A DIY Disaster

Last week I got a wild hair and decided to stain our kitchen cabinets a darker color.  Uh yea, still talking about the kitchen.  I thought I could be a smarty pants and not sand our cabinets and strip the original finish off first.  BIG MISTAKE.  I can laugh about my miserable attempt now, but I was not a happy camper for about 2 days last week. :)  I don’t blame my dad or anything, but he did say that I could stain them without doing anything first.  And since I’m a good daughter and always listen to what Daddy says, I tried it.

Let me first say that I did do something right and cleaned all of the cabinets with TSP.  Then I applied some minwax stain to them with a staining pad, being sure to not use too much.  And then I would wipe off the excess but very lightly.  I made sure the wood grain was still showing and not looking like I was “painting” on stain.  That’s not good.

Anyhow, look how pretty they are looking at this point…

That pic above is just 1 coat of stain on the cabinet door…not the frame (and yes, I’ve repainted over that yellow back there in the corner where I never finished cutting in when I painted the kitchen grey).

But it’s looking good right?  Here’s another.

Just be looking at the upper cabinets.  Thank GOD I didn’t do the bottom cabinets, but unfortunately I did do all of the upper cabinets in the kitchen.

And one more pic of how the stained uppers compare to the bottom cabinets.

It looked so pretty in person.  But do you notice anything odd?  Maybe like how shiny they are?? Which by the way me and my husband really liked.  We were diggin’ the glossy look.

So since I was doing this at night, I didn’t think anything of it and just thought it had to dry.  So I got up the next morning and ran to the kitchen to admire my work and they were SO sticky and tacky.  And still shiny (which was ok with us).  I thought “hmmm” so I started googling and found some people who said it can take a while for stain to dry if it’s humid where you live.  Then I was happy again because we live in Texas, and yes it’s humid here!

Then I let it dry for another day.  Went to touch them the next morning and they were STILL sticky.  At this point I started freaking out a little bit. Did more googling, and to confirm what I thought the problem was I called Minwax’s 800 number.  Yes, I called them to speak to the professionals.  I told them what I did and they said “sorry, that is leftover stain residue and you are going to have to take some Mineral Spirits and wipe all of the cabinets down to remove it.”  I said “well won’t that remove all of the stain I’ve applied?”

And sure enough, yes, it did.  Why?  Because the stain never had a smooth bare wood surface to stick to from the beginning.  So basically, the stain I applied was just sitting on top of our original finish on our cabinets.  And then the fun began (did I already mention I wasn’t happy?) and I had to use some major elbow grease and wipe them ALL down with mineral spirits, saying bye-bye to that rich dark color. Sniff.

So yep, our cabinets still look the same as they once did. Haha.  3 days of hard work all for nothing.  I was pretty sickened by it, but over it now.  I think I may even need to apply a coat of poly on top just to be safe. Guess I better call Minwax again.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on how NOT to stain cabinets, and learned to always sand/strip any existing finish you have on wood if you are thinking of staining it a different color.  But I’m sure you all knew that already…I should get an E for effort though right? :)

*Update* I forgot to add before that with the cabinets being shiny and sticky, they would have really been messed up once I applied the coat of Poly on top, if the stain never fully dried. If you apply poly to wet and sticky stain, you will get like a “hazing” effect. That would be bad.

Sharing this post at Beth’s Tutorials and Tips party, The Lettered Cottage How-To Day, and Tip Junkie Tip Me Tuesday.

Also, check out my new subscribe tab so we can always stay in touch and you’ll never miss important tutorials like this one. ;)



  • Click to Share:
  • Share This Post on Facebook
  • Email this Post
  • Share this Post on Twitter
Also find me here:
  • Follow on Pinterest
  • Follow on Google+
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Follow on Instagram


  1. Oh my gosh. I cannot even imagine your emotions! I would’ve been so frustrated…I have to ask, are you planning to try it again?

