Refreshing stained kitchen cabinets can breathe new life into your kitchen or bathroom. Many people choose to paint over stained cabinets to update the look of their space or to match new decor. Painting can transform dark, outdated cabinets into bright, modern focal points. However, painting stained cabinets comes with its own set of challenges. The biggest issue is that the stain can bleed through the paint, causing discoloration. Additionally, achieving proper adhesion can be difficult because the glossy finish on stained wood prevents the paint from sticking well.
This blog by Prep Smart Painting will walk you through how to paint kitchen cabinets that are stained, addressing these unique challenges and providing you with step-by-step instructions. From preparation to finishing touches, you’ll learn the techniques and tips needed to achieve a professional-looking result. This guide will ensure you have the knowledge and confidence to successfully update your stained cabinets with a fresh coat of paint.

Benefits of Painting Over Stained Cabinets

If you’re looking to refresh your kitchen without breaking the bank, painting over your stained cabinets is an excellent option. This approach offers numerous advantages that go beyond simply updating the appearance of your space. Here are some of the key benefits of choosing to paint wooden cabinets instead of replacing them:

  • Cost-Effective Makeover: Painting is much cheaper than replacing cabinets. You can achieve a brand-new look without the hefty price tag of new cabinetry.
  • Customization: Allows for personalized color choices and finishes. You have the freedom to choose any color or finish that complements your decor, creating a truly unique space.
  • Increased Home Value: Freshly painted cabinets can enhance the overall appeal and value of a home. A modern, updated kitchen or bathroom can make a significant difference when selling your house.
  • Environmental Impact: Reusing existing cabinets is more eco-friendly than replacing them. By painting instead of discarding, you reduce waste and the demand for new materials.
  • Quicker Transformation: Painting cabinets is a faster process compared to replacing them, allowing you to enjoy your refreshed space sooner.
  • Preservation of Quality Wood: If your cabinets are made of high-quality wood, painting them preserves this valuable material while giving it a new look.
  • Minimal Disruption: Unlike a full kitchen renovation, painting cabinets causes minimal disruption to your daily life, allowing you to continue using your kitchen or bathroom during the project.

Preparation Specific to Stained Cabinets

Proper preparation is crucial when learning how to paint kitchen cabinets that are stained. This step ensures that the paint adheres well and that the finish is smooth and long-lasting. Here’s how to get your stained cabinets ready for painting:

Assessing the Condition of the Stain:

  • Intact Stains: If the stain is intact, you’ll need to sand the surface to roughen it up, ensuring better paint adhesion.
  • Peeling Stains: For peeling stains, more extensive preparation is necessary. Scrape off the peeling sections and sand the area to create a smooth base for painting.

Cleaning the Cabinets:

  • Grease Buildup: Stained kitchen cabinets, especially in kitchens, often have a buildup of grease and cooking residues.
  • Grease-Cutting Cleaner: Use a grease-cutting cleaner to thoroughly clean the cabinets, removing all oils, dirt, and residues. This is essential because any leftover grease can prevent the paint from adhering properly and cause blemishes in the finish.

Normal cabinets require basic cleaning, light sanding, and a standard primer before painting. The process is relatively straightforward with less risk of issues like bleed-through. Stained cabinets, on the other hand, require more intensive preparation, including thorough cleaning, more aggressive sanding, and the use of a shellac-based primer to prevent stain bleed-through. The painting process may involve more coats and additional care to ensure a smooth, long-lasting finish. Understanding these differences is crucial for achieving the best results when painting stained kitchen cabinets. Proper preparation and the right materials will help you overcome the unique challenges posed by stained wood surfaces.

Sanding Stained Ca binets

Proper sanding is a vital step in preparing stained cabinets for painting. It helps remove the glossy finish and creates a surface that paint can adhere to effectively. Here are the key points to consider:

Choosing the Right Sandpaper:

  • Medium-Grit Sandpaper: Use a medium-grit sandpaper, typically around 120-150 grit, for the first pass. This grit level is effective in removing the glossy finish and roughening the surface without causing deep scratches.


  • Sanding Direction: Always sand in the direction of the wood grain. Sanding against the grain can cause scratches that may become visible after painting.
  • Consistent Pressure: Apply consistent pressure while sanding to ensure an even surface. Too much pressure can gouge the wood, while too little may not remove the glossy finish effectively.
  • Sanding Corners and Details: Use a sanding sponge or sandpaper wrapped around a block for flat surfaces, and consider using finer grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge for detailed areas and corners to ensure even sanding without damaging intricate designs.

Dealing with Stain Bleed-Through

Stain bleed-through is a common challenge when painting over stained cabinets. Using the right primer is essential to prevent the stain from affecting the final paint finish. Here’s how to tackle this issue effectively:

Using a Shellac-Based Primer:

  • Importance: A high-quality shellac-based primer is crucial because it effectively seals the stain, preventing it from bleeding through the paint. This type of primer adheres well to glossy surfaces and blocks stains and tannins from wood.
  • Product Selection: Look for primers specifically designed for blocking stains and tannins. These are often labeled as “stain-blocking” or “tannin-blocking” primers.

