How To Restore Kitchen Cabinets [All The Possible Ways To Bring It Back To Life]




Wanna do a quick test? Go to your kitchen and answer my questions. 

Does Your kitchen look dull even though the light is bright? Do your kitchen cabinets look pale and lifeless? Is the finish fading away in places?

If you answered yes to more than once, it means your kitchen cabinets need to be restored.

If you don’t know how to restore kitchen cabinets, it is by refinishing them. 

In my professional life, I have completed 20+ kitchen cabinet refinishing projects, and trust me it is the best way.

Don’t worry. All you need to do is;

how to restore kitchen cabinets

Restore Kitchen Cabinets

Assess your kitchen cabinets to see whether they have signs that indicate that your cabinets need restoration. If they do, clean and sand the cabinets. Then, choose a refinishing method you prefer, depending on your personal choice and the needs of your cabinets, and follow the instructions.

Wait! Don’t start already! I was just telling you the outline of the process. There are a lot of details you must know before starting the process, or you will ruin your favorite kitchen cabinets.

Are you ready?

Here’s a quick overview of what you are getting into:

Core Findings-

  • You can use a mild wood cleaner or mineral spirits to remove the dirt, dust, debris, and grease from the kitchen cabinets. 
  • Microfiber cloth helps to clean and polish cabinets while avoiding scratching the surfaces.
  • Liquid sandpaper is a gentle version of a chemical stripper but more effective.
Estimated CostEstimated DurationSkill Level
$50028 hoursBeginners

Signs That My Kitchen Cabinets Need Restoration

Before we start on how to restore kitchen cabinet finish, I want to talk about something else.

Are you sure that your kitchen cabinets need restoration? How are you sure about that?

To get sure of whether your kitchen cabinets need restoration or not, you need to know the signs that indicate that.

Yes! You heard right! There are some signs of that. What are these? If you don’t know, let’s find out;

SignsThe Reasons
Fading AppearanceIt causes your kitchen cabinets to lose their aesthetic.
Worn-Out FinishIt means the protective layer of your kitchen cabinets is damaged and you should fix it.
Paints Peeling OffIt is gonna create a distressed look and make your kitchen cabinets lose their beauty.
Water DamageIt not only ruins the appearance but also the entire cabinet.

Fading Appearance

Do your kitchen cabinets look discolored and lifeless? How do you bring old kitchen cabinets back to life?

What if it no longer matches your aesthetic kitchen even though it has an updated design?

These are the biggest signs that it is time for the restoration of your kitchen cabinet finish.

Refinishing kitchen cabinets is the only way to get rid of their fading, discolored appearance and bring them back to life.

Worn-out Finish

Take a good look at your kitchen cabinets. Is the finish of your kitchen cabinets damaged because of regular use? 

Are there damages like scratches or other problems like dullness visible in your kitchen cabinets?

If you said yes, refinishing can be the best solution for you to regain the damaged protective layer of your kitchen cabinets.

Paints Peeling Off

If the paint on your kitchen cabinets is peeling off, it’s a clear sign that your kitchen cabinets need restoration.

Why is that? Whether it is in the form of paint or stain if the upper layer starts to peel in some places but not all, how do you think it would look?

Just so you thought, it is gonna ruin the whole look of the kitchen cabinets and also your kitchen.

Water Damage

Do you know what is the worst damage for any wooden or other furniture? It is water damage.

Being exposed to water or moisture can cause watermarks, swelling, discoloration, and even worse warping.

If you think your kitchen cabinets are water-damaged, you must restore them. Otherwise, it will not only ruin the appearance but also the entire cabinet.

So, now that you are aware of the signs, if you find any of these in your kitchen cabinets, immediately opt for restoration.

I am here to help you with how to refinish kitchen cabinets. 

Parts Of Kitchen Cabinets That Can Be Restored

Before we move on to the how to repair kitchen cabinets part, there is something more that you need to know.

You must know the parts that are restorable and the parts that are not. 

Parts Of Kitchen Cabinets That Can Be Restored

I know you are getting eager to find out the actual process, but trust me, it’s important. These are;

The PartsRestoration Process
Cabinet DoorsFix the scratches, dents, or damage with wood fillers.Sand down the existing finish.Apply a new stain or paint.Finish with a protective sealant.
Cabinet DrawersFix any wear and tear.Sand, stain, and seal the drawer.
Cabinet Frame Fix the structural damages, such as fixing an out-of-square cabinet.Fill in gaps, cracks, or dents with wood fillers.Sand and refinish the frames to fix any wear and tear.
Hinges & HardwareClean and polish hardware to restore its shine.Tighten loose hinges and replace damaged screws.Replace the worn-out or damaged hardware with new ones.
Shelves & InteriorsTake out the shelves and interiors off the cabinet.Fix the damages.Sand and refinish the interior surfaces to restore their appearance.

How To Restore Kitchen Cabinets?

This is the part you were eagerly waiting for. To be honest, there are a bunch of things that you need to know before we start.

