Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations

The cabinets in our house are plain and in bad shape. We can't afford to replace them, so we decided to try this Rustoleum Cabinet Transormations kit for $75 at Home Depot (good for up to 100 square feet of cabinets). It can be used on all wood, laminate, melamine, and metal surfaces! The Cabinet Transformations series comes in a few different options: they have kits for dark colors or light colors, one specifically for white, and one to refinish wood. Depending on the kit/color, I think you can achieve a stain-like affect for your cabinets, but our color was too dark for that. Instead, I think our cabinets ended up looking painted but still much improved in the long run.

I'm going to explain some information about the kit and how we went along with it. Any tips I can come up with I will be sure to mention.

First you pick out which kit you want to use--we wanted the dark colors kit--and then choose which color you want to change your cabinets to. The original color of your cabinets doesn't matter (going dark to light or light to dark, or changing the dark or light color of your cabinets to something else) and just about anything should work either way. In the video they show dark cabinets being painted a light color and it has impressive results.

For the dark color kit, they have 24 different color options to chose from; we chose "chocolate." You have to take it to the paint counter so you can get the base tinted to the color you choose. There are pictures on the box to show you the different colors (and you can see them here). Along with the "bond coat" (the colored base), there is a decorative glaze and a protective top coat. The kit shows you what the cabinet should look like with or without the optional decorative glaze. You can choose to not use the glaze, but you're still paying for it! There are only 11 light colors to chose from, and you can see them here. The glaze makes a big difference as far as the light colors go, and only a slight difference for the darker colors.\

  • All of the products are water-soluble except for the protective coat (I think/assume since it's supposed to protect against stains and water). This makes cleaning up drips easy (even if you missed them and they dried on the table or floor) and paintbrush clean up easy as well--simply fill your used paint container with soap and water (I used dish soap) and mix it up real good with the paintbrush. Let sit for a while and then it all rinses out. I think products 1-3 are supposed to be water soluble, so you probably could just use water to clean them (soap makes it easier). But soap is definitely needed for the Protective Top Coat because it's like a glue. 
The booklet is helpful in showing you how to measure your cabinets to estimate square footage and if you'll need more than one kit (if you haven't measured already when you go to buy the kit). We didn't know about it when we went to Home Depot--we brought a cupboard door to ask them if it's possible to stain our cabinets (it's not), and he directed us to the Rustoleum shelf. It also shows you the best way to paint your cabinets (brush strokes in what direction). There is enough bond coat to cover the front and backs of the doors, the front of the drawers, and cabinet frames all with two coats. There is not enough to do the insides of the drawers or cabinet frames, or to do the shelves.

There is no stripping or sanding needed since the kit comes with a deglosser and scrub pads to both clean and roughen the surface before you apply the color. And you don't need to prime either unless you're using unfinished wood. Also, the instruction booklet says if you have knotty pine cabinets, you'll need to prime the whole surface with a shellac base primer such as Zinsser B-I-N Primer. If you're painting over raw wood, they recommend Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer.

Most useful of all, it comes with an instructional DVD to show you how to do step by step!

There are a few materials that you need to buy separately for the kit: 3-2" synthetic brushes, a 2" foam brush, 2" painter's tape, drop cloths (we used the same plastic we'd used to paint the walls) , gloves, lint-free rags (at first we tried blue tough paper towels, but switched to old wash cloths), and disposable paint containers (mini roller paint tray--actually easier to hold than a cup-shaped container).
I also had saran wrap on hand to wrap my paint brush in and cover my paint container if I was going to take a break. I also ended up using a 1.5" brush for my cabinet frames because 2" was too large for the "rails" and "stiles." You might want to check your cabinets too for a proper-sized brush.

We had a lot of imperfections in our cupboards and we wanted to change the handle locations on the doors, so I used  wood filler with a putty knife and sanded with my husband's new sander afterward. The two cupboards under the sink were especially bad with very rough surfaces because of the water damage from water dripping down all the time so I basically coated them with the wood filler and sanded it down nice and smooth.

Our cabinets were filthy from I-don't-know-how many years and how many different people renting here, but I'm guessing 20 years without them ever being cleaned. The grime and grease was unbelievable. I definitely didn't want to leave the deglosser in the kit in charge of cleaning all the crud on them, so I spent many, many hours washing and scrubbing the cabinets with Scotch Sponges and a mix of water and Murphy's Oil Soap. I don't know if something else would have looked better, but I didn't want to really damage the cabinets in the effort of cleaning them. I had the Murphy's on hand since I found out that you're not supposed to use it on laminate floors, and it worked very well. I would recommend cleaning your cabinets if they seem extra greasy, and maybe clean the ones around the stove just to be safe.

