An Easy and Inexpensive Way to Refinish Cabinets (without sanding or stripping!)
Looking for an inexpensive and relatively easy way to make your outdated bathroom or kitchen cabinets look new again? Do you want to modernize the look of your home? The cabinets in my house are 25 years old and were looking very dated, but I didn't have $20,000 to spend on new custom cabinets. (Who does?) So, I looked around for other ways to update them and found Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations. This is a kit that comes with pretty much everything you need to completely change the color of your cabinets--without sanding or stripping the old finish. This is the easiest and most inexpensive route you can go and still end up with great looking cabinets.
I spent a few days reading reviews around the Web and looking at photos of other people's experience with this product. I found that almost everyone who used it was delighted with the results, so I decided to give it a shot. Compared to the price of a full remodel, this kit is extremely inexpensive (around $74).
Image courtesy of mazaletel via Creative Commons.
Why I Recommend Using Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations to Refinish Cabinets
So, before you read through how to use this product, I'm sure you want to know why I recommend it. What are my credentials? I'm just a homeowner trying to save some money and make my house look more modern. I was very pleased with the results of this product, as shown in the before and after pictures here (I'm not a photographer and this picture does not do it justice. It looks even better in person...like a brand new cabinet):
I decided to try the Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations, Small Kit, Espresso on the cabinets in my master bathroom to see if I was pleased with the results. Now that I've finished, I can tell you I am very happy with the results and I will be using this product to refinish the rest of the cabinets in my house, including the other bathroom, linen cabinets, and kitchen cabinets. I love that they don't look painted...the wood grain still shows through the paint, so they look like stained, custom cabinets.
I recommend this product because is it is both inexpensive and the final results look great. Although time consuming, it is very easy to do. Most of the time involved is simply waiting for coats to dry. It doesn't take that long to actually apply the coats. I finished the bathroom in 4 days, but almost all of that time was drying time. I spent a total of about 2 hours preparation, 2 hours applying bond coat, 1 hour applying decorative glaze, and 1 hour applying the final protective top coat. Then another 1.5 hours reinstalling the cabinet doors and drawers. That's a total of 7.5 hours of labor. The rest of the time was just waiting for paint to dry.
The total cost for this project was:
Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations Small Dark Kit: $74
Paint Brush: $9
10-pack of Nitrile Gloves: $4
Plastic Paint Bucket: $2
Blue Painter's Tape: $7
That's a lot better than several thousand dollars for new cabinets. Even my wife was pleased. The first thing she said when she saw them was "It looks like you installed new cabinets." And, I only used about 1/4 of the product in the kit, so I still have plenty left over to finish the other bathroom and the other cabinets in the hallway. This same kit would cover a small to medium sized kitchen.
What else do you need?
Depending on what you already have, you might or might not need all of these, which you can find on Amazon:
Item Estimated Price
2-Inch Paint Brush $6.43
Paint Brush Comb $7.42
Foam Paint Brushes $8.75
Rubber Cabinet Door Bumpers $12.43
Felt Cabinet Door Bumpers $4.17
Playtex Heavy Duty Rubber Gloves $2.61
1.5-Inch Blue Painter's Tape $7.15
Black & Decker Cordless Screwdriver $29.97
What is Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations?
Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations is a kit that comes with everything you need to refinish cabinets without sanding, stripping, or priming. It is the fastest, easiest, and most inexpensive method I know for redoing cabinets to make them look completely new. The kit comes in two sizes: The small kit covers up to 100 square feet; the large kit covers up to 200 square feet. There is a light kit and a dark kit. The light kit can do 11 different colors. The dark kit does 24 different colors. There is also a pre-tinted kit available for these colors: pure white, cabernet, and espresso.
So what comes in the kit? This photo shows the contents of the small dark-tint kit I bought. It includes:
- 2 cans of bond coat
- 1 bottle of deglosser
- 2 cans of decorative glaze
- 1 can of protective top coat
- 3 stir sticks
- 2 green scrub pads
- 1 roll of decorative glaze cloth
- Instruction booklet with DVD
You can read more about this product on the Rust-Oleum Website.
Where to get the kit
The kits come in several variations. First, there is a light kit and a dark kit. These can be tinted to one of many different shades and colors, but you have to get it tinted at Lowe's or Home Depot or a paint store. They should do it for free, regardless of where you get the kit.
