A Guide to Refacing Kitchen Cabinets

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Have you been thinking of giving your kitchen a facelift? If so, consider refacing your cabinets instead of purchasing and installing new ones. It only takes a few hours to reface kitchen cabinets and it’s much more affordable than replacing them.


Before you reface your cabinets, you will need to clean them thoroughly. Food residue, heat and grease build up on kitchen cabinets.

If you remove the doors of your cabinets, be sure to label them so you can return them to the proper place. Do not paint over or sand off the markings. The holes for the hinges will need to match when you reattach them.

Use rubber gloves and protective eye wear when using cleaners and solvents.

Place painter's drop sheets on appliances, countertops and floors to protect them.

Carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions when using any type of cleaner.

Always use a clean cloth when cleaning cabinets.

Once the cabinets have been cleaned, rinse well. If the rinse water or cloth becomes dirty, repeat the cleaning process.

Allow wooden cabinets to dry thoroughly before continuing the project.

Stripping and Refinishing

After your cabinets have been cleaned, they may still look dull and grimy. If this is the case, consider refinishing or painting them. Stripping cabinets is very similar to refinishing furniture. It’s not hard, but does take a little time.

You’ve already discovered that working on a cabinet that’s attached to the wall is awkward and messy. Consider removing the cabinets for the stripping and refinishing process. If you choose to leave the cabinets on the wall, remember that it’s going to take some time and you won’t be able to use them.

Use a semi-paste or gel stripper on cabinets. These types of strippers drip less when used on a vertical surface. Before purchasing stripper, take note of the type of finish currently on the cabinets. It will be one of several materials and most of them will look the same to someone who is not an expert.

Determining the Existing Finish

To determine the type of finish that is currently on your cabinets, use these tests:

Shellac – Use denatured alcohol and apply a few drops. If the finish dissolves almost instantly, it is shellac.

Wax – Apply a minimal amount of turpentine, which will dissolve wax.

Polyurethane or Varnish – These finishes can be stripped using paint or varnish stripper.

Paint – If your cabinets are painted, you will need to determine if the paint is oil or water based. Use denatured alcohol on a clean cloth and rub briskly. If the paint comes off, it is water based. Never paint over water based paint with oil-based. To refinish your cabinets with oil-based paint, you will have to completely strip them and use a primer.

Formica or Vinyl – If your cabinets are finished with Formica or vinyl, do not attempt to paint or refinish them. You will need to hire a professional or replace them with new cabinets.

Before you start stripping, cover all appliances, countertops and floors with a painters drop sheet in order to protect them.


Patch all holes, nicks and scratches with wood filler and allow it to dry well. Sand lightly so the wood filler blends into the cabinet surface. If you’re painting your cabinets, sand lightly, remove all residue and apply a coat of primer.

Cabinet Hardware

The hardware on your existing cabinets will need a thorough cleaning to get rid of dirt and grease. Place the hardware in a solution of soap and hot water and allow it to soak for one hour. Scrub gently with a soft bristled scrub brush and rinse. After the hardware is dry, polish with the proper cleaner. For instance, if the cabinet hardware is brass, use a brass polish.

If your hardware is worn or still looks dull after cleaning, you may need to replace it. Now that it’s been removed from the cabinets is a great time to give your cabinets a complete makeover. There are many beautiful pulls, knobs and hinges available at hardware stores and home building centers.

When shopping for new cabinet hardware, choose a style that will look great in your kitchen. If you own an older, traditional style home, choose brass, antiqued brass, nickel or pewter. If your home is newer, choose contemporary hardware such as enameled, glass, glossy metal or hardware that has a theme. This will allow the cabinet hardware to blend into your kitchen décor.


Set off your refaced cabinets with molding. Choose a contrasting finish or buy unfinished molding and finish it yourself. There is a wide range of moldings available on today’s market. Choose one that will blend into your kitchen décor.

Now that your cabinets are completely refaced, stand back and enjoy the new look of your kitchen. You will be amazed at the fresh, new look.