Gross cupboards! I couldn't believe I was using and living with a kitchen this grimy. I had to scrape off the gunk on the edges with a razor blade, then I scrubbed the hell out of them with a scrubby sponge and Murphy's Oil Soap solution. You can see the differences between the cupboard I'd cleaned and one I hadn't yet--both are from above the stove!

Step #1: Deglossing. Scrub the cabinets with the solution and the scrubby pads provided, then wipe with a damp cloth and then a dry cloth. It was very....reminiscent of the Murphy's scrubbing I did. One thing we did discover though was that when they mean "cloth" or "rag" to wipe it with, they really do mean fabric rather than a paper towel. We tried first with the tough blue paper towels but that didn't work well at all--so have some rags on hand for Step #1. You have to let them dry at least 1 hour before putting on the bond coat.

Step #2: Bond coat; the painting part of the project. That's essentially it. It pretty much looks like paint and acts like paint, but it doesn't smell like paint. Actually, when I opened it I thought ours smelled like chocolate or a tootsie roll but then I thought that was absurd and put it from my mind. When my husband came home he said "wow, looks like chocolate and even smells like chocolate!" So I don't really know what that's all about....

The DVD shows you a tip for painting the cupboards--screwing drywall screws into pieces of wood to make a raised platform for the cupboard to sit on to make it easier to paint the sides of the cupboard doors. I'm not really sure why the screws were necessary and I think just the blocks of wood would've worked fine, but I guess it doesn't matter that much (Andy was glad to use his new saw to cut up some 2x4's he found behind the garage and drill some screws into them).

The work room and the pieces of wood for propping the cupboards. 
We did it in the spare bedroom so that none of the animals could go in there and damage the pieces while they dried--that is very important! It is especially important when the glaze layer had to dry for 8 hours and the protective coat will have to dry for 12-24 hours. Otherwise, we tried to barricade the kitchen from the dog. The cats don't usually touch the cabinets in there, but they would walk all over the doors in the spare room!

I didn't have enough room to do all of the cupboards and drawers at the same time, so I had to do two sets (this only really got annoying when dry times turned into 8-12 hours). I put two coats of the bond coat on the frames and the front of the cupboards and drawers, and only one coat on the backs of the cupboards. As I said above, there isn't enough to paint the inside of the frames, the shelves, or anything but the front of the drawers. The bond coat dries in 2-3 hours. The cabinets are still fragile with the bond coat. It can get scuffed easily and water can do damage easily as well (I discovered this when I saw where some water had dripped onto the faux drawers beneath the sink--be careful!).

Before and after the bond coat of a section of cabinets.

We also had plenty of bond coat left over (by my calculations, we had around 77.5 square feet of cupboards to paint when the kit covers 100, and I only did one coat on the back of the cupboards), so I put two coats of the bond coat on the two doors leading out of the kitchen as well (only one side each). And we still have over half a can left over.

Step #3: Glaze. This was actually my favorite step because it was swift and easy and different. To glaze your cabinets, you brush it on with a sponge brush and then wipe it off with the cheesecloth they provide for you. Definitely wear gloves for this! And be careful to not leave any drips or build up on the edges. We decided to not glaze the backs of the doors since there really wasn't much point to it. It needs 8 hours to dry completely, so I did the frames of the cabinets just before bedtime to avoid any traffic while it dried. After the glaze dries it doesn't look much different than it did before--the cabinets still looked like they had a matte finish--but when I put on the protective coat they became shiny like I wanted and you could see the wood grain much more. We have almost a whole can of glaze left over.

  • When you wipe off the glaze, you may or may not see little white fibers on the cupboard from the cheesecloth. Don't worry about this and don't try to repeatedly wipe them off, because it won't work! And they don't show up after the protective coat. If you're going to a lighter color you might not notice this at all. 

You can really see the shine of the glaze in this picture on the cabinet door in the foreground. My edges are not so neat--it was difficult trying to get them to look acceptable when they're only about 1/4 of an inch wide and the way it's designed is obnoxious. 

