You know your kitchen is due for a cabinet overhaul, but you’re stuck on deciding between a stained or a painted finish.
Sound like you? Not for long!
At Deslaurier, we understand that your finish selection is a reflection of your budget, aesthetic preferences, and lifestyle needs. That’s why we’re unveiling an objective, side-by-side comparison of painted and stained cabinets.
This article lays out the good, the bad, and the ugly of paints and stains. Specifically, we'll assess the look, cost, and maintenance requirements of each finish.
Whether you’re replacing or refacing, this read will make you an expert on all things cabinet finishes!
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The Debate to Paint or Stain Kitchen Cabinets
Your cabinetry finish is the equivalent of stage lighting for your kitchen. It sets the tone of the space. Likely, your countertops, flooring, and all other design accents will be planned around your cabinet finish.
It’s a pivotal design choice. Hence, the stain vs. paint debate is always ongoing in the world of kitchen renovations!
Without further ado, let’s analyze the arguments on both sides.
Stained vs. Painted Cabinets: The Look
The primary consideration for homeowners when designing their kitchen is, not surprisingly, the overall look of the room.
Let’s go over the key differences between the look of stain vs. paint.
The biggest aesthetic indicator of stained cabinetry is that the wood’s natural grain pattern and texture remains visible. Stains seep into the cabinet door surface and provide a translucent finish. As a result, the knots and grains of the wood species stay prominently on display.
Granted, a very dark stain will diminish a wood’s grain, but not completely.
This can be both a pro or a con depending on your visual goal.
Some people love the unique quality of grain patterns. Others dislike the non-uniform aesthetic.
Do you want to highlight the natural character marks of your cabinet’s wood species? Do you appreciate that all wood is unique and grain patterns vary? If so, a stained finish might be the look for you.
In 2021, displaying natural wood in the kitchen was a popular choice amongst homeowners. Wood exudes a warmth and adds an earthy, organic element to the home. Check out the Learning Centre’s overview of the top kitchen cabinet colour trends of 2022 to read more about the ongoing shift towards natural wood.
You can find stains in many different colours, however, stain colours won’t be nearly as bold and bright as their cousins in the paint family.
At Deslaurier, we have a standard selection of over 40 different stains, ranging from natural clear stains to browns, greys, and blacks. If none of the standard selections tickle your fancy, you also have the option to custom match a colour of your choice.
Even with such a wide selection, stains have colour limitations. If you ever see a picture of a bright white kitchen like the one below, the cabinets are almost guaranteed to be painted (or otherwise made from an alternative finish or material like thermofoil or laminate). Stains can't quite achieve the same level of brightness of paint.
Check out more pictures of this Whimsical White painted kitchen in our showcase!
Unlike stains, solid paints adhere to the top of wood or MDF surfaces, creating an opaque, uniform finish. If you paint your cabinets, there’s not much point in selecting a species for its grain pattern, as it won’t show through the paint. Typically, birch and MDF are recommended as paint-grade wood.
Paint colours tend to be more vibrant than stains, and so they’re the logical choice for homeowners wanting to build a colourful room. With paint, all colours, like blue, white, and even custom colours, are possible.
Please note that paint and stain colours diminish with exposure to sunlight. Regardless of your finish choice, your cabinet's colour may fade slightly over time.
Stained vs. Painted Cabinets: The Cost
Let’s talk dollars. How much should you expect stained and painted cabinets to cost?
Painted cabinets typically cost more than stained cabinets. How much more? It depends on the colour, but you can expect painted cabinets to cost roughly 10-15% more than stained cabinets.
You can attribute the bump in price to the extra labour involved in painting cabinets. There are only three steps involved in the staining process, namely, applying a stain, a sealer, and a top coat. Comparatively, painting a cabinet is an 8-step process, requiring multiple coats of primer, base paint, paint, and top coats.
However, the fact that paint costs more than stain does not automatically mean all painted cabinets are more expensive than stained cabinets. The finish is merely one of many cost contributors to your cabinetry’s total cost.
Let’s use MDF cabinet doors to illustrate an example.