    Emily from Nap Time Is My Time

    • Ummmm, that’s unlikely. Maybe I’ll paint them white. ;)

      • I’m aware this post is old as molasses, BUT “I” WOULD NOT paint those white! They really looked good with the darker stain!! I really liked how they went so well with your counter tops!! If I were you, I’d check out the link below and you will be amazed! Some of those kitchens didn’t even look the same afterward! You can also keep the natural wood grain showing through…with no sanding!! Check it out…provided you have not already painted those beautiful cabinets white :(


      • Your Dad had the right idea if you use a high quality gel stain like General Finishes Gel Stain. Their Java gel stain is highly popular and can be seen all over the internet if you google it. All you have to do is give the cabinets a very light scruff sand and the gel stain is applied like paint – which is why you can apply it right over any finish because it’s VERY thick like pudding.

  2. Oh, what a sad story! They looked so pretty, too!

    If you are thinking of putting a coat of poly on, you may want to try some polyshades–stain and poly in 1. I believe you *can* put it right over a shiny surface, but worth calling Minwax just to be sure. They make one in a dark walnut color that I’ve used for various projects.

    • I used the polyshades on my stair rail that was pretty glossy – I didn’t sand and it “took” pretty well. We use the rail all the time & no problems. However, kitchen cabinets are a whole different ballgame so I have no clue if it would work!!

      I totally know the “sick, pit of your stomach feeling” that you get when you realize you have a major redo on your hands. Thanks for sharing though!! :)

  3. kristin M says:

    Think of it as a dress rehearsal! There aren’t many renovations you can “try before you buy”. At least you didn’t ruin the cabinets and you got to visualize what they look like darker, which in this case got a big thumbs up from both you and the hubs. That’s a big bonus.

  4. Well, at least now you know what your cabinets would look like darker and how to do them if you loved the look! They do look pretty. :)

  5. You really don’t need to strip your cabinets. What you need is a clear coat that has color pigment mixed in it. This is referred to as Toner. Research Toner, Youtube it! You can also contact me if you want to know more about this.

    • I would love to hear more about this? I have oak cabs that have a clear coat on top of them and want to go darker, i am pretty sure they were never stained they are light with just a poly of some sort over them….. I figured i would have to sand everything down and then stain? but you are saying i can just do something right on top without the DIY disaster like above??? PLEASE DO TELL!!! =)

  6. Oh, no!!! Sorry that it has been a disaster so far! I can not wait to see the finished product. We are thinking of painting, staining, doing something to our cabinets so I am looking for inspiration.

  7. We had some friends who did a “gel” stain over the existing stain on their cabinets. Not sure if that is different than the stain you used, but they didn’t seem to have the problems that you had and I don’t think they had to do a lot of heavy prep work. It’s worth looking into! So sorry for your diy disaster – but sometimes that just makes the next attempt that much better!

  8. I do like the color though! Which stain did you use?

  9. Oh my gosh girl!!! I am so sorry! what a mess! I too have heard you could restain over stain-hmmm now Im guessing now. For a great chemical-free stripper I use that Citris-strip-its awesome and another one called lift-off. You may get away with just using that instead of having to remove the door and hand sanding them.
    Sounds like you need to gather all your girlfriends and have a staining party! LOL (I’ll bring the wine!)

    • Well let me clarify–You probably can stain over stain, but not if there is a clear top coat like our cabinets had? I don’t know for sure, I’m just guessing.

      Yes, a staining party!!

      • Kandy Corder says:

        You can test for a topcoat by using a cotton ball soaked in acetone nail Polish remover. If it is varnish or lacquer the cotton ball will stick to it and remove the shine. If it is poly product nothing will happen. Lacquer or varnish can be cleaned and lightly sanded then it will accept the stain. Poly will have to be stripped and sanded first. Hope this helps.

  10. NO FUN! I would have been a heap of tears as I wiped off all my hard work. LOL! You inspire me fails and all. :)

  11. I have heard of people using the gel stain over the poly surface. I’ve read several things that say it works, but I guess I’d want to try it out before doing it. I’ve got a whole kitchen of oak cabinets that I’d love to restain a bit darker, but no way am I going to strip them all down.

