Inexpensive Kitchen Upgrades

Painting existing cabinets
Refinishing existing kitchen cabinets is a lot less expensive than replacing them.

Refinishing Cabinets Gives a New Look

If you have wood cabinets now, the least expensive way to update them is painting them. To really make them look good, you need to use top-grade primer and paint, be very methodical in your technique, and use a little trick to make brush strokes disappear.

Painting Cabinets

  1. First, scrub the all doors, draws, and cabinet face frame and faces with detergent and a damp rag to remove years of grime
  2. Then wipe them with down with alcohol and a clean rag to remove any grease.
  3. Next, use a random orbit sander (or a sanding block if you have lots of energy) and 220-grit sandpaper to uniformly ready the existing finish for the new one.
  4. A tack rag purchased at a home center is the key to getting the surfaces you’ve been sanding completely free of dust and ready to paint.
  5. Next use a primer that’s compatible in formulation and color to your top coat of paint to coat all surfaces. Try for a thin, uniform coat.
  6. Sanding between coats is the key to a smooth finish, so very lightly sand the prime coat after it’s dry and use the tack rag again.
  7. Stir an additive into your paint to improve its flow. There are separate types for solvent and water-based paints, but either will essentially eliminate brush marks from your painting. For the paint itself, use an enamel that will dry hard and scrubbable.
  8. Apply the first top coat using a professional paint brush (nylon bristle for water-base paints and china bristle or natural bristle for solvent-based paints) and long even strokes. Again, a thin even coat is the goal.
  9. Once it is dry, sand the first top coat and go over everything with the tack cloth
  10. Finally you can apply the final top coat for a smooth, even, durable finish.

But what if you still want the wood look, just not the worn finish and outdated style you have now? You can get it with a little more work. In this case, you want to remove the doors and drawer fronts from your cabinets and replace them in the style and stained finish of your choice. Local cabinet shops can produce these for you, but there are also a number of national manufacturers that specialize in this that can be found on the Internet.

Once your doors and drawer fronts arrive, you will need to stain the exterior of your cabinets (the face frame and any other exposed areas) to match. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds, and here again, there is a trick that will help.

Rolling finish on existing cabinets.
Rolling dark finish on existing cabinets.

Staining Cabinets to Match New Doors and Drawer Fronts

  1. First use a random orbit sander or sanding block and 150-grit sandpaper to gently take off most of the existing finish. As you get below the clear lacquer coating, be careful not to take much wood.
  2. Now switch to 220 grit sandpaper and get the wood to look as uniform in color as possible without rounding over the edges of the wood or creating depressions in the surface. Don’t be concerned if all the stain isn’t completely removed.
  3. Next, take the interior wood stain that your paint dealer has helped you match to the new doors and drawer fronts and mix it with a satin polyurethane varnish finish in a separate container. Using this formulation will allow you to stain over the existing wood. If the color isn’t quite dark enough after the first coat, you can mix in the stain a bit more heavily for the second coat. If the color is about right after the first coat, then just add a second and third coat of the polyurethane without any stain in it.
  4. To get the smooth finish you expect on cabinets, make sure and sand lightly with 220-grit sandpaper in between coats and use a tack rag to get every bit of dust from the surface before picking up a paint brush again.


  1. I am also wondering about Restorz-It for a quick solution to updating cabinets. We are selling our house and want a quick fix.

  2. my cabinets are still good ,just dull from cleaning and sunlight they are all wood with a dark finish i do not want to paint them what do you think of the product restorzit? this product claims to perk up your cabinets from sunlight damage and age is this true? thank-you

  3. This is a riot .i just found this site and have made four comments already. I bought this is ..ok. Don’t expect what the label tells you if you have really big issues with your furniture or flooring.. it does leave a shine.. but so does a good cleaning and a coat of formica floor wax which I have honestly used before with about the same result. Sorry renuzits…the only thing that renuz anything is to totally redo it imho. Now probably I will get bashed for bringing up a brand named floor wax, but it did work in my house, and i have wooden cabinets that are mahogony stained.

