How To Distress Painted Cabinets

Do you have painted cabinets that need a little bit of character? Distressing your painted cabinets is a great way to give them a vintage, rustic or shabby chic look.

It's a popular trend that can bring warmth and personality to your kitchen or bathroom.

In this article, you will learn how to distress your painted cabinets step-by-step. You'll need some basic supplies, such as paint stripper, sandpaper, and a staining or glazing product.

You'll also need to prep your cabinets properly before starting the process. With a little bit of patience and effort, you can transform your plain painted cabinets into one-of-a-kind pieces that will add charm and style to your home.

Key Takeaways

  • Properly prep cabinets by removing hardware, cleaning, and lightly sanding before distressing.
  • Use sandpaper or a sander to create grooves and scratches, and tools like hammers and chains to create unique dents and scratches for a rustic look.
  • Apply a topcoat to protect the paint and add depth and texture to the final look, with options like wax finish for a rustic look or polyurethane for added durability.
  • Take time and follow each step carefully, including regular maintenance, for the best results.

Gather Your Supplies

You're gonna need to grab all of your supplies before you can start distressing those cabinets! First things first, let's gather our supplies checklist.

You'll need sandpaper (medium and fine grit), a putty knife, a hammer, a drill, a screwdriver, a paint scraper, a paint brush, a foam roller, and some paint stripper. Make sure to wear gloves and safety goggles while handling these tools.

Before you get started, it's important to find inspiration for your distressing technique. Look online for pictures of distressed cabinets that you love and try to replicate the look. Keep in mind that distressing is meant to look natural and worn, so don't worry about making it perfect.

Once you have your supplies and inspiration, it's time to move onto prepping your cabinets.

Prep Your Cabinets

Before you begin the process of distressing your painted cabinets, it's important to properly prep them.

The first step is to remove all cabinet hardware, including knobs, handles, and hinges.

Next, thoroughly clean your cabinets with a gentle cleanser and warm water to remove any dirt or grime.

Finally, use sandpaper to lightly sand the surface of your cabinets to create a rougher texture for the paint to adhere to.

Taking these steps will ensure that your cabinets are ready for the distressing process and will allow for a smooth and successful outcome.

Remove Cabinet Hardware

Now that you've decided to give your cabinets a distressed look, it's time to take off the cabinet hardware to avoid any accidental paint splatters. Removing cabinet hardware may seem like a daunting task, but it's actually quite simple. All you need is a screwdriver, a container to keep the hardware in, and a piece of masking tape to label each piece so you know where to put them back after painting.

To make the process even easier, here's a table that you can use to keep track of each piece of hardware and its corresponding location on the cabinet. This will ensure that you don't lose any pieces and that you can easily reinstall them once the painting is done. Remember to consider hardware replacement and cabinet knob selection when choosing new hardware for your newly distressed cabinets. With the hardware safely removed, you can move on to cleaning your cabinets to prepare them for painting.

Cabinet Hardware Location Label
Cabinet Knobs Upper Cabinets A
Drawer Pulls Lower Cabinets B
Hinges Upper and Lower Cabinets C

Now that your cabinet hardware is safely stored away, it's time to clean your cabinets.

Clean Your Cabinets

To get your cabinets ready for the next step, take some time to thoroughly clean them with a mild soap and water solution. Begin by removing any loose dirt or debris with a soft-bristled brush or cloth.

Then, mix a small amount of dish soap with warm water and use a sponge to scrub away any stains or grime. Be sure to rinse the cabinets thoroughly with clean water and dry them with a soft towel.

Here are some useful cleaning methods and maintenance tips to keep in mind:

  1. Avoid using abrasive cleaners or scouring pads, as they can scratch the surface of your cabinets.
  2. Never use bleach or ammonia-based cleaners, as they can cause discoloration or damage to the finish.
  3. To remove stubborn grease or grime, try using a mixture of baking soda and water.
  4. Regular maintenance is key to keeping your cabinets looking great. Wipe them down with a damp cloth once a week to remove any dust or debris.

