How to Stain Kitchen Cabinets

You can give your home a whole new look by selecting to stain your kitchen cabinets. The kitchen cabinets will look brand new when you are done. Often doing a new stain job on the cabinets will make the entire room look like it was completely remodeled.

Selecting a Stain Color

It is important to select the right stain type and color to use for staining kitchen cabinets. Dark stains will show less dirt such as grease splatters and finger prints. But at the same time, dark stains tend to close in a room. You want to use lighter stains for staining if the room is small or compact.

Handling Old Stain

If you are going to go with a darker color stain, you can re-stain on top of the current wood. If however, you are doing new cabinets or going to a lighter color the old stain will have to be lightened.

You can remove the darker stains with paint thinner or with special chemicals found in the local home improvement store for stripping stain from wood. Use this sparingly and check in a spot that is not very noticeable prior to putting it on your entire cabinet set.


Once the old stain is lightened or removed you need to sand your cabinets. If the cabinets are new you also need to sand them. Sanding prepares the wood for accepting the primer and ensures that the kitchen cabinet surfaces are ideal for staining.

With an electric sander or by hand you can go over the cabinets with coarse sanding paper. You want to do this lightly to remove any imperfections from the wood and lighten any spots that are still dark. This will enable your cabinets to have a more uniform color when staining.

Dry dust the cabinets with a feather duster or lint free cloth. Next, using the sander or by hand lightly sand the cabinets again with very fine sanding paper.

Run your hand over each section to make sure that the wood area is smooth. You do not want to press too firmly and put dents into the wood. Dust the cabinets again and clean up the kitchen area when you have completed sanding. This will keep additional dust from gathering on the cabinets while you are staining.


Open windows and have a fan blowing out of the kitchen to provide adequate ventilation while you are staining the kitchen cabinets. Stain can have strong fumes that make many people sick on their stomachs.

Applying the Stain

Stain is not like paint in that you have to make sure to apply evenly as possible. It is easiest to use a lint free cloth that you dip into the stain. Don’t forget rubber or vinyl gloves to protect your hands!

Lightly rub the cloth filled with stain across the cabinets. Don’t overload the cloth or it will drip to the lower section of the cabinet. Cover the entire kitchen cabinet with stain and move onto the next one. Once you are done, step out of the room for approximately thirty minutes.

Second Coat of Stain

Often to obtain the color that you selected, you will need to apply two coats of stain. Once you have let the kitchen cabinets stand for about half an hour, you repeat the entire applying stain process. The wood drinks in or absorbs the stain. Some areas will naturally be darker or lighter than other areas. You can touch the lighter areas up with more stain to encourage the wood to absorb more.


After you have completed the stain project you have two choices. You can leave the cabinets as they are or you can varnish them. Varnishing will give them a glossy appearance but will enable you to wipe clean much eaiser.