Remodeling Guide: How to Restore Kitchen Cabinets in 11 Easy Steps

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Embarking on a home improvement project, starting with the kitchen, can significantly enhance both the functionality and value of your beloved home. When it comes to transforming your kitchen, the first question that often arises is: where should you begin? One of the most crucial aspects of kitchen renovation is optimizing storage.

Efficiently organized kitchen utensils and appliances, each with its designated space, can streamline your daily cooking routines. A well-designed kitchen cabinet is an invaluable asset. In this article, I’ll share a budget-friendly solution for rejuvenating your kitchen cabinets without straining your finances. 

How To Restore Kitchen Cabinets

The kitchen area of every house is usually the most frequently used area. If you have kids, you know that the kitchen cabinet doors are never shut, as they take a lot of pleasure in self-service. 

Not just kids but most family members are continuously looking for things in the cabinets, be it cutleries, coffee mugs, bowls, snacks, and in my case, skincare products too (I like to store my face masks in a separate kitchen cabinet). Well, this is a story for another day! 

brown kitchen cabinets

These cabinet doors start to collect marks, stains, and oil splashes that often ruin the beauty of your kitchen area. If your kitchen cabinet is made of wood with the right cabinet-plywood grade, then you know that the color of the wood fades too. So, how do you maintain them? If you ask me, I am tired of hunting for smudge marks on these doors, and I am sure you are too! 

So, without delaying it further, let me bring to you an easy-to-follow guide on how to restore your kitchen cabinets. Keep reading!

1. Tools For Cabinet Restoration

The first thing you need to do is make sure you have gathered all the right tools and equipment required to restore your kitchen cabinets. Here’s a checklist of what you’ll need for a DIY kitchen wood project:

painting tools

Make sure you have ticked off everything on the list before beginning your DIY project.

2. Clean Cabinet Surfaces

This is the moment when you have to unscrew the cabinet doors carefully. You must separate them from the hinges, knobs, and handles. It is ideal to mark the doors with numbers while you are removing them. When you put them back, it’ll be easier for you to reassemble them. 

Now, clean the inside and outside of your cabinets, including the doors you have removed. Don’t forget the hinges and corners too. Make sure all the grease and oil residues are cleaned properly. For effective cleaning, spray the mineral spirit on the clean rag. It helps to remove dirt and heat stains faster. 

Now, wipe with a dry cloth in a top to bottom motion to get rid of the dirt. Remember to replace the rag with a clean one, when it’s fully dirty.

3. Use Safety Gear

Safety is paramount during this step, so make sure to cover your kitchen countertops and appliances. It’s essential to protect the floors too, using newspapers or clothes to prevent any damage while restoring your cabinets.

person wearing green gloves

Now for your own safety, wear eye goggles and gloves for the entire process. Since you’ll be working with spirits, tools, paint, wax, etc, you want to wear fully covered clothes to prevent your skin from getting damaged from chemical exposure.

4. Time to Assess the Finish

In order to assess the finish of your kitchen cabinets, you can use mineral spirits, as they are known to soak the finish of your cabinets temporarily. 

If you pay close attention to it, it will give you an idea of how your cabinets will turn out in the end. Isn’t that clever? 

All you need to do is apply a single coat of an oil-based clear finish on the cabinets to change the color of the wood. Take a moment to assess it. If you are happy with it, then you are done here. If you are not happy with the shine, you can continue to work on them (step 5 onwards) until you are. 

5. Clean the Hardware

When restoring your kitchen cabinets, one should also remember to clean the hardware. By hardware, this mean hinges, handles, and knobs on your cabinets. 

cleaning cabinet hardware

They are quite easy to clean. All you need is a tub of water and soap to soak them for about 30 minutes. You can get a cleaning brush to gently scrub them before rinsing them off. 

When you are satisfied with the cleaning, take them out to dry them. Finally, it’s time to polish them. Wait until they are dry before you screw them back to the doors. 

6. Find the Perfect Stripping Solution

Another key element when remodeling your kitchen cabinet is to identify the right stripping solution. This can be tricky for beginners trying their hands on woodwork projects. 

The quality of the finish will determine what type of stripping solution you need to use on the cabinets. There are various types of finishes such as paint, vinyl, varnish, lacquer, shellac, water-based finish, polyurethane, or penetrating oil. Here’s what you will need based on your choice of finish.

paint stripping solution

Use a clean rag or cotton ball to apply denatured alcohol on the surface. If you notice that the finish is getting soft, then know that it’s latex. 

For oil-based paint, note that alcohol cannot be used as a stripping solution. Use sand to prime the finish. Latex paint is the best option to cover either a satin or semi-gloss polyurethane finish.


I highly recommend you seek professional help for vinyl or Formica surfaces. 

Varnish or polyurethane

Using a varnish remover will easily strip these polyurethane finishes. You might still have to use sandpaper to remove the old finish.


 Lacquer thinner is a good stripping agent to dissolve this finish.


Denatured alcohol is a good stripping agent for cabinets with a Shellac finish.

General Finishes Exterior Water-based Topcoat

Xylene works best on a water-based finish.

Penetrating oil

Note that the color will not come off once it’s painted on the cabinet. Your only option is to use a clear coat, wax, or paint.

7. Let’s Start Stripping the Doors

Once you have identified what stripping solution you need, you can start to apply the agent. I strongly suggest you do this outdoors. 

The fumes of stripping agents are strong which can hamper the family members and pets, and give you a headache too if done in an enclosed area. 

Start with cabinet corners, and don’t forget to wear your gloves and goggles.

8. Fix Small Cracks

For a complete makeover, never miss this step. You’ll notice small cracks on your cabinets as you work on them. You can use wax repair sticks, filler strips, or fill sticks to fix them. All you have to do is use a small piece of a stick and mold it in the cracks. Simply, press it gently inside the cracks. 

cabinet doors

9. Sand the Wood

Filled holes, repair marks, and stains – all complete! Before you begin to use sandpaper on your cabinet surfaces, make sure they are dry. Use 220-grit sandpaper to apply it gently. The most effective way to do this is to apply it in straight lines evenly.

You may have to use your fingers to reach the indentation in your kitchen cabinets. Using a light sanding will make the surface rough, making the finish more absorbent. 

Once the sanding step is done, you a dry cloth to brush off the excess dust from sanding. It’s a good idea to use mineral spirit to wipe your surface once again, at this stage.

10. Apply Primer

Using a Kilz or Zinsser primer is essential. They are used to ensure that the imperfections are all dissolved on the surface. They also help to absorb the paint better. 

applying paint primer

You must mix the primer properly before applying it. Use a brush to apply the primer evenly on the surfaces. You may need multiple coats for the perfect coverage.

11. Paint the Cabinet

The last step in your restoration assignment is to apply paint to your cabinet surfaces. You have to pay close attention while applying paint. If you feel there are areas that need a second layer of paint, then go for it. 

But remember to inspect the shade from a distance. You don’t want uneven shades of paint on your cabinets. For the best recommendation, use Nuvo cabinet paint or Rust-Oluem paint kit. 

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It’s essential to address a crucial aspect of this endeavor. If, at any point along this journey, you find yourself uncertain or hesitant about proceeding, it’s imperative to consider seeking professional assistance. The process of restoring your kitchen cabinets involves a significant investment in both time and resources. 

However, the last thing you want is to inadvertently exacerbate any existing issues with your cabinets. Following this guide, you can explore the intricacies of cabinet restoration to empower you with the knowledge and confidence needed to tackle this project effectively.

Hope that you now know how to restore kitchen cabinets. Even if you don’t do it yourself, you can still use this knowledge to assess whether it’s being done properly.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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