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One of the most important parts of your kitchen, in terms of the design features and functionality, are your kitchen cabinets. If your kitchen cabinets are looking old, you are probably wondering about kitchen cabinet ideas to spruce them up.

Learning how to stain kitchen cabinets is an excellent way to make them look brand new, without spending a fortune or throwing your kitchen cabinets into a landfill. If you learn the right techniques for staining kitchen cabinets, you can make them look exactly how you want and fall in love with them again.

In this article, our kitchen cabinet experts will share their six top tips for staining kitchen cabinets like a professional. Whether you want white kitchen cabinets, black kitchen cabinets, wood kitchen cabinets or something in between, these tips will help your staining job turn out perfect.

Pick Out The Type Of Stain You Want

If you know how to paint kitchen cabinets, you know that the color is a vital part of the process that you need to think hard about. Stain is similar to paint, but more of the wood grain will show through, and possibly some of the color of the natural wood.

It is worth it to make some stain splotches to see how different colors look in the specific light of your kitchen. It may seem like a big hassle to buy stain samples and put them up, but it is cheaper and easier than buying a stain, then starting to put it on and realizing it is all wrong in your kitchen.

Choose a color that fits your design goals and won’t clash with the rest of the kitchen or your house. Some interesting ideas for kitchen cabinet stain colors are:

  • White- This is a classic stain color for kitchen cabinets that can fit almost any design motif. White is great for a modern kitchen, and for making small kitchens feel bigger.
  • Black- For an edgier look, black makes a great contrast in a white kitchen, and the stain is subtle enough that it works amazingly with the natural wood grain.
  • Tan- A tan stain on wooden cabinets blends more with the color of the wood for a more natural, almost clear coat look.
  • Gray- For a bleached wood look, gray helps your kitchen feel a bit like a seaside cabin. Be sure to add some warming colors like red or pink if you have a white kitchen with gray cabinets.

Preparation: The Most Critical Step

It is often remarked that a kitchen cabinet stain job is only as good as the preparation you put into it. This is one hundred percent true and a must for older cabinets that could have years of grease, smoke and other grime attached to their surfaces.

Stain must be applied to bare wood, so if your cabinets are painted, you have a lot of work ahead of you to get them ready. You must completely strip and sand off old layers of paint or varnish to get down to bare wood before you paint.

Wash your cabinets with a strong soap or TSP to give the stain the best chance of sticking in place for years. Remove all of the hardware from your cabinets, and remember to save the screws if you want to reattach them later. 

Sanding and Repairing Blemishes

Once your cabinets have dried, sand all of the surfaces you want to paint with 80 or 100 grit sandpaper. You can sand by hand, but an orbital sander will save you time, help you do a better job and your hands will thank you for the choice. Always sand with the grain.

If you notice cracks, holes, dings or dents you want to repair, now is the time to do it. Choose a wood filler that matches the color of your kitchen cabinet’s wood. Apply the wood filler, let it dry, then sand it down so it has smooth edges with the surfaces around it. 

Finally, do another round of sanding with 120 grit sandpaper. If you see scratches, you might have to go back to a lower grit, then work up to a higher grit. Keep at that process until you are satisfied with the smoothness of your kitchen cabinets.

Protect Surfaces That You Don’t Want To Stain

Cover all of the areas of your kitchen that you won’t be staining with drop clothes and tape. If you have removed your kitchen cabinet doors at this point, you can paint them on saw horses over a drop cloth to make things easier.

If you decide not to remove your kitchen cabinet doors, you’re going to have to tape over the hinges and be careful when staining near them. Tape off any straight edges that you don’t want to get paint on, but don’t leave the tape on too long, because it could be extremely difficult to remove.

Be diligent when you cover things that you don’t want to get stained. You would be surprised with some of the places we have managed to splash a few drops of stain onto that seemed much too far away to worry about!

Time To Stain Your Kitchen Cabinets

A brush is the standard vehicle for applying stain to kitchen cabinets. You don’t have large, open spaces that would make a roller helpful. Choose a high quality brush and your results will show it.

Work fast with the stain, but don’t put too much on your brush at any one time. Stain is thin and it will quickly run down your cabinets and make your staining job look uneven. Remember that you aren’t covering up knots or wood grain, so don’t spend a lot of time getting a thick covering on your cabinets.

You should let your stain dry overnight and see how it looks the next morning. The most likely defect you could have would be uneven coating. You can touch up the next day, or do a whole new, thin coat to even the stain out.

Apply A Sealer, Or Not

You can choose whether to apply a stain sealer or not. Stain sealer protects your cabinets from cooking oils and grease that could soak into your wood and leave a blemish. A sealer can also give you a glossy finish if that is what you want.

You might like the look of your stain without a sealer, so it’s a great option. Stain is super easy to touch up over the years, so save a bit of your color.

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