Cabinet Refacing vs Painting | Which Should You Choose?

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If you're in the middle of designing a new kitchen or you just want to spruce up an old kitchen design, you might be considering a new look for your kitchen cabinets. 

Both cabinet painting and refacing have pros and cons to consider, and you must choose the method which best suits your existing kitchen cabinetry. Ultimately, you're trying to make the most out of your old cabinets, so you need to choose your new kitchen look based around their condition and style. You might also want to think about if you will use the existing knobs and pulls or replace the entirely with popular kitchen cabinet handles. Know more about when to replace kitchen cabinets and cost to paint kitchen cabinets.

Our Kitchen Infinity staff  is going to help explain the difference between cabinet refacing vs cabinet painting and answer your most common questions!

What is Cabinet Refacing?

Cabinet refacing is when you give your kitchen cabinets a new look by replacing the front-facing hardware but leaving the cabinetry framework in place. The cabinets frames and internal shelves remain the same, but you get brand new cabinet doors, hinges, handles, and fixtures.

Basically, you're replacing the parts that people can see.

Refacing cabinets after and before
Photo Credit: NHance

If you're choosing a very different color scheme to your old cabinets, you might use a wood veneer (or possibly paint) to change cabinet color framework so it matches the new cabinet doors design. This way, you can give the illusion of brand new cabinets, even though the core of the refaced cabinets hasn't really changed.

Refaced cabinets are ideal if you're happy with the layout of your kitchen and the storage space you have, but you just want a fresh look. Refaced cabinets might have new doors and drawer fronts, as well as new hinges, door handles, and other pieces of hardware.


What is the difference between cabinet refacing and refinishing?


The real difference between painting (or refinishing) and refacing your cabinets is relatively straight forward. Painting your cabinets gives your existing cabinetry a fresh look, whereas refacing them gives your cabinets almost an entirely new look. Cabinets refacing should not be confused with resurfacing or refinishing. A resurface cabinet is an old cabinet which has been sanded down (assuming it's wooden) to create a new design, but this is not always possible because lots of existing cabinets will not be thick enough to be sanded down into new styles. 

If you want to save money by not replacing your cabinets with brand new ones, then you have a couple of options available to you – refacing cabinets or painting them with the best kitchen cabinet paint finish.

You can't salvage everything!


On the other hand, “refacing” your cabinets is when you replace the doors and drawer fronts entirely – you don't try to salvage the old ones. The idea is that you're giving a “new face” to the existing cabinet framework. However, with refinishing or resurfacing, you're polishing up or sanding down the existing front-facing doors.

It's easy to get this mixed up when every term starts with “re”.

Basically, you should reface cabinet designs if the front-facing doors are ugly and you want to change them entirely. However, if the cabinet front-facing doors are in good condition and you just want to modify their style, refinishing or resurfacing could be the way to go.

Refinishing or Painting new cabinets
Photo Credit: Marble Cast of Michigan

What You Need To Know About Cabinet Painting

Obviously, cabinet painting is when you repaint your existing cabinet doors with new paint. You can always paint your unfinished cabinets yourself. Although this sounds like the better option, it's not always the case. Painted cabinet boxes can easily flake, peel, or fade in a kitchen environment, especially if you're cleaning them frequently. The more you clean them, the easier it is for the paint to fade away over time.

They can also look a little drab if you're not careful, so beware.

Also bear in mind that painted kitchen cabinet naturally attract dust, dirt, and grime, so you're going to need to clean more often and just generally get more maintenance done on them. It becomes a vicious circle because the paint attracts dust, so you need to clean them a lot, but then you remove the paint by cleaning them.

Not ideal.

Can I paint my kitchen cabinets myself?

While it's very possible to paint your unfinished kitchen cabinets yourself, especially if you're good with DIY, I wouldn't recommend that most people do this. Although painting cabinet doors and drawer fronts looks easy, it's easy to have streaky, splotchy, and uneven finishes if you're not a professional painter.

It's not as easy as it looks!Man painting his kitchen cabinets

Painting around the sides of hinges and door handles is very intricate work, as it will look incredibly sloppy if you don't do it right. Also, if you're not careful, it's easy to get drips of stray paint on your expensive granite countertops or other pricey pieces of kitchen equipment. In general, it's just not worth the risk. Hire a professional if you're going to paint your kitchen cabinets. And if you're going to DIY think about the best finish for your kitchen cabinets.