Step #4: Protective Top Coat. They tell you to work quickly because it tries pretty fast--and it does. Try not to play with it too much. It looks like a liquidy Elmer's glue and acts like it too--once it starts to dry, it'll gum up on you if you try to brush it again. This is the step I had the most issues with.
  • If you're going to take a break or are done for the day, wrap your paintbrush up with saran wrap and cover your paint container with it as well (I covered my mini roller pan with saran wrap and then taped it down--these methods worked well enough for overnight). That works for any of the steps here. For the protective coat, if you allow the paintbrush to dry very much at all, then you end up with gummy, sticky glue on it and you'll need to change brushes because they don't brush very well that way. I changed paintbrushes about half way through because I noticed it gumming up on me while working. 
The instructions tell you to start by coating the backs of the cabinet doors just like the rest of the steps. As I did previously, I coated the edges first and then the back panel while it was laying on my wood/screw props. This seemed to mostly work before this, but with this step I discovered that when I brushed the edges/sides of the doors, a thick line of it would be left along the edge on the other side. I knew this could happen and I tried to prevent it as best I could like I did with the base coat, but it still happened a LOT. I figured it'd dry clear and there wouldn't be much of a problem if that happened. Boy was I wrong! When I flipped the cupboards all over to do the front, there were thick, white, glue-looking lines down a lot of the edges and the corners. It kind of looked like the foamy way that Gorilla Glue can dry, except a creamy color. I didn't have much of a problem with this for the base coat, but the protective coat was awful.

This disaster could've been avoided if I had just done the edges and the FRONT first rather than the back, but of course I followed the instructions so this mess was visible on the front. Well, not completely avoided...but the lines would've ended up on the back of the doors which would've been fine-by-me! My husband went at it with a piece of sand paper which may or may not have been a good idea because took off the glaze (if not the paint as well--and in the surrounding area). So then I followed behind him with a paintbrush and the bond coat, but failed to go around with the glaze afterward because I didn't want to have to wait another day longer than this project was already taking.. After the protective coat dried, it's painfully obvious where this mishap my cupboards now don't look nearly as good as they should. I'm not sure if repeatedly fixing it would help or hurt more.

In this photo you can see clearly where I had painted over the sanded edge. The sanded area was wider than the line, obviously. I wish I done two coats of bond coat and one of the glaze, but I'm not going back now. You can really only see it like this with the flash--so I'm hoping in the dark kitchen it won't be so obvious. Yikes!
If something like this happens to you--dried drips or scrapes or whatever--when you try correcting it, make sure you don't skip any steps like I did after sanding. Use two coats of bond coat and one of glaze because it will be worth it in the end.

I found a big scratch right on one of the cabinet frames after we put the doors back on (who knows how that happened), so I had no choice but to leave the scratch for all to see (it was painfully right at eye-height), or else patch it over with some of the base coat. Which I did. And I can't decide whether or not the scratch would be more noticeable or a lighter-colored brown on top of the nice darker brown. It's like dark chocolate vs. milk chocolate--BIG difference. Sigh...I had higher hopes for these cabinets. I have to admit they look way better than they did before, but if you stand closer to them than 5 feet away you start noticing all the little mistakes and what a poor job it was. Maybe painting something like that takes practice to make it look good....I've never painted walls or cabinets or anything similar to that before, short of a fort built in the woods with pressed wood boards when I was in my early teens. Quite a different painting experience!

The protective coat can dry for two hours and then you can carefully flip the door over and coat the other side, or so the instructions say. They continue on to say to let it dry 12-24 hours so it's a little weird that they let you flip it over and set it on screw heads to coat the other side. I let them dry overnight before I did the other side, especially since Step 4 seems to take a long time to do anyway.

Also, throughout all the steps, watch out for human and/or animal hair on the cupboards. I found a lot of hair getting stuck to the cupboards that I had to pick off as I went along (I suspect my fleece sweater was the culprit), especially on the frames for the bottom cabinets near the floor. 

Step 5: Hardware. The instructions say that you can put the hardware back on the doors and drawers and even put them back on the frames after 12 hours of dry time for the protective coat--but they say that you should still not resume "full use" until 24 hours. What "full use" means, I'm not sure. So I waited 24 hours until I put it all back together. The cabinets should "cure" fully after 7 days and you're not supposed to use any cleaning solution on them until then.

