How to Restore Old Cabinets to Top Condition

Old cabinets? We can help. Use our tips to restore old cabinets to look like new

The best tips on restoring old cabinets

If your kitchen cabinets are looking a little worse for wear, you can restore them to their former glory — or give them new life altogether! Cabinets are some of the easiest and most versatile kitchen features to work your DIY magic on, because it's very rare that you'll need to replace an entire cabinet, guts and all. Most of the time, you can restore or improve a cabinet with just a few DIY tricks, rather than blowing your entire redecoration budget on one room. Depending on your budget, decor, and color palette, you can elevate your kitchen with just a few hours' work.

Add a pop of color with paint or wood stain

If your cabinets look worn out but can still be used with no issues, they may only need a fresh coat of paint to shine. Be sure to choose the best paint for cabinets you can find. Whether you plan on painting or staining the wood, you should still clean your cabinets with a heavy-duty cleaner like Borax or trisodium phosphate. If your cabinets were previously painted, you may need to apply paint remover, stripper, or bleach to get back to the wood base. When you're happy with the base color, gently sand the wood to remove old stains, chips, and other surface flaws. Wipe the surface clean with a cloth, then apply your paint or stain. Finish with paint sealer or wood varnish for a glossy finish!

Upgrade the wood or laminate

If your cabinet doors or hinges are broken, damaged, or just not looking good, you can replace the wood or laminate covering without needing to shell out for an entire new cabinet. Modern wood looks like ebony, cherry, and mahogany can spice up a kitchen with very little effort. Laminate substitutes can do the same, at an even lower price tag! To replace the doors, unscrew the cabinet doors at the hinges and sand down the shelf face until it lies flat. If your chosen new doors have built-in hinges, or the old ones need to be replaced, you can remove those too and use the same screw holes to hold the new hinges and doors. Now, you've got the look of brand-new kitchen cabinets, but the old bones keeping your costs low.

Replace wood doors with glass

This modern look can be achieved with only a few hours' DIY work. Transparent glass lets the color of your dishes and collectible coffee mugs shine through, while stained, misty, opaque, or patterned glass adds a new layer of sophistication to your kitchen. You can purchase pre-made glass doors at most hardware stores, or build your own if you're feeling crafty. Then, simply remove the old doors and hinges and replace with the new ones.

Add texture

Like the food you prepare in your kitchen, your decor can always benefit from a little added texture. Small features can make a huge impact, like a unique textured doorknob, fabric shelf liners, or patterned wallpaper. If you're looking for a more in-depth project, consider adding a trim to all of your kitchen cabinets — when combined with a unique kitchen backsplash, this can make old cabinets shine.

Install storage or other modern features

This is especially useful for smaller kitchens where cabinet space comes at a premium. You can transform an old, badly-designed cabinet into something that perfectly suits your routine and your flatware. Add handy storage features like a slide-out shelf with built-in racks to hold pots and lids. Turn an awkward corner cabinet into a handy spice rack with a rotating inner shelf. Or add little additions like an inner-door trash bag holder, or an outside towel rack. The options are endless!

Hide the hinges

Before modern cabinet designs became all the rage, kitchen cabinets tended to have large, chunky hinges that took up a significant amount of door space. You can give your cabinets a polished, modern look by moving the hinges inside the doors instead of on the sides. This offers your kitchen a seamless, flat cabinet front. As an added benefit, your cabinet doors will be much easier — and quieter — to open and close!

Install under-cabinet lighting

What brightens up a kitchen better than a light? This trick works well in conjunction with the others. Simple strip lights can be mounted or glued underneath cabinets to brighten up your chopping space. If you favor a more Bohemian look, consider adding permanent string lights or lanterns that hang down, so long as you have enough counter space.

Resources—This Old House, Home Depot, Habitat for Humanity