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November 02, 2021

WHAT'S THE BEST FINISH TO USE ON KITCHEN CABINETS

We expect our kitchen cabinetry to take on a lot of responsibilities — securely store cookware and groceries, resist grease and oil buildup, and look great while they do it. Kitchens are a significant focal point in the home, and minor renovation projects in this room can have more than an 81% return on investment (ROI) on the resale market.

TYPES OF WOOD KITCHEN CABINET FINISHES

Part of successful kitchen renovations is choosing the best wood finish for kitchen cabinets. Wood cabinets, in particular, require specific coatings to achieve a particular style.

TYPES OF WOOD KITCHEN CABINET FINISHES

Whether you're applying a do-it-yourself finish or outsourcing to a professional, the finish you choose for your wood cabinets impacts their durability, required maintenance, opaqueness and color options. These are some common finish selections for today's homeowners:

PAINT

The most attractive part of painting cabinetry is the limitless color selection. As long as you prime and prep the wood correctly, you can choose any paint color available to style your kitchen. Some colors are more opaque than others, but certain wood types have visible grains regardless of the paint you choose. Lighter paint colors, like pastels and bright neutrals, are harder to keep clean because of easily visible smudges and stains.

Paint is a great way to cover any imperfections with the wood, like discolorations or knotted grains. It also provides a smooth, uniform surface to pair with accessories, like decorative handles and fixtures.

Paint is available in multiple finishes:

Paint is available in multiple finishes:

  • High-gloss:High-gloss paint is reflective and has a noticeable shine on the surface. This shine is an eye-catching way to complement a modern or business formal area, and the exaggerated light reflection can make even the smallest room feel more spacious. High-gloss paint does make it easier to note dirt or scratches, so consider avoiding this option if you have a busy kitchen.
  • Semi-gloss: Semi-gloss paint offers a balance of minimal light reflection without easily visible smudges. It also provides some of the same softness of matte paint but without the dulling effect on some colors. Semi-gloss paint is a popular cabinetry option because it's often the easiest to keep clean.
  • Matte: Matte paint doesn't reflect the light, which can make a space look more enclosed. The same lack of reflection gives colors a flat, subtle coloring that complements many of today's most popular interior design styles.
  • Satin:Satin paint is a silky, velvet-like option that's easy to maintain and clean but requires careful application, as brush strokes and roller marks can be very visible as it dries.

You can also choose between varnish or polyurethane for kitchen cabinet protection. Polyurethane is a plastic-like topcoat that applies clear and offers ultimate durability against dirt and damage. Varnish is similar but adds a glossier film that gives it additional protection against high-moisture areas. Some varnish may yellow or discolor over time.

STAIN

Unlike paint, a stain doesn't change or cover the wood's natural color. Instead, it enhances, highlights and gives it a protective layer. Stain is the best finish for kitchen cabinet doors if you want to preserve the wood's appearance — knots, grains, discolorations and all. Some stains add subtle coloring or darkening to wood, but never as opaque as paint. Stains protect the wood from moisture, pests, and scratches.

STAIN

You can apply the stain by hand or with a sprayer. Wiping stain onto the surface gives it an antique, varied effect, perfect for rustic or farmhouse homes. Spraying offers a more uniform layer without variations.

Finish stained cabinets with a clear coat of paint or a polyurethane topcoat for extra protection or to change the final appearance and make it glossier or more matte.

LACQUER

Lacquer is hard and resilient, creating a nonporous, protective layer that makes cabinetry easy to wipe clean. It's available in multiple shine and gloss levels, similar to paint, but may yellow over time, like varnish. Lacquer is thick and has a noticeable sheen that many find to complement their kitchen style.

LACQUER

Shellac is similar to lacquer but is more common in older homes, as it's derived naturally from insects.

GLAZE

Unlike lacquer, the glaze is not a topcoat. Instead, you apply glaze to special cabinetry designs to give edges a raw look or add visual interest to skilled carvings or contours. While this add-on can cost more than other finish options, it's essential for any expensive woodwork you want to highlight. 

