Kitchen Confidential 

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How To Pick the Perfect Finish for Your New Cabinets

Should I get a white kitchen?

Is that the right choice?

Are white cabinets still in?


These are just some of the questions I receive concerning putting white cabinets in a kitchen. There are a lot of concerns around white cabinets. Do they get dirty easily? How on earth am I going to keep them clean? What about damages? Are scratches easily seen? 

Whether you are looking for a bright white, a cooler white tone, or a rich creamy white, white is still in style. I have white cabinets in my kitchen that I love! You will never go wrong if you choose white cabinets. I have seen multiple buyers wanting a white kitchen, rental properties doing white kitchens, and new builds putting in white cabinetry. What you need to be concerned with, no matter what color of cabinets you choose, is what finish you will use for your new cabinets. 

I am going to break down what you need to know to pick the perfect finish to protect your gorgeous new cabinets without stress. I will also share with you a couple of tips to keep your cabinets looking brand new! 

Things to Consider 

Most of the cabinets that you will pick are pre-finished. The pretty pictures you see all over Instagram and Pinterest are not pre-finished. These are super high end kitchens and the builders install them unfinished. After they are installed a professional painter goes in. They are going over every small detail such as filling in nail holes and caulking around the crown molding. They are spending weeks if not months on this process. This is not a typical situation and will end up taking A LOT of time and money. 

When you are working with pre-finished materials it is important to work with someone who can prepare you for what to expect with pre-finished cabinetry and will work with you to get the look that you want. A good cabinet maker will work with their clients to avoid caulking lines, nail holes, etc. How the cabinets are made and installed directly ties into how they are going to look once installed. This is very delicate work and takes the time and skill of a true professional to make the cabinets look seamless. 

Know that it is very easy to cover up nail holes and caulking lines with lighter color cabinetry such as a light grey or white. If you are doing a darker kitchen with black cabinets then installing is going to take another level of delicacy. Your installer is going to have to be extra careful to avoid dents, chips or scratches as these will be easily seen and harder to cover up.  

All finishes are not the same! All cabinets are not sprayed or finished in the same manner. When picking someone to finish your cabinetry know that they all do not use the same kind of products and are not all up to the same level of skill.

Factors to consider when choosing the right person to finish your cabinetry: 

  • Skill and personality of the person 
  • Materials that are available 
  • How motivated the contractor is 
  • The level of care they have about their job 
  • How recent their training was and if they continue learning on a regular basis 
  • Their willingness to learn new techniques 
  • If they use the same tools over and over again such as the same spray gun 
  • Where they live at in the country

Cheaper isn’t always better, especially when it comes to your cabinets. So, before you pick the lowest quote possible please know that it will more than likely be a low-end finish, the look will not be as sophisticated, the contractor will probably be using cheap materials, they may lack time and attention, and you have the possibly of a rush job. You will come out of the project thinking you saved a bunch of money, but the finish is probably not waterproof, may be uneven, and you could see wear in as little as a year after completion. 

How to Choose a Finish 

The finish you choose is incredibly important. Your cabinets will come into contact with spills, people bumping into them, dirty little fingers, and water. The point is that your cabinets will get touched daily and it’s important to have the right protection for your cabinets. 

There are some other factors to consider when installing your cabinetry to best protect your cabinets: 

  • Your handles should be large enough that there is not need to touch the cabinet itself. 
  • You have true soft closing doors. 
  • You have enough space in your cabinets that you are not cramming items into the drawers.
  • Basic understanding of the high-traffic areas and how often you should clean them.

The goal is to avoid touching the wood of your cabinets as much as possible. 

Types of Finishes

There are also so many factors that go into dictating the quality of the finish put on your cabinets. Your cabinets should last forever if you choose the right finish!

Read carefully to choose the best option for you or head on over to the podcast and get even more details on the best choice for you. 

Painted Finish 

If you go with a painted finish you can choose between either water based and oil based. There are a lot of regulations now that are making options more environmentally friendly and a lot of types of paint are harder to come by now due to being so toxic. But, this is a good thing. We don’t want these toxins in your kitchen.  

Oil base is a harder finish and more waterproof but more difficult to touch up because it’s oil based. You can spray an oil based paint, but a lot of the times it is hand painted. In my opinion. I would never do a hand-painted kitchen because how smooth the finish will be is all based on the skill of the painter. You will want to do a spray finish so you can get a smooth look. 

