Bleaching kitchen cabinets is a project that can turn dark and dingy into bright and beautiful. Over time, exposure to light and the environment can cause stained kitchen cabinets to darken. While cleaning can remove much of the dirt and grime, bleaching will restore the luster and feeling of “new” with a great deal less expense. This is an easy project requiring more time than expertise, and even a novice can achieve great results.
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A chemical reaction between the bleach solution and the wood stain does not actually remove color, but it converts the stain to a colorless substance. This chemical reaction must occur directly between the bleach solution and bare wood. So removal of protective finishes must take place before bleaching. The easiest way to strip cabinets is to remove doors and hardware, and use a paste-type remover you can brush on and scrape off with a putty knife.
It is essential to neutralize the bleach solution when the bleaching process is complete. Bleach residue can affect later attempts to stain or paint the cabinets.
To prevent skin and eye injury, take proper safety precautions. Ventilate the work area, and wear eye protection and rubber gloves. Protect kitchen counters and floors from bleach stains by covering them with newspaper or a tarp.
The warmer the room temperature, the easier it will be to complete this project. If you live in a cold climate, make this a summer project.
Different bleach solutions produce different results. So choosing the correct type of bleach makes this project even easier. To lighten wood and remove all color variations, use a two-part peroxide bleach, commonly called A/B bleach. A/B bleach comes in separate containers you can apply in a two-step process, but the easiest way to apply A/B bleach is to mix the containers and apply all at once. To ensure more even coverage and to avoid oversaturating the wood, apply bleach using a paintbrush. Once you achieve desired results, allow the wood to dry and neutralize with a 50 percent vinegar-water solution.
To remove color but retain natural color variations within the wood grain, use chlorine bleach. The best type is “pool shock,” or dry calcium hypochlorite. Start with a bucket of hot water, and mix in the bleach powder until no more powder will dissolve. Apply the saturated chlorine solution liberally, and allow it to dry overnight. Depending on the type of wood and stain, you may not see full results right away. An additional application may be necessary to achieve desired results. When complete, neutralize with distilled water or a solution of 50 percent baking soda-water.
Once the bleaching process is complete and the cabinets are neutralized and thoroughly dry, exercise your options: Seal and leave your cabinets in their natural state, or stain or paint them to match your decor.