  12. Oh girl! So sorry! I did like how they looked darker. I guess it wasn’t as easy as when you darkened your stair rail!

  13. Oh yuck! You sound a bit like me. I always think of the “easiest” way to do things and sometimes it isn’t the best! Just think how beautiful they will be when you are done. You get kudos from me for being so brave as to attempt such a project. I’m chicken. Hugs and Tweets! Debbie

  14. That is a big bummer! Sorry to hear that especially to get nothing accomplished after 3 days hard work!

  15. Oh, that’s so frustrating! But I’m happy to see that you’ve kept your sense of humor. Or gotten it back!

  16. So sorry :( I used gel wax to stain a coffee table. Same icky, sticky problem. But I no that doesn’t compare to kitchen cabinets. At least you are brave enough to attempt staining your cabinets. I have thought about it many times, but too chicken :)

  17. You should buy a small can of the “gel” stain and try it. My parents had great luck with it over their old 90’s pink cabinets. They got it from Sherwin Williams. No sanding or anything.

  18. I’ve learned that the hard way too(kinda). I knew you had to sand, but I didn’t realize you had to sand ALL the old color off first. Paint stays on the surface so it doesn’t matter whats under it. It bonds to itself. Stain, on the other hand, MUST get absorbed in the pores of the wood. If those pores are already full of old stain or poly, the stain will just sit on top of the wood and never cure.

  19. Oops! At least your cabinets weren’t ruined.

  20. So…I wish I had your problem. I stripped and sanded my doors and began staining with Minwax dark walnut. 1 door looks amazing, but the others won’t even come close to the same color. Why? The cobinet doors are all made from different woods :) Yep…cheap builders found a way to skimp and cost me a lot of heartache. Now I have no doors and want to paint, but the hubs says no way. He still wants me to try to match the colors. Oh yeah…this is gonna be a fun summer. LOL

  21. I feel for ya, but all was not lost since you could remove it all. It was good of you to post about it; you never know who out there might have been ready to do the same project. You saved them a lot of time and energy.

    (I liked how they looked, too. So rich and shiny looking. Next time they will turn out!)


  22. Hi!
    First of all I wanted to say I’m sorry you had to go through. It’s frustrating when you have a plan and it doesn’t work out!

    Secondly I wanted to say: Kuddos to you for sharing this “blooper”. It’s tough for some people to tell others about their mistakes. You sharing this information is likely going to save some other hard working souls a lot of time and effort! So, Thanks for sharing!

    You know what they say, If at first you don’t succeed….

    good luck!

  23. OMG! You poor thing! I’m sorry you had to go through all of that for nothing.

  24. Oh, that would be so extremely frustrating! I’ve painted cabinets before and it was a total hassle! Thanks for sharing your project! You may have spared others a huge headache!

    Katie Flynn

  25. Oh no, that would make me insane! That’s why I’m not brave enough to try those big projects.

    The people who owned this house before us, painted the cabinets an off white. It looked nice, but when you touched them they were so sticky. After moving in, I found that just bumping into them made the paint peel. I finally had enough of it and stripped the bathroom cabinets and repainted them white. The kitchen I was too scared to do, so we hired someone. They used a sprayer with paint that’s strong like car paint. It was $1500, but money well spent.

  26. Oh no! They do look great stained. So, you’ll know you’ll love it when you try again!

  27. This is totally something that would happen to me! How frustrating! I do like the color though!

  28. We live in Texas as well and live in a very similar house! Thank goodness you posted your ‘disaster’ because I was about to do the identical thing!! Now, I’m thinking about glazing the current maple cabinets with a chocolate glaze.

  29. Total bummer!!!!

  30. It’s a good thing I have you on my facebook page. I have an old dresser type piece that needs to be painted. I thought you just put on the paint. Thank you so much for helping those of us who don’t know beans about anything. I’m not sure I’ll ever get the nerve to tackle that myself, but I will be getting back to your page for references and help if I do. I appreciate your honesty and instruction.