Now that your cabinets are clean and dry, it's time to move on to the next step: sanding.

Sand Your Cabinets

Once your cabinets are thoroughly cleaned, it's time to start sanding them to prepare for the next step. Sanding is an essential step in distressing painted cabinets as it helps to create a rough surface for the new paint to adhere to. The first thing you need to consider is the type of sandpaper grit you'll need. For the initial sanding, start with a coarse grit, such as 80 or 100, to remove the top layer of paint and create a rough surface. Then, switch to a finer grit, such as 120 or 150, to smooth out any rough edges and prepare the surface for painting.

It's important to use the correct sanding technique to avoid damaging the cabinets. Always sand with the grain of the wood, and use light pressure to avoid creating deep scratches. Be sure to wear a dust mask to protect yourself from inhaling dust particles, and use a vacuum or tack cloth to remove any sanding residue. If you're not comfortable with sanding, there are alternative distressing tools available, such as wire brushes or sanding blocks. Once you've finished sanding, it's time to move on to the next step and apply the paint stripper.

Coarse Grit Rough Removes top layer of paint
Fine Grit Smooth Prepares surface for painting
Distressing Tools Unique Alternative to sanding

In preparation for the next step, consider using a paint stripper to remove any remaining paint and prepare the surface for the next layer of paint.

Apply Paint Stripper

First, you'll need to grab some paint stripper and a paintbrush to start removing the current paint on your cabinets. Before you begin, make sure to read the instructions and follow proper chemical safety protocols. Wear gloves, goggles, and a face mask to protect your skin, eyes, and lungs from any fumes or splatters.

If you prefer not to use chemical strippers, there are alternative methods such as sanding or heat guns, but they may require more time and effort.

Once you have your paint stripper ready, apply it onto your cabinets in sections with a paintbrush. Make sure to cover the entire surface evenly and generously. Then, wait for the recommended time specified on the label before scraping off the softened paint with a putty knife or scraper.

Repeat this process until all the layers of paint have been removed, and you're left with bare wood. Now, you're ready to move on to the next step and add stain or glaze to achieve your desired distressed look.

Add Stain or Glaze

Now that you've stripped the old paint, it's time to jazz up your cabinets with a bit of stain or glaze to really make them pop! When it comes to adding color and depth to your cabinets, you have two options: stain or glaze.

Stain is great for adding natural wood tones or darker shades to your cabinets, while glaze is perfect for adding a subtle tint or a pop of color. If you decide to go with stain, there are several color options available to choose from, ranging from light to dark shades. You can also mix and match stains to create a custom look that complements your kitchen's decor.

On the other hand, if you choose glaze, you can select from a variety of colors, including black, white, and even metallic hues. To really make your cabinets stand out, consider using a combination of both stain and glaze.

With your cabinets now stained or glazed, it's time to move on to the next step: distressing them to give them that coveted vintage look.

Distress Your Cabinets

Now that you've added a stain or glaze to your painted cabinets, it's time to distress them for an even more authentic look.

Start by sanding the edges to create a worn appearance, and then use a hammer or chain to create dents and scratches.

Finally, apply a top coat to protect the finish and give your cabinets a professional look.

With these simple steps, you'll have distressed cabinets that look like they've been around for years.

Sand the Edges

Smooth out those rough edges by sanding them down, giving your cabinets a touch of rustic charm that'll make your heart skip a beat. To achieve this, you'll need to gather sandpaper, a sanding block, and possibly a power tool. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Start by lightly sanding the edges and corners of your cabinets. Use a sanding block or your fingers to apply gentle pressure as you work. This will help to smooth out any rough spots and give your cabinets a worn, vintage look.

  • If you want a more distressed look, try using a power tool like a rotary sander or an orbital sander. This will help you to remove more paint and create deeper grooves and scratches in the wood.

