paint or stain cabinets

Should I Paint or Stain My Kitchen Cabinets?

Renovating your home’s kitchen is an exciting way to breathe new life into the space. Considering the amount of time the average person spends in their kitchen, it’s important to be happy with the space. Additionally, updating your kitchen can go a long way toward increasing the resale value. As you determine what changes should be made, you’ll have to make some key decisions about how to approach painting the kitchen cabinets.

Kitchen cabinets are a focal point in the space, so choosing the perfect color for them is a key step in the renovation process. However, there are generally two ways to achieve this: painting or staining. Both methods can help you transform the appearance of your kitchen, but they contribute to different aesthetics. You should also consider the ways in which they are applied, the cost, the difficulty of maintenance, and other such variables.

Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets

Painting is an option that offers a great deal of flexibility considering the range of paint colors available. Whether you want to brighten the room with a clean white, give it a classy finish with black, or add some personality with vibrant colors, the choice is yours. Keep in mind that dust and other particulates will be far more visible on lighter colors than darker ones and will require more frequent cleaning to retain their initial appearance. But there’s more to painting your cabinets than determining the color.

Paint Type and Application

If you’ve noticed a kitchen cabinet in a friend’s home, or perhaps in a magazine, that you liked, it’s important to remember that you might not just be looking at paint. In addition to different paint types, there are also different varnishes you can use to seal the paint in. Oftentimes the application of varnish can lead to certain changes in the appearance of the cabinet.

Another thing to consider is how the paint is applied. Paint that is sprayed on covers the surface of the wood in even layers, resulting in a smooth, clean finish. However, it would be extremely difficult to match that sort of finish if you ever need sections of the cabinet touched up. Depending on your needs, brushed-on paint might be more suitable.


While details certainly vary from case to case, it’s usually more expensive to paint your kitchen cabinets than stain them. It’s a more complex process, as it takes effort and skill to prepare the surface, apply the layers of paint and add the top layer of varnish if applicable, all whilst keeping the rest of your kitchen paint-free. Any imperfections in paint are far more visible, so it’s critical to pay extra attention to the application process.


One unfortunate habit of paint is its tendency to crack. Even the smoothest of paint layers are likely to eventually experience some minor cracking over time. Wood shrinks and swells with the moisture in the air, which fluctuates throughout the year. When this occurs, it puts pressure on the paint, causing it to crack. If you want to keep your cabinets looking pristine, some maintenance to repair and repaint the cracked areas will be necessary.

Staining Your Kitchen Cabinets

An alternative to painting is opting to have your cabinets stained instead. While the goal of paint is to replace the appearance of the wood altogether, a stain is meant to enhance it. This will also contribute to a more classic, old-fashioned aesthetic. The purpose of a wood stain is to protect the surface of your cabinets and allow you to make alterations to their appearance while allowing the natural grain to shine through. The color of the stain you choose should complement the color of the wood, working together to achieve a beautiful, polished look.

Choosing Your Stain

One of the greatest challenges with stain is that it’s a lot harder to determine which color to go with. This is because any samples available will show you the way the stain looks on the sample wood, not the wood of your kitchen cabinet, and as such the stain may look extremely different once it’s been applied.

When debating which color of stain to use, you’ll have to strongly assess the color of the natural wood. Identifying the undertones in the wood and ensuring they are consistent with the stain is a good way of finding a working combination. You should also determine how visible you want the grain of the wood to be. The darker the stain, the harder it will be to pick up on all the details of the grain.

Once you have a stain in mind, it’s best to start out with sample size, just to ensure that the combination of stain and cabinet wood has the desired effect. This will also allow you to see how the stain looks under the lighting of your kitchen, as lighting, both artificial and natural can also have a dramatic effect on appearance.


Overall, staining wood is less labor-intensive than painting. This makes it the more affordable option, especially if you’re looking to make additional changes to the kitchen as part of your remodel and want to stay within budget. Stains are also very traditional in appearance, making them an ideal choice to enhance the resale value of your home.

More Restricting

Paint gives you a certain degree of flexibility when decorating that stain does not. With stain, any unattractive features in the wood of your cabinet will remain in plain sight, so you have to ensure the wood is good quality, and that its appearance is one you’re happy with. Additionally, you won’t have the same range in colors when working with stain.

Making a Decision

Ultimately, neither option is inherently better than the other. Are you looking for something modern or eye-catching, or would you prefer something a little more classic and traditional? Do you want a dramatic renovation or a quick and inexpensive facelift for your kitchen? Would you rather hide the wood of your cabinets, or show it off?

Making the decision can be difficult, but with the help of a professional painter in Austin, you can guarantee you’ll be pleased with the results for years to come. Contact the pros at PaintPro if you’re ready to get started.