Restaining Kitchen Cabinets – Gel Stain or Clear Finish?

Restaining kitchen cabinets is a great way to improve the look of your kitchen without the disruption or expense of replacing the cabinets. It also may be an easier project than refacing them.

To begin, empty the cabinets completely to make your job easier and to avoid damaging your dishes or food, or cover the contents with sheet plastic. You may choose to remove the cabinets from the walls, although you may not need to; if you do, label them so you can replace them correctly. (You can place a piece of tape on the inside of each door with a numbering system.) Remove the cabinet doors and shelves, labeling them all as well.

You have two choices: either strip off the old stain, then apply a new stain, or apply a gel stain over the existing finish. The second method will work only if you want to darken prefinished cabinets; trying to achieve a lighter color with this method won’t work.

If you decide to apply the gel stain, clean the cabinets first, as any grease left on the surfaces will interfere with refinishing. Use liquid dish soap dissolved in warm water or an all-purpose household cleaner that’s safe for wood. If your cabinets have any rough or “bubbled” areas of paint or varnish, lightly sand these areas. Wipe the wood with a soft, lint-free cloth and let them dry thoroughly.

Use light sandpaper to roughen and dull the existing finish, then wipe down all surfaces with a liquid sander or deglosser before applying the gel. You’ll need to allow the gel stain to dry overnight, and finally apply a clear protective wood finish. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions.

If you want to lighten the existing stain color, apply a clear finish, or stain previously painted cabinets, you’ll need to strip all the paint off the cabinets. Ask at your home improvement center for recommendations; liquid strippers work best, but gel or semi-paste types won’t drip as much when used on vertical surfaces if you have left the cabinets in place. In order to choose the correct stripper, you’ll also need to know what kind of finish you currently have on your cabinets. If you don’t know, you can do a simple test to find out. Do an online search of “What is my kitchen cabinet finish?” and follow the directions.

Wear gloves and make sure the area is well ventilated when restaining kitchen cabinets. Wipe the stripped surface with a rag dipped in mineral spirits to remove any residue before applying the new stain. Consider a marine varnish, which is more water repellent.

You can reuse the hardware (hinges and handles), or get new ones if you’re updating the look of your kitchen. You may be able to sell the hardware if you don’t plan to reuse it. If you’re keeping the existing hardware, clean it first by soaking it in a hot soapy water solution for half an hour to an hour, then scrub lightly with a soft brush. Rinse, let dry, and apply the appropriate kind of metal polish.

Allow the surfaces to dry for 24 hours, then reinstall all the hardware, replace the doors, and replace the cabinets on the wall if necessary.

Instead of restaining, or when you’re finished restaining your kitchen cabinets, Pro Shot® Cabinet Restorer & Protector will help you maintain that freshly restained look and make cleaning your cabinets easier. Pro Shot® Cabinet Restorer wipes on easily, no buffing needed. You can choose the amount of shine you want: one coat for a little shine, or a second coat for more shine and added protection. Pro Shot® Cabinet Restorer & Protector lasts up to a year, protecting your cabinets from grease, dust, fingerprints, and food stains. It contains no petroleum, so it has no offensive odor or smelly fumes.

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