When To Paint vs When To Replace Kitchen Cabinets (Telltale Signs!)

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Last updated on March 28th, 2023 at 09:46 pm

Painting Vs Replacing Kitchen Cabinets

Wondering when you can paint or when you should replace your kitchen cabinets? Well, look no further because I have your answer!

If kitchen cabinets have surface damage only (minor dents/scratches – no structural damage), are soundly made, contain no lead-based paint, and the cabinet style is liked, then the cabinets can be painted to extend their life. Otherwise, they need to be replaced.

Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s break into the details further so you can easily decide whether your cabinets are worth painting or replacing.

Let’s dive in!

Quick Navigation: Paint Vs Replace Kitchen Cabinets

  1. Are The Cabinets Thin/Poorly Made?
  2. Do The Cabinets Have Peeling Paint?
  3. Are The Cabinets Damaged and Can Be Repaired?
  4. Are The Cabinets Damaged and Cannot Be Repaired?
  5. Are The Cabinets Out Of Style?
  6. Other FAQs About Kitchen Cabinets
  7. Final Thoughts
  8. Related Kitchen Cabinet Articles

One: Are The Cabinets Thin/Poorly Made?

The first question to ask yourself is whether the cabinets are thin or poorly made.

Some kitchen cabinets are high quality and feel sturdy/heavy to the touch while others feel paper-thin and low quality. As with anything in life, high-quality items are worth saving while low-quality items typically require replacing.

Consider the use of the kitchen cabinets:

  • If the cabinets will be used in a rental or around children or pets and the cabinets/drawers feel paper thin, then it is worth replacing with a set of more quality cabinets that will last longer
  • If the cabinets are in your personal residence and you are okay with the quality of them, then it might be worth painting for now and replacing down the road if they ever do get damaged

Now, if you’re lucky and the cabinets are a high-quality wood, then painting them will help the cabinets last longer. Typically, you can’t buy as high-quality cabinets as they used to make anymore, so keep cabinets that are made of solid wood if you can.

Solid wood cabinets are more durable, can be repainted or restained, and are easier to repair than most modern laminate or low-quality grade wood cabinets.

Some really low-quality kitchen cabinets are made out of particle board/MDF wrapped in vinyl. Not only do these types of cabinets crack and damage easily, but the vinyl is extremely difficult to paint (especially if it is already peeling off).

One of my friends bought a house with these types of cabinets, and in the beginning, the cabinets looked great. But it took only three short years for the vinyl to start to peel off on most of the cabinet doors. And once the vinyl broke off, large chunks of the unprotected MDF broke off as well.

These types of cabinets are not worth painting. In most cases, your money and time will be put to much better use by purchasing new cabinets.

Before you paint any cabinets, compare the feel of your existing cabinets to the feel of a set of reasonably priced cabinets at your local hardware store. If the quality feel is similar, then that’s a good sign to paint them. However, if the new cabinets feel of higher quality, then that is a sign to replace them.

We replaced the cabinets in one of our rentals because they were not that great of quality.

Related Kitchen Cabinet Articles

Two: Do The Cabinets Have Peeling Paint?

The next question to ask yourself is whether the cabinets have peeling paint or not.

If the cabinet doors and drawers are in good shape (no surface or structural damage), but there is peeling paint, then you can strip the old paint off and repaint them.

You can strip the old paint either by using Citristrip Paint Stripper found at Amazon or by sanding off the paint. If your cabinets have any detailing, then using the paint stripper to remove the old paint will make this job much easier (albeit messier).

A word of caution: Older painted cabinets can have lead in them which can lead to health problems in children. It’s best to use one of these lead paint test strips found at Amazon before you do anything with the cabinets to confirm there is no lead-based paint on them (especially if the paint is peeling).

If the cabinets do contain lead-based paint then it’s best to replace the cabinets altogether to avoid any health risks and future problems with the sale of your home. Otherwise, no lead-based paint means it’s safe to remove the peeling paint and repaint the cabinets.