We bought new hardware for our cabinets. I found the knobs and pulls on clearance at Target and we got matching hinges from Home Depot (oil-rubbed bronze color). We had a few hiccups with the hardware, but nothing really noteable to talk about.
Make sure you bring a hing with you to match up the correct size and kind: inset vs. overlay.

The wood grains are easily seen after using this product.
Overall, I'm not really sure if just getting a can of regular paint in a chocolate color would've been better or worse as far as looks go, but I'm sure it would've been a heck of a lot easier and cheaper than this whole ordeal was. A can of regular paint and a glaze to go over it might've come up with the same results as we got here, but I can't be positive and I don't really have experience with painting cabinets besides this. With this kit you can still see the textured wood grains on the cabinets, which look nice, and I'm not sure if that would've shown up with regular paint or not (if someone knows--please comment below!). One thing I did notice that was good though, was when I peeled off the painter's tape I had used. None of the paint from the kit even came close to peeling up with it--a completely different story from my walls!

On poor quality/condition cupboards like ours I think paint might've been the wiser route. If you were dealing with better quality cabinets then maybe Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations might be a better choice than regular paint. Based on the video, if you're going from dark wood to a lighter color then it's definitely worth it and impressive.

We ended up doing around 77.5 square feet of cabinets and the front and back of one door all together, and we still have plenty of product left over to do more if I'd like to transform other furniture sometime. I closed up the different cans of product with saran wrap and the lids, and I'm going to seal it better with tape so that hopefully this stuff can be used in a few months. It goes farther than I had imagined it would and I think I have enough to do at least a dresser or a few smaller pieces of furniture.

Now, for the big reveal. I hope this post was helpful to someone out there!

Hardware after (yay!)
Hardware before (those were used for knobs,
and there were no pulls on the drawers) (yuck!)

Before (blah)

After (booyah!)


  1. i love your reviews.
    and i know you're having a pain with so many of these projects, but it looks like you're learning a lot for your next trip around!

  2. just found your site, did you use the "paint" on your interior doors too?

  3. Yes I did the front and backs of the doors, but not the insides of the cabinets themselves. It may depend on the size of your kitchen or how many cabinets you need to do. Even with doing both sides of the doors, I still had a lot of the supplies left over.

  4. What a difference! Your kitchen looks so much better! Nice job. I am working with the Espresso color in my bathroom...thought Id try it there before the kitchen. Im glad I did because its really dark and I think the Cabernet will be a better choice...but anyway...nice job and great review/tutorial

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  6. i am in the process of doing my cabinets and wrestling with whether to use paint and poly or the rustoleum kit (also probably in chocolate). My cabinets are VERY similar to your originals and after doing a "practice" run on a door, im finding the paint isnt covering the filled knob holes...which is why im coming back to the rustoleum idea...and im not sure what to do....

    1. Have you filled the holes enough? I'm not sure what you mean by "covered", but I did notice for my doors you could still slightly see where the old holes had been because there was a slight depression there. I suspected I could've solved this problem by using more layers of wood filler--fill, dry, sand, fill, dry, sand...but I wasn't patient enough.
      If it's strictly color you mean--the Rustoleum definitely made it so the filled holes were the same color as the rest of the piece. The only way to tell the difference was to run your hand over it or look at it at an angle with the light to see the slightly dipped spot.

  7. I didn't realize you replied to my questions :) I went with the kit and we are about halfway done. Doing second coat of base color today. I can still see the area where the hole was.. like a patch unfortunately...I'm praying the glaze will help camoflauge it!!! "Important"question though. Should we pull the tape BEFORE doing the top coat?? My husband is concerned that pulling the tape after the final coat would make it chip. When did you pull yours? Thanks for input!

    1. :) I'm pretty sure that I just pulled the tape after I was completely done, since I don't remember worrying about it beforehand! I didn't notice any damage. If you start pulling it off and the top coat is peeling, you could try softening it with a blow dryer as you go along. I've found that trick works great with [latex] paint, anyway.

      Since the protective finishing coat is like glue, it dries clear so you might not have any problem taking the tape off first.

  8. Ok great! ! We have finished glazing and just need it to dry beforw doing the top coat

  9. We ended up having to completely redo all our doors which required sanding down to bare wood. I'm going to completely agree that on older, worn cabinets I'm not sure this kit was the best option. Maybe if we ignored the directions and sanded from the beginning it would have gone bettwr. Instead I had to buy an entire new kit. I took pictures and will be contacting rustoleum directly :/

    1. Yikes--what happened? I thought the deglossing step was supposed to be a sort of cleaning-and-sanding step. Not true? I had to scrub my cupboards so hard to get all the gunk off that it was probably just as good as a sanding step for my situation.
      I'm sorry it didn't work out for you!