Glaze is either standard or brushed on. Standard glaze is for crevices, doors and edges, while brushed gives a hand-applied texture for added depth and style.

WHY DIFFERENT FINISHES ARE USED FOR DIFFERENT APPLICATIONS

Of course, you want the best coating for kitchen cabinets that looks great and helps you express your unique style, but different finishes have other applications.

CHOOSE AN EASY-CLEAN FINISH

Whether you're a seasoned home chef or favor the microwave, easy-to-clean cabinetry is essential for saving time and protecting your investment. The better condition you keep your furnishings in, the easier your home will be to resell in the future.

The simplest kitchen cabinets are easy to maintain with a soft wipe down and occasional scrub. This action keeps away unappetizing and unsightly buildup or discoloration from things like:

  • Smudges: Consider for a moment how many times a week you open your cabinet doors to grab a snack, ingredient or dinner plate. Now, consider how many times a week your spouse, children or roommates do the same. That's a lot of fingerprints! If your kitchen is a popular place in the home, you may want to choose a finish you can wipe clean quickly.
  • Food residue: Food residues, like sticky jams and baking ingredients, have a way of ending up on every kitchen surface, visible or not. As this residue builds up, it can stain cabinetry or even attract pests.
  • Dirt: Dirt and dust gather on surfaces over time, which can dull bright colors or create uneven variations on darker cabinetry. A quick dusting should do the trick unless the dirt has had a lot of time to sit and solidify on the surface.
  • Condensation:Moisture fluctuates in your kitchen, especially if you have an open window or inadequate stovetop ventilation. Condensation can cause cabinets to warp if left unchecked.
  • Cooking oils and grease: Cooking oils and hot grease are notorious for splattering out of the pan and onto the stovetop, countertops and cabinetry. This substance creates a slippery, sticky and unsafe environment for young children or pets. It also causes grime to build up if not cleaned thoroughly.
  • Smoke: Cooking smoke can leave lingering odors or discolor cabinetry and other surfaces.

If easy maintenance is important to you, invest in a durable, thick topcoat, like a glaze or clear coat paint, that you can wipe clean with gentle cleansing agents and cleaning cloths.

MAKE YOUR KITCHEN LOOK BIGGER OR SMALLER

MAKE YOUR KITCHEN LOOK BIGGER OR SMALLER

Apartment and galley-style kitchens are notoriously cramped, but there are ways to open the space and make it seem larger than it is. Choose a finish that reflects the light, like a high-gloss or semi-gloss paint or glossy wood stain. Avoid matte finishes and darker colors, as these could make the room feel smaller. You can also hang some decorative mirrors on the wall and utilize windows and skylights to fill the room with natural light and reflective surfaces, which will help it feel airy and inviting.

Finishes can also assist you with achieving the opposite effect — enclosing a spacious kitchen so it feels homey and cozy instead of sterile or empty. Use darker colors, ornamental designs and matte finishes to bring the room together and encourage a feeling of warmth.

COMPLEMENT YOUR KITCHEN DESIGN

Durable cabinetry is a must, but it should also enhance your overall kitchen design. Use complementary or contrasting color schemes and stick with a similar decorative style, like industrial or shabby chic. It may help to look to your furniture and the rest of your home for inspiration.

Note the following features around your kitchen:

  • The color of your appliances
  • The type, finish and color of your countertops
  • Whether you use warm yellow lighting or blue-tinted fluorescents
  • How much natural light is available in the space 
  • Accent pieces you love decorating with, like copper fixtures or wooden shelving
  • The color of your kitchen walls and any connected rooms
  • Your house's overall architectural style

Consider working with an interior designer if you want help achieving a specific look or aesthetic for your kitchen and dining area.

INVEST IN LONG-LASTING FURNITURE

INVEST IN LONG-LASTING FURNITURE

If you're an avid home cook, a busy parent, or a weekend entertainer and holiday host, durability is critical. While natural wood offers a beautiful accent for your house, never leave bare wood exposed to kitchen moisture and debris, as it could warp or be vulnerable to mold and mildew.

