by Kitchen Cabinet Depot • July 13, 2020
If you are considering giving your kitchen cabinets a new look or have purchased unfinished kitchen cabinets, then staining the wood is a realistic option. If you're not satisfied with a wood hue, you can either stain or bleach it. Stain colors wood while bleach lightens it. Except for certain varnish or sealer types. Stains and bleaches do not protect the surface. For that, you need a coat of shellac, varnish, lacquer, or polyurethane.
When you select a stain for your kitchen cabinets or bathroom cabinets, make sure that it's compatible with the finish you'll be applying. Lacquer and some polyurethane react adversely to the pigments in some stains. Don't let showroom samples determine your final color choice. They give only a general idea of the end result. Most dealers offer small samplers so you can make tests. Note, too, if the manufacturer recommends sealing the grain before or after you stain it.
Most stains dry a shade or two darker than the color you see. You control the color by the length of time you let the stain penetrate the wood on the kitchen cabinets. If it gets too dark, moisten a cloth with the recommended thinner and wipe again to dilute and wash away some of the pigment.
A few stains contain white pigment for a blond or "pickled" look, but a better way to lighten wood on kitchen cabinets is to bleach them. Wood that has been bleached will render the stain a more vivid color. Bleaching wood is typically a two-step process that involves an overnight wait for the chemicals to work their magic.
Laundry bleach or oxalic acid also can be used but must be neutralized after application with white vinegar or ammonia. Mix 1 part vinegar or ammonia with 10 parts water. Provide plenty of ventilation. Bleach and ammonia give off toxic fumes that can irritate your sinuses and eyes Wear a mask and goggles while staining kitchen cabinets.
Choosing a Stain for your Kitchen Cabinets
There are many stains from which to choose for your kitchen cabinets or bathroom cabinets. Some are designed for ease of use; in turn, you give up control over the result. Others are for the perfectionist who doesn't mind the numerous steps required for achieving the deepest, clearest finish. Consider the end result desired, and then decide on the product for the job. Always follow the directions.
- Oil-based stains - Traditional stains. Concerns now about environmental effects of petroleum vapors. Good for touching up or restraining kitchen cabinets. Permanent; doesn’t fade; doesn’t raise grain; additional coats darken. Difficult to clean up. Has an unpleasant odor and is flammable.
- Water-based stains - Replacing oil-based stains because they are easy to use and safe for the environment. Easy to clean up. Safe to use. Additional coats will darken.
- Penetrating oil stains - Also called Danish oils and rubbing oils. These protect the wood as well as stain it. Works well with woods that have an attractive grain. Doesn’t require a finish coat. Wipes on with a rag. Doesn’t hide grain. They are flammable with a limited choice of colors.
- Gel stains - Simplest for the amateur to use. Gel adheres to vertical surfaces and doesn’t run. Works well with complicated surfaces. It is simple to apply. Doesn’t raise the grain and additional coats will not darken. Expensive, difficult to clean up, and comes in a limited choice of colors.
- One-step stain and finish - Quickest way to finish wood on kitchen cabinets if you are not too critical about achieving exact color. Obtains uniform results. Doesn’t raise the grain and is quick to use. Cannot build up color. The color is not deep or clear.
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