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HELP. Painted wood cabinets white and used oil based polyurethane

Can someone help explain the best course of action for this unfortunate situation!

We are painting the wooden kitchen cabinets white. They were stained so we sanded , primed and applied two coats of water based white paint. They were looking amazing!

At the hardware store I was unfortunately recommended an oil based polyurethane for the top coat. I applied one coat of that and almost cried when I saw that it dried brown/yellow. I should have done my research but I trusted the recommending and now the beautifully painted white cabinets have a brown/yellow tint.

We are trying to figure out the best way to remedy the situation while giving the best outcome.

Ultimately, we want the cabinets to looks as best as they can. The question is, will stripping everything off and starting over give us the best finish, or will sanding/painting over this mistake give as good an outcome.

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  • If you can sand it down to the wood, it will work
    – Traveler
    Commented Apr 9 at 6:15
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    Duplicate your new prime/paint/polyurethane process on a scrap piece of wood, so it looks just like your cabinets look now. Then try scuff-sanding and priming/painting per the polyurethane manufacturer's instructions and various internet research, to see if a coat or two of primer can reset the polyurethane surface for new paint. Keep aware of the polyurethane's drying and off-gassing times before trying to re-prime the test piece. If it works, do it on the cabinets. If not, sand the cabs back to wood and redo the prime/paint without polyurethane. Commented Apr 9 at 14:04
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    Can you say more about why at the hardware store you were recommended oil-based polyurethane? Here in the UK, if you went for oil-based polyurethane because that's what the store's experts recommended on the basis of your accurate description of the circumstances, you might be entitled to at least a refund and perhaps even damages. Commented Apr 9 at 22:29
  • Note that Woodworking.SE has a lot of advice about selecting and using furniture-quality finishes.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 9 at 23:27
  • I take it the oil based poly was white and not clear? and was just off white???
    – Jack
    Commented Apr 10 at 2:59

2 Answers 2

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If understand your question correctly, you applied two coats of water-based white paint, and one coat of oil-based clear polyurethane on top of the paint.

Oil-based polyurethane will turn things yellow, and continue to yellow a bit more over time. Water-based polyurethane, however, will stay more clear in the long term.

Adding an oil-based finish on top of a water-based finish is, in general, not a good idea.

But I would also question the decision to top coat layers of paint with a clear polyurethane in the first place. If I wanted white cabinets, I would use an oil-based enamel, two coats, lightly sanding with 220 or 320 sandpaper between coats, and then call it done. No need for a clear top coat. Oil-based finishes tend to be much more durable for application like cabinets where you are touching the finish all the time as you open and close doors.

To fix the problem you have, you will need to remove all finishes back to bare wood. You could do so by sanding, but I would start with stripper to get most of the layers of paint and polyurethane off, then minimal sanding to return the wood surface to a nice smooth state. Then apply a coat of oil-based primer followed by two coats of oil-based white enamel paint.

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If your finish only has color issues and the paints has no flaws like alligatoring or orange peel, lightly, completely, sand everything down with 220g sandpaper to give the surface some tooth to grab the final coat of paint. All the prior coats got your base and color set, or at least close, all you need is to get that last coat just right.

I don't see without pictures how a poly based paint that is supposed to be white, presumably, will go too far of the white spectrum, so a last, well prepped final coat of the proper shade of white couldn't fix the problem.

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