  31. Oh no! I’m sorry your cabinets didn’t turn out the way you liked it :( However, I have used gel stain and was very successful at it. It is a process that can be very frustrating and time consuming, but if done properly it can look beautiful.

    First off, you should sand just a little, just enough to scuff the surface. You can use a 320 grit sandpaper for this and make sure you wipe it down really well after. Second, use an old sock just as you would a glove to apply the stain. Third, you must let it dry completely. It will be sticky/tacky until you do and it could take days, but if you can stand the heat use floor heaters and blast the cabinets with heat. Last, to get rid of that shiny look, use a matte finished polyurethane over it and use a sprayer to apply. We used a water pased poly and sprayed it with a sprayer we bought at lowes.

    If you would like I can send you pics of the process and the after results from my kitchen. I absolutely love my cabinets now and the gel stain has held up really well.


    • My husband and I have been SO interested in using a gel stain but I’ve been too scared! I would love to see your process and after result pictures! We were blessed with those awful orangey builder grade cabinets that need some serious TLC!

      • @Megan

        I will be sending you an email with pics and info on how to use gel stain.


    • Hi Michelle,

      About to undertake my kitchen cabinets with gel stain! Would love any advice you have for a super good finish.


    • @Michelle, I’m thinking about tackling gel stain on my kitchen cabinets. I’d love to see your pictures, as well as any tips! Can you email me? Thanks!

  32. So sorry about your cabinets! Have you ever used Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations or know anyone who has? I’m tempted to try it, but am also timid to take on such a big project. If you have any insight, please share! Thanks! :)

  33. Sorry to hear about your cabinet problem! Ugh…

  34. Anonymous says:

    Ooooooooooh white sounds so nice!!! Your amazing and I’m sure whatever the finished product is, it will be lovely. Be Blessed ;)

  35. Have you ever considered using a gel stain? I’ve googled it A TON, because we have those sad builder grade orangey cabinets and I’m not sure white cabinets are the route for our house (considering we have lots of neutral beige walls….) You supposedly don’t have to sand, all though I’ve heard it works better if you sand a little bit. Anyways, I love your blog, AND Your house because it looks so similar to mine and I always find great ideas!

  36. So, Rust-Oleum has a new product out to do cabinets without the stripping/sanding that we’ve seen both at Home Depot and Lowe’s. We’ve really been thinking about trying it (we want to go darker on our cabinets too!).
    Check it out: http://cabinets.rustoleumtransformations.com/

    I haven’t had the guts to do it yet…. :-o

  37. Well, I guess you could say that you burned a lot of calories! Good to know, because I have several wood/stained pieces of furniture that I would like to paint…. Thanks for the anti-tutorial!

  38. I have an idea, that I haven’t tried yet, but am planning.

    I have 100+ year old pine trim in my house, and I want it stained darker. I have stripped it, and as you might know, the pine HATES stain. So my plan is to strip, put on a clear poly, and then put POLYSHADES on top. It is a poly/stain in one, which I’m guessing is essentially a tinted poly. I don’t think the stain actually sinks into the wood like it normally would. I’m obviously going to test my theory first (I’ve tried multiple techniques on scrap pieces and nothing’s worked yet!) and then see what happens.

  39. Thanks so much for sharing this. I was about to try the exact same technique with a table and chair set. I’m glad for the heads up to strip it first!

  40. Maria Ricci says:

    THANK YOU for posting your fail!!! I am just starting to sand my oak wood and needed this advise!!

  41. Thank you so muchfor sharing this! I was about to try this on a vintage dresser.

  42. Sorry for your horrible ordeal! But THANK YOU becuase I’ve searched and searched and found plenty of web articles claiming you CAN stain finished cabinents without sanding and I was surely going to run out and do it. I will now take another 2 days off work so I can reluctently sand and do it right!

  43. Michelle, I too would love to see pictures, and know the process you used. I have Maple cabinets that have yellowed over time, and I hate them. I would love to stain them but am afraid, and don’t really want to sand them all down. Thanks!

