3 Tricks for Refinishing Your Cabinets Affordably

refinished kitchen cabinets with white appliances

Refinishing cabinets is one of the least expensive ways to give your kitchen a whole new look. It's labor-intensive, though, so it's pricey to hire a professional. According to HomeAdvisor, these projects tend to cost around $2,000 for labor and materials.

Doing it yourself is cost-effective, since you can cut out the labor charges, but before you start, you should know this is more than an afternoon project. Refinishing cabinets may take between 24 and 48 hours, or longer depending on your level of skill, how many cabinets you have, what condition they're in. Here's what to focus on to minimize costs.

1. Calculate Refinishing Supplies

Assess the state of the cabinets and list the fundamental materials for the project. Don’t start splashing out on materials until you've conducted careful calculations, so you don't buy more than you need.

Stripping Products

Surfaces that are already painted and are in acceptable condition can be repainted without striping. If the textures are uneven or crumbling, you might need to start from scratch.

scraping tool on wood with blue paint peeled off

Wood Filler

You'll probably need wood filler if your kitchen cabinet has scratches, cracks, or cuts. If the surface of the cabinet is smooth or you're not dealing with a hardwood cabinet, you probably won't need it.


If you're repainting or filling any cracks, you'll need sandpaper to smooth things out.


Stained kitchen cabinets should be primed before painting, ideally with two coats. Indeed, even painted cabinets should be primed for the best results, especially if you're adding a lighter coat to a dark base.

However, if they were previously primed and the paint is in an acceptable condition with no noticeable bleed, you can potentially save money by skipping primer.

2. Thoroughly Smooth Surfaces

Uneven or waxed surfaces will require additional materials to refinish. For instance, to smooth a hardwood cabinet with a rough waxed surface, you'll need stripping chemicals, sandpaper, in addition to the finish.

The new finish won’t bond with a waxed or rough surface, so you'll have to strip off the wax and smooth the surface.

Purchasing Abrasion Chemicals for Stripping

Paint stripping chemical kits often come with an application block or pad, so you might not have to spend extra for support materials if you find a good bundle. You can also probably fashion some homemade pads from old fabric rags.

Patch Cracks and Sand

You can't simply brush the paint on when you have peeled off the wax and the synthetic compounds. Rough wooden cabinet surfaces consume a significant amount of finish. Besides, the primers and finishes don’t bond well with the rough surfaces and are likely to wear off quickly.

Once you've filled in any nicks and holes, sand thoroughly to create a clean bonding surface, then wipe down with a rag to remove any dust.

hands filling a small hole in a wood surface with filler and scraper

3. Pick the Right Finishers


Refinishing laminate cabinets is possible but trickier than wood or metallic cabinets, since the slick material can be difficult to paint. That said, there are laminate-specific primers or paint designed to bond with the shiny surface of the laminate. Just ensure you get a quality one that will make the paint stick strongly.

Finish Paints

Choosing the right paint finish for your cabinet is crucial since it determines durability in the long run. Cabinet doors and drawers are often touched frequently, which can cause heavy wear and tear. Factor this in when you're picking your paints—a more expensive but more durable material will last longer and save you money in the long run.

A semi-gloss or gloss finish is the best pick when painting kitchen cabinets. Many formulas of both semi-gloss and glossy paint are washable and usually withstand scrubbing.

glossy cabinets and white tile backsplash in modern kitchen

Oil-based paint is known for durability, too. However, they can be prone to yellowing. Water-based latex paints are often a better option since they tend to contain fewer chemicals that can be hazardous to inhale.

Polyester and Lacquer

Among the newer choices for kitchen cabinet finishes, lacquer and polyester are good options. They're cheap and relatively easy to work with. Lacquer is a good option for finishes on the glosser side, but it requires higher maintenance than other materials. Polyester is a more durable finish than lacquer, but if you anticipate a touch-up or changes, this isn’t a good option. Polyester is slightly clear and won't significantly change the look of your cabinet.

man finishing cabinet with clear varnish


Varnish finish is another popular finish for a natural wood cabinet, although lately it's fallen slightly out of favor. It comes in a range of tint-color options, though, which offer an affordable way to update natural surfaces with a new look.

The Bottom Line

The more decisions you make ahead of time, the less likely you'll be to end up with wasted products at the end of your refinishing project, and the easier it will be to complete.