Three: Are The Cabinets Damaged and Can Be Repaired?

The next question to ask yourself is whether the cabinets are damaged and can be repaired.

Some of the areas where your cabinets might be damaged and you can attempt to repair include:

  • Dents, holes, scratches
  • Doors not closing all of the way or roughly closing
  • Sticking drawer glides
  • Broken shelves or shelf clips

Repairing Dents, Holes, Or Scratches In Kitchen Cabinets

Oftentimes, small dents and scratches can be filled with Bondo, sanded down, and painted over to look brand new. This repair looks best when your cabinets do not have any wood grain or texture because the Bondo will sand down and be smoother than the wood grain on the rest of the cabinets.

If your cabinets do have texture or wood grain, then you could do a skim coat of Bondo or joint compound over the entire cabinet doors and drawer faces. Then you can sand them to fill the dents and scratches and give the cabinets a smooth finish before painting.

Repairing Cabinet Doors Not Closing Completely Or Roughly Closing

If the cabinet doors are not closing completely or are roughly closing, then you might need to replace the hinges. Over time, the hinges can loosen and become misaligned, get gunked up, or simply lack the soft-close feature that helps cabinets last longer.

If the cabinet doors are just misaligned, it might be as simple as adjusting the screws on the hinges so that the door can open and close properly.

Or maybe the little pad in the corners that help the doors close softly are missing and need to be replaced. These Cabinet Door Bumpers found at Amazon can make a big difference in the way your cabinet doors close after you’ve painted.

If you really want to upgrade on a budget, then replacing the existing hinges with new soft-close hinges can be a great way to make your cabinets feel like you’ve installed brand-new ones for a fraction of the cost.

You can use these Soft-Close Hinges found at Amazon to help your cabinet doors close better.

Repairing Sticking Cabinet Drawer Glides

If the cabinet drawers are having a hard time sliding in and out, they might just need some lubricant. Older cabinets sometimes have wood drawer glides, that over time dry out and cause friction against the wood of the drawers.

This problem can simply be fixed by rubbing Beeswax found at Amazon on the wood drawer glides to let them slide back and forth easier again.

If you have metal glides that are sticking, then some WD-40 might work to loosen them up. Or maybe they need to be replaced altogether with some new drawer glides as well.

Repairing Broken Shelves Or Shelf Clips

Finally, if any of the shelves or shelf clips in your cabinets are broken or missing, they can easily be replaced before you paint.

You can purchase some lumber and cut the shelves to size yourself or find some pre-made shelves that fit your cabinets already.

Also, the little shelf clips are super cheap at Amazon and are so easy to replace if one gets broken or lost. (We’ve had to replace a ton of those little cabinet shelf clips at our rentals, so we always have a few of these on hand.)

Ultimately, if the door can be repaired and painted for less than the cost of a new door, then painting is a much more budget-friendly and environmentally-friendly option. However, if the repair and paint will cost more than a new door or if the repair looks like a bad patch job on the door, then replacing the door is a better option.

There was nothing wrong with these cabinets beside the handles that needed replaced and a few shelf clips/cabinet door bumpers needed to be installed (plus they needed a good wipe down) to give them a fresh look. These easily could have been painted a more modern color to really freshen them up.

Four: Are The Cabinets Damaged and Cannot Be Repaired?

The next question to ask yourself is whether the cabinets are damaged and cannot be repaired.

Some of the areas where your cabinets might be damaged and beyond repair include:

  • Structurally damaged from dents, holes, or burn marks
  • Broken doors, drawers, or frames (structural)

Structurally Damaged Cabinets From Dents, Holes, Or Burn Marks

Cabinets with any damage that prevent them from having any structural support (such as holes that make a significant portion of the door or drawer cave in) then your only option is to replace the ones that are broken (if not all of them).

This also includes any burn marks that a cabinet might have from being in or near a house fire. If the cabinet is burned and cannot be repaired, then it must be replaced.

