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Painting vs. Staining Your Kitchen Cabinets: What You Need to Know

Kitchen cabinets are an important aspect of your kitchen. Whether you’re buying a new home or remodeling your current kitchen, the cabinets are one of the most important features of your kitchen. The color of your kitchen cabinets can bring together the overall aesthetic of the room. But will it be better to paint them or stain them?

It really comes down to personal preference, but if your not sure if you prefer paint to stain, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of both finishes.

Advantage: Paint Can Provide a Cleaner Look

Any paint colors you use, be it whites, greys, browns, or reds will give your kitchen a clean, sleek finish. Paint would be a good choice for homeowners who don’t want to see the knots or grain of the wood. Paint sits on the surface of wood, while a stain would be absorbed. So a painted teal or a bright red would really pop as opposed to a stain.

Protip:  Cabinets that are painted or stained a lighter color do a good job of hiding dust. With darker stains and paints, this isn’t the case. Dust tends to stand out on darker paints and stains, so this could require more dusting in your cleaning schedule.

Disadvantage: Paint Hides the Character of the Wood

Because paint doesn’t get absorbed like a stain would, it can hide the natural grain and knots of the wood. For some woods you will still see some grain, but for the most part everything will be hidden under the coat of your choice. If you find yourself preferring the sleek and modern look described above, than this won’t be a problem for you. However, if you prefer the natural look of wood then paint may not be the right choice for you.

Stain is a good choice if you want to focus on and enhance your wood cabinets natural features. Stain can bring a good balance of color and texture, whereas paint will just cover up the texture of the wood.

Advantage: Paint Applies Better to MDF

MDF, or medium-density fiberboard, can be a cost effective alternative when purchasing materials for cabinets. And while MDF is a wood product, it does not stain as well as natural wood; its surface is flat and smooth, which makes it hard for stain to be absorbed well. Paint would be a better choice for MDF for a smooth finish, and once it’s painted it will be difficult to tell whether it’s real wood or not.

Disadvantage: Paint Can Be More Expensive

It is possible to paint on a budget, but it really depends on the kind of paint you choose and how much surface area you need to cover. Paint tends to be more expensive per gallon, and painting is a time consuming process. And primer is often required, whereas with staining this is not always the case.


Staining is more easily applied and recoated, whereas paint touch ups tend to be tricky. And while a stain needs to be retouched as often as paint, stain will resist peeling and blistering if properly applied.

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