I want to paint these wooden cabinets (in bathroom) which are in terrible shape paint wise. I am not sure what they painted it with. Looks like a clear coat or something like that. Any ideas what to buy and the process of preparing and painting end to end?

EDIT: I just want to make them look like they were before. Not a color change.

enter image description here

  • Do I have to take out the cabinet doors and do this? Compared to painting walls how tough is this job?
    – NotAgain
    Aug 12, 2023 at 8:08
  • @Ruskes - sanding is the last thing you do here.
    – DMoore
    Aug 12, 2023 at 8:54
  • Perhaps a paint stripper soak, followed by a few hits from a power washer?
    – Huesmann
    Aug 12, 2023 at 12:34
  • 1
    You could certainly make that look a lot better, but it's never going to look like new again. Stripping all the varnish off and sanding it back down to clean wood will help a lot, but there are some spots which look as though moisture has penetrated into joints between different pieces of wood, and that goes deeper than just the surface.
    – brhans
    Aug 12, 2023 at 13:07
  • Sand too hard and then there's lighter areas, which is the worst. Dark areas are fine. I'm not 100% that it actually got stained or that's just the patina of aging urethane. Sand the flakes off with handheld paper, not a machine (and then stop!), re-coat with urethane. In 20y it will look like that again. It just has to be slightly shiny and there not be stuff flaking off. A lighter area tells me someone tried to remove a character mark and made it worse. - Not a hard job, but you'd better be able to put a fan in the window as you'll be using solvents.
    – Mazura
    Aug 12, 2023 at 18:42

1 Answer 1


The cabinet you show was not painted it was stained.

It has water damage, some splits in the wood, ( maybe more where we cannot see). There is evidence of mildew growing in the grain, the clear finish is pealing.

This piece can be renewed, but it will take great efforts and a fair amount of time to make it look new.

If you want it to simply be better aesthetically, you have a few choices.

All the options start with a cleaning and sanding.

Remove the knobs and hardware.

Get a plastic putty knife and scrape off the pealing finish.

Sand the cabinet box and the doors. (I like to start with 150, then 220 and 400 to a final sand with 600 grit paper.) Get all the previous sealer off, making the surfaces smooth.

You can treat the dark areas with 50/50 bleach and water to kill the mildew. Sand again with 600 grit after the treated areas dry. Apply stainable filler to any areas with splits or cracks and sand when dry.

Now you have options. :

1- If you want to re-stain, continue to sand all the stain off, getting in the nooks and crannies down to bare wood. Apply stain. Seal with at least 3 coats of polyurethane, lightly sanding between coats.


2- You can give an "old distressed" look by leaving some old stain and staining over it. This will give an uneven appearance that sometimes is good for blending the decor, but some people do not like it. Seal with three coats of poly again.


3- You can prime with a primer /sealer and then paint the cabinet any color you choose. There are specific paints for cabinets, but I have had good results with a number of quality latex paints. ( An inexpensive sprayer helps make this job easier and quicker.)


You can replace the cabinet with something new.

  • 3
    Not to be critical of your answer, you have a lot of good info there. I only question the sanding. In my experience, 600 grit sandpaper is for sanding primer for metal finishes. With the wood in as rough shape as it is, I would start with 100g maybe even 80, then 150 and finish with 220, first coat sealer sand with 320 between finish coats. Doing this, the finished surface is incredibly smooth. Either way it is a LOT of work and replacement is the option I would go with.
    – Jack
    Aug 12, 2023 at 14:48
  • @Jack, I can't argue with your statement either. I suggested the 600 for a piece that is being stained. I always use the 600 and a good wiping before staining. I totally agree , the 400 and 600 is not needed if it's being painted.
    – RMDman
    Aug 12, 2023 at 16:15
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    Sanding to too high a grit can actually burnish the surface and reduce it's absorption of stain, so I wouldn't go beyond 400 and some suggest stopping at 200
    – keshlam
    Aug 12, 2023 at 16:17
  • @ Kesham, I guess it's a preference, I hate it when the stain is too dark. Too much sanding to get it back to a starting point. That is why I like working with wood that has been sanded with 600. I didn't know why, (burnishing) I just new I got better results for myself with 600. Thanks, now I know why .
    – RMDman
    Aug 12, 2023 at 16:21
  • 2
    Thanks for the detailed answer. I think I will skip the whole thing. When it falls apart I will get a new cabinet. :-(
    – NotAgain
    Aug 13, 2023 at 10:19

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