There is a range of options when it comes to a paint finish. They do make a hybrid spray now and water based paint that is pretty durable, easy to spray, and touch up, but not as waterproof. Ask your cabinet maker what they are using for a paint and have them explain how that finish ends up being wateproof once it’s cured. If it’s not truly waterproof, meaning the chemical reaction in the paint doesn’t create a true a chemical bond that makes it waterproof, then you don’t want a painted finish. 

Please note that just because it is a painted finish does not mean it is easier to touch up. Painted finishes are popular and often suggested to use because a lot of people are told that they are easy to do touch ups. You will still see the touch up whether you choose a painted finish or not. It will not blend in perfectly and is the same thing if you use a lacquer finish. Unless you re-spray the entire door you will still see the touch up because now the touch up is going to be raised up and will be thicker compared to your original sprayed finish. You may have to respray the entire door. 


Lacquer finishes are typically clear or opaque and you can have a sprayed lacquer kitchen that is white. 

There are precatalized conversion lacquers. Lower end cabinet shops are still selling this. A precatalized lacquer will feel dry to the touch, but it is not chemically catalized. What that means is that if you would pour acetone on your cabinet it will chemically open up the molecules again. It never fully cures, it’s not very thick, or water proof. 

For example, say your child takes a Sharpie to your brand new cabinets and the only thing that is going to remove the marks is pure acetone. The acetone will burn into the white of the cabinet and will open to another chemical reaction. 

You have to be choose your finish carefully. For me, its too risky to use. I don’t want a customer to melt their finish off not knowing. There is catalized lacquer that is chemically changed. However, it’s only about 20% better and it’s catalized in the can. 

Conversion varnish 

Is a catalyzed product. It is thicker, more waterproof, and it is chemically cured once it is dried. It’s called crosslinking and this is what we spray our cabinets with. It is a lot more expensive, but the quality is so much better. You mix in a catalyst and pour it into the amount of paint that you will be spraying. You only have about a day to use the spray as it has a certain open time before it is completely dry. 

A conversion varnish cannot be chemically opened. For example, it can take off sharpie, crayon, or pencil mark and it will not melt the surface. It will be dry to the touch and chemically dry. This means that it leaves you with a large range of cleaning abilities. You can use pure acetone and the finish will remain intack. If you can, I highly recommend using a catalized product. 

Cleaning and Touch-ups

Remember that you should not be touching your cabinets in the first place. Make sure that your handles are large enough and there is plenty of space to avoid touching your cabinetry. Make sure that your drawers have adequate space to avoid cramming items into the drawer and possibly damaging the cabinet. The places that you will most likely see wear and tear and messes are: 

  • The top of the garbage can drawer
  • The cabinet where you have your plates 
  • The drawer you place your pots and pans in 
  • Upper cabinets that hold your cups and spices

Never wipe down your cabinets with soapy water first. Use a one inch paint brush or similar brush and swipe away the dust first. Most of what is settling on your cabinets is crumbs, hair, pet hair, skin cells (yes, gross I know), and just general dust in the air. 

If you use a wet sponge first you will risk creating a sludge mixture of all that debris. All you are doing is pushing that debris further and further into the creases of you cabinets. Overtime, this is what creates dark lines in your cabinets. Make sure your cabinets are finished with a catalized finish so you can use any product you wish to clean with. However, most of the time all it takes is some dusting and a little soapy water to take care of general messes. 

You can go in with a soft sponge, some water, and a little bit of Dawn once you have dusted. You should not need a ton of water or product. Then just dry it off with a soft towel. This is all you should be doing. You should never use an oil or a polish spray. These products will cause your cabinets to not be able to be repaired because there is now an oil finish on the cabinets. 

When it comes to touch ups you want to keep it as simple as possible. Use a small amount of paint that matches your finished color and grab a small painter’s brush similar in size to a makeup brush. You only want to paint where the knick is. Don’t get carried away thinking you need to paint a large area. This will only cause the damage to be more noticeable since you are painting on a smooth finish. 

Before You Pick Your Finish

Before you buy cabinets, take the time and ask the carpenter about their finishes. Ask what they are using and how they are spraying. Ask them why are they using what they are using and what else is out there in the market.  What feedback have they gotten? What can you use to clean it? Can you put marks on it and get it off without harming the finish. You can ask them to make you a test sample. Try putting sharpie on the sample, use acetone to clean it, and see what it does to the finish. 

Don’t just take their word for it. If they can’t tell you what can be done to clean the cabinets. Ask for a sample and make sure yourself before you pay for them. 

For more details on how to pick the perfect finish for your new cabinets check out this podcast episode!