DIY: Staining Your Own Unfinished Cabinet Doors

Jan 7th 2020

Paint-grade cabinet doors from The Door Stop arrive at your address fully sanded and ready for you to finish however you like. Painting is always a popular option because it gives you a world of color choices to work with. But if you’re looking for something different, consider staining cabinet doors instead.

Wood stain gives your doors a rich, natural look that highlights the organic textures and grains unique to every piece of hardwood. With a wide range of options to choose from, you can stain your doors to look as light, dark, neutral, or colorful as you would like. You can also incorporate stained cabinet doors into almost any room design, from something modern and trendy to something classic and cozy.

Another reason people go with staining cabinet doors is because it’s relatively easy to create a stunning finished product. You don’t need a ton of experience with stain or any kind of DIY home improvement. You also don’t need a lot of specialized tools or expensive materials, making this an excitingly accessible project you can even get the kids involved with.

When you’re ready to get started, follow this step-by-step guide:

DIY staining cabinet doors in 7 steps

  1. Select your stain – With so many stain colors to choose from, how do you select the right one? First, consider the natural tone of the wood. It generally doesn’t make sense to stain a light wood dark or vice versa, so try to select something that complements the wood’s natural properties. Second, consider the space around the cabinet doors. Your doors are an important part of that overall interior design, so pick something that integrates with the rest of the room in terms of color and tone.
  2. Gather the materials – In addition to your stain, you will need pre-stain conditioner, wipe-on polyurethane (or whatever Clearcoat you are finishing the doors with), white cotton rags, scissors, foam brushes, 220-grit sandpaper, and latex gloves. You can find all these items at basically any paint or home improvement store, along with experts who can help you explore various stain options.
  3. Prepare the work area –Prepare for the mess and odors, find someplace out of the way, with good ventilation to stain your doors. It doesn’t have to be the same room where you intend the hang the doors. Garages, basements, and covered patios all work great, as long at they are well ventilated. Before you start working, lay down some newspapers or a drop cloth to catch drips.
  4. Condition the wood – You may be tempted to skip this step, but staining cabinet doors produces much nicer results when you apply wood conditioner first. Conditioner helps the wood to absorb stain evenly, producing a rich even finish that highlights the wood grain instead of the irregular finish. While wearing gloves, use a clean white rag to wipe conditioner onto all sides of the cabinet door. Let it absorb, then wipe off any excess.
  5. Apply the stain – Begin by mixing (never shaking) the stain thoroughly to distribute the pigment. To apply, put on gloves and use your foam brush to wipe the stain across the entire surface of each door, taking care to get into nooks and crannies. Foam brushes work well, but you can also use a traditional paintbrush as long as it doesn’t shed a lot of bristles. Apply the stain generously but don’t allow it to pool up on the doors. Don’t worry about applying it carefully, though, since you will be wiping each door down.
  6. Remove the excess – The longer the stain sits on the doors the darker the color becomes. If you want a lighter color, wipe off the excess immediately after applying the stain to one side of the door. Wear gloves and use a white cloth to gently wipe down the entire surface. Follow the grain of the wood to ensure the stain absorbs properly. If you want something darker, let the stain sit a little longer before wiping. Different wood types require different lengths of time, so be sure to do your research before starting. Always test the stain on a piece of wood, or on the back of the door before starting your staining project. After one side has been stained and dried for four hours, flip to the other side and repeat the process. If you decide you want a darker color, apply a second coat.
  7. Seal the doors – Sealing cabinet doors with polyurethane or other topcoat locks the stain into the wood and creates a water-resistant surface on top of the doors. Pour some poly into a small container, then use a white cloth and gloved hands to apply it all over the doors. Let the finish dry for as long as the manufacturer recommends, then sand lightly with the 220-grit sandpaper. Repeat until there are 3-4 coats of finish on each door.

Get the cabinet doors you really want

Before you can start DIY staining cabinet doors at home you need to find replacements you’re excited to hang in your kitchen, bathroom, or office. The Door Stop has hundreds of options to choose from, each custom-built to your specifications so that they fit your existing cabinets perfectly. Between the replacement doors and the fresh stain, your space will look new and updated even though you haven’t spent the time and money on a complete renovation. Start getting design ideas by exploring our selection, or browse the FAQ section if you have questions. If you can’t find the info you need on our site, please contact us directly at

Sign up for our newsletter: