Staining Unfinished Cabinets

Staining Unfinished Cabinets: Pros And Cons

When deciding between staining unfinished cabinets and painting unfinished cabinets, it ultimately comes down to the look you want. A stained look will focus on texture and wood grain while painting unfinished cabinets will cover the wood grain. 

The type of wood material that you select for your cabinets makes all the difference because wood cabinets can absorb stains.

If you're choosing MDF cabinets, this type has a better appearance when painted. MDF cannot absorb stain as well as wood and doesn't have a wood grain pattern that displays a natural look so it's recommended to use real wood unfinished cabinets instead when it comes to staining.


What is a Stained Unfinished Cabinet?

A stained unfinished cabinet has a natural wooden appearance that you can apply stain, sealer, and a top coat to. By applying stain, your cabinets show their character by displaying their patterns and true woodgrain.

The stain will soak into your wooden cabinets and are available in various colors ranging from light to dark brown.


Stained Cabinets vs Painted Cabinets: The Pros and Cons

stained unfinished cabinets


Below are the pros and cons of staining unfinished cabinets and painting unfinished cabinets. 

1. Cost

If you’re planning to refinish your cabinets, it can cost you anywhere from $1,000-$5,000, depending on whether you're staining or painting them. While professional painting may cost anywhere from $2,000-$5,000, staining unfinished cabinets can range between $1,000-$4,000, depending on the project size.

Painting unfinished cabinets is more expensive since paint coats more than wood stain. The cost of staining unfinished cabinets varies depending on project size, labor, type of stain, and materials used. Both staining and painting require preparation before beginning the project. 


Staining Unfinished Cabinets

Staining unfinished cabinets may cost anywhere from $4-$8/per square foot. Using around one quart of stain has the potential to cover about one hundred and fifty square feet, costing approximately $15. 

Staining unfinished cabinets may require extra materials such as glaze, varnish, sponges, brushes, and seals. 


Painting Unfinished Cabinets

Depending on how many cabinets you plan to paint, painting unfinished cabinets may cost anywhere from $400-$1,000. The paint price depends on the type of paint you use and costs anywhere from $15-$50 per gallon. If you purchase designer paint, expect to pay more in costs.

When purchasing materials such as brushes, drop cloths, tape, or glosses, this will add to the cost of your project.


2. Durability

When staining unfinished cabinets or painting them, both rank almost evenly in durability. One factor that can affect the durability of your cabinets is their exposure to sunlight. If you have prolonged exposure to painted or stained cabinets, it may cause fading over the years.

MDF and wood cabinets are both considered durable options; however, when exposed to extensive moisture, MDF can begin to warp. This makes solid wood the better option in terms of durability.


Staining Unfinished Cabinets

When staining unfinished cabinets, you won’t be presented with the hassle of cosmetic issues compared to painted cabinets. Staining cabinets also will prevent chipping and cracking; however, if exposed to high humidity over long periods, your cabinets may begin to warp. 


Painting Unfinished Cabinets 

When painting unfinished cabinets with high-quality paint, with proper care, your paint can last up to 10 years when applied by a professional. Painted unfinished cabinets are very durable when the paint is able to cure. Even though paint can dry on solid wood in three to four hours, the curing process can take up to three to four weeks.

Facts that can affect the durability of your painted unfinished cabinets are the quality of paint, application technique, and maintenance. 


3. Upkeep

Both stained and painted cabinets generally don’t need much upkeep, as each type will still encounter scuffs and scratches with regular everyday use. However, staining unfinished cabinets will allow you to hide scuff marks and scratches better than painted cabinets. While both types can be retouched, you can use a stain pen to retouch stained cabinets.

Staining Unfinished Cabinets

When cleaning stained cabinets, you can do so with a damp cloth; however, any spills should be cleaned immediately because liquid can seep into the wood and cause additional damage if not sealed. 

If you have sealed your cabinets correctly, your cabinets will need minimal upkeep. Additionally, you should monitor the seal and fix any chips or cracks when noticed. 

Painting Unfinished Cabinets

Painted unfinished cabinets will require more maintenance than stained cabinets because moisture can damage paint. To wipe away any spills, you should use a damp microfiber towel. You should avoid using abrasive materials on painted cabinets as this can damage the paint.

When painted cabinets experience damage, they must be sanded and painted.


4. Appearance

The appearance of your cabinets in your home will determine whether you stain or paint your cabinets. While painted cabinets can fit into various designs and styles, stained, unfinished cabinets might suit well in smaller homes but can still make a huge impact. The color of your countertops can also influence your decision when choosing stained or painted cabinets.

Staining Unfinished Cabinets

When staining your unfinished cabinets can give your home a more rustic appearance, but they also fit well with traditional and modern homes that have stainless steel appliances. Stained cabinets remain a popular option, with birch and maple pairing well with stone countertops or conventional white cabinets.

Painting Unfinished Cabinets 

Painted cabinets are more popular than stained ones because they fit various kitchen and bathroom styles. Painted cabinets also have multiple textures and smooth finishes. Many homeowners choose painted cabinets for the sole purpose of choosing whatever style they want.


5. Installation

While many homeowners paint or stain their unfinished cabinets on their own to save on costs, completing a smaller staining project is more realistic than staining your entire kitchen. With your kitchen being the most used room in your home, your cabinets should be stained professionally.

Staining Unfinished Cabinets

Staining unfinished cabinets may take additional time, but having a professional complete the task can ensure the project is completed correctly. Refinishing your cabinets means you’ll need to label every cabinet and have the proper space to stain them. 

Staining unfinished cabinets on your own can take around two weeks, but a professional can complete the job in three to five days. 

Painting Unfinished Cabinets

Painting unfinished cabinets can be done independently, depending on how large the project is and the time you have. Painting cabinets means you need to sand and strip them so the paint can properly adhere to the cabinets. For more significant projects, you should consult a professional. 


Staining Unfinished Cabinets: FAQs

Staining Unfinished Cabinets


1. Can you stain unfinished cabinets?

To stain your unfinished cabinets, you should use a clean cloth, as many stains are thin. A clean cloth will allow for an even application when applying the paint to the wood.

2. How do you finish unfinished wood cabinets?

To finish unfinished wood cabinets, you should remove the doors and drawers, sand, prime, paint your first coat, sand lightly, and then follow with a second coat.

3. How do you prepare unfinished cabinets for staining?

Since unfinished cabinets may have imperfections, you should use stain putty, light sanding, and surface preparation.

4. Is it better to stain or paint unfinished cabinets?

It is better to stain unfinished cabinets as they can last longer and are easier to clean.

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