Satin vs. Semi Gloss Kitchen Cabinets

Homeowners looking to give their kitchens a face-lift don't have to spend a lot of money; simple jobs such as refinishing cabinets can give a kitchen a whole new look without the cost of a professional contractor. When considering which paint to use for their refinishing jobs, homeowners are confronted with not only hundreds of colors, but also several different sheens. Two popular sheens for kitchen cabinets are satin and semi-gloss.

A fresh coat of paint can instantly update an older kitchen.


The term "finish" in painting refers to the sheen or shine of the surface after the paint dries. Satin finishes offer a mildly glossy finish and are similar to eggshell finishes; both are common due to their durability. Semi-gloss finishes, on the other hand, have a glossier shine that is much more noticeable than satin finishes. Due to the light that this glossier finish reflects, semi-gloss finishes show imperfections under the paint surface, such as dents, dings and scratches, more clearly than satin finishes.


When painting kitchen cabinets, use a paint that is durable enough to withstand heavy use causing oil, grease, fingerprints and even scratches or mold. Satin finishes are long-lasting and highly durable for high-traffic areas, but they don't hold up quite as well as semi-gloss against mold and mildew. That's why semi-gloss is often recommended for cabinets in high-moisture environments such as kitchens.

Cleaning and Touching Up

Painted surfaces typically require cleaning and touching up at some point. Both satin and semi-gloss paints are durable for cleaning. Semigloss paint has an extra protective coating that can be scrubbed, however, so it's easier to clean up stains from markers, crayons and other substances on semi-gloss surfaces. Touching up is a different story, however. Homeowners touch up cabinets to cover scratches or recently patched areas. Satin paint is better for touch-up, as semi-gloss paints tend to amplify imperfections; making touched-up areas more noticeable.

Application and Appearance

Both satin and semi-gloss paints are easy to apply to cabinets. Since semi-gloss finishes amplify imperfections, however, cabinets that have not been properly sanded might show imperfections that a satin finish would hide. Semi-gloss finishes also will show brush strokes or drips easier than satin finishes. Therefore, when applying a semi-gloss paint, use even brush strokes and apply each coat lightly, rather than using a heavy amount of paint on one coat.

Shailynn Krow

Shailynn Krow began writing professionally in 2002. She has contributed articles on food, weddings, travel, human resources/management and parenting to numerous online and offline publications. Krow holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles and an Associate of Science in pastry arts from the International Culinary Institute of America.