  4. Thanks Nicholas. I also just bought rejuvinate (sp) that has a cleaner for floors as well as cabinetry..its supposed to claan everything from hardwood to the interstate highway system and leave it clean:) Just kidding..but it claims to do alot. I have a new laminate travertine floor in my kitchen, ( not the bad kind that was recalled) and it did an ok job but it was never really shiny anyway..i used it on my fiberglass tub which may be the original tub that was put in when the house was built in the early nineties..the typical high raised ranch..whatever that means.Anyway..long story did make some improvement there. The rest of my laminate/fiberglass items are newer so its hard to tell whether it really did much or not. As far as furniture, I did not use it on any of mine because the only thing that I would like to rejuvinate in any way would be my antique furniture ( not that I have a museum full) and I really wouldn’t want to risk it. And the floor polish I used was NOT formica floor shine but rather future. That shows how old I am if I remember formica floor wax. :/ I tried the rejuvinate on one of my cabinets and as long as your very careful about cleaning all the tiny bits of grease that may be in the doors design it did a nice enough job. Again thanks for the welcome. As you can tell I am really into home improvement, and am one of the growing number of women who are doing it themself. Today I am trying the recycling chute..what an idea! BYE!

  5. Depends on what your cabinets are made of. Also you may want to check for kitchen surplus dealers. These places sell kitchens that have been removed from homes at a great discount I know of one in my area that sells luxury kitchens at eighty percent off the original retail value. But I live in an area that people can afford to throw money away like that. Wife doesn’t like the kitchen in the brand new house…so she gets another 100k kitchen..yay. Wish I had that option.:) We sanded our oak cupboards down and stained them but I wouldn’t advise doing that unless you are prepared for alot of work. Refacing is another option. But not always that inexpensive. Paint is usually an option on most materials. If you have wooden cabinets with “frames” poke out the inner wooden piece and replace it with glass or tin ceiling tiles sold in most craft stores. Or..take the doors off completely and paint them and use a pretty shelf liner if your real desperate. You’ll have to keep neat cupboards tho lol. Thats all I can come up with in a minute of thinking about it.

  6. Just had my cabniets painte with semi gloss paint. They seem so very dull. What can i do to make them shine without redoing the over and over like putting on wax?

  7. Hi! We are hoping to build our dream house, but need to make some upgrades to our current home in order to entice prospective buyers. We have damaged wood laminate flooring in the dining room, adjacent to the kitchen, and very old, damaged vinyl flooring in the kitchen. Our kitchen counter is 20 year old cream colored laminate, but in very good condition. Our home has appraised for $300,000, and the kitchen does have high end medium red solid cherry cabinets that are in pristine condition. What products do you think we should upgrade with that will be reasonably priced for us, yet attractive to buyers looking to purchase a $280,000+ home in Eastern PA?

  8. We live in a manufactured home with the usual manufactured kitchen cabinets. I would like new cabinets but someone told me I could remove the shelf like liner on them and paint them. I think its like wafer board or compressed wood. Is it plausible to do this or would it be best to jut buy new cabinets?

  9. Is Restorzt as easy as it sounds? Also, does anyoneknow anything about Nhance … sounds almost like a similar product for refinishing wood without sanding,stripping, etc.

  10. We had 2ft of water in our home from Hurricane Katina. I saved some of my furniture – china cabinet, table and chairs etc. I am going to try and restore them myself. The lower part of the furniture was sitting in the flood water but doesn’t look too bad. Is there some sort of refinsher that could be rubbed on the furniture that may bring back the finish to the section that received the water? I am prepared for the fact that I may have to totally strip and restain the entire piece. Please advise if there is something I could try before starting the long, tedious stripping, staining and lacquering of the entire piece. Thanks!

  11. Just finished using Restorzit on my Kitchen cabinets and wish I hadn’t. 3 days of drying and they are still sticky. All directions were followed carefully. Scratches look like scratches with dark stains now. Lovely! Hope the 100% money back guarantee works better than the product.

  12. To the person who said after three days the finish is still sticky, I think it said somewhere on the site, maybe in one of the testamonials, that if you don’t clean the cabinets completely, you will have a sticky mess. That sounds like what may be the problem. As for the scratches being dark, maybe you used the wrong color and used too much and the stuff stuck in the scratches.

