How to Preserve Vintage Metal Kitchen Cabinets

Lead Image for How to Preserve Vintage Metal Kitchen Cabinets
  • 2-4 hours
  • Beginner
  • 40-75
What You'll Need
A gentle all-purpose cleaner
Paint/finish stripper
Steel wool
Primer spray paint (preferably one that guards against rust and corrosion)
Flathead screwdriver

Metal kitchen cabinets can be a beautiful and elegant addition to any home. Vintage metal cabinets are even more desirable, because, due to their age, there will be few models exactly like them. However, when many homeowners come into possession of a home with vintage metal kitchen cabinets, their cabinets are in bad shape. Despite the fact that they would like to have metal cabinets, they feel that the cabinets are in such a state of disrepair that they have no choice except to remove them. However, in most cases, vintage metal kitchen cabinets are completely salvageable. Read the following for information on how to salvage and preserve vintage metal kitchen cabinets.

Basic Cleaning

If your kitchen is in such a state that you are worried the cabinets are not salvageable, a good scrubbing will probably help to alleviate much of your worry. Even if you have already cleaned the kitchen, an additional once-over will help you to become more familiar with the way it is put together and may reveal problems you missed on your first look.

Removing the Cabinets

Find the screws that hold them in place. These are usually along the side of the interior of the cabinets. Using your screwdriver, carefully remove the screws, and pull your cabinet out of place. If it is stuck, you can push your screwdriver around the edges of the cabinet to loosen it a little bit. You may wish to have a friend or family member assist you with this part so that you don't accidentally drop the cabinet. You may also wish to place the screws into a container so that they do not get lost during the project.

Repairing Wear and Tear

Although wooden cabinets (especially vintage wooden cabinets) tend to warp when they are stripped, metal cabinets can be safely stripped without risk of warping. In order to restore and preserve your cabinets, you must strip them, buff them and then refinish them with your choice of lacquer. If your cabinet has paint on it, remove it with a paint stripper of your choice. Then, use your steel wool to burnish away any pitted or rusty areas. Use different grades of steel wool depending on the severity of the rust or pits. For areas where the problems are not as severe, use finer steel wool.

When you are finished burnishing the cabinet, use a damp rag to wipe it down, and let it dry before moving onto the next step.


At this point, you can take action to prevent damage to the cabinet in the future. Use a primer before putting any paint on the cabinet. All primers will help to protect against future damage. However, it is best to use a primer that is specially designed to help to protect the cabinet against rust and the corrosion that causes pitting. Primer works best when you use several thin applications as opposed to one thicker application. Spray on one thin layer of primer, let it dry for a day, and then spray again. If you don't have the time to wait a day between coats, a few hours of drying will suffice. However, you should always wait as long as you can for primer and paint to dry.

Once your cabinet is primed, you can paint it. This provides an additional layer of protection against damage. There are many different colors and styles of paint available, so you can choose one that suits your personal aesthetic. As with the primer, apply the paint in several phases, letting it dry between each thin application of paint.

Once you are satisfied with how the cabinet looks, you can reinstall it. Although certainly, you will have to perform maintenance on your cabinets at some point, following the steps detailed in this article will greatly reduce the time you will have to spend maintaining your vintage metal cabinets.