Stained or Painted Kitchen Cabinets: Which Should You Choose?

A kitchen remodel is an exciting project, yet with so many choices to make, you can quickly become overwhelmed. Since cabinetry is a significant portion of the focus of your new kitchen, choosing your cabinet finish may be one of the most important decisions you make. Whether painted, stained, or combined, you will enjoy your cabinetry for years. You want to love whichever finish you choose absolutely.


Gathering photos of kitchens that appeal to you is a great place to start if you are still determining your cabinet finish. You can also check out what is currently trending in kitchens. We are particular in some way, hence the old cliche, “We like what we like.”


While searching for inspiration, you may find that your eye is consistently drawn to a specific cabinet finish. It is a good idea to save and share these photos with your cabinet designer. 


Whether you choose a painted or stained finish, it is wise to be well-informed about the possibilities available and why one choice may better suit your project.

Why Would I Choose Painted Cabinets?

Painted cabinets have become the most popular finish for custom kitchen cabinets. A glance through any home design magazine reveals stunning color selections, explaining why three out of four kitchens feature painted cabinets over stained ones. The appeal lies in the vast array of colors, allowing homeowners to create their dream kitchens with ease. White and cream dominate the trends, with shades of gray, blue, and green being popular choices.


Painted cabinets offer numerous benefits. A wide variety of standard colors is available from different cabinet companies, and homeowners can even opt for custom colors to achieve a unique look. The painted finish provides a sleek, clean design with a smooth, flawless surface without knots or wood grain. This aesthetic can significantly alter the perception of space.

Lighter finishes create an open, airy feel, making smaller kitchens appear larger, while darker colors can add intimacy to more spacious kitchens. Additionally, painted cabinets can match existing furniture or cabinets in adjacent rooms, creating a unified, cohesive look and enhancing openness.

However, there are some cons to consider. Cracks or “witness lines” on painted cabinets, especially white ones, can be more noticeable than stained ones. These lines occur where pieces of wood are joined and may appear over time due to the natural expansion and contraction of the wood with changes in temperature and humidity. 


Color matching for touch-ups can also be challenging, as an exact match is needed to maintain a flawless look. Touch-ups may be necessary occasionally due to witness lines, scratches, or paint chips. It’s advisable to keep a sample of the paint color for this purpose. 


Overall, painted cabinets offer an aesthetic appeal, making them popular for modern kitchens. Despite some maintenance considerations, their ability to transform and personalize a kitchen space makes them a worthwhile investment.

Are Stained Kitchen Cabinets a Popular Finish?​

Although stained cabinets are less trendy than painted cabinets, they are an excellent choice for a more natural look. Wood-grained stained kitchen cabinets create a warm, earthy feel for any home. 


You will have many choices in various colors and hues with stains. Most stains are water-based, absorbing quickly and deeply into the wood grain, delivering the deepest color enhancement of the wood.

What are the Benefits of Stained Cabinets?

Stained cabinets create a warm, attractive space by showcasing the natural beauty of the wood grains, especially in hardwoods like oak, hickory, walnut, cherry, and maple. They balance color and texture in any room, enhancing the wood’s natural qualities. Depending on the stain color, lighter stains create an airy feel, while darker stains provide a more intimate atmosphere.


Cracks or “witness” lines are less noticeable in stained cabinets due to the natural grain patterns, which visually mask imperfections. Also, stained cabinets require minimal touch-ups and are low maintenance, as dirt and dust are less visible than painted cabinets.

What are the Cons of Stained Cabinets?

Despite their appeal, stained cabinets have some drawbacks. Dark stains can show dust more readily. The natural features of the wood, like knots and grain patterns, are more pronounced, which may only suit one’s taste.


Matching stains can be challenging, especially if aiming for a uniform look with other wood elements in the home. However, some prefer contrasting wood tones, such as lighter stained cabinets with darker wood floors, to create a visually striking kitchen design.

What is More Expensive: Painted or Stained Kitchen Cabinets?

All cabinet details being equal, a painted cabinet can typically cost 10 to 20% more than stained kitchen cabinets. The paint application process is much more involved and begins with several coats of primer.


The primer is followed by several layers of quality paint, with sanding between each additional coat. It also requires a specific preparation and application area within the cabinet shop, which is void of dust and has minimal foot traffic. A painted surface requires a higher focus on its surface perfection throughout the entire process from start to finish.


Attention to detail is imperative for a perfect finish. Wrapping the product for safe travel to the project’s delivery location is vital, as is a careful and professional kitchen cabinets installation. Both painted and stained cabinets must be handled carefully so as not to scratch the wood grain or chip-painted cabinet surfaces.

Making the Decision between Staining Cabinets and Painting

Deciding between stained wood and painted cabinets significantly impacts your kitchen’s style, maintenance, and overall feel. Here’s a comparison to help you make an informed decision.

Stained wood cabinets highlight the natural beauty of the wood grain, adding warmth and texture to your kitchen. They are ideal for traditional or rustic designs where the wood’s character is a focal point. Painted cabinets, conversely, offer a smooth, uniform appearance that suits modern, contemporary, or farmhouse styles. They come in various colors, providing flexibility to match your kitchen’s decor.

Stained cabinets often cost less than painted ones because staining is less labor-intensive. However, the quality of the wood is more critical with stained cabinets, as any imperfections will be visible. Painted cabinets can hide flaws in the wood, making them a good option for lower-quality materials. The type of paint and the number of coats of stain applied also affect the final cost.

Both options have pros and cons regarding durability. Stained wood is less likely to show scratches and wear as the color penetrates the wood. However, it can be harder to touch cabinet doors if the finish is not damaged. 

Painted cabinets are prone to chipping and peeling over time, especially in high-traffic areas. Touch-ups are more manageable, but matching the original color can be challenging. Regular cleaning and maintenance will keep stained and painted cabinets looking their best.

Considering these factors, you can choose the option that best suits your kitchen’s style, budget, and lifestyle needs. Whether you choose stained wood’s natural beauty or painted cabinets’ versatility, both choices can create a stunning and functional kitchen space.

You can clean your painted and stained cabinets using only warm water with mild dish soap. For more in-depth information on how to best tackle cleaning your cabinets, visit How to Clean My Cabinets.

Before you choose a painted or stained cabinet for your kitchen remodel, it’s always a good idea to talk with a cabinet professional before making your final decision. Your cabinet designer should be able to help you with cabinetry, including choosing the best finish for your project. Based on your inspiration photos and discussions with you, your designer should be able to help guide you in determining if painting, staining, or a combination of both is the best direction for you. 

If clients determine that most of their cabinetry will be painted or stained, they often add a different finish somewhere in the kitchen. For instance, it is widespread for the perimeter of a kitchen to have a painted finish, with the island in a complementary stain.

This creates a beautiful contrast, making the island a gorgeous focal point. Another common design element is for all the cabinetry to be one finish, with open shelving and a bench seat in a contrasting finish. The options are endless, so share your interest in mixing finishes with your cabinet designer.

If you need additional help choosing finishes for other kitchen areas, speaking with an interior designer is always helpful.  Although this will add cost to your project, a designer may help to turn your space into one that beautifully reflects your unique style.

Ready to Design Your Dream Kitchen?