Here’s the scoop on the perks and pitfalls of Painting vs. Stained Cabinets
Pro: Paint Offers a Clean Aesthetic
Not all roads lead to a crisp kitchen design, but painted cabinetry is one that does. The classic all-white kitchen, for example, wouldn’t be what it is without gleaming white cabinets. However, all paint colors — whites and creams to grays and blues — bring a sleek, clean finish to the table. Paint is perfect for homeowners who aren’t a fan of the character marks common to stained wood cabinets and instead prefer a smooth, flawless finish.
Paint sticks to the surface of wood, so it doesn’t get lost in the mix of grains and knots the way a stain does. As a result, paint showcases whichever hue you select and gives you more opportunity to customize the look of your kitchen.
Pro: Paint Applies Better to MDF
Choosing medium-density fiberboard (think particle or furniture board) is an effective way to cut cabinet costs. The material also takes paint well. Whether it’s a gray, white or cream color, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between these materials and real wood when they’re painted.
Con: Paint Hides Character Features
Paint is thicker than stain, so it doesn’t get absorbed by wood the way stain does. If you want to see grains and knots in plain sight, you probably shouldn’t go with painted cabinets. Though you’ll still see the grain imprints in woods like oak and hickory, they’ll mostly be hidden behind whichever coat of paint you choose.
Con: Paint Tends to Cost More
Painted cabinets aren’t exactly budget-friendly. They can be, but if you’re comparing them with stained cabinets, you’ll find that they often carry a steeper price tag. How much higher? The answer ultimately depends on who’s making the cabinets and where you’re buying them from, but typically they cost about 10% to 15% more. That’s hundreds or thousands of extra dollars you’re forking over, depending on the size of your kitchen.
Pro: Stain Showcases More Wood Features
Stain strikes a good balance between color and texture. This is a definitive plus for many homeowners. Unlike paint, stain doesn’t steal the spotlight from your wood’s natural character. Since it’s thinner than paint, it seeps into the surface, which can enhance the natural beauty of your wood.
Pro: Stain Usually Costs Less
Cost ultimately hinges on several factors, like kitchen size, cabinet construction, manufacturer and so forth. But stain tends to keep costs on the lower side, a huge benefit if you’re flipping a house, remodeling a rental unit or simply don’t want to spend a fortune on kitchen cabinets. It generally costs less than paint, though customized options will be more expensive.
Con: Stain Shows Nearly All of Wood’s Blemishes
Some say blemishes; others say character. Again, some homeowners see this as nothing but a good thing. On the flip side, many don’t want to see wood’s imperfections, such as uneven grain distributions and color inconsistencies. Stains take a back seat to the wood they’re applied to, which allows every distinct feature to show — for better or worse.
Con: Stain Doesn’t Look as Good on MDF
Medium-density fiberboard can offer huge savings on cabinets, but it simply doesn’t take stain as well as it takes paint. Whereas paint rarely looks different on MDF exteriors, stains do. It isn’t as authentic of a look as, say, the hickory cabinetry pictured here. You’ll have to seek other ways to lower your cabinet cost if you’re set on stained cabinetry.
Con: Dark Stains and Paints Don’t Hide Dust Well
This is a negative for both dark stains and dark paints. While lighter cabinets can chip and stain more easily, they do a good job at hiding dust. Darker stains and paints, not so much. Dust particles stand out more on dark cabinet surfaces, which can require more upkeep.