However, I don’t want to make you wait any longer. So, here is how to restore kitchen cabinets on a budget by following just a few steps;

How To Restore Kitchen Cabinets?

Clean The Cabinet

How to clean and restore wood cabinets? Let’s start with the cleaning part first. 

But before you start cleaning, make sure to remove all the objects from your cabinet. If there is any thermofoil in your cabinet, remove the thermofoil from the cabinets.

You can use a mild wood cleaner or mineral spirits to remove the dirt, dust, debris, and grease from the kitchen cabinets. 

Use a microfiber cloth to clean the kitchen cabinets and let them completely dry before moving to the next part.

If you finished any fixing process such as fixing a broken cabinet right before starting the restoration process, you don’t need to clean it.

Remove The old finish

After cleaning the cabinet, now it’s time to remove the existing finish. How to do that? Let’s find out!

Well, there are two ways to do that.

  • 1. By stripping,
  • 2. Without stripping.

If you don’t mind stripping, use a chemical stripper. Chemical strippers such as paint strippers, liquid sandpaper, etc, are the most effective way to strip off the existing finish. 

 Now, here’s the thing. You need to let the stripper sit on the entire surface before stripping it off. 

Chemical strippers can take 30 minutes to even 24 hours. It completely depends on the stripper itself. So, I can’t really tell you how much it’s actually gonna take.

To scrape off the old finish, you can use a putty knife or a soft cloth.

Now, the question comes how to refinish kitchen cabinets without stripping? If you think your existing finish is completely fine and it is just dull, you can restore your kitchen cabinets without stripping the old finish.

To do that, instead of the regular stain or other finish, apply gel stain using a paint brush. 

It will get back the shine of your kitchen cabinet’s finish and your kitchen cabinets will be back to life again.

Sand The Cabinet

If you ask me, how do you restore worn kitchen cabinets? The answer would be, by sanding and refinishing them.

You probably already know what I mean by sanding your kitchen cabinets. Take some fine-grit sandpaper and sand your wood or oak cabinets.

You can also use electric sanders like an orbital sander to sand. It can be a better option to get an even finish on the entire kitchen cabinet.

Start with the cabinet box, then the cabinet frame, and gradually sand the entire cabinet.

It will help you to remove the residues left from using the chemical stripper and ensure a smooth application of the new finish.

After you are done with sanding, wipe the entire cabinet with a tack cloth to remove all the dust from sanding. It is even better if you clean your kitchen cabinets with some mineral spirits again.

But, here’s a thing too.

If you want to restore your kitchen cabinets without stripping the existing finish, you must skip the sanding and stripping the old finish.

Now, you may ask how to restain kitchen cabinets without stripping the previous finish. The solution is to use a gel stain instead of the regular stain.

However, if there are any possible damages such as wobbliness, fix the wobbly cabinet. You can fix this in this chance.

With Stain

The next step after sanding is applying wood stain. This step is optional. If you want, you can paint your cabinets or just apply the finish without any stain or paint.

However, if you want to but don’t know how to refinish cabinets with stain, here are some quick tips;

  • Apply the wood stain on the entire surface using a paint brush.
    • To get the original finish, use the same colored wood stain.
    • If you want a different color, choose your preferred colored wood stain while purchasing the wood stain.
  • Apply a few fresh coats of wood stain to get a smooth finish.
    • Apply lighter coats for a lighter finish.
    • Make sure to sand between the coats for a smoother finish.

And that’s how you can get perfectly stained kitchen cabinets. To end the refinishing process, apply a sealer the same way you applied the wood stain.

If you ask my opinion on the best way to restore kitchen cabinets, I would suggest this one.

But the decision depends on you and your cabinet’s needs. Here are some more ways to refinish your cabinets.

With Paint

How to refinish cabinets with paint? Here’s how;

  • Apply a primer. This will help to provide a durable and long-lasting finish.
  • Use a paint brush or sprayer to apply the paint.
  • After the last coat of paint completely dries, apply a clear sealant to protect the finish.

Without Painting

 If you don’t want to paint your kitchen cabinet and are looking for how to restore kitchen cabinets without painting, I would suggest you apply a wood conditioner or polish.

It will revive the old finish of your kitchen cabinets while restoring the previous shine.

Without Sanding And Varnishing

If you are someone who doesn’t want neither sand nor varnish, you must be thinking how to restore kitchen cabinets without sanding and varnishing? Is it even possible?

Let me tell you, Yes! It is possible. How? Simply apply a liquid sandpaper. 

Though it is like a stripper, it is a gentle version of a stripper. However, the ability of a liquid sandpaper is far better than a stripper. 

Then, apply a new stain or paint of your choice.

So far, I just talked about your kitchen cabinets. You may ask what about the kitchen cabinet door, door hinges hole, or the hardware used in the current cabinets.

Let’s find out how to restore them.

How to restore kitchen cabinet doors? You don’t need to do anything extra to restore cabinet doors. Follow the mentioned steps and you are good to go!

How to repair kitchen cabinet door hinge holes? Use wood putty to fill damaged nail holes, then drill new pilot holes for the hinges.

