How to Refinish Cabinets Without Sanding

Refinishing cabinets can give your kitchen a whole new look without the high cost of installing brand new cabinetry. However, refinishing often requires tedious sanding to remove the old finish and properly prepare the surface for new stain or paint. But is it possible to skip the sanding and still get great results when refinishing cabinets? The answer is yes! There are several methods for how to refinish cabinets without sanding that can save you time and effort. This guide will walk through the steps, products, and techniques needed to refresh your cabinets without taking a sander to them.

Clean and Degloss the Cabinets

Before applying any new finish, it’s critical to thoroughly clean and degloss the cabinet surfaces. This removes built-up grime, oils, and the existing glossy top coat so the new finish adheres properly.

Follow these steps for effective cleaning and deglossing:

  • Remove cabinet doors, drawers, and hardware – this gives you easier access to all surfaces.
  • Wash with a degreasing cleaner like TSP substitute or dish soap and water. Scrub to remove any greasy residues.
  • Rinse thoroughly and let dry completely.
  • Use a deglossing liquid, cream cleaner, or light sandpaper (220 grit) to dull and rough up the glossy finish. Be sure to degloss any painted or varnished areas.
  • Clean again with soap and water to remove deglossing residue.
  • Let dry fully before applying new finish.

Proper cleaning and deglossing will allow maximum adhesion for your new stain, paint, glaze, or varnish.

Choose a No-Sand Cabinet Refinishing Method

With the cabinets prepped, you can now choose the no-sand refinishing method that suits your project:

Gel Stain

Gel stains are ideal for staining wood cabinets without having to sand away existing finish. The thick gel formula sits atop the old finish and won’t absorb as deeply as liquid stains. This allows the color to go on evenly without blotchiness. Gel stains are available in a variety of wood tones from light maple to dark walnut.


  • Clean and degloss cabinets according to the steps above.
  • Apply gel stain in thin coats using a foam brush or lint-free cloth.
  • Wipe off excess for an even color application.
  • Allow to dry then add polyurethane or varnish for protection.

Paint Kit

Specialty no-sand paint kits allow you to paint cabinets without sanding the wood or existing finish. The adhesion promoter in the kit formulated for binding directly to glossy or smooth surfaces. While available in limited colors, these paints offer a fast way to give cabinets a fresh painted look.


  • Clean and degloss the cabinets well so the paint bonds properly.
  • Apply the adhesion promoter as directed by the kit instructions.
  • Paint on the color coats according to the product directions.
  • Let the paint fully cure and harden before use.


Glazing involves applying a translucent colored topcoat to alter the existing cabinet finish. For example, you can apply brown glaze over wood cabinets to enhance grain patterns or make the color deeper and richer. Glazing works on stained, painted, or clear coat finishes.


  • Clean and scuff cabinets with fine (220) sandpaper if the existing finish is very glossy.
  • Mix glazing gel or liquid according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Brush glaze over cabinets and immediately wipe off excess with a clean cloth.
  • Multiple coats may be applied to increase glaze color intensity.
  • Seal in the glaze color with a protective clear topcoat.

Gel Topcoats

Gels and thick viscosity topcoats are available in gloss, semi-gloss, and matte sheens. These can be applied directly over existing cabinet finishes to refresh the look. The gels fill in minor scratches and defects in the old finish. Always test adhesion first.


  • Clean, degloss, and scuff cabinets to ensure adhesion.
  • Brush on gel topcoat finish and smooth evenly over the surface.
  • Allow to dry fully and apply additional coats to desired sheen.

Tips for Applying New Finish Without Sanding

When refinishing cabinets without sanding, follow these tips to get the best possible results:

  • Always do test samples first on cabinet interiors or backs to ensure proper adhesion and desired results.
  • Apply thin coats of the new finish and allow proper drying time between coats.
  • Use high quality applicator brushes and microfiber cloths to smooth the finish. Foam brushes can leave bubbles.
  • Maintain clean edges by masking and lining off adjacent surfaces.
  • Work in controlled temperatures between 60-90° F and low humidity.
  • Give the new finish 14+ days to fully cure before cleaning or placing any heavy items on cabinets.
  • Add cabinet hardware and accessories as the very last step once the finish has fully cured.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of refinishing cabinets without sanding?

Refinishing without sanding saves huge amounts of time and labor. It also minimizes dust, debris, and the need to clean up or mask off the entire kitchen. You can also avoid damage that can happen to cabinets from excessive sanding.

What surfaces can be refinished without sanding?

Varnished, stained, painted, laminated, or thermofoil cabinet surfaces can usually be refinished without sanding. The existing finish does need to be deglossed for proper adhesion.

Can you restain wood cabinets without sanding?

Yes, gel stains are formulated to penetrate existing finish and stain the wood beneath. Cleaning and deglossing provides the needed preparation.

What are the limitations of no-sand methods?

The new finish may not bond as deeply or look as natural as stripping and refinishing from scratch. There is also limited selection in no-sand paint and stain colors.

Should you always degloss cabinets before refinishing?

It is highly recommended as it allows maximum adhesion. Deglossing also removes dirt, grease, and residues for a clean surface.

Can you use gel stain over painted cabinets?

Gel stains are only designed to go over existing wood or wood stains. To change the color of painted cabinets, use a bonding paint designed for laminate or thermofoil surfaces.


Refinishing kitchen cabinets without sanding is a viable process that can provide dramatic visual changes without the intense labor and mess. With the right no-sand products and proper preparation, you can achieve beautiful stained, painted, glazed, or sealed cabinets. Just be sure to thoroughly clean and degloss the existing finish so the new coating bonds and adheres smoothly and evenly. Follow the product instructions closely and allow adequate drying time. Then stand back and admire your refinished cabinets that look like new – no sanding required!