How to Revive Cabinet Finishes
Q: Can I restore the dull finish on my cabinets?
Our 10-year-old kitchen cabinets are stained maple with a clear finish. The finish on several doors, especially the ones above the sink and coffeepot, has turned dull. Can it be restored?
—Mike and Kathy Snyder, Pittsburgh
Norm Abram replies: This is a common problem in kitchens. When you wash dishes or make coffee, warm, moist air rises and condenses on the cabinets above. Both polyurethane and catalyzed lacquer finishes, which are widely used today on cabinets, turn dull when repeatedly exposed to moisture. Coffeemakers are notorious for ruining finishes because they fit so conveniently under the upper cabinets, right where hot steam will do the most damage.
Repairing a finish is easy if it's still intact. Just clean the door thoroughly with mineral spirits, then sand it lightly with 220-grit -paper. Vacuum off the dust, and brush on at least two coats of a gloss, oil-based polyurethane. Be sure to ventilate the area well. If the dry finish is too glossy, rub it with steel wool—grade 0000, super fine—until its sheen matches the rest of the cabinets.
But if the top finish is gone and the stain is damaged, getting a good match will be more difficult. First, try applying fresh top coats of polyurethane, as above. You may be lucky and find that the color differences aren't that noticeable. But if the wood remains blotchy, you could either order new doors or take them to a professional furniture refinisher, who'll know just what it takes to put back their original color and sheen.