Application Tips:

  • Even Application: Apply the primer evenly across all surfaces of the cabinets. Use a brush for corners and detailed areas and a roller for flat surfaces to ensure smooth and consistent coverage.
  • Multiple Coats: For heavily stained cabinets, applying two coats of primer might be necessary to fully block the stain. Allow the first coat to dry completely before applying the second.
  • Drying Time: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying time. Typically, shellac-based primers dry quickly, but it’s essential to allow sufficient time for the primer to cure before applying paint. This ensures the stain is fully sealed and won’t bleed through the topcoat.

Painting the Cabinets

Selecting the right paint and applying it correctly are crucial steps in achieving a beautiful and durable finish on your stained kitchen cabinets. Here’s a guide to help you through the process:

Choosing the Right Paint for Stained Cabinets

When painting stained kitchen cabinets, selecting the right paint is crucial for achieving a beautiful and durable finish. Here are the key points to consider:

High-Quality, Durable Paint:

  • Opt for a paint that is known for its durability and high-quality finish. This is essential for surfaces that experience daily wear and tear.

Acrylic Latex or Enamel:

  • Acrylic Latex Paint: This type of paint is flexible, resistant to cracking, and easy to clean, making it ideal for kitchen cabinets.
  • Enamel Paint: Enamel provides a hard, durable finish that withstands frequent use and cleaning. It’s perfect for achieving a smooth, professional look.

Specific for Stained Surfaces:

  • Choose paints that are formulated to adhere well to previously stained surfaces. These paints are designed to bond to glossy finishes and provide excellent coverage.


  • Satin or Semi-Gloss Finish: These finishes are easier to clean and more durable, making them ideal for kitchen cabinets. They provide a subtle shine that enhances the appearance without being too glossy.

Product Labels:

  • Ensure the paint is labeled as suitable for stained wood to guarantee proper adhesion and coverage. Look for terms like “stain-blocking” or “bonding” on the product label.

By following these recommendations, you’ll ensure that your painting stained kitchen cabinets project results in a professional and long-lasting finish. At Prep Smart Painting, we recommend these types of paints to achieve the best results on stained surfaces.

Finishing Touches

After you’ve successfully painted your stained kitchen cabinets, the final steps are crucial to ensure the durability and polished look of your work. Here’s how to put the finishing touches on your project:

Sealing the Paint

  • Topcoat Necessity: Whether a topcoat is necessary depends on the usage of your cabinets. For high-traffic areas like kitchens, applying a topcoat is highly recommended.
  • Clear Polyurethane Sealer: A clear polyurethane sealer can add durability and protection to your painted cabinets. It helps prevent scratches, chips, and general wear and tear.
    • Application: Apply the sealer evenly with a brush or a foam roller. Allow it to dry completely between coats, typically requiring two coats for optimal protection.
    • Finish Options: Polyurethane sealers are available in different finishes, including satin, semi-gloss, and gloss. Choose one that matches your desired look.

Reattaching Hardware

  • Using New Screws: When reattaching cabinet hardware, consider using new screws if the old ones are worn out. This ensures a secure fit and can prevent the hardware from loosening over time.
  • Aligning Hardware: Make sure to align the hardware correctly to avoid any misalignment that can affect the cabinet’s appearance and functionality.
  • Lubricating Hinges: If your cabinet doors have hinges, a small amount of lubricant can keep them operating smoothly and quietly.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

When painting stained kitchen cabinets, several issues specific to stained surfaces can arise. Here’s a table to help you troubleshoot these common problems:




Stain Bleed-Through 

The underlying stain seeps through the paint, causing discoloration. 

Apply an additional coat of shellac-based primer to block the stain. Ensure each coat is fully dry before applying the next. 

Poor Paint Adhesion 

The paint does not stick well to the stained surface, leading to peeling or chipping. 

Sand the surface thoroughly to remove the glossy finish. Use a high-quality shellac-based primer to improve adhesion. 

Grease or Residue Buildup 

Grease or residues prevent the paint from adhering properly, causing blemishes. 

Clean the cabinets thoroughly with a grease-cutting cleaner before sanding and priming. 

Brush Marks and Drips 

Visible brush marks or paint drips that affect the smoothness of the finish. 

Apply multiple thin coats of paint, allowing each coat to dry completely. Sand lightly between coats to smooth out imperfections. 

Uneven Coverage 

The paint appears patchy or uneven, especially on darker stains. 

Use multiple thin coats of paint for even coverage. Ensure the primer coat is uniform and fully covers the stained surface. 

Tannins Bleeding Through 

Natural wood tannins bleed through the paint, causing brownish discoloration. 

