Renewing Kitchen Cabinets with Polyurethane

A polyurethane finish on kitchen cabinets is certain to expand the life of your kitchen cabinets. It will also keep them looking nice and new longer as well as making cleaning much easier. Polyurethane can be applied directly to the cabinet surfaces, but does work best on unfinished wood.

Did you know that when you apply a polyurethane finish to your kitchen cabinets, you are actually sealing them in a film of plastic? But it is a film so tough and durable that almost nothing will penetrate it. Besides its amazing durability, polyurethane is easy to paint on, it dries relatively fast and is exceedingly resistant to water and damaging chemicals. You can purchase polyurethane in either water based or oil based varnish. It also comes in a satin finish, or low gloss or high gloss depending upon your particular tastes.

Prep steps before applying polyurethane to kitchen cabinets


For the best results, always go through the preparation steps before beginning to do the actual painting on your cabinets. Sometimes, you have to strip off the old paint before you can apply a new finish. You would begin by using a paint remover, sanding the surfaces, filling all the dents and sealing them in. Make sure that any wood filler and stains are completely dry before applying the polyurethane. Wait about one day for drying.



You may apply the oil based or water based polyurethane onto the kitchen cabinets with either an appropriate brush, lamb’s wool applicator or lint free cloth. If you are using latex polyurethane, you can easily use a paint sprayer. You should paint the surface by hand if you are using oil based polyurethane since it tends to clog up the equipment.


Any wood you may choose will require at least two coats of polyurethane – 3 is even better for wear and tear. Consider the first coat to be your primer, while the second and third acts as a durable sealer.Staining When a wood surface is used a lot, the polyurethane will wear away, so several coats are recommended.

Always sand between coats of polyurethane with fine sand paper to get rid of any collected lint. Test by running a ladies nylon stocking over the surface for any snags. Sanding will also allow you to see any imperfections in your painting.


Try not to have light shinning directly on the cabinets as you are painting and you will see any spots you may have missed. It is easy to not see missed spots that were caused by lack of paint penetration or not enough paint. If this should happen, the polyurethane will leave tiny little dimples embedded into the finish. These are an impossibility to remove after the finish has dried.

It helps to understand a bit about how the hues and tints of polyurethane work since we tend to think of it as a totally clear medium. Some polys are almost clear while some are tinted. The tinted polyurethanes for kitchen cabinets will require more coats to reach the desired color hue you want on the cabinets. The more coats you apply, the deeper the color will be. It is always a good idea to run a test run on a piece of scrap wood before beginning to paint.

Keep in mind that the color tone will change somewhat after a clear polyurethane finish is applied. This kind of finish will not hide any defects, flaws or dents. Also, if you are applying polyurethane over white cabinets, they will turn yellow and continue to yellow even more as time goes by. Low gloss polyurethane may look softer and nicer, but high gloss is tougher and overall more durable to wear and tear. High gloss is the best choice for applying to kitchen cabinets.

When applying polyurethane, take extra care to avoid dust stirred up from air conditioners and heating vents. Remove dust with a tact cloth from the kitchen cabinets.

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