Any finish is better than none, but coatings and glazes listed as protective or high-use might be the best fit if you need durability. Always follow finish instructions and avoid any cleaners or substances that could cause your wooden cabinets to break down or change color.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST FINISH FOR KITCHEN CABINETS

If you're renovating your house to fit your new style or are preparing to put it on the resale market, carefully consider which cabinetry and finish styles will best fit your goals. Note the following information:

  • Lifestyle and frequency of use 
  • Design options and accessories
  • Initial and ongoing budget
  • Color and style
  • Maintenance and upkeep
  • Wood type
  • Design flexibility

Three of the most significant things to consider when choosing a cabinetry finish are how much maintenance you're prepared to keep up with, the design options you're considering and the type of wood your cabinets are made of.

1. MAINTENANCE AND UPKEEP

Cabinets are fairly self-sustaining, but regular cleaning and maintenance keep them looking and performing their best. Consider the following:

  • Minor cleaning: Basic cleaning refers to the light scrubbing you do as needed or weekly to minimize dust, grease and smudges on cabinetry. Use a soft cloth and a wood-safe all-purpose cleaner or gentle cleansing agent. Avoid abrasive scrub brushes or harsh chemicals, like bleach and solvents. Clean spills, leaks and splashes immediately, especially if grease or oil are present.
  • Deep cleaning:Empty all cabinets and perform a thorough deep clean at least twice per year, ideally once each season. Use a toothbrush to scrub crevices, and use adhesive remover or vinegar to cut through sticky residue. Wipe away crumbs, cobwebs or dust from inside. Never soak cabinets or leave standing water, as this could warp the wood or damage the finish. Use a soft towel to wipe dry and allow plenty of time for the interior to air dry before replacing pans and accessories.
  • Repairs:Repair cabinets, including broken hinges, chipped wood, peeling finish or loose fasteners, as soon as you notice them. This process includes remedying interior stains, refinishing worn areas, and tightening fasteners or attachments to keep cabinets working efficiently.
  • Upkeep:Invest in a quality polish or protective wax rated safe for your specific wood and finish types and avoid cheap waxes that could cause buildup. Keep your kitchen at a comfortable temperature with adequate ventilation and avoid extreme temperatures, humidity or prolonged UV exposure, all of which will damage and fade cabinetry and shelving. Consider using shelf liners to protect interior cabinetry from stains and create an easy-to-clean surface. Keep cabinet drawers closed when not using them and install handles to minimize fingerprints and smudging.

DESIGN OPTIONS

2. DESIGN OPTIONS

Cabinets play an important role in kitchen storage and organization, but you can still ensure they match your home's overall style. Popular design options include:

  • Brushed application for a hand-applied look.
  • Glaze or lacquer for added shine, protection and ornamental design.
  • A rubbed application to achieve a refurbished or weathered appearance.
  • An iced or pearlescent finish for a unique effect.
  • Antiquing or vintage speckling and artificial wear.
  • Contours, curves and edging near the doors and handles.

Some design options require specific finishes. For example, thick woodworking and ornamental designs need glazing or lacquer to preserve and accent the shape.

3. WOOD TYPE

Aiming to complement the type of wood your cabinets are made of is the most effective way to determine the kind of finish you should apply and what colors or styles might look best. 

WOOD TYPE

Popular cabinetry options include:

