How to Refinish Kitchen Cabinets From a Dark Maple to a Lighter Color


Maple wood is naturally light and creamy brown in color. Any dark-colored maple was originally a lighter shade before someone applied a dark stain. You can brighten dark cabinets by lightening the existing finish. Light colored cabinets will make your kitchen seem brighter and bigger. To lighten the color of the dark wood cabinets, remove the stain and apply either a lighter stain or a clear finish coat. Removing stain is a labor-intensive project, so roll up your sleeves and get ready to work.

Things You'll Need

  • Trisodium phosphate
  • Palm sander
  • Sandpaper
  • Stain
  • Tack cloth
  • Rags
  • Paintbrush
  • Polyurethane topcoat
  • Clean the cabinets with trisodium phosphate, or TSP, a powerful cleaner and grease remover. Find TSP with the cleaning products in the hardware store.

  • Attach medium-grit sandpaper to a palm sander. Sand the cabinets to remove all traces of dark color. Sand until you reach bare wood.

  • Fold a piece of medium-grit sandpaper in half. Use the folded corner to reach into the small corners and crevices of the cabinets.

  • Switch the palm sander to fine-grit sandpaper. Sand the cabinets to remove any remaining traces of stain and smooth out any imperfections in the wood. Run your bare hand over the wood--the maple should be soft to the touch. Wipe away the sanding dust with a tack cloth.

  • Dip a good-quality paintbrush into a light stain. Apply stain to the cabinet and wipe away the excess with a clean rag. Allow the stain to dry. Apply additional coats until you like the look. Skip this step if you prefer the light color of the bare wood.

  • Apply a thin, even coat of polyurethane topcoat to the cabinets with a paintbrush. Let the topcoat dry completely. Apply two to three additional coats.

Tips & Warnings

  • To preserve the appearance of the cabinet, find out the age of your cabinet and understand the nature of the original finish. Choose a stain or product that most closely matches the original finish.

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  • Photo Credit kitchen cupboard detail image by ewa kubicka from
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