MDF (medium-density fibreboard) is an engineered wood panel product without a natural grain. Paint thrives on MDF’s smooth, blemish-free surface and most pros in the industry recommend MDF as a cost-effective match for paint.
Pairing MDF doors with a pricey custom paint may still end up being cheaper than matching more costly walnut doors with a standard stain. In this example, the price of the wood species overshadows the price of the finish.
Paint is only more expensive than stain when compared as stand-alone products, but when it comes to cabinetry, there are always other variables (ie. material and door style) to consider.
Stained vs. Painted Cabinets: The Maintenance
Caring for Cabinets Through Wear and Tear
Down the road, which cabinet finish will demand more of your time in maintenance?
It depends on how well you care for and maintain your kitchen, but all things being equal...
Stained doors get away with a lot more use and abuse than painted doors because their visible wood grain makes for an extremely forgiving surface. Grime, divots, and other forms of unsightly damage camouflage within the busy wood veining of stained cabinets— a feature that painted cabinets don’t have.
What’s more, stains penetrate directly into the cabinet door surface. That means that sometimes you can dent a stained cabinet and the stain will stay in tact. In contrast, a dent on a painted door will probably lift the coat of paint and expose the natural wood underneath.
Hairline fractures in 5-piece door styles are another aspect of cabinet wear and tear to have on your radar.
First off, what is a hairline fracture?
In a 5-piece door design, one centre panel is built within a frame of two stiles and two rails. These individual pieces of wood (or MDF) naturally expand and contract with temperature and humidity changes.
The movement of the pieces can cause paint and stain finishes to crack, particularly at the door joints.
Of note, as an all-natural product, wood is more susceptible to "breathing" than MDF. Below is a photo of a painted maple door showing hairline fractures:
These cracks are more obvious to the eye on painted cabinets than stained cabinets.
Of course, that's not an open invitation to neglect stained cabinets! Stained doors can chip and show hairline fractures too, but they generally hide the resulting damage better than their painted counterparts.
You can also prevent hairline cracks by selecting a 1-piece cabinet door style, which don't have joints where the rails and stiles meet.
As we saw with cabinet costs, the wear and tear that your cabinets show isn’t only a question of paint vs. stain.
In summary, paints don’t contend as well as stains against regular wear and tear. That being said, the durability of the underlying cabinet material and your cabinet’s door style also play a role in the long-term appearance of your cabinets.
Hot tip: If you love the bold and vibrant colours of paint over stain, but don’t want to deal with a ton of care and maintenance, thermofoil may be a great substitute. Thermofoil is a vinyl colour coating that is easy to clean and boast an extensive colour palette.
By the way, Deslaurier (along with many other cabinet manufacturers), offers its clients a complimentary touch-up kit upon cabinet installation. These handy kits include a small portion of your cabinet's stain or paint colour. That way, when accidents happen and your cabinets get banged up, you'll be able to cover up the imperfection with a precise colour match.
Should I Paint or Stain my Kitchen Cabinets?
Whether you stain or paint your cabinets is up to your discretion. There's no clear-cut winner, here. To decide on your preferred finish, weigh how much value you place on look, cost, and maintenance in your dream kitchen.
|Stained Cabinets||Painted Cabinets|
|Look||Translucent with muted colour. Highlights wood grain and texture.||Opaque and smooth with bold and vibrant colour.|
|Cost||A standard, affordable option.||Generally costs 10-15% more than stains.|
|Maintenance||A durable finish. Stands up to wear and tear and hides damage well.||Requires more care. Prone to chipping, peeling, and cracking. Shows damage.|
Deslaurier Custom Cabinets
Deslaurier Custom Cabinets is a longstanding leader in the field. We carry countless options for both stains and paints—your picture-perfect product is sure to be among them.
We've heavily invested in our environmentally-friendly finishing processes, materials, and equipment. As a result, we're pleased to offer some of the most even, durable, and long-lasting finishes available.
Our over-arching mission is to craft personalized kitchens of quality and function. To help you get started, we’re pleased to offer an initial consultation with a professional designer in Ottawa or Renfrew obligation-free! With access to one of the most extensive product catalogues on the market, and over 60 years of combined experience, our design team is ready to impress.