  • Be careful not to over-sand your cabinets. You don't want to remove too much paint or damage the wood underneath. Start with a light touch and gradually increase pressure as needed.

Once you've finished sanding your cabinets, it's time to move on to the next step. Use a hammer or chain to create even more distressing techniques.

Use a Hammer or Chain

To add more character to your cabinets, grab a hammer or chain and start tapping or hitting the edges and corners to create a unique, rustic look that'll make you smile. You can use either a hammer or chain, depending on the look you want to achieve.

A hammer will create more defined dents and scratches, while a chain will create a softer, more subtle effect. When using a hammer, hold it at a 45-degree angle to the cabinet edge and lightly tap it with the hammerhead. Continue tapping until you achieve the desired look.

For a more random effect, use the chain by wrapping it around your hand and lightly hitting the edges and corners. Experiment with different techniques until you find the one that works best for you.

Now that you've learned the best techniques for distressing cabinets using a hammer or chain, it's time to move on to creating dents and scratches using other tools.

Create Dents and Scratches

Feeling like a true DIY expert, you can grab some tools and start creating realistic dents and scratches on your cabinet doors. These intentional imperfections will add character and charm to your painted cabinets.

Here are a few tips to ensure you create the perfect distressed look:

  • Choose the right tools: To create dents and scratches, you can use a screwdriver, hammer, or even a chain. It's important to choose a tool that'll create the desired effect without damaging the cabinet beyond repair.
  • Create realistic dents: To create dents that look natural, use a hammer or screwdriver to hit the cabinet lightly. Avoid creating uniform dents as this'll look too deliberate. Instead, aim for a random pattern that mimics the natural wear and tear of everyday use.
  • Don't forget the edges: When creating dents and scratches, don't neglect the edges of the cabinet doors. These areas are often where natural wear and tear occurs, so adding intentional imperfections here will make your cabinets look even more authentic.

Now that you've created the perfect distressed look, it's time to apply a top coat to ensure your cabinets last for years to come.

Apply a Top Coat

Now that you've created the desired dents and scratches on your painted cabinets, it's time to apply a top coat. This step is crucial in distressing your cabinets as it not only protects the paint but also adds depth and texture to the final look. In this section, we will guide you in choosing the right topcoat and applying topcoat techniques that will enhance the distressed effect of your cabinets.

Choosing the right topcoat is essential in achieving the desired look. You have to consider the type of paint you used and the style you want to achieve. For instance, if you used chalk paint, you may opt for a wax finish for a rustic look or a polyurethane finish for added durability. On the other hand, if you used latex paint, a water-based polyurethane is ideal. Once you've chosen the right topcoat, it's time to apply it using the appropriate techniques. This includes using a quality brush or roller, applying it in thin coats, and sanding in between coats. With these simple steps, you can achieve a beautifully distressed look that will last for years to come.

Techniques for Applying Topcoat Benefits
Use a quality brush or roller Ensures a smooth and even application
Apply in thin coats Prevents drips and bubbles
Sand in between coats Creates a smooth and even surface
Let each coat dry completely Prevents tackiness and ensures proper adhesion
Apply additional coats as needed Enhances durability and protection

Applying a topcoat is an essential step in distressing your painted cabinets. By choosing the right topcoat and applying topcoat techniques, you can achieve a beautifully textured and durable finish. Remember to take your time and follow each step carefully for the best results.


Congratulations, you've successfully distressed your painted cabinets! You've transformed your ordinary cabinets into a unique and stylish piece of furniture. You can now enjoy the vintage and rustic look without spending a fortune on new cabinets.

By following the steps outlined in this article, you've learned how to distress painted cabinets like a pro. It may have been a bit of work, but the end result is undoubtedly worth it.

And who knows, you may have discovered a new passion for DIY home improvement projects! Remember, distressing painted cabinets is not just about the end result, it's about the journey.

It takes patience, creativity, and a willingness to experiment with different techniques. So, go ahead and let your imagination run wild, and see what masterpiece you can create next!

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