Broken Cabinet Doors, Drawers, or Frames (Structural)

Additionally, if any part of the cabinet door, drawer, or frame is broken off or missing and it is causing the cabinet to be collapsing/not fully supported, then your best move is to replace it.

Ultimately, if the cabinets cannot be repaired or cannot be repaired for less money than new cabinets can be installed, then replacement is the only way to go.

We didn’t keep the cabinets during our home renovation because they were too small and impractical to store modern-day small appliances and cookware. Painting these and keeping them would have been a waste of time and money.

Five: Are The Cabinets Out Of Style?

The final question to ask yourself is whether the cabinets are in or out of style.

If you can’t stand the style of the cabinets (regardless of the color), then painting them won’t be worth it. In this case, replacing the cabinets will be your best option.

It was common in the 1970s to have flat, wood-colored cabinets such as these bright orange cabinets in one of our rentals. Some people add decorative trim to these cabinets to add dimension before painting them.

However, if you still dislike the look of flat-panel cabinets even with the faux detailing, then it is probably worth replacing the cabinets.

On the bright side, it is a relatively low cost to paint kitchen cabinets. So you can always try painting them and leaving them for a while until you decide if you want to replace them or not.

Alternatively, you can have the cabinet doors refaced for a fraction of the cost of new cabinets before you paint them to update their style.

I’m not a huge fan of the style of these cabinets, but they also could be painted to modernize them a bit.

Other FAQs About Kitchen Cabinets

Here are some other frequently asked questions about repairing kitchen cabinets to help you decide what’s best for your remodel.

Do You Paint Both Sides Of A Cabinet Door?

Both sides of cabinet doors should be painted because you will see the inside of the cabinet when you open the cabinet doors. The inside of the cabinet and the shelves only need to be painted if they need a fresh coat of paint to feel clean.

Can You Add Soft-Close Hinges To Old Cabinets?

Old hinges in old cabinets can be replaced with new, modern soft-close hinges to update the functionality of the old cabinet doors. The old hinge holes will likely need to be filled with Bondo and painted over to hide them if they aren’t covered by the new hinges.

How Do You Fix Wood Drawer Glides That Are Sticking?

Wood drawer glides that are sticking can be repaired by rubbing beeswax on them. The beeswax will let the wood drawer slide easily over the wooden drawer glide again.

Final Thoughts On Painting Kitchen Cabinets

There you have it!

One final note I want to leave you with is that kitchen cabinets can be moved to a different location and reinstalled if you are careful while taking them down. Doing this first, then painting the cabinets can save you thousands of dollars if the cabinets are in good shape.

Ultimately, you have to weigh out the time and effort it would take to paint the cabinets compared to replacing them with new ones.

Hopefully, this guide helps make your decision to paint or replace your kitchen cabinets much more simple.

Catch you in my next post!

The Best Kitchen Tools & Products I’ve Reviewed

Ravinte Cabinet Handle Installation Template (For Doors & Drawers)

This is my all-time favorite handle installation template because it has two templates (one for drawers and one for doors) with multiple pull sizes & knob placements! These templates make installing cabinet handles a breeze because you always know your handles will be installed in the same spot on all of your drawers and doors. The kit also comes with a drill bit so you can guarantee you’re using the correct size. I used this template on my entire kitchen and both bathrooms to cut the installation time in half. You can find this hardware template here on Amazon.

Franklin Brass 5-1/16 Inch (128mm) Center Bar Pull (Stainless Steel)

If you want to immediately modernize your kitchen island, then these cabinet pulls are a must. They are heavy-duty feeling, durable, easy to install, and are a large size for a great price. We put these pulls on all of our kitchen and island doors and drawers along with our bathroom doors and drawers. You can find these gorgeous cabinet pulls here on Amazon.

P.S. Use the hardware installation template I mentioned above to install these new pulls in record time!

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When To Paint vs When To Replace Kitchen Cabinets (Telltale Signs!)

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