  44. Your blog really helped. I added stain on unstained wood and globbed it on without wiping it off after And not the best look. So did what u did and called minwax and got all the directions to fix my oopsy! Thanks

  45. Minwax is a penetrating stain that already has a finish in it.It SEALS, stains and penetrates, not just stains. That’s why it say to remove excess after 15 minutes. I have succesfully applied it to old worn finishes, but only to cover the worn part, and always removing the excess. It can not be applied over an existing finish
    However, you CAN apply gel stain over a well-cleaned surface without removing the original finish. It is designed to do this. Minwax makes a gel stain, but Professional Finishes is better…much better. Go to a woodworking store (Rockler) to buy it. I think Old Masters by Zinsser is better as well. There are some great thread on woodworking sites covering this very topic with quite impressive results. Haven’t looked to see what you did, but for anyone else reading, it is posiible to go darker successfully! CTD

  46. metallic paints says:

    I’m gone to say to my little brother, that he should also visit this weblog on regular basis to obtain updated from hottest news.

  47. I was curious about the center panel of your kitchen cabinets…Is it solid wood or plywood with a venire?

    I’ve started a project with the General Finishes Gel Stain that was so popular and I’m glad I only did the backs of the cabinet doors. Its awful. At the thickness this stuff goes on it’s better to just paint your cabinets. You lose the entire wood feel.

  48. Too bad you hadn’t heard about General Finishes Gen Stain, which CAN be applied directly over existing finishes with only minimal ‘sanding’ with a 3M pad. This product is AMAZING! Check out the following video on YouTube for a good example of what you need (needed) to do. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT4dPDzUvYE

  49. I actually like how the top cabinets came out! I would have turned the AC or fan to keep the kitchen area cool enough so that the excess could dry faster. What color stain did you use for the cabinets?

  50. Wish I would have read this article first. I also had the brilliant idea to stain my cabinets darker color thinking it cant be that big of a job for one person. Well I had the same results very shinny, sticky cabinets tat I let dry for 3 days and when anything rubbed against then it took the stain right off leaving a big light colored spot on the cabinet. So now I have a stinky house, a headache from the fumes and a huge job ahead of me in sanding all the cabinets, restaining & of course dry time. I’ve been without a kitchen for 3 days now and with two teenagers this really needs to be done already.
    Overwhelmed & exhausted!

  51. Yesterday I got the big idea to gel stain the cabinets in my laundry room. Ouch!!! They were still sticky this morning! So I started googling and found you story. Wow! I feel your pain. In fact I’m sharing in your pain. Thank you so much for telling how to remove this stuff!! Well……I’m off to the hardware store.

    • I had a bad experience with Polyshades, doing a new oak fireplace mantle with it. I followed the directions carefully. On the horizontal surfaces, it was easy and looked good. But on the vertical surfaces and especially around raised wood detail, it was just impossible to get it perfectly even. I called Minwax and they recommended stripping and sanding and doing it with their traditional stain and poly which, to their credit, they provided to me free of charge. It took a lot of extra work just to get back to a fresh start. With their traditional stain and clear poly method, it came out great. I would never use Polyshades again. The traditional method was actually less work, too.

  52. What color stain did you use?


  1. […] luckily this week I haven’t had any more cabinet disasters, and that’s because I’ve been working outside on the patio!  I can’t wait to […]

  2. […] and didn’t really like it (I’ll explain on that more in a different post), and then I even tried to stain ours darker and failed miserably.  I’m wishy washy, that’s all.  Don’t hate me […]

  3. […] paint our oak cabinets. Then the last you heard about me painting cabinets was 2 years ago! Then I tried to even stain them darker and that was a disaster. Then I wrote yet another post about white kitchens and decided that white kitchens are what makes […]

  4. […] arian foster   miguel cotto   dexter   obama   Eydie Gorme […]

  5. […] Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets A Diy Disaster Decorchick! ® Size: 800 X 600 | Source: decorchick.com […]