should I Paint or Refinish My Kitchen Cabinets?

If you are happy with the layout of your cabinetry and the condition of the existing wood is good, you might want to simply refinish them. On the other hand, if you want to create a dramatically new look and paint your cabinets to coordinate with your existing decor, you might want to paint.

Overall, how you choose to give your kitchen cabinets a boost depends on the look you want to create, the ambiance you want your space to reflect and the aesthetic you want to create for all the gatherings that will inevitably end up in your kitchen. 

Picking Kitchen Cabinet Finishes

After you’ve decided how to tackle your cabinets, now comes the fun part—picking your finishes! 

First up is your color palette. Are you going for a clean, crisp look or an English cottage aesthetic? Deciding the overall feeling you want in your kitchen will help guide your color palette.

Next is your paint finish. You’ve got 4 main choices: flat, eggshell, semigloss, and gloss. There are a lot of factors to consider, so check out our guide on choosing the perfect finish.

Finally, your cabinet hardware. Sometimes, your choice of hardware can have the largest impact on your overall upgrade.

Check out these helpful resources to guide your decision-making:

Kitchen Cabinets | Sherwin Williams

2022 Kitchen Design Trends


Whether you choose to refinish or paint your cabinets, you will want to choose the right paint and supplies for the job, as well as be informed of either process before you begin.

At CertaPro Painters®, we’re experts on the best practices to update your kitchen cabinets from start to finish. To get started on your next kitchen upgrade, contact us about our cabinet refinishing and painting services today!