When refinishing cabinets, there are two directions you can choose from – painted cabinets or stained cabinets. While it may seem that the only difference between the two is the look and color options, there are a multitude of pros and cons for each. We wanted to highlight the top pros and cons of both painted and stained cabinets to help make your refinishing decision a little easier! And if you decide on a combination of both stained and painted cabinets, this list will help you know what to expect from both types of coatings.
We’ll start by diving into the pros and cons of painted cabinets:
If you are looking for a streamlined, clean design in your kitchen – chances are painted cabinets are going to be what you’re looking for. Paint can provide that crisp, seamless look in the kitchen that has skyrocketed to popularity with the quintessential white kitchen. It’s not just white that lends itself to this clean look though, as any color paint will cover up the wood’s character marks and create that super smooth finish.
Jewel tones are huge right now when it comes to cabinet color design trends, but color in general has made a huge resurgence when it comes to the kitchen cabinets. Shades of navy are even being heralded as the “new neutral” for cabinet colors – and the only way to achieve this pop of color is with paint. If you’re looking for the character color provides but don’t want to go all-in on the trend, consider painting just the island or only the lower cabinets to create the color without going overboard.
If you have cabinet doors that are made out of MDF vs real wood, painting is going to be your only option for refinishing. And that is more than okay as aesthetically it is almost impossible to tell the difference when painted. This material takes paint well, and allows you to maximize your budget in not replacing the doors while refinishing your cabinets.
Because paint is thicker than stain, it is not absorbed by wood and therefore covers it up. If you are a fan of the natural beauty of wood (think knots and grains), then paint will not be the best option for you. You may, on close examination, see some of grain imprints in certain species of wood even when painted – but it certainly is not a defining characteristic once painted. While this may be considered a pro for some homeowners, if you are looking to incorporate the natural wood aesthetic then paint will not be for you.
This is why it is so critically important that you have your cabinets painted right the first time. While some touch ups over time may be inevitable, if you have the cabinets painted correctly you won’t be dealing with the seam crack and separation nightmares to be found when surfaces aren’t properly prepped and paint is not applied appropriately. When it does come to touching up any necessary spots, doing so with paint is certainly trickier than stain.
And now let’s take a look at the reasons why (and why not!) stained cabinets would be the best choice for your spaces.
Stain allows the natural beauty of the wood to shine – and certain species in particular are full of beautiful knots and grain designs. You’ll have the natural wood features on display with stain, as this coating enhances that beauty. If you are not wanting to go full wood-look, consider the combination of painted and stained elements – like stained cabinets with a painted exposed shelving (or vice versa!)
It is much easier to blend touch ups into a stained cabinet vs. a painted one. And with stain markers readily available at local hardware stores, it is easy to find a color that is close to what you have on your cabinets and blend it appropriately. If your cabinet is in a heavily trafficked area or you anticipate being tough on a particular cabinet – stain may be your best choice.
If your MDF doors are in good condition and you want to refinish them, you’ll be better off creating that like-new look with paint versus stain. While paint applies smoothly to MDF and can even make that MDF door look like wood, stain will not properly adhere to MDF and does not create a smooth end result.
This con is actually applicable to both paint and stain – and that’s the fact that dust is much more noticeable on darker shades of both paint and stain. Now if you have your heart set on a rich Mahogany color or a deep green paint, this is not meant to completely deter you! It is simply something you’ll need to keep in mind for those darker elements…the cleaning upkeep will be more than their lighter counterparts.
When it comes down to it, the decision between painted and stained cabinets is based on personal preference. But this list of pros and cons may help sway you in one direction over the other – or encourage you to incorporate both! Knowing what you’re getting into before you make your final decision is key to loving the end result. If you are curious about our approach to cabinet refinishing – using paint or stain – take a look at our AUTHORICOAT page!