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Painted or Stained Cabinets: Which is best for you?

Cabinetry is the most prominent feature in a kitchen; it makes up the body of the space’s structure, sets the color palette, and dictates the style. While cabinets may come in many different lines, styles, and arrangements, the surface finish only comes down to two options: painted or stained. 

If you’re considering a kitchen remodel and don’t know if stained or painted cabinets will be best for you, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, you can learn how Lamont Bros guides homeowners to select the best type of kitchen cabinetry for their home.  Once you know a few of our tricks, you can choose a cabinet finish that looks great in your home.

Below, you can read about:

The main differences between stained and painted cabinets

How style and personal taste might affect your decision

Which finish might work best for your lifestyle

What’s the difference?

Before diving into the advantages and disadvantages of painted versus stained cabinets, it is important to first understand what makes the two different from one another. 

Cosmetic

The biggest difference in finish styles comes down to wood grain.  A stained finish colors the existing wood grain, while a paint covers the grain so it is not visible. 

Because all cabinet finishes are a liquid that dries when applied to the surface, the base material matters. Most stained cabinetry will use solid wood or wood-grain veneer base. On the other hand, a painted cabinet might use an MDF base rather than solid wood, because the goal of painting a cabinet is to provide it with a smooth surface finish. 

Stained cabinets lend themselves most often to natural wood tones – tans and browns are historically most common, but grey stains are becoming increasingly popular. 

Whites, grays, and more unique accent colors tend to work better for painted cabinets. Cooler-toned colors are also common among painted cabinets, such as teal, navy blue, or seafoam green.

Price

The difference in cost between painted and stained cabinets isn’t affected so much by the finish as it is the species of wood used to build the cabinets. A stained birch or maple might cost about the same as a standard painted cabinet. Mahogany or cherry will be much more expensive. 

The thing is, the species only matters when you’re staining the cabinet rather than painting it. Why spend all that money on mahogany cabinets if you’re just going to paint over the wood, right? For that reason, stained cabinets have the potential to be more expensive, but you can keep your costs low and still go with a stained cabinet, no problem. 

If you’re considering refinishing your current cabinets instead of replacing them, re-painting is much less expensive than re-staining. This is because the surface must first be prepared before the finish goes on. For painting cabinets, this is usually a simple process of cleaning and a bit of light sanding, since paint can be applied over the existing finish. A good painter can re-paint an average-sized kitchen cabinet system for about $4,750. 

Re-staining a cabinet set is much more difficult because stain cannot be applied over the existing finish. Instead, it requires each surface to be fully stripped and sanded before applying the new stain. Since it is much more labor-intensive, re-staining costs about 30% more than re-painting, meaning that for the average size kitchen, the cost of re-staining would be $6,175.

Durability

When it comes to durability, there is a bit of a tradeoff between painted and stained finishes.   Painted cabinets are more resistant to damage because the paint layer adds some protection from dings and scratches. However, stained cabinets are better at concealing the damage done to them than painted cabinets. 

A painted cabinet drawer, the unfortunate victim of a vicious potato peeler attack.

Here’s why: stained cabinets have more natural color variation and character in their surfaces. This means that a few scratches or chips aren’t easy to see. At the same time, their painted counterparts may be initially more protected, but any slight blemish in the finish will show up once it’s there.

The same can be said for dirt and dust. With painted cabinets, homeowners will notice pretty quickly when they need a good cleaning. This can actually help extend the life of the cabinets, since they remain clean and free of any potential stain hazards for long periods of time. 

Stained cabinets, however, don’t require as frequent cleaning just to stay looking fresh.  So, while you may not have to wipe down your cabinets as often, dust, dirt, and grime sit on them for longer. This increases the risk of long-term damage or unwanted stains. 

Which cabinet finish will look best in my home?

Kitchen aesthetics can often be a tough nut to crack on your own.  Picking out a cabinet finish that fits your taste and your home’s style shouldn’t be one of them. The good news is that most cabinet manufacturers offer all of their lines in both stained and painted options.  As a result, finding a cabinet line that meets your expectations is less of a challenge than you might think.

If your sense of interior design tends to lean more towards the contemporary style, painted cabinets in light or dark grays might serve your taste well. Lighter, white-yellow wood stains also evoke a more modern feel. 

On the other hand, if you consider yourself more of a traditionalist, then darker wood stains such as cherry, walnut, and oak might better suit your needs. And of course, white painted cabinetry remains perhaps the most traditional option of them all. 

Currently, one of the most popular design features in kitchen remodels is to use two-tone cabinetry. For example, you might choose white wall cabinets and navy blue base cabinets, or install an island with an accent color. 

If you’re still having a hard time choosing between stain and paint, then this may be your solution. Most of the time, it is difficult to find two stains that complement each other, so we recommend choosing two different color paints, or a paint and a stain. 

Which cabinet finish will be best for my lifestyle?

When choosing a cabinet finish, also consider how your lifestyle might affect it. One of the biggest factors in this equation is children. 

If you have young children, your cabinets will get damaged. Try all you want to protect them, but sooner or later somebody is going to take a potato peeler to your drawer bank. 

For younger families whose children are still in the “tornado phase,” your best bet is probably going to be a stained finish since stained wood grain can take more abuse before it really shows signs of damage. 

If your kids are older, painted cabinets might make more sense. Sure, little things are still bound to happen, but the painted cabinets can handle the occasional one-off scuff, oftentimes better than a stained cabinet. 

Want to learn more about designing a kitchen remodel?

Now that you’re a new expert on the difference between painted vs. stained cabinets, you might have an idea of which would work better for your own home. Take the next step and check out our kitchen remodel portfolio! Here, you can find inspiration for your own kitchen from photos of remodels we’ve done in the past.