Stained or Painted Kitchen Cabinets: Which Should You Choose?

Jenny Cazares| Dean Cabinetry     Leah Dean | Dean Cabinetry

By: Jenny Cazares & Leah Dean

This blog will help educate you on the differences between stained and painted kitchen cabinets and the pros and cons of each. 

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 or stained, or a combination of both, you will be enjoying your cabinetry for years to come. You want to absolutely love whichever finish you choose.

If you are unsure of your cabinet finish, a great place to start is to begin gathering some photos of kitchens that are attractive to you. You can also check out what is currently trending in kitchens. Each of us are particular in some way, hence the old cliche, “we like what we like.” You may find while searching for your inspiration, that your eye is consistently drawn to a certain cabinet finish. It is a good idea to save and share these photos with your cabinet designer. 

No matter 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 over another. 

Why Would I Choose Painted Cabinets?

Currently, the most popular finish in the market for kitchen cabinets is a painted finish.  Just open any home design magazine and you’ll find beautiful color selections for cabinets. It’s no wonder why three out of four kitchens feature painted cabinets over stained cabinets. We love color, and with painted cabinets consumers are seeing a utopia of color options to create their dream kitchen. As of this writing, the most popular trending color choices for painted cabinets are white and cream. People also like shades of gray, blue & green.

cabinet painting
Dean Cabinetry Custom Cabinets-Painted Benjamin Moore Smokestack Gray #2131, Full Overlay Cabinets

What are the Benefits of Painted Cabinets?

  • There is a very large variety of standard color choices available from different cabinet companies
  • You can create a unique look by choosing a custom color that no one else may have
  • You will not see any knots or wood grain on the surface of the doors or drawer fronts 
  • Provides a sleek, clean design, with a smooth, flawless finish
  • Can often change the perception of the space. Lighter finishes create an open, airy feel, which can be a great choice for a smaller kitchen. This will help to make the space look and feel larger than it is. Darker colors create a more intimate space, which works well in a larger, more open kitchen. 
  • Painted cabinets can match your existing furniture or other cabinetry in adjacent rooms.This detail can create a unified, cohesive look and a more open feel. 

What are the Cons of Painted Cabinets?

  • A crack or “witness line” on a white cabinet may be more apparent than one on a stained cabinet. When within industry standards, these are completely normal. Witness lines occur where pieces of wood are joined together, when the grain is running in different directions. The frames on cabinet boxes, cabinet doors, and drawer fronts can develop witness lines over time, due to expansion and contraction. This may occur when your home’s temperature changes, with increased dryness or humidity. 
  • Color matching for touch-ups can be tricky as you want to make sure you have an exact match
  • Touch ups may be needed from time to time and can be due to witness lines, scratches into the finish, and paint chips. Always keep a sample of your paint color in case you need more. If you don’t have extra paint leftover, Sherwin Williams offers a great paint matching App for your phone that can be a very useful tool.
painted cabinets
John Dean Custom Cabinetry, Painted, Beaded Inset Kitchen

Although stained cabinets are not currently as trendy as painted cabinets, stained cabinets are an excellent choice when you prefer a more natural look. Wood grained stained kitchen cabinets create an extremely warm, earthy feel to any home. 

With stains, you will have many choices to choose from in a variety of colors and hues. Most stains are water-based, which absorb quickly and deeply into the wood grain, delivering the deepest color enhancement of the wood. 

What are the Benefits of Stained Cabinets?

  • Creates a warm, attractive space with beautiful wood grains. Hardwoods such as Oak, Hickory, Walnut, Cherry, and Maple have a beautiful pronounced wood grain
  • Stained cabinets balance color and texture in any room 
  • Stains bring out the wood’s natural qualities. Depending on the color stain you choose, some colors will enhance the natural wood and texture of your cabinets. Just as painted cabinets, lighter stains create a more airy feel, where darker stains create more intimate space
  • Any cracks or “witness” lines that may develop over the cabinet’s lifetime will not be as apparent. Cracks will be more noticeable on lighter cabinets than darker ones. With a stained cabinet, there is more “activity” going on visually (with the different grain patterns), so these cracks tend to be less visible. They may very well be there, you just won’t notice them as much
  • Minimal touch-ups necessary
  • Considered to be very low maintenance since dirt and dust are not seen as easily as on a painted cabinet

What are the Cons of Stained Cabinets?

  • Dark stain hues show dust more easily
  • A stained surface allows every feature of the wood to show, ie. knots and the particular grain pattern. This may be good or bad depending on your taste. 
  • Matching stains can be tricky
  • While matching stains may be a bit tricky, many people choose to not match all the different woods in their home. You may choose lighter stained cabinets and have darker wood floors. This design element can make everything “pop” in your kitchen and create a beautiful contrast
staining kitchen cabinets
Dean Cabinetry Custom Stained Cabinets

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

For a perfect finish, attention to detail is imperative. Wrapping the product for safe travel to the project’s delivery location is vital, as well as careful and professional installation. Both painted and stained cabinetry must be handled with care, as to not scratch the wood grain or chip painted cabinet surfaces.

What is the Best Maintenance for Painted & Stained Cabinets?

You can clean your painted & stained cabinets as needed, using only warm water with a drop of mild dish soap. For more in depth info on how to best tackle cleaning your cabinets, visit How to Clean My Cabinets.

Can I Choose a Combination of Painted and Stained Kitchen Cabinetry? 

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 all things 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 painted, stained, or a combination of both, is the best direction for you. 

If clients determine that the majority of their cabinetry will be either painted or stained, they often will add a different finish somewhere in the kitchen. For instance, it is very common for the perimeter of a kitchen to have a painted finish, with the island in a complementary stain. This creates a beautiful contrast and the island becomes a gorgeous focal point. Another common design element is for all the cabinetry to be one finish, with open shelving and perhaps a bench seat in a contrasting finish. The options are endless, so be sure to share your interest in mixing finishes with your cabinet designer.

painted wood cabinets
Mixing painting kitchen cabinets with wood stained cabinets creates texture and a beautiful, modern feel

If you need additional help with choosing finishes for other areas of your kitchen ie. your wall paint, backsplash, flooring, etc. (or even other adjoining spaces) it’s always helpful to speak with an interior designer.  Although this will add cost to your project, a designer may help to turn your space into one that beautifully reflects your unique style.