  • Cherry: Cherry wood has a nonuniform appearance if its sapwood and heartwood aren't the same shade. The wood's natural hue is a pale pink, but this color darkens into a reddish-brown as it ages. You can choose to accentuate the contrasting elements of this wood with an oil-based finish. Or, you can apply a thick polyurethane or lacquer to cover and protect it without emphasizing discoloration and pattern variations.
  • Maple:Maple wood has naturally occurring patches and interior swirling, making it a beautiful choice for unique cabinetry. Use minimal sanding, then apply a shellac or clear lacquer or polyurethane for kitchen cabinets to preserve the natural colors and provide a durable topcoat. Expect maple to darken into an amber-like color over time.
  • Oak: An oil-based stain sealed with polyurethane or shellac accentuates oak's natural wood pores and protects against external damage. Keep in mind, you can darken oak with colored stains, but you can't lighten it. Trying to do so will result in discoloration you might not want.
  • Hickory: Hickory is a sturdy lumber option for cabinetry and pairs well with most stains and finishes. Unlike some wood options, hickory won't typically discolor or darken over time unless you choose a specific finish or varnish that yellows the tone.
  • Birch:Birch is a light color for cabinetry, perfect for staining darker or sealing with a clear coat to preserve its natural, bright appearance. Polyurethane sealants and lacquers preserve this natural tone, while colored stains and oil finishes might darken it or add amber tones. Birchwood is also smooth and uniform, perfect for painting any color you want.
  • Walnut:Lacquer and oil-based finishes are a great fit for walnut wood since they can penetrate the surface and create a durable, hard surface fairly resistant to water and other moisture. Walnut is the opposite of woods that darken over time, like cherry. Instead, years of sunlight exposure changes walnut to a faded, paler hue that you can either choose to embrace or stain to resemble the like-new walnut you know and love.
  • Pecan:Pecan wood is strong enough to use for flooring, cutting boards and cabinetry since it's moisture-resistant and has a distinct natural grain appearance. It's also naturally smooth, ideal for sanding and painting or applying a clear topcoat.
  • Cedar: Cedarwood is naturally resistant to many external forces, like moisture, sunlight and pests. This wood option is also soft and fairly easy to work with but does need a sealant to stay resilient against water and keep its shape. The color is light yet rich and pairs perfectly with clear coats or subtle lacquers. Avoid dark stains, which might contrast with the natural color and could be incompatible with the cedar layers. Polyurethane is another great choice for cedar, as it adds an attractive shine to surfaces.
  • Faux:Faux woods such as laminates and plastic-based composite blends may look like real wood but contain none at all. You shouldn't finish and maintain these the same way you would wood cabinetry. Instead, ask the manufacturer for specific care and finish instructions so that you don't damage the surface.
  • Blend: Some cabinets might be a blend of popular woods. If this is the case for you, work with a cabinetry expert to determine the correct cleaning and maintenance routine. They can also help you select the best finish options to preserve and protect each area of the door and shelving.

Once you've chosen the best wood finish for your kitchen cabinets, remember to consider all of these factors when choosing your care and maintenance supplies. Some cleaning agents won't pair well with specific wood types and could wear through the finish and alter the wood underneath.

ORDER KITCHEN CABINET COMPONENTS ONLINE AT CABINET DOORS 'N' MORE

At Cabinet Doors 'N' More, we ship all of our wood cabinet doors, drawer fronts, veneers and end panels without any finish, so they arrive in top shape, ready for your finish of choice. Cabinet doors and drawer fronts are available in a variety of natural hardwoods, including paint-grade hard maple, red oak, cherry and more. 

Some may ship with white primer, depending on the type, and we can add a Rigid Thermofoil (RTF) coating for protective layering with some cabinet types. All wood cabinets are sanded down and ready for staining or clear coat protection. All RTF components already have the coating applied and cannot be stained or painted.

We ship all of our natural hardwood cabinets without any staining or painting so you can choose the perfect fit for your existing space or dream design. Visit your local home improvement store or another shop with finishes for help matching existing stains or paint colors — just remember to account for your chosen wood's natural variations and color changes over time.

SHOP CABINET COMPONENTS TODAY

Cabinet Doors 'N' More has the customizable cabinet doors you've been looking for. You can use our products for your kitchen, bathroom and other remodeling projects. Choose from popular styles, like raised and recessed paneling, and choose the wood type that best suits your lifestyle and design needs. For more information, feel free to contact us online today or call us at 844-915-1150.

SHOP CABINET COMPONENTS TODAY


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