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​ Complete Guide to Cabinet Finishes: What Products To Use and How To Get Great Results

​ Complete Guide to Cabinet Finishes: What Products To Use and How To Get Great Results

Pulling off an amazing kitchen or bathroom design means having great cabinets. Cabinetry is one of the biggest elements of the style of a kitchen. With different cabinet finishes, there are a wide range of possibilities to create a look that will be loved for years to come. How do you choose between them? Learn about the different options and benefits of each to create cabinets that are both functional and look great.

Choosing the Right Cabinet Finishes

Dark wood open space kitchen

To get started finding the best finish for your cabinet project, start by considering a few practical points about the project.

Design Style

Different finishes will work with different aesthetics, so you need to consider the overall theme of the kitchen or bathroom. It may not make sense to use a super-high gloss modern finish in a kitchen that has a traditional design. Think about the countertops, backsplash tiles, flooring and appliances that will be used in the space to make sure the cabinets add to the overall design rather than disrupt it.

Color Options

Colors also need to be weighed carefully when designing cabinets. If the plan calls for  painted cabinets, not all finishes will work as well. You will need to look for finishes that preserve the color for a long time so the cabinets won't need to be refinished too soon. Likewise, certain cabinet finishes work better if you plan to have a natural wood look. Some finishes even enhance the grain.


When you pick a  cabinet finish, keep in mind how well it should last depending on its location. Kitchens are the center of activity in most homes. These cabinets are going to be opened and closed repeatedly, exposed to heat, spilled on, scratched, scuffed and more. An active family can put a lot of wear and tear on cabinets, so the finish should be easy to maintain and clean on a regular basis.

For bathroom cabinets, keep in mind they will be in a very moist environment, so the finish should help them stand up to all the steam and water they will be exposed to. If the finish doesn't last long, the cabinets may not, either.

Refinishing vs Getting New Cabinets

Your choice of cabinet finishes will also be influenced by whether you are refinishing existing cabinets already installed in a kitchen or if you are ordering brand-new cabinets for the space. When you are refinishing, you may be more limited in your choices of finishes. This is because you have to find something compatible with the existing material.

Ordering new cabinets opens up more possibilities. You can get high-quality  laminate doors like the ones from that will come with the finish that you want. You could also get wood doors that are completely unfinished and create a custom treatment for your cabinets. By doing this, you can make sure that your cabinets are exactly what you want without compromise.

Cabinet Finishes for Wood Cabinets

Clear coat wood cabinet

Wood is one of the most common materials for cabinetry, so it makes sense that you have a lot of options for finishes. Each option lends a different feel to your design, so pick something that enhances the style you're going for.

Clear Coat

A classic option is to just use a  clear coat over unfinished wood cabinets. If you have cabinets made from a wood that you already think looks nice, this is a simple way to enhance that look. By using a clear finish on the wood, you can still appreciate the natural grain and color of the material. Try this with wood that has a lot of character, such as a pine or walnut.

Keep in mind that you will see all of the imperfections in the grain as well. You want high-quality, attractive-looking wood that can stand on its own. Also check that the pattern of the doors is relatively consistent throughout the kitchen or bathroom. You don't want a few doors that have tight grain and deep colors while others have a loose grain and big knots.

Take the time to find the right clear coat for the cabinets. Different types of wood absorb products differently, so get something that will be compatible with the type of wood you have. The clear coat also needs to be durable and long-lasting.

A top choice is Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish. It seals the wood, and you can choose satin or glossy finishes. Overall, you will need to choose between oil-based polyurethane, water-based polyurethane or acrylic formulas. Oil-based polyurethane is the most protective, while the other formulas are easier to apply and tend to dry more quickly.

You can also get your cabinet finishes applied to the cabinets when you order them. can send you your choice of wood cabinets in a  clear coat so all you have to do is install them.

Resist any ideas about leaving wood unfinished. You may get a more rustic look, but you will also shorten the lifespan of your cabinets and render them more difficult to keep clean. Wood needs to be sealed to last, so don't skip this step.


Wood cabinets can also be stained. Start with  unfinished wood cabinets and then choose a stain color. These usually come in natural wood tones so you can make the cabinets you have fit into the style of your space. For instance, darker cabinets usually work well in traditional design plans. You can use stains to make lighter woods darker to match the vision you have for the room.

With a stain, you get a new shade while still getting to enjoy the grain of the wood. You can even make the grain or knots of the wood stand out more with the right stain. A semi-transparent stain will leave a light finish that offers some protection to the cabinet, although you may still want to use a clear coat over it.

