Guide for Kitchen Cabinet Refacing

Putting a new face on old cabinetry is a remodeling technique that saves money while updating the look of your kitchen.

What is Refacing?

In this process, the face of the cabinets – the horizontal rails and vertical stiles – are covered with a plastic or wood material. The drawer faces and doors are removed and replaced with solid wood or with composite material covered with plastic or wood veneer.

Material Options for Cabinet Refacing

This list goes from good to best, and each step up gets more expensive.

  • Thermofoil: Also called RTF (rigid thermofoil), this is a popular plastic material used on cabinet faces and replacement doors and drawers
  • Plastic laminate: An image is printed onto paper, and the paper is coated with a layer of tough, clear plastic
  • MDF: Medium-density fibreboard covered with a laminate layer imprinted with wood-grain image
  • Wood veneer: A thin layer of genuine wood on a paper backing that may have a peel and stick adhesive
  • Genuine wood: Can be used for door and drawer faces only or to cover the stiles and rails too

Refacing vs. Replacement

There are advantages each method.

Replacing cabinets: The whole unit is new. You can select a different arrangement to your cabinets as well as different sizes and types.

Refacing cabinets: Only the doors and drawer faces are replaced entirely; the rest of the visible cabinet is covered. The cost of refacing cabinets is one-third to two-thirds the cost of replacing kitchen cabinets, depending on which materials are compared.

What about Refinishing?

Refinishing wood cabinets is an option too, and we give you all the details of how it is done and price information in our Cabinet Refinishing Guide. Refinishing usually costs less, and in the estimation of many DIY homeowners, refinishing cabinets can be easier than refacing them.

Kitchen Cabinet Refacing Costs Comparison

We look at this topic in detail in our Cabinet Refacing Costs guide, but here’s an overview:

  • Cabinet refacing: $40-$150 per linear foot
  • Cabinet Replacement: $20-$700+ per linear foot, with an average for good-quality cabinets of about $300 per linear foot
  • Cabinet Refinishing: $17-$33 per linear foot

The range in refacing costs takes into account the spectrum of materials available. The low end of each price spectrum is for DIY projects where you pay nothing for labor.

Note: Companies that do both refacing and complete kitchen remodeling report that installing new cabinets costs two to three times what refacing costs, depending on the materials used.

When is Refacing a Good Choice?

When you don’t want the expense of new cabinetry and refinishing the cabinets isn’t an option, it makes sense to look into refacing kitchen cabinets.

Consider this option if:

  • You have non-wood cabinets
  • You don’t like the door and drawer style of your wood cabinets
  • You have very dark wood and stain, and you’d prefer something light
  • Your cabinet frames are in decent condition without warping or cracking

How to Reface Kitchen Cabinets

This is a moderately challenging DIY project, but if you’ve got good experience doing this kind of work, you can get excellent results.

Tools and supplies for refacing cabinets:

  • Refacing material
  • Adhesive, if needed
  • Adhesive brush, if needed
  • Measuring tape
  • Utility knife
  • J-type pressure roller

Here’s an overview of the process:

  • Remove the doors and drawer faces
  • Clean the cabinet faces rails and stiles that will be resurfaced with warm water and dish detergent
  • Tip: Don’t use a solvent-based cleaner like mineral spirits because it will soften the surface of the wood and hinder the adhesion of the new material
  • Tip: Thoroughly rinse away all soap, since a soapy film will also hinder adhesion
  • If using laminate or wood veneer, cut slightly oversized strips of material to cover the stiles and rails
  • Peel off the back, if peel and stick, or brush adhesive onto the stiles and rails
  • Press the material onto the cabinet face, and use a pressure roller to smooth the material and force out any
  • Use a utility knife to trim each piece
  • If using MDF (medium-density fiberboard) or solid wood refacing stock, it will come pre-cut from the manufacturer based on the measurements you provide, so follow the measuring directions provided very closely when ordering
  • Use the adhesive or fastener recommended by the manufacturer to install MDF and solid wood refacing materials
  • If you’ve installed wood veneer or solid wood facing, it must be sealed to protect it against moisture and stains
  • Once the cabinet frames are refaced and any wood you use has been sealed, install the doors, drawer faces and hardware
  • Install any end pieces, accessories or trim that are included in the project

Cabinet Refacing FAQ

These questions and answers provide additional information on important topics.

How long does it take to get materials?

If you order the materials, expect them to arrive in 10-21 days, possibly longer if you’re installing custom fitted solid wood refacing material.

How long will it take me to reface the cabinets?

Expect 45-90 minutes per cabinet. Your speed might increase as you get familiar with the process. If you hire a company, the crew will take 2-4 days depending on the number of cabinets and which material and extras you choose.

Which material is the easiest to work with?

Custom-cut wood pieces make for easy installation since there is no or little trimming, but they’re the most expensive too. Thermofoil, laminate and wood veneer take about the same amount of effort and time to install.

Which material offers the most color options?

You have more choices with laminate than any other refacing material.

Are there any hidden costs in cabinet refacing?

No, but additional features you choose might raise the cost. For example, the prices we’ve used on this page don’t account for hardware upgrades, door or drawer organizers or elaborate trim such as crown molding.

Are there specific refacing companies, or will a kitchen contractor do the work?

Yes to both. A refacing company might specialize in refacing, but can also provide contractors who handle countertops, flooring, lighting, etc. The situation is similar for kitchen contractors. They can include cabinet refacing in their estimate for kitchen remodeling and either do the work or subcontract it to a refacing specialist.

Can I change my kitchen cabinet arrangement or add more cabinets during refacing?

Most refacing companies can help you make adjustments to your cabinet arrangement. Adding cabinetry with the same refaced look is easy with a stock or custom-built cabinet frame. Keep in mind that each alteration will increase the cost of the project.

Related Content in this Series

View other guides in this series which you may find useful.