Instructions on How to Gel Stain Over Painted Cabinets

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If you're itching to renovate worn or outdated cabinets, a gel stain is a fantastic way to bring it up from tired to trendy. They come in a wide range of colors to brighten your space or darken your doors for a bold look that will make an impact. Gel stains can perk up old vanities and kitchen cabinets without as much effort as typical thin-liquid stains would require. And there's a good reason for that: They are thicker than typical stains and perform better. It can save you time in that you don't generally have to strip down kitchen cabinets that are in good shape. However, there are a few drawbacks to this hard-working finisher, so you need to know a bit of background before beginning.

Instructions on How to Gel Stain Over Painted Cabinets
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How Gel Stains Work

Relatively goof proof, gel stains contain urethane. This allows it to be used over existing top coats with a slick veneer or old paint and previous stains with little prep work. A good gel stain should only take one coat to get a desired uniform look. You may want to apply more coats to achieve the desired color or depth of warmth for woodwork. Cabinets not wood? For cabinets with man-made material, such as fiberglass or steel, that have a wood grain stamped surface, a gel stain can give it a wood grain appearance. Gel stain does a very good job of giving uneven wood grain a uniform look.


If you have a lot of detail on your cabinets, you may want to stay away from gel stains. The stain tends to collect in tight spots. Once it's on, it's difficult to get out. The gel stains don't penetrate the porous surface of your cabinet but rather slide over and stick to the surface. This may make the end result lighter than you intended. If you have a more porous type of wood, such as mahogany, oak, ash or walnut, you may want to rethink your gel stain choice, particularly if they are unfinished.

The Process

After you have removed all the doors and cleaned the hinges, knobs and pieces with a degreaser or other serious astringent, you are ready to apply the gel stain. Stir the gel fairly well with a long paint stick. Gel stain will, well, stain your skin so wear protective gloves and clothes you don't mind messing up. Use a paint brush to apply the stain. Apply it deep into any crevices. An old sock or rag can be used to smooth out the coat if you have uneven spots. If you plan to apply a top coat, let the project cure for at least six hours and up to 48 hours. A water-based top coat is easy to clean and preferable for high-traffic areas.

While gel stains are easier than their thin-liquid counterparts, you should know what look you are attempting to achieve and if the product works well with the materials you intend to redo.


Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at

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