How to restore kitchen cabinet hardware? Remove the hardware from the kitchen cabinets. Clean and polish them to regain their shine. 

However, the hardware is too worn out, so it is better to replace it with new ones. Or it will ruin the appearance of your kitchen cabinets even though you just restored them.

If you remove the wall cabinets for the restoration and plan to install a backsplash, I would suggest installing a backsplash before the cabinets.

One thing you need to be careful about during the process is that if you have installed LVP under cabinets, be careful not to do anything that might ruin it.

Suitable Finishes Or Paints To Restore Kitchen Cabinets

I have talked about the process and the tips to get the best results. However, there are a few things that I absolutely failed to mention.

The most important of them is the finishes or paints to restore kitchen cabinets. To get the best finish, you need to choose a suitable finish for your kitchen cabinets.

You may find it difficult to do that as you are a beginner. So, here’s a guide to the suitable type of finishes for kitchen cabinets and why you should choose them; 

Water-Based Paints
Known for durability.
Provide a smooth, even appearance.
available in a wide range of colors.
Oil-Based Paints
 Known for their durability and resistance to wear and tear. 
Provide a hard finish that is ideal for kitchen cabinets.
Lacquer Finishes
Lacquer provides a high-gloss finish that is smooth and durable.
Available in a lot of different colors.
can give cabinets a modern, sleek appearance.
Conversion Varnish
Provides a durable, water-resistant finish.
Ideal for kitchen cabinets.
Offers a smooth, high-quality appearance and is resistant to household chemicals.
Polyurethane Finishes
Provides a tough, protective coating.
Resistant to scratches, stains, and heat.
Available in matte, satin, and high-gloss finishes.

Best Products To Clean And Restore Kitchen Cabinets

The next thing you should know is the products to clean and restore your kitchen cabinets.

Personally, cleaning is the most important of all the refinishing steps. It gives you the head start to achieve a perfect finish. However, all kinds of chemical products are not suitable for wooden pieces.

Best Products To Clean And Restore Kitchen Cabinets

What gives you more advantage is the right products you use for that. The better you clean, the better the finish will turn out.

So, here are the best products you can use to clean and restore your kitchen cabinets;

  • Wood Cleaner: You can use a mild wood cleaner to remove the build-up of dirt, grease, and debris.
  • Liquid Sandpaper: It helps to strip off the existing paint, stain, or finish.
  • Wood Polish: Using a high-quality wood polish or conditioner helps to restore the shine of the kitchen cabinets after cleaning
  • Microfiber Cloths: A soft, lint-free microfiber cloth can help in cleaning and polishing cabinets. It is great to avoid scratching the surfaces while cleaning.
How To Clean Kitchen Cabinets – Painted and Non Painted

The Best Way To Clean And Shine Kitchen Cabinets

Even though you are done refinishing your kitchen cabinet, there’s one last thing you need to know.

Can you guess what that is? It is the most important thing to maintain the new shine of your restored kitchen cabinet.

Yes! You guessed it right! It is maintaining your kitchen cabinets. Here are some of the best ways for you to do this; 

  • Wipe the kitchen cabinets with a mild wood cleaner and a soft cloth to remove built-up.
  • After cleaning, wipe the kitchen cabinets again with a clean damp cloth to remove any residue from the cleaner.
  • Dry it thoroughly with a soft, clean cloth.
  • Apply a wood polish or conditioner to restore the shine.
  • Use a clean, dry cloth to buff the cabinets after applying the wood polish.
  • Make your kitchen a well-ventilated area so you can protect your cabinet from constant heat exposure.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Is It Necessary To Fill In Scratches Or Dents During The Restoration Process?

Yes. Otherwise, the finish will not be smooth enough.

What Is The Best Oil For Kitchen Cabinets?

The best oil for kitchen cabinets is mineral oil. Mineral oil is food-safe, odorless, and colorless which is perfect for kitchen cabinets and other wooden kitchen pieces. 

What Makes Kitchen Cabinets Shine?

Wood polish or wood conditioner can make kitchen cabinets shine.

What Is The Best Thing To Clean Gloss Cabinets?

The wood cleaner is the best thing to clean gloss cabinets.

How Do I Make My Kitchen Cabinets Look New Again?

Repairing the damaged parts and then refinishing your kitchen cabinets is the only way to make your current cabinets look new again. 

Final Thoughts

I think now you know all about how to restore kitchen cabinets. I tried to include all the things you may possibly need. 

I know, it was a lot of information. But you will need these tips and tricks if you want to retrieve your kitchen cabinets back to how it previously was.

I hope these things help you the way they helped me and my clients. If you have any inquiries, do let me know.

All the best!

If you are interested in learning more about restoring a table, stay with- Restore Journey.

Richard Journey

Written by

Richard Journey

Meet Richard Journey, the Antique Furniture Maestro. With a Fine Arts degree in Furniture Restoration and Conservation, he’s a guardian of historical craftsmanship. His accolades include the Golden Chisel Award, and he’s your guide to discovering and restoring antique treasures.

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