Apply a high-quality, tannin-blocking shellac-based primer. Multiple coats may be necessary. 

Peeling or Flaking Paint 

The paint peels or flakes off after drying, often due to poor surface preparation. 

Ensure thorough sanding and cleaning before priming. Use a durable, high-quality paint suitable for stained wood. 

Sticky or Tacky Finish 

The paint remains sticky or tacky even after the recommended drying time. 

Ensure proper drying time between coats. Avoid painting in high humidity or low temperatures. Consider a clear topcoat to seal. 

Bubbles or Blisters 

Bubbles or blisters form under the paint surface, usually due to moisture or trapped air. 

Ensure the cabinets are completely dry before painting. Apply paint in thin, even layers. 

Color Mismatch 

The final color does not match the expected result, often due to the underlying stain altering the paint color. 

Test the paint on a small, inconspicuous area first. Apply an additional primer coat if the color is significantly affected. 


By understanding and addressing these common issues, you can achieve a professional and durable finish on your stained kitchen cabinets. Proper preparation, the right materials, and careful application are key to overcoming these challenges.

Maintenance Tips for Painted Cabinets

Proper maintenance is essential to keep your painted kitchen cabinets looking fresh and vibrant. Here are some tips to help preserve the finish and address any minor damage over time:


  • Gentle Cleaning Methods:
    • Use a soft cloth or sponge with mild soap and water to clean the cabinets. Avoid using abrasive cleaners or scrubbers, as they can damage the paint.
    • For tougher stains, use a mixture of vinegar and water or a gentle household cleaner designed for painted surfaces.
    • Regular dusting with a soft, dry cloth can help prevent the buildup of dirt and grime.
    • Wipe up spills immediately to prevent moisture from damaging the paint. Excessive moisture can cause the paint to peel or bubble, especially around the edges and seams.

Touch-Up Tips

  • Keep a small amount of the original paint for touch-ups. When you notice a chip or scratch, lightly sand the area with fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough edges.
  • Apply a thin layer of the same paint with a small brush, blending it into the surrounding area. Allow it to dry completely before applying a second coat if necessary.
  • For deep scratches or gouges, fill the area with wood filler, sand it smooth once it dries, and then touch up with paint.
  • Periodically inspect your painted kitchen cabinets for any signs of wear or damage. Early detection of chips, scratches, or peeling paint allows for timely touch-ups, preventing further deterioration.

By following these maintenance tips, you can extend the life of your painted cabinets and keep them looking beautiful. Whether you’re dealing with minor chips or keeping them clean, these practices will help preserve the fresh look of your stained kitchen cabinets. For more detailed guidance on how to paint cabinets, be sure to read the blog by Prep Smart Painting.


Painting stained kitchen cabinets can transform your space, giving it a fresh and modern look. Throughout this blog, we’ve highlighted the importance of thorough preparation, including cleaning, sanding, and priming, to ensure a smooth and long-lasting finish. By understanding the unique challenges of painting stained wood and using high-quality materials, you can achieve professional results.
Whether you’re looking to update your kitchen’s appearance, increase your home’s value, or simply enjoy a cost-effective makeover, following these steps will help you successfully paint your stained cabinets. This blog by Prep Smart Painting provides detailed guidance on how to paint kitchen cabinets that are stained, ensuring you have the knowledge and confidence to achieve stunning, durable results. With the right preparation and techniques, your cabinets will lo ok beautiful and stand the test of time


No, sanding is a critical step in the process. It helps to remove the glossy finish and create a rough surface for the paint to adhere to. Skipping this step can result in the paint peeling or flaking off, leading to a poor finish and the need for frequent touch-ups.

For the best results, use a shellac-based primer. This type of primer effectively seals the stain, preventing it from bleeding through the paint. It also provides excellent adhesion, ensuring your paint job is smooth and long-lasting.

Cleaning is essential to remove all grease, oils, and residues. Use a grease-cutting cleaner to thoroughly clean the cabinets. This step ensures that the paint adheres properly and results in a flawless finish. Neglecting this step can cause the paint to bubble or peel due to contaminants on the surface.

Typically, 2-3 thin coats of high-quality paint are needed. Applying multiple thin coats ensures even coverage and a smooth, professional finish. It also helps to avoid drips, brush marks, and uneven color distribution.

It’s best to use high-quality acrylic latex or enamel paint specifically designed for cabinets. These paints provide a durable, washable finish that can withstand the wear and tear of daily use. They also adhere better to stained surfaces, ensuring a longer-lasting finish.

Allow each coat of paint to dry completely before applying the next one. This usually takes about 4-6 hours, but it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific paint you are using. Proper drying time helps to ensure a smooth, durable finish.

If you see stain bleed-through, apply another coat of shellac-based primer and allow it to dry thoroughly before repainting. This additional primer coat will help to block the stain and prevent further bleed-through, ensuring your paint job remains pristine.