Architectural Home Designs & Decorating Ideas

How to Stain Kitchen Cabinets Like a Pro

3 minute read

Want to give your outdated kitchen cabinets a modern makeover? With some simple DIY staining techniques, you can transform the look of your cabinets and make them appear rich and professionally finished.

Staining may seem daunting, but have no fear – you can achieve gorgeous results with the right supplies, preparation, and methodical approach. Follow this step-by-step guide to staining your cabinets like a pro.

Gather Your Staining Supplies

Having all your staining materials ready will make the process smooth and efficient. Here’s what you’ll need:

how to stain a kitchen cabinet

Oil-based stains penetrate deeper into the wood grain for a richer color, while water-based stains are lower odor and faster drying. Choose the right stain for your project.

Prep the Cabinets for Staining

Proper prep is crucial for beautiful stain results. Here’s how to get your cabinets ready for staining:

Clean Surfaces

Give cabinet doors, frames, shelves and all surfaces a thorough wash with a degreasing agent like TSP. This removes any dirt, grease or grime so the stain can properly penetrate. Allow to fully dry.

Sand Cabinets

Sanding smooths the surface and allows maximum stain absorption. Start with a coarse 80-100 grit sandpaper to remove any existing finish or flaws. Then use progressively finer grits like 150 and 220 to achieve a smooth-as-silk feel.

Sand all cabinet parts – doors, frames, shelves, sides – until the natural wood grain is exposed and even in appearance.

Tape Off Areas

Use painters tape to cover any walls, countertops or surfaces adjacent to the cabinets. This keeps them protected from drips or splatters during staining.

Also remove doors and shelves, and lay down drop cloths to keep your floors safe from stains.

Staining the Cabinets

Once prepped, it’s time to stain. Follow these steps closely for pro results:

Stir Stain Thoroughly

Before applying stain, stir it very well to distribute color pigments evenly. Continue stirring periodically as you stain.

Apply First Coat

Use a high-quality brush to liberally apply the first coat of stain in smooth, even strokes. Allow it to penetrate the wood for 5-15 minutes before wiping away any excess with a clean rag. Any puddles or drips can lead to an uneven finish.

Stain all cabinet parts – frame, doors, sides, shelves – and don’t forget the cabinet interior if desired.

Let Dry Overnight

It’s crucial to allow ample drying time between coats. Let the first coat dry for a minimum of 8-12 hours before adding the next layer.

Apply Second Coat

For best results, apply a second thin, even coat of stain using the same method as the first. This helps the color become richer and more uniform. Again, wipe away excess after 3-5 minutes.

After drying overnight, inspect to see if a third coat is needed for your desired color depth.

Sealing the Stained Cabinets

The final step is applying a clear protective sealer over the stained cabinets. This prevents staining and makes the finish more durable.

Polyurethane Options

Oil-based polyurethanes provide the toughest protection, while water-based are low odor and clean up easily with soap and water. Choose a gloss, semi-gloss or satin sheen.

Use a good quality brush and apply thin, even coats of the polyurethane just like you did with the stain. Lightly sand with 220 grit sandpaper between coats to ensure proper adhesion.

Applying 2-3 coats provides sufficient protection for high-use kitchen cabinets.