Over the past few months I have received numerous questions about wood cabinet doors, and why they look faded after a few years.
I would like to answer these questions as provided to me by the cabinet door manufacturers I deal with, and my own experience. I want to provide in depth information so everyone will be as informed as possible.
The most common complaint I receive is from people with dark cabinet doors primarily made from maple wood. Darker maple shaker seems to be the wood, color and style of choice for the majority of home builders and cabinet shops due to customer preference, style, and trend.
Lets look at color. It is well known that any dark color will show spots, dirt, finger prints, dust etc considerably more that lighter colors. Look at black vehicles as an example. They look great when clean and new, but show everything and have to be cleaned constantly to keep their appearance.
Now lets look at cabinet wood types and their pros and cons. One question I had was why did my old oak cabinet doors seem to have a finish that lasted longer than my new maple doors. Oak wood is a very open grain, which allows stain to be wiped on and actually soaks into the wood a bit. Back in the day all cabinet doors were also finished with a combination of varnish and or both a shellac sealer and varnish over top. The wearability was fabulous for many years. Maple on the other hand is being used now for many reasons. Cost effectiveness, hardness, durability and does not have an open grain look like oak. Maple lends itself to a larger variety of color stains as well. Maple however being a very hard and closed grain wood does not lend itself well to a wiping stain, and that stain does not soak into the wood like it does on oak. As a result the majority of maple cabinet doors have a spray stain applied. This literally just sits on top of the wood and then gets sealed with a few coats of spray on lacquer. Lacquer is used as the choice of finish now due to the speed at which items can be finished. Varnish took a day or more to dry, the finish layer was thicker, whereas lacquers are dry enough to be resprayed after only about 20 min or quicker depending on the automation process, but film thickness is slightly thinner than the old varnishes depending how they were applied.
Care and cleaning improperly has been the major reasons for cabinet doors looking worn after only a few years. First off as stated before people with darker cabinets seem to have the most issues. They complain that they get finger prints easily, show dirt, water spots etc. I have had people say they clean or wash some of their cabinet doors, everywhere from once a week to almost daily depending on whats dirty. The majority have been using their dishrag from the sink, doing a quick wipe down and leaving it. This process has caused the finish to be worn off causing a dull look. As the door manufacturers put it “The cabinet doors have been over cleaned”. On sharp edges of the doors the lacquer has been rubbed off thus causing the stain to be rubbed off as well.
As a result we have to treat our finished products with a bit more care than we may be used to. Wood cabinet doors should be treated like fine wood furniture.
Please read my cabinet door care section in one of my previous posts.