Painted vs. Stained Cabinets: Comparing the Benefits

Stained vs. Painted Cabinets
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Choosing between stained and painted cabinets depends on the look you want. Stained cabinets bring out the wood’s natural grain, while painted cabinets offer a smooth, even look.

The material of the cabinets also matters. Wood cabinets are good for staining because they absorb the stain and show the wood grain. Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) cabinets are often better for painting because they don’t absorb stain well and don’t have a natural wood grain pattern.

Current Trends in Kitchen Cabinets: Painted & Stained Cabinets

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If you’re wondering what’s currently in style for kitchen cabinets, you should know that painted cabinets are trendy right now. About 75% of all cabinets today are painted. The most common colors are white and off-white, but gray cabinets are also rising. 

Recently, we’ve even seen an increase in green cabinets. This is a significant shift from just a few years ago when 75% of cabinets were stained instead of painted.

The trend toward painted cabinets is driven mainly by the growing preference for all-white kitchens, which offer a clean, timeless look. Another factor is that the cost of painted cabinets has become more affordable, making this option increasingly accessible for homeowners.

Cost

The type of wood you choose can influence the overall cost of your cabinetry. Maple and birch are popular choices that can be either painted or stained.

These types of wood are favored for painting because they show less grain than wood like oak or walnut. This results in a smoother appearance highlighting the paint color rather than the wood grain.

Staining usually costs less than painting. Standard paint jobs often come with a 15% price increase, and custom paint can raise the cost by up to 20%. Painting requires more steps, adding to the expense. A high-quality painted cabinet will have two primer coats that match the paint color, two paint coats, and a final protective top coat.

stained cabinet 01

In contrast, staining typically involves two stain coats and a final layer of oil-based polyurethane. The painting method can also impact both the price and the quality of the finished product. Cabinets that are hung and sprayed manually are more likely to show imperfections.

For the best results, cabinets should be laid flat during the painting process, which helps prevent streaks and offers a cleaner finish. Additional things to think about include the specific kinds of cabinets you want in your kitchen. The more your designer knows about your daily kitchen use, the better they can advise you on various details.

It’s also worth noting that not all cabinet companies excel at painted cabinets. Consult with your designer to confirm that the cabinet company you’re considering has a solid reputation.

Style

Think about the overall appearance you want for your kitchen. Painted cabinets provide a modern, clean look with a smooth, unblemished finish. White cabinets are the most commonly chosen color. Opting for painted cabinets gives you a wide range of color choices, unlike stained cabinets. Paint is denser than stain and adheres well to wood, covering up knots and grains. This puts the focus on the color rather than the wood texture.

Stained cabinets, however, are ideal if you appreciate the natural look of wood grains and knots. Stain is less dense than paint, so it penetrates the wood, adding color while keeping the natural textures visible.

Remember also to consider the type of flooring, countertops, and backsplash tiles in your kitchen. Choose cabinets that complement these elements. Collaborating with a designer can help ensure your kitchen has a unified and appealing look.

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Maintenance

Both painted and stained cabinets are relatively easy to maintain. However, stained cabinets are better at concealing everyday wear and tear, like scratches. Both types can be touched up to fix minor damage. For stained cabinets, a simple stain pen often works. In contrast, painted cabinets may require a more involved process, especially if the color has been discontinued. It’s a good idea to keep some extra paint for such situations.

Stained Cabinets

For daily cleaning, a damp cloth usually suffices. However, it’s crucial to wipe up spills right away to prevent any liquid from penetrating and causing harm. If the cabinets are well-sealed, they’ll need little ongoing care. Just keep an eye on the sealant and fix any chips as soon as you notice them.

Painted Cabinets

Cleaning painted cabinets requires more care to avoid damaging the paint. A damp microfiber cloth is usually enough to clean up spills. Stick to soft cloths to avoid scratching the paint and clean in small, circular motions. If the paint gets scratched or damaged, you’ll typically need to sand the affected area and repaint it.

Stained vs. Painted Cabinets What's the Best Option for You

Durability

Both painted and stained cabinets are durable, but they can be affected by long-term exposure to sunlight, which can cause the color to fade. When it comes to material, wood and MDF cabinets are similarly durable, but MDF is more resistant to moisture.

Stained Cabinets

Stained cabinets are less likely to show wear and tear because the stain penetrates the wood, reducing the risk of chipping or flaking. However, if exposed to high humidity levels, stained wood cabinets can warp over time.

Painted Cabinets

Cabinets painted on MDF material are less likely to crack or change shape, especially in humid conditions. However, painted surfaces are more prone to visible dings, scratches, and chips. Additionally, paint can be damaged by excessive moisture.

Lifespan

The lifespan of stained and painted cabinets varies due to their different levels of durability. Stained cabinets generally last longer because the wood absorbs the stain, maintaining their appearance over time. On the other hand, painted cabinets may show signs of wear, such as fading or flaking, indicating it might be time for a refresh.

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Stained Cabinets

If well-sealed, stained cabinets can last between 20 to 30 years. They may need some touch-ups for everyday use, but the color should remain stable without significant fading. One downside is that stained cabinets can go out of fashion over time.

Painted Cabinets

The lifespan of painted cabinets is usually around 10 years. Over time, the paint can fade, chip, or even crack. Scratches and dings are also more visible on painted cabinets. When it comes to maintenance, painted cabinets require more effort because they usually have multiple coats of paint, making touch-ups more involved than stained cabinets.

Environmental Impact

Both stained and painted cabinets come with environmental considerations, though there are more eco-friendly options for each. Both traditional wood stains and paints can contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, and some can even be carcinogenic.

Stained Cabinets

Traditional wood stains can be harmful when applied but generally become non-toxic after about 30 days. Water-based stains are a less toxic option but still need time to cure and become non-toxic. If you’re staining cabinets, do it in a space with good ventilation and wear an appropriate mask. Also, be cautious with how you store and dispose of used rags, as they can be a fire hazard due to the risk of spontaneous combustion.

Painted Cabinets

Paint also contains VOCs, which decrease as the paint dries. Standard matte or flat paints typically contain about 250 grams per liter of VOCs, while glossy paints can contain up to 380 grams per liter. However, there are low- or no-VOC paints available. To be considered no-VOC, the paint should contain 5 grams per liter or less, and for low-VOC, it should contain 50 grams per liter or less.

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Which is the Better Choice for Your Home?

The choice between stained and painted cabinets depends on your taste and the existing style of your home. Painted cabinets offer more design options, while stained cabinets are often more durable and easier to maintain.

Kitchen

Kitchens are busy areas, and the type of cabinets you choose can affect how well they hold up. Stained cabinets are generally better at hiding wear and tear, making them a good choice if you have young children. They also tend to last longer and are easier to clean.

On the other hand, painted cabinets can give your kitchen a fresh, modern look. They are often less expensive, especially if you opt for MDF rather than solid wood. Painted cabinets also offer more design flexibility, allowing you to match them with the rest of your kitchen decor easily.

Bathroom

Stained cabinets can be problematic in bathrooms due to the high levels of moisture and humidity. Painted cabinets, particularly those in lighter shades, can brighten the space and are less likely to be affected by moisture.

Living Room

In the living room, cabinets can serve as a significant design element. While painted cabinets are currently more popular, stained cabinets can also look great if they fit with the rest of your decor. Painted cabinets offer versatility, making it easier to change the room’s look in the future.

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