Staining existing cabinets requires extra work because you need to strip the cabinets before applying the new stain. This will involve removing the cabinets, sanding them down or using a chemical agent to remove old varnish or paint and then applying stain. Cabinets that have previously been stained may also end up a different color than you may have expected, so do a test if possible on an existing piece.

Painted Cabinet Finishes

White and green kitchen cabinets

For a completely different style, you can paint your cabinets. This will completely hide the grain of your wood cabinets, but it allows you to create an entirely custom look. Wood tones are limited even with stains. By painting your cabinets, you can get any color you want, from sky blue to jet black, while still protecting the cabinets.

Semi-Gloss Finishes

Paints come in different levels of reflectiveness, with  semi-gloss being the most popular for cabinets. It gives a look that is not too shiny but is also smooth enough to be easily cleaned. That's a big benefit in spaces that see a lot of messes such as kitchens and bathrooms. You want to be able to easily wipe down your surfaces without a lot of work.

Semi-gloss cabinet finishes also do a good job of enhancing color because of how reflective they are. With the right light, your paint will look even bolder in the space. When the room's design is meant to be striking, a semi-gloss finish on your cabinets can add to the impact of whatever color you pick.

Satin Finishes

Satin finishes are another great option for your cabinet paint. Satin paints are less smooth and shiny than semi-gloss, but they have a bit of reflectiveness to them. They are still easy to clean and very durable, so they are a solid choice for bathrooms and kitchens.

Note that you can't scrub satin finishes as much as you can a semi-gloss paint. Too much friction will affect the texture of the finish. Keep this in mind as you consider what kind of cleanup jobs these cabinets might require in the future.

Matte Finishes

Paints also come in matte finishes, which offer no reflectiveness or gloss. They feel a bit textured and are not smooth. Matte paint is good in many instances throughout a home because it can tone down bold colors and create a relaxing environment. For the kitchen or bathroom, however, matte cabinet finishes are less than ideal.

The texture of the finish makes it prone to getting dirty. Particles can find places to rest in the grooves of the paint and build up. This is especially a problem in a kitchen where oil may splatter on the cabinets. That same texture also means the cabinets are harder to clean. It may be best to use matte cabinets only in low-traffic areas in your home.


On the opposite end of the spectrum from matte finishes are high-gloss finishes. These paints are so reflective you can see yourself in them. They are very bold and work best in an extremely modern room with clean lines.

A high-gloss paint is easy to wipe down since it is so smooth. However, there is a big drawback to that shiny texture: Dirt and smudges show up very easily. Every fingerprint, drop of oil and sticky mess will immediately stand out on these glossy cabinets. It can be tough to keep them looking good consistently. This finish may be a strong choice for an accent in your room but not every cabinet.

Laminate Cabinet Finishes

Dark grey laminate kitchen cabinets

You can also choose  laminate cabinets. The advantage is that you can easily order the cabinets you want in the style and color you are looking for, and skip the hassle of staining and painting. Laminate is made to last, so you have minimal work to do aside from choosing your design. The laminate cabinets from come wrapped in durable thermofoil for the best results.

Combine Color and Finish

The beauty of getting laminate cabinets is that the coloring and finishing is done all at the factory. You can pick from satin, semi-gloss or high-gloss cabinet finishes, just like you would with a paint. The thermofoil material on the outside of the cabinet can be made with the level of reflectiveness that you prefer. By ordering this way, you can get a more custom look with your cabinetry.

Laminate doesn't just have to be in bold colors like paint. You can also order styles that look like wood. No matter what type of wood you want, you can probably get a laminate version that will come in a grain pattern and color you like without needing to add a stain. You also don't need to add a clear coat the way you would with wood cabinets, because the laminate is already sealed.

You can also get a wide variety of cabinet door styles.  Shakerflat panel, beadboard and more are all available in laminate options.

Improved Durability

Laminate cabinet finishes will improve the durability of your kitchen. The  material is strong so it is less likely to show dents, scratches and scuffs. The surface is easily cleaned and scrubbed without becoming damaged, making it great for busy areas that see a lot of use.

Easy Installation

Simplify your cabinet installation with laminate options. If you've ever been through a remodel that involved rehabbing cabinets, you know applying the finish and waiting for it to dry can be a big part of the process. You can tighten your schedule by using laminate cabinets that come colored and finished without any extra time lost on the job site. It's a faster way to a custom kitchen or bathroom.

Get the Cabinet Finishes You Need

Making sure the cabinets look great is an essential part of a successful renovation or building job. Choose the right cabinet finishes by evaluating what kind of conditions the cabinets will be exposed to and what kind of look the room should have so you can decide which finishes will work best. To see all your choices and get started on making the perfect cabinets, check out our selection of  finishes. If you are ready to start ordering and need assistance email us at or call us at 1-855-669-5222