Painted vs Stained Kitchen Cabinets: Which Is Right for You?

So Much Beauty, So Little Time

When it comes to remodelling your kitchen, a lot of tough decisions come up:

“Should I go for the ceramic tile or the stone tile?”

“How big of a countertop do I need?”

“Is it better to stain or paint kitchen cabinets?”

Painted vs. Stained Kitchen Cabinets: Which Is Right for You?

That last one stirs a lot of debate among homeowners, and people tend to choose one camp over the other. Which should you choose? It all comes down to your budget and the look you’re aiming for.

Let’s run through some considerations to help you decide.

The Overall Look

This is the primary thing most homeowners consider when picking between staining and painting. Both can produce fantastic results in their own right.

Paint is generally thicker than stain and doesn’t get absorbed by the wood as much. This results in a smoother and cleaner look. You also have more colour choices when it comes to painting. Bright pink, cool teal, even electric orange – all these exotic colours are possible with paint.

Painting is perfect if you prefer bright colours and an immaculate finish. It generally goes well with kitchens aiming for a sleek, modern look.

Can you paint over stained wood cabinets? No problem! If it’s a dark stain, you might need a sturdier primer, but you can cover just about anything with the right paint.

Stain is thinner and generally absorbs better. This makes the bumpy, grainy surface of wood appear much more prominent in the finish. While some might disdain it as blemishes, it does exude a certain kind of charm. It gives your cabinets much more of a natural character that paint might cover-up.

With stain, you don’t get as many colour options, and even if you did, the result might not be as you imagined. Still, staining is a good fit for rustic style kitchens where a natural wood look is desired.

Can you re-stain cabinets a different colour? If you’re going darker, you’ll have no problem, but it will take a lot of sanding if you want them to be lighter.


No matter how careful you are with your cabinets, wear and tear will eventually have an effect. How easy it will be to retouch the finish should be an essential consideration.

Paint is generally harder to retouch. Most paint is applied using a spray method that’s hard to replicate at home. If you attempted to paint it using a brush, the result might not look as smooth—and because it is smooth, even the slightest imperfection will be instantly noticeable.

Stain, by comparison, is a breeze to touch up. This is, in part, thanks to the many touch-up markers you can easily buy at hardware stores. Also, the uneven, grainy look of stained wood is on your side here. Even sloppily retouched areas will blend well into the wood’s overall look.


The last consideration is, of course, how much it costs.

The downside of paint’s cleaner look is that it’s generally more expensive. All things being equal, a paint finish will cost around 10 to 15 percent more than stained finish cabinets.

Stain is comparatively cheaper. More so considering you don’t usually need thick coats of it. This makes it perfect for homeowners on a budget.

Final Thoughts

In the great painted vs. stained cabinets debate, there’s no winner. The fact is that both are perfectly fine, and each has its own advantages and shortcomings.