Then there are the pre-tinted kits. If you want to use one of the three most popular colors, just get a pre-tinted kit. Then you don't have to worry about getting it tinted somewhere. These colors are espresso, cabernet, and pure white.
If you're lucky, you can find the light or dark kits at Home Depot or Lowe's. I couldn't find the pre-tinted kit at Home Depot, though. You can order any of the kits, pre-tinted or not, on Amazon, often for a better price and free shipping. Amazon is the way to go if you get a pre-tinted kit (espresso, cabernet, or pure white). Home Depot or Lowe's is probably better if you want to choose a different tint because you'll have to go there anyway to get the base coat tinted.
Step 1: Preparation
Before you jump in and begin, you should first prepare for this project. You need to decide which color you want and measure the square footage of your cabinets. You should also purchase or gather the recommended supplies. You can browse the available colors here.
To calculate your square footage:
1. Measure the length (in inches) of your top cabinets, including the exposed sides (A+B) and multiply by the height (E).
2. Repeat for the bottom cabinets (C+D) multiplied by (F).
3. Add the top and bottom cabinet measurements together and divide by 144 to get square feet.
The small Rustoleum kit covers 100 square feet. The large kit covers 200 square feet.
Image from rustoleumtransformations.com.
Step 2: Cleaning and Deglossing
After you have the necessary supplies and have purchased a Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations kit, the next step is to clean and degloss the cabinets. This is the hardest step, and also the most crucial. Properly cleaning and deglossing will ensure that the base coat paint sticks and doesn't flake off later.
Start by drawing a diagram of your cabinets and drawers, numbering each one on the diagram. Then, use a piece of painter's tape to label each door and drawer with the number corresponding to the diagram. This will make it easy to put things back together later.
Next, remove all cabinet hardware, including knobs, handles, and hinges. Use a cordless screwdriver to speed up the process. Remove each cabinet door and drawer from the cabinet frame. Place the hardware from each door into a separate plastic baggie or cup and label it with the corresponding number on the door and diagram.
Excellent screw gun / drill
Then, fill any nicks, cracks, or gouges in the cabinet frame, doors, and drawers using plastic wood filler. Let it dry and sand it smooth.
After that, use a wet rag and soapy water to thoroughly clean each door, drawer, and the cabinet frame. The goal is to wipe off any dirt, grease, fingerprints, or other grime.
Finally, take the green scrub pad and deglosser from the Cabinet Transformations kit. Make sure to wear good rubber gloves during this step. Apply deglosser to the scrub pad and scrub each cabinet frame, door, and drawer. Scrub in the same direction as the wood grain. This step is critical to make sure the base coat sticks later on, so make sure to scrub well and get all the corners and edges, too. After scrubbing with the deglosser, take a damp rag and thoroughly wipe all the deglosser off the wood. Then wipe it down with a dry rag.
Step 3: Applying the Bond Coat
Now it's time to apply the bond coat, right? Not so fast. First, you need to tape off the areas you don't want to paint. Make sure to get the inside edges of cabinet frames and the wall along the edge of the cabinet. Use 1.5 or 2 inch painter's tape.
Next, make sure you have a good work area, free from dust, pets, and children. You should set up a workspace large enough to lay out all the doors and drawers. The doors should lay flat for the best results. One suggestion is to lay a piece of plywood across two chairs to create a flat table to lay the drawers on.
If you have a kit with two or more cans of bond coat, make sure to pour all the cans into a single container and mix them together before using them. After mixing them, you can pour the mixture back into the original containers. This will ensure that the color matches across all the cans.
Use a good quality 2-Inch synthetic paint brush to apply an even coat of the bond coat paint. Start on the back side of doors, using brush strokes in the same direction as the wood grain. It is very important to allow the paint to dry for at least 2-3 hours, then apply a second coat. Allow the second coat to dry for 2-3 hours, then turn the doors over and repeat the process for the front sides. Also, paint the fronts and edges of the drawers, as well as the cabinet frames, making sure brush strokes follow the grain of the wood. A paint brush comb will help keep the bristles clean and prevent excess paint from building up.
Nice paint brush comb
Paint Brush Set
Step 4: Apply Decorative Glaze (Optional)
Depending on the look you are going for, you may or may not want to do this step. It's completely optional. In my opinion, it makes the cabinets look like they were done professionally and I recommend using it. It's a good idea to watch the video below to see one method for applying the glaze. This is the simplest method, and the one I used. I was very pleased with the results.
