Can You Stain Prefabricated Cabinets?

Kitchen cabinetry is among the most important design decisions when remodeling a kitchen. These pieces dictate the layout and overall function of the space and, as such, are an integral part of the room. A complete replacement during an upgrade is a costly option and often consumes the majority of a budget. An alternative, as long as cabinets are in good structural condition, is to restain existing pieces. Prefabricated styles are stainable, but will require a bit more preparation than custom-made designs.

Cabinet Prep

Painting prefabricated cabinets requires special preparation for best results.

Proper cabinet preparation is going to be essential to achieving the desired finished product. All cabinets intended for staining must be cleaned with an ammonia-based cleaner to remove any surface grease or other unwanted material. Anything left on the surface has the potential to inhibit paint or stain from sticking properly. Once clean and allowed to dry thoroughly, a light sanding either by hand or with an electric sander will create a rough surface for new paint.

Strip Existing Stain

Prefabricated cabinets come coated with a stain or layer of paint, and these layers must be removed prior to new stain being applied. Remove these layers with 220-grit sandpaper, and vacuum any remaining sawdust before moving on. Cabinets produced and painted prior to the late 1970s are likely to be covered with a lead-based paint. When sanded, this has the potential to cause life-threatening problems, particularly in children. Instead of sanding older cabinets, apply a dewaxed shellac, which will prep the cabinet for new stain without sanding.

Coloring Materials

Prefabricated cabinets that have come stained require the use of specialized recoloring products, the exact selection of which will vary depending on the amount of color saturation desired. Tinted varnishes, a wiping stain or glaze will create varying levels of color change on prestained manufactured cabinets. A varnish or glaze is applied as an overcoat on the cabinet and produces a subtle color change rather than a completely new shade. Wiping stains are better on prestained wood than a traditional penetrating stain. These are applied with a rag or brush and will produce a completely new color to the cabinets.

Color Application

No matter which coloring product you select, it is essential to follow preparation and application instructions. Doing so will produce the best looking final project possible. When stains are applied incorrectly, the color is more likely to be uneven or streaked, greatly reducing the aesthetic appeal of the cabinets. Additionally, poor cabinet preparation means it is more likely that stain will have to be stripped and reapplied because of flaking, peeling or similar problems. Rollers will produce the best results for most coloring agents, particularly glazes and oil-based paints, while stains will do best when applied with soft-bristled paint brushes. Additionally, these materials must be applied with the grain of the wood. Once all these products have been given time to dry thoroughly, a top coat of polyurethane will extend the life of the paint or stain and prevent scratches, stains or other problems.