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 ...and thanks for stopping by. I'm Claire Douglas,  DIY and home interiors writer specialising in money-saving and creative home interior projects. I've spent years developing my 'bespoke on a budget' approach to DIY and home interiors and I love sharing all my tips and tricks in tutorials and posts here on my blog, in articles I write for some of the leading titles, in the press, on Instagram, Tiktok and my online course

How to update kitchen cabinets without painting

Updated: Apr 15

green and white kitchen with pendant lighting

It's handy to know how to update kitchen cabinets without painting because not all DIYs need to be hugely complicated, require a paintbrush or take forever (although in my house, they do tend to go that way quite often!). There are lots of quick and easy DIY projects that you can get cracking with at home that will make a big difference to your living space and won’t cost you much in time or money. 

Updating kitchen cabinets without painting can be achieved in several ways to give your space a fresh, updated look. 

  • Consider installing new cabinets, either in a sleek stainless steel finish for a modern feel or solid wood for a classic touch. 

  • For an open and airy feel, opt for open shelving or glass panel doors on upper cabinets. 

  • Swapping out old cabinet doors and drawer fronts for new ones in a different wood tone or colour can also make a significant difference. 

  • Don't forget small changes like updating light fixtures with modern designs or adding crown moulding for a more polished look. 

  • Incorporating new appliances in white or stainless steel can instantly elevate the overall look of your kitchen. 

  • Adding reeded glass film to glass-fronted cabinets.

  • To tie everything together, choose complementary countertops and backsplash, like white subway tile for a clean look. 

  • Replacing hardware is a great alternative to a fresh coat of paint as can completely freshen up the look.

Let's look at some kitchen updates in more detail - without a drop of paint being splashed anywhere!

How to update kitchen cabinets without painting: Quick and easy budget-friendly ideas

These examples are ideal for revamping an outdated kitchen and adding some creative touches in line with your design style. If you're hoping for a fresh new look in an inexpensive way, then read on for some top tips for the best way to achieve this. 

1. Give your kitchen cabinets a deep clean

Cleaning kitchen cabinets

Use a sugar soap spray to remove any grease or grime from wood cabinets if you plan to paint or cover. Be sure to wash off the sugar soap and dry before starting your DIY, this will ensure a clean, dry surface for optimum adhesion. Baking soda is a super handy product to use for removing grease from kitchen cabinets as it cuts through grease without harsh chemicals. If your cabinets aren't greasy, a quick spray with some diluted washing-up liquid will suffice after you have emptied out the cupboards and swept or hoovered up any dust or debris. With old kitchen cabinets that are in good condition but could do with a fresh look, using some elbow grease on a deep clean can make a big difference.

2. Overhaul your kitchen cabinet shelf configuration

kitchen open shelving

When overhauling your kitchen cabinets its a prime time to reassess the position of your shelves as there might be improvements to be made. Although these changes are behind the doors so won't change the look of your kitchen cabinets, they can make a big difference to how useful and practical they are. Sometimes it’s more practical to have fewer shelves and larger gaps between them as this allows for storage of taller items as well as the addition of storage baskets or containers, which can be more aesthetically pleasing and help with organisation. 

3. Add contact paper to kitchen cabinets for a style statement

Floral contact paper

Kitchen cabinets get used a lot and need to be more resilient than other cupboards in your home. I, therefore, don’t recommend using wallpaper to jazz up the insides unless it's a scrubbable product. Contact paper is much more suited to creating a resilient &unique look, as it has a vinyl coating, making it very easy to clean and much more durable. Contact paper is quick and easy to apply, low cost and comes in a variety of designs, allowing you to upgrade old or damaged cabinets quickly. You can pick contact paper up from most DIY stores or from Amazon like this one and it's a great product for rental-friendly home styling

Adding storage solutions to kitchen cabinets

There are so many space-saving and helpful kitchen cabinet organisers available that it’s definitely worth incorporating some if you have the budget. Improving your home storage and organisation is so satisfying and saves you so much time in the long run as everything has its place making tidying up easier (unlike in my house at the moment where every drawer and cupboard is jammed full of stuff - arghhh! Time for a big declutter again!). Here are some ideas that could be completed in an hour.