You will be doing this on the FRONTS of the doors, drawer fronts, and cabinet frame. It's not necessary to apply to the backs of the doors unless you really want to, but I don't think it adds anything to do so. First, use a 2-Inch foam brush to apply the glaze liberally over the entire front side of a door, making sure to get it in all the corner and edges. Then take two pieces of the glazing cloth that comes in the kit (it's really just cheesecloth), and wipe the glaze off in the direction of the grain. The amount of pressure you use to wipe the glaze will determine the final look. After completing the first door, move on to the rest of the doors, drawers, and cabinet frames using the same method. Allow the decorative glaze to dry for a minimum of 8 hours before applying the protective top coat.
There are other ways to apply the decorative glaze to get different looks. Several other methods are demonstrated in videos on YouTube.
Applying Decorative Glaze Using the Dry Brush Method
Step 5: Applying Protective Top Coat
Before you start -- DON"T SHAKE THE CAN! This will create bubbles in the top coat. Instead, use a stir stick to mix the top coat liquid before applying. This protective top coat will help protect against scratches, stains, and chips. It's important to keep the room clear of pets, kids, and dust after applying this coating. Only one coat is required.
Start with the back side of the cabinet doors, then the drawers, and cabinet frames. Apply with a 2-Inch synthetic paint brush using brush strokes in the same direction as the wood grain. Allow this coat to dry for 2 hours before turning the doors over and repeating on the front side.
While applying, this top coat dries very quickly. It is important not to go back and rebrush over areas that have started to dry. Also, a big lesson I learned is to make sure that no buildup or drips are left to dry on the door edges. This top coat needs to dry for 12 hours before reinstalling the doors and drawers on the cabinet frames.
This is what happens if you don't watch the drips! Luckily, this was an easy fix. I just touched it up with another layer of bond coat, then reapplied the protective top coat to that spot.
Step 6: Finishing Up
After allowing the protective top coat to dry for a minimum of 12 hours, it's time to reinstall the cabinet doors and drawers into the cabinet frame. Now is a good time to add new cabinet hardware to the doors and drawers, such as new handles and knobs if you desire. You should also felt pads on the corners of the doors where they contact the cabinet frame.
Be careful during this step not to mar the newly finished cabinet frames or doors with the screwdriver. I made this mistake. I fixed it by touching up the area with bond coat, then protective top coat after the bond coat dried.
I (and more importantly, my wife) was delighted with the results. Our bathroom now looks like new!
Before and After
- Do NOT shake the can of protective top coat. That will create bubbles in the final finish. Instead, stir with a paint stir stick.
- Make sure the cabinet doors and drawers are spotless before applying the bond coat. Any blemished or spots will still be somewhat visible through the paint, so pay attention during the cleaning and deglossing step to remove all blemished, fingerprints, cracks, holes, etc.
- When applying the decorative glaze, keep refolding and rotating the decorative glaze cloth so you are always wiping with a fresh part of the cloth. This will help ensure a more consistent look.
- Use a cheap foam paint brush to apply the decorative glaze. The foam brush works better for this application.
- Don't bother with taking off the false drawers. I did, and it was more trouble than it was worth. I recommend leaving false drawer faces on the cabinet frame and painting them in place.
- Use a marker or masking tape to label each hinge as the "top" or "bottom" hinge as you take them off the cabinet doors. This will help make it easier to reinstall the doors without any extra adjustments.
- Watch the screwdriver as you replace the cabinet doors! It's easy to nick or gouge the newly finished cabinets if you aren't careful.
- Use thin coats, not thick coats. Thin coats will go on much better and allow the wood grain to show through.
Links to other reviews
Nice pictures and writeup of one lady's kitchen transformation
More before and after pictures from a lady named Anna
Bathroom and Kitchen cabinet transformation blog post
Very nice review of a kitchen remodel with lots of pictures
Watch a Demonstration
Leave a Comment - Did this page help you?
Sp Greaney from Ireland on July 13, 2019:
Great advice and your step by step instructions really help explain how to do the process.
Charlie on March 15, 2016:
We are going to go from light to dark Cocoa. The shelves and inside of cabinets at laminate. Do we do those also I'm assuming? Thanks for your help.