  13. I have been reading the comments but don’t see an opinion of Restorzit from Danny Lipford. Can you provide an opinion of the product?

  14. I am not Danny, but I have used the LIGHT colored Restorzit with good results. Have used the LIGHT on light to medium colored wood surfaces. My neighbor borrowed some and has now ordered some too. As label says MUST be clean first. Hope this helps.

  15. i have recently bought the rental i was living in and it badly needs updates..built in the early 80’s and has a small kitchen..cabinets are wood but not really good quality and i cant afford all new ones..if you paint cabinets do they really look decent?? (or maybe i should try the “restorzit” stuff??) thanks

    • Hi Susan,
      How good your kitchen cabinet paint job looks will depend on the quality of the cabinets, how well you prep the surface, and how careful you are in the application. If all those factors are taken into account, painted over kitchen cabinets can look great.

  16. On Restorzit:
    I used it and the pre-cleaner on my kitchen cabinets. My cabinets are red-oak color and in very good shape for being 20 years old. A few serious scratches from the large dog, notwithstanding. We were thrilled with the results! They look new. I did wait overnight between the cleaning and staining b/c directions said cabinets must be completely dry. (I also sanded the worst spots, dog scratches, water damage under the sink cabinets from years of wet hands, etc.) It has been 24 hours and they are shiny and oily looking, even colored, and not sticky. Be careful not to touch the drywall, just like stain, there’s no wiping it off, you’ll have to paint over it. Finally, for $70, I know where those dog scratches are, but a potential buyer won’t! The color is even and looks great!

  17. I heard there was a paint to put on laminate counter tops to change their color, what is it called and where can I buy it. I am in Southwestern SD.

    Thank you

  18. On Restorz-It: I bought an old large,uniquely shaped wooden frame from a flea market vendor who leaves his “junk” exposed to the weather week after week. It had been rained on and sun-dried to the point of looking like drift wood almost. My husband thought it was the biggest waste of a dollar he’d seen, but the integrity of the was still there. I lightly sanded it with the .00001 steel wool, to remove all of the dirt, cleaned it with the restorz-it cleaner, let it dry for 24 hrs, though I’m not sure that the dir. state this. and the next day stained it with the dark restorz-it, and O!M!G! My husband couldn’t believe it! I waited about 48hrs before applying on another coat, just b/c I couldn’t get to it. The directions said that the second coat helps if exposed to sunlight, etc…
    It’s still very nice looking and that was years ago…it hangs in my old-time bathroom with a mirror in it.
    When it came to putting my antique dining room table back together I decided that the two columns with three legs each had to be cleaned first. You know how antique furniture gets that “black” look…no matter what kind of wood or stain it had once. It had lots of years of cigarette smoke, cooking grease, pledge, or other polishes and waxes of the day. I did not want to ‘refinish’ them b/c there’d be a table top, buffet and china cabinet right behind it that I just would not want to commit to, let alone the decrease in value if I refinished it. I could find nothing on the internet that suited me. I knew that I did not want to pour water on these legs to rinse them. So I squeezed the rag out severely to scrub the grooves and details of each part, then went back over the entire things with plain hot water the same way….I let the pieces dry thoroughly overnight before I put the resorz-it stain on it, and they were lovelier than as far back as I could remember! I am waiting a full 48 before doing the sec. coat. They do not feel sticky in the least. It sure makes me want to do the other pieces…..Maybe later. I am seriously considering doing this to my kitchen cabinets, even if I have to steel wool them! My problem with those are that they have the glued on laminate on the sides, just the door fronts are wooden, and I HATE the adjustable hinges with a passion. Who was it that ever had problems with the REAL hinges? How do I replaces these sons of guns? Off to read more….. Sorry for running off at the keyboard……

    • Hi Darlene,
      Thanks for the feedback on your projects! I’ve had good luck using mineral spirits or naptha (fast drying mineral spirits) to remove grease from kitchen cabinets (test it first on an inconspicuous place to be sure it doesn’t damage the finish). Since mineral spirits is flammable and not good to breathe, be sure to turn off any open flames (including pilot lights), open up the house, and provide plenty of ventilation (a box fan in the window blowing out works great) Then dampen a clean rag with the mineral spirits, rub the cabinets with them, and wipe the surface dry with a clean rag. You may need to go over it several times using clean rags to get all the grease off. Another option you may want to try is the one Joe Truini demonstrated in his Simple Solution segment on How to Remove Grease from Kitchen Cabinets. Good luck with your project!