4. An inner storage drawer to a deep pan drawer

Most pan drawers come with the ability to retrofit a shallow inner drawer, which could be used for cutlery and utensils. This requires some construction of the inner drawer pieces that you can then attach to the drawer. Adding an inner storage drawer to your deep pan drawers can almost double their value as makes use of all the otherwise dead space. I regretted not getting them when we did our kitchen makeover upon first moving, so bought them separately and fitted them myself later and didn't look back, a big impact in under an hour.

5. Add a pull-out pantry to your narrow kitchen cabinets.

Pull-out pantry attachments are a great way to get the best use of a deep but narrow cupboard. The pull-out storage mechanism operates on an in-cupboard runner that is quick to attach to the cupboard carcass. You’ll need to remove the doors and attach them to the front of the pull-out mechanism once in place. This DIY could be done in an hour if you have all the items you need to hand and have planned your steps.

6. Organise and revamp the under-sink area

Organised under-sink cupboard

Under the sink is often a bit of a dumping ground for cleaning products and utensils and can look a bit chaotic if you aren’t careful. In under an hour, you can overhaul your under-sink area by completing the following steps… - Clear the cupboard and decide if you need all the contents

- Clean the cupboard with a damp cloth and some eco-friendly washing-up liquid. - Install your chosen storage organisers. Top Tip: I recommend using a two-tier system with pull-out sections like this for maximum access that can be screwed into the base of the cabinet.

- Attach hanging hooks to the back of the cabinet door like these for cloths and brushes, further maximising the use of space. These hooks can be attached with command strips or tiny screws (if the door thickness will allow).

7. Install an in-cupboard pull-out bin

An in-cupboard pull-out bin

Installing an in-cupboard pull-out bin is a great DIY to complete in under an hour as it transforms a cupboard and means you don’t need an ugly bin taking up precious kitchen floor space.

This can be completed in under an hour as simply requires the bin housing to be screwed into the cabinet carcass in order to attach the pull-out mechanism. This is the pull-out bin I bought from Amazon and I love it. It was the best value bin I could find as many were VERY expensive! Here's the step-by-step tutorial for installing an in-cupboard pull-out bin.

8. Upgrade the kitchen cabinet handles

kitchen with green cabinets and black handles with white concrete walls

New hardware for cabinet doors and drawers is not a big project but it can create a whole new look. 

New cabinet hardware is such a simple change but a little bit of effort can go a long way to a stylish end result. There is a huge range of kitchen door handles on the market these days, with styles to suit all kitchens. I plumped for some super bargainous ones from Amazon and they totally changed the look of my kitchen cabinets. Here's the link in case it's useful.

9. Replace the doors and drawer fronts

An easy (but not necessarily inexpensive) way to create a more modern look is to replace the cabinetry. New cabinet doors and drawers can make the whole kitchen feel like new. You could send your old cabinet doors and drawers off to be spray painted/powder coated to get that new kitchen feel without the hassle of painting and the risk of chips and marks.

The secret to updating kitchen cabinets is getting organised; here are my top tips...

If you long for a modern kitchen, but your cabinets are letting the side down, then the above ideas will result in a complete overhaul without spending a fortune. 

  • Plan everything and leave nothing to chance. 

  • Figure out all the steps and the exact tools and materials you’ll need to complete them beforehand. 

  • Gather everything before you start and check all your tools are in working order and see if any bits (drills) or blades (saws) need replacing. 

  • Charge any rechargeable tools so a dead battery doesn’t hinder your progress.

  • Research the project and see if there are any tutorials or instructions you can follow that might also advise on common mistakes to avoid. 

  • Have some spare materials to save delays caused by running out.

  • With painting projects, look for paints that include an undercoat or primer and have excellent coverage.

I hope this was helpful - let me know in the comments if you try any of these projects!

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