Renaissance Woman from Colorado on April 07, 2014:
Your cabinets look fantastic. This was really a cost effective renovation. It sure made a huge difference. Nicely done!
ruamal on March 29, 2014:
Every day you learn new thing; i learned new technique here. Great lens. thank you for sharing
todays-deals (author) on October 24, 2013:
@Nicola107: I missed a few small spots with the protective finish on my first
bathroom. I just let the first coat dry completely, then touched up just
those spots. When it all dried, it looked great and I couldn't even tell
where those spots were. Good luck!
Nicola107 on October 24, 2013:
Love your before and after pics! I'm working on my kitchen cabinets now using this kit. I have a question ....can you apply two coats of protective finish? I'm having problems with it not going on evenly and skipping areas. I don't want to go over again with brush strokes cause it messes up the finish. I read other blogs and I should of maybe did what they did and use a different brand of protective finish.
Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on October 14, 2013:
Wow, love the before and after!
todays-deals (author) on September 15, 2013:
@anonymous: You might be making it harder than it should be. I noticed that mine were
slightly less glossy after scrubbing than before, but they weren't
completely dull or deglossed. The purpose of this step is just to make
sure all the grease, fingerprints, and any other gunk that might be on the
surface is gone so the paint will stick and stay stuck. Hope that helps!
anonymous on September 15, 2013:
Great review! I'm currently doing my kitchen cabinets with this product, but I'm having some trouble....I'm scrubbing like crazy with the deglosser and I feel like I'm not getting it "deglossed" enough. Should I just keep scrubbing, or am I making it harder than it should be? I don't want to be doing all this work to screw it up! :)
todays-deals (author) on August 07, 2013:
@todays-deals: You can also look at these videos on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCkoR94vo8E to see more examples of what the final product looks like with different glaze techniques.
todays-deals (author) on August 07, 2013:
@anonymous: Kim, they're definitely not matte. They aren't super shiny, but they do have some gloss. It also depends on how you apply the glaze. The video shows some different techniques to get different looks.
todays-deals (author) on August 07, 2013:
@anonymous: It will work on laminate...Just be careful if the laminate is starting to peel off. In that case, it might not work as well.
anonymous on August 07, 2013:
Your cabinets came out fantastic! I have been wanting to do this to my kitchen cabinets, however, I am going to start in my bathroom first. Its hard to tell from your pics; is the finish a matte color or a little shinier then that? I am not expecting a glass finish, but would like them to have some shininess to them. I was reading another site where the guy used Diamond Vogel paint and a paint sprayer saying that the doors will come out a nicer quality. Trying to decide which way to go here..... any thoughts would be GREAT!
anonymous on August 07, 2013:
How would this work on laminate cabinets?
todays-deals (author) on July 10, 2013:
@anonymous: You can do it! It may take some time, but you'll save money and have
something to be proud of if you do it yourself.
anonymous on July 10, 2013:
I have decided to paint my kitchen cabinet using Rustoleum espresso and doing research in web. I don't have any painting experience but reading the full instructions I am feeling I can go ahead to do this job myself. I talked to a handyman and he gave me an estimate to do my kitchen and bathroom cabinet for 1200 dollars excluding the kit. But I am very impressed and feeling confident to do it myself seeing this page. Hoping I would do a good job.
todays-deals (author) on March 24, 2013:
@anonymous: The top protective coating is definitely the most critical and the most difficult part to get right. I used a good paint brush to apply it and it turned out fine. Make sure you watch out for any drips or extra buildup along the edges and in corners. Use the paint brush to gently pick up the extra buildup in these areas before it dries.
I also notices that I missed a few spots after everything was dry. I just touched it up with the protective top coat and it turned out fine.
anonymous on March 23, 2013:
Fantastic review! We are in the process of painting our kitchen cabinets black using this system. So far, so good, although I have read a lot of reviews that complain about the top protective coat leaving horrible streaks and ruining all the hard work. It doesn't look like you had this problem. Can you give any other tips to help ensure that this doesn't happen? Thanks!
todays-deals (author) on February 26, 2013:
@pauly99 lm: Yes, this will work with veneer. Just make sure to use the deglosser that
comes in the kit first. This is a great way to make veneer cabinets look
pauly99 lm on February 26, 2013:
Very complete lens that covered all the aspects of finishing cabinets. I only wish that I could paint my veneer cabinets. Don't think I could do that with this product?