painted vs stained cabinets

Painted vs. Stained Cabinets: Which Style Is Best for You?

Upgrading your cabinets’ appearance is a fantastic way to improve your kitchen’s aesthetic. If you have natural wood cabinets, you might wonder if painting or staining them is the best way to alter their color and appearance. Surprisingly, deciding between painted vs. stained cabinets isn’t always easy.

At Southern Oak Home Renovations, we specialize in custom cabinetry and home renovations in Atlanta, GA. Below, we discuss the differences between stained and painted cabinets to help you determine which option best suits your home, lifestyle, and budget.

The Difference Between Stained and Painted Cabinets Trends 

Stained wood cabinets work well in homes with a traditional, classic kitchen design. Yet, many modern designers prefer the versatility of painted cabinetry. Most newer homes without natural wood cabinets today have medium-density fiberboard cabinets in bathrooms and kitchens, making MDF-painted cabinets a common design element.

Why Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets May Suit Your Lifestyle

Homeowners have many reasons for wanting to remodel kitchens. Painted cabinets are an excellent way to enhance kitchens due to the countless color options. Using color, you can create a bold statement, give your kitchen a neutral aesthetic, or make the space feel brighter and bigger.

Painted cabinets are suitable for any kitchen interior design including contemporary and minimalist designs. Paint also works better at hiding the fact that MDF cabinets lack a natural wood grain. 

Other benefits of painted kitchen cabinets include:

  • Quick Applications: Painting cabinets doesn’t take long so homeowners can do it over a weekend.
  • Clean Visuals: It doesn’t matter what color you paint your cabinets. A carefully selected color that perfectly complements your kitchen’s design and a good paint application will ensure that your cabinets have a clean finish that works well with the entire room. 
  • Versatility: The color options for paint are limitless. You can easily find options to bring your vision of the perfect kitchen aesthetic closer to reality.

Downsides to Painted Cabinets

Despite the benefits of painting your cabinets, the practice has disadvantages. First, painted cabinets usually need touch-ups to retain their beauty and color. Yet, repairing scratches and peeling can be difficult if you don’t have extra paint in the same color. 

Paint also isn’t the best option if you have natural wood cabinets and want the unique wood grain to be one of their standout features. The paint’s viscosity makes it hard for the cabinet material’s fine details and characteristics to stand out. You must be sure you want your cabinets to have a specific color and not their unique characteristics since the paint will cover everything. 

Best Paint Options for Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchens are among a house’s most used rooms, and they can be humid due to cooking and meal preparation. If you prefer painted cabinets vs. stained cabinets, it’s best to choose an oil-based paint brand. You can also choose a water-based paint that’s water-resistant with acrylic enamel for extra durability and a longer lifespan.

Reasons To Choose Stained Cabinets for Your Kitchen

Like paint, wood stains can alter the color of wood surfaces including cabinets. Yet, stains enhance natural wood colors instead of covering them with bold, bright, or neutral hues. Stains lack the viscosity of paints, making them transparent enough for the wood species’ characteristics to shine through despite the overall color change.

Many homeowners in Atlanta enjoy the appearance of natural wood texture. Stains bring out wood grain, stripes, and knots, which can add to the overall visual appeal of kitchen cabinets. 

Wood stains are also easy to touch up. If you accidentally scratch or ding your cabinets, you can quickly apply a stain to the affected surfaces without worrying about perfectly matching the cabinet’s original wood stain color. With stains, imperfections can add a sense of charm to items. 

Staining cabinets are also more cost-effective than painting them, especially if you have wood veneer or solid wood cabinets. Unfortunately, engineered wood stained cabinets tend to be more expensive. 

Applying wood stain to your cabinets to upgrade them has several downsides you should consider including:

  • Material Incompatibility: Stains are best for solid wood and wood veneers, not MDF cabinets.
  • Higher Maintenance Requirements: If you choose a darker stain, know that dust and dirt are more likely to be visible on your cabinets, so you’ll need to clean them often. 
  • Greater Visibility of Damage: Sometimes paint can hide damage to cabinet surfaces, but a stain will highlight it.

Top Contributing Factors for Deciding Between Painted vs. Stained Cabinets

Consider the following factors before picking a side in the painted vs. stained cabinets discussion. 


Painted and stained cabinets both have some level of durability, but not in the same way. For instance, painted cabinets have more damage resistance due to the thickness of the paint layers. Yet, stained cabinets are better at hiding damage due to the natural finish and texture of the wood.

The durability of painted cabinets will suffer in homes with high humidity or heat. Wood constantly expands and contracts, which can damage the paint by causing it to crack, bubble, or peel.


If maintenance is a driving factor for the type of cabinet upgrade you choose, it’s worth noting that both painted and stained cabinets need some upkeep. Light-colored painted cabinets can show smudges and dirt, whereas dark stains make dirty cabinet surfaces more noticeable. 

It is easier to keep stained cabinets looking their best. Besides cleaning them regularly, you can use touch-up markers to color in unsightly scratches and dings without too much worry about color matching.

Painted cabinets don’t have the same luxury. Even if you get a paint touch-up kit from a manufacturer, there’s no guarantee that the color will match the cabinet’s original color and finish flawlessly.

Style Preferences

Before attempting to improve or update your kitchen cabinets, consider how you want your entire kitchen to look. Your cabinets are one of the room’s primary focal points. Any changes you make to them should complement your style preferences for the whole room to ensure you achieve a cohesive design. 

If your preferences lean toward a cool, sleek, clean aesthetic, paint may be the ideal option for your cabinets. Since paint sticks to wood surfaces well, it can cover the material’s texture and fine details, allowing the color and flawless finish of the paint to help you get the interior design you want.

On the other hand, stained cabinets are great if you have a classic style. The uniqueness of different natural wood species complements that aesthetic well.


Stained cabinets tend to be more expensive than the painted varieties, not because of the stains but due to the cabinets themselves. Manufacturers use different wood species to make cabinets. While birch and maple wood cabinets are relatively cost-effective, cherry and mahogany are substantially more expensive. 

If you use a high-quality wood species for your kitchen cabinets, why cover their natural beauty with thick paint? It makes more sense to stain the cabinets and showcase the wood. Yet, painting will be a less expensive option if your cabinets consist of a cheaper wood species or MDF particle board.

Reach Out To Southern Oak Home Renovation for Your Kitchen Cabinetry Upgrades

Whether you want to know how long a kitchen remodel takes or need more information regarding painted vs. stained cabinets, we at Southern Oak Home Renovation are glad to help. Our crew has more than 20 years of experience providing superior home renovation services throughout Atlanta, Georgia.

Our professionals do everything from kitchen remodeling to cabinet refacing and custom cabinetry construction. We specialize in unparalleled craftsmanship and personalized designs, so call (404) 806-4712 for a consultation. Learn more now.

Eric French

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