Is it Cheaper To Reface Or Replace Cabinets?

Replacing cabinets requires you to buy completely new cabinetry from top to bottom, while cabinet refinishing requires some maintenance so it's usually cheaper. When you reface cabinets, you're only replacing hardware for the doors (and possibly a veneer for the framework) but when you replace the cabinets, you're buying EVERYTHING new again – the doors, the frames, the shelves, everything.

So yes, refacing cabinets is almost always cheaper than replacing them entirely.

The only exception would be if you wanted to replace your old kitchen cabinet with VERY basic and cheap cabinets rather than refacing them with a more luxurious front-facing design. Ultimately, it all depends on the condition of your current kitchen cabinets and how you want them to look when the redesign is complete. Kitchen renovation is an expensive task so if you could save some bucks by refinishing cabinets, then go for  it!

Does Cabinet Refacing Add Value To My Home?

Generally speaking, cabinet refacing does add significant value to your home when it comes time to sell. Although the ROI is hard to measure accurately, there are estimates that homes with refaced kitchen cabinets see profits of 50% for the work completed when it comes time to sell.

Quite an impressive way to add value!

On the other hand, people who replaced their kitchen cabinets entirely only see around a 30% profit when it comes time to resell because they've had to spend a lot more money on installing brand-new cabinets from top to bottom. If your old kitchen cabinets are in a decent condition, refacing just makes more financial sense.  We are that by now the difference between cabinet refacing vs painting is becoming more apparent.

Do Painted Cabinets Last?

If you like your cabinets but you just want to freshen them up or update their color scheme, then painting could be a decent option for you. However, bear in mind that paint will only last so long before it begins to fade, chip, peel, and require maintenance work. The life expectancy of cabinets depends on whether you do them yourself or not.

If you paint the cabinets yourself (assuming that you do a good paint job) then the paint should look decent for at least a couple of years before it might start to need maintenance. Painting cabinet doors not only adds freshness to your kitchen look but also saves the face frames, base cabinets and cabinet boxes from water damage. It's useful to know how to repair water damaged cabinetry. But obviously regarding the paint on your cabinets, this is very subjective and depends on your kitchen and how much you use it regularly.

We don't all have time to cook every night!

On the other hand, if you get a professional team to paint your kitchen cabinets, they could easily last for 8-15 years on average, though they may require maintenance work from time to time. Painted wood cabinets will last for a while, but refaced cabinets will undoubtedly have a longer life expectancy in your kitchen.

Cabinets painted not replaced
Photo Credit: Sharon Lewis Homes

Painting vs Refacing Kitchen Cabinets – Which Should I Do?

So, you don't know whether painting or refacing is right for your cabinets. Well, the choice ultimately comes down to the condition of the cabinetry, the overall feel you're going for, and what you're trying to achieve with the kitchen design.

Here are some tips to help you decide between painting and refacing:

When to reface your kitchen cabinets

You should reface your kitchen cabinets if they meet the following criteria:

  • You're happy with their frames and the internal shelves or drawers
  • The doors are in poor condition (or you don't like them)
  • You want to make a drastic change in your kitchen's overall aesthetic
  • You want to update the handles and fittings of your cabinets
  • You want to add significant value to your home
  • You want to give the impression of newly-fitted cabinets without spending the money

When to paint your kitchen cabinets

You should be painting your kitchen cabinets if they meet the following criteria:

  • You're happy with their frames and the internal shelves or drawers
  • The doors are in good condition (and you like them)
  • You want to keep your kitchen's look similar, but change or freshen up the color scheme
  • You already like the handles and fittings as they are
  • You want to keep the overall feel of your existing kitchen

I know it's not always easy to decide, but hopefully these tips have given you some food for thought (no kitchen puns intended).

The Bottom Line

I hope you've enjoyed this guide to cabinet painting and refacing. Redesigning your kitchen can be difficult at the best of times, so it's essential to work with reliable contractors and interior designers who have your best interests at heart, as well as the home's future resale value.

While painting cabinets may seem like the cheaper and easier option, refacing your cabinetry is a very cost-effective way to give your home a significant facelift without breaking the bank in the process. If you're happy with the layout and condition of your existing cabinetry, refacing can be a very sensible idea.

Either way, we wish you luck!

Dino Paccino

Dino Paccino

Dino is a lifelong writer and home improvement specialist. He enjoys bringing cutting-edge information on home renovation and remodeling to Kitchen Infinity.

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