  19. after reading a number of good things about Restorz-It, I decided to give it a try. Was very disappointed! It works great where you do not have to remove the existing finish down to the bare wood. But, if you do and have refinished before, the wood will not accept the new stain. You are then left with areas you cannot match. Have even tried the original colored stain and Polyshades without success.

  20. I have not used the Restorz product but read an earlier question regarding Nhance wood renewal…I have an N-Hance franchise and can only tell you what our process is and some questions I would have about other finishes…first we clean the cabinets with a pretty agressive 3M pad and use a degreaser to remove all the grease, hand oils, and other pollutants. Then we use dyes or pigments to color up the areas that went to raw wood. After that has set up we burnish the raw areas and apply a neutralized sealer to those areas followed by applying the same sealer to the entire surface of the cabinets. After the sealer coat dries, we apply 2 coats of polyurethane (same poly that we use when we refinish hardwood floors) and in some cases like under the sink we apply more to hold up to the wear and tear.
    My question with the restorz product or other products like this would be how long will they hold up…with our process you should get another 10 to 12 years out of your cabinets. I’m all for DIY projects but some are worth it and others aren’t.

  21. I had a contractor redo my counter tops. He put in granite tiles and grouted them, then he applied a, I believe, some kind of Poly on top. (The same you’d use to make a bar top, shiny and hard) It looks great the only problem is It’s been months and everything sticks to it especially now that it is more humid. I know granite is porous so is this what is contributing to the problem? Is there anything that I can put over top of it that would cover the poly finish, but dry hard and be less sticky?

  22. It’s been a week since I painted an old bed frame and dresser with a black melamine paint and they are still sticky. I read other comments with users trying to deal with the issue withing a couple of weeks. Indeed it is humid which is contributing to the tacky feel, my question is “how long too long enough” to wait before taking my project to the next stage of tripping etc. Help.

  23. restor a finish works fantastic and you dont have to clean the cabinet first. You appy it with steel wool and that removes the dirt when applying the product.

  24. I purchased the restoriz-it product and have been very happy it the results. I encourage you clean the kitchen cabinets good with with the restorz-it cleaner as directed. I usually do not write reviews, but was very impressed with this product. My cabinets still look great a year later. Any suggestions for restoring laminate floors I tried laminator plus. floors looked great at first, but couple days later footprint and paw prints are very apparent. Company does agree to trouble shoot problems and refund my money.

  25. I am thinking of changing my wood kitchen cabinet stain from minwax early american stain to a mahogany stain.Do you have to sand all of the wood completely or can you stain over the american stain with out sanding. I am looking for a new look with the least amount of work. If that is possible.

  26. My Grand-daughter is buying a house in Evans GA. The kitchen cabinets are very dark. That is a problem. Also she says that they are B Board so my question is can they be painted a much color. She dreams of a white kitchen. Also the lighting is poor. I watch you and Chelsea each week on Channel 5 here in Foley Alabama, Thank you. JoAnne

    • Hi, JoAnne,

      Danny says, “Yes, it can be painted and that would require lightly sanding, applying a bonding primer, and then two coats of semi-gloss acrylic latex paint. It will make a tremendous difference and help considerably on lightening up the kitchen.

      “Thank you so much for watching Chelsea and me on ‘Today’s Homeowner.'”

  27. We have 3 oak bathroom cabinets that we want stained a darker color, We would love to have your option on NHance cabinet refinishing. Please please share your thoughts on this type of refinishing company, if you know anything about them, before we make a huge mistake!!!! The company we are checking out is NHance of Franklin its in Tn. My husband and I watch your show each week and enjoy them very much!! That is why, we would value your advice.Thank you . Juanita


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