  10. I am just finishing up a few projects with this kit as well. I started with doing the cabinets in the 2 bathrooms (about 26 years old). Since my house is small, I had plenty of stuff left over to do a ceiling fan (I used the rustoleum on the paddles, and Testor's model paint on the metal parts with the mottling technique and several shades of brown and copper). I then moved on to a newsstand and my dining table and chairs. I really like the results from an artistic perspective, but that top coat is a pain! I found puddling everywhere and have been really fighting it. I found those strips of white along the edges and several spots where it dripped, even after I thought I was carefuly checking for them as I went. Part of the dripping issue comes into play when you paint something more complicated than a flat door. So now I am sanding down the white spots I find and reapplying the decroative glaze and top coat. My fingers are crossed that this works! Unfortunately, I have tons of the stuff left exept for the decorative glaze, or I would move on to the kitchen. I am wondering of the glaze they sell for walls would work? At any rate, I used the dark kit with the Autumn tint and am very pleased with the look. To add a more unique look, I found some teal ceramic knobs at Hobby Lobby to add to the doors. I drilled through the finished doors without any problems.

  11. That top coat is the worst! You're a genius for using the kit for your ceiling fan though! I have no idea if the glaze for walls would work, but the last time I was at Lowes or Home Depot I could've sworn that they were selling the glaze now separately from the kit because so many people have had the same problem of running out of glaze. Have you looked?

  12. Any idea what to do if I skipped the decorative glaze step, applied the protective coat and then decided I now want the glaze on!?

    1. Yikes! I'm not sure how the glaze would interact with the top coat! You could always give it a try, and then put the top coat on a second time, but I'm doubtful that would work. You might need to either strip it all and start over, or at the very least start over again with the deglossing. I think there is a phone number you can call for advice on this kind of thing though--maybe give that a try!

  13. Hi, love your post. I am sill building up my courage to do my bathrooms and kitchen. From the brochure I like the the unglazed look for the color I am planning to use. Is it really ok as the instruction stated that I could skip the glazing part? Which would also save a lot of time. Another question which bugs me the most is the paint bush mark on the flat surface, is that a real concern?

    Please advise.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi there,

      The instructions say it'd be just fine to do it without the glaze. The glaze would make it slightly darker (or richer) and shiny, but if you're just going for a matte look then that would be fine. I didn't want my cupboards to look so flat--especially because it was in a dark kitchen--but to each his own. That's why it's optional!
      The glaze does make a bigger difference for lighter-colored base coats though. You can watch their instruction video here to see what I'm talking about, so you don't have to buy the kit before deciding on color and glaze.

      In the video, they change their dark cabinets to light and use the glaze with it. I was kind of impressed.

      I didn't notice paintbrush marks on my cabinets. The base coat is not very thick--it's like halfway through a paint and a stain--so brush marks weren't a problem for me (and I can be picky about that too). The bigger test is when you brush on the top coat, which is thicker and more like a glue. That's when you have to make sure you don't "play" with it too much, but since it dries clear it really wasn't that difficult to deal with. The "lines" you might see in my photos are actually wood grains from the cupboard doors and not brush marks.

      I hope you found this helpful. Let me know if you have any more questions and I can answer them as best I can!


  14. Did you have difficulty with the glaze and getting it to match all the doors etc?

    1. I didn't have any problem getting the glaze to look the same on all my cabinets, but it might be trickier if you're using a light base instead of a dark one. The video they show you makes it look relatively easy though. Also, my cabinets were all flat without any special designs beveled edges that would catch the glaze more so it was easier for me.

  15. Hello! Just wanted to say thank you for sharing your experience! I greatly appreciated your review since I just started my own cabinet transformation project. I invite you to check it out:

  16. I am in process of using this product. I have run in2 the protective coat bubbled up and dried. I will try ro sand lite the reapply base coat then protective coat. Fingers toes crossed

    1. Are you using a sponge brush or a bristle brush? A bristle brush might help that. If you have to sand it, I would use ultra-fine sand paper for it, like 200+ or even 400 grit.

  17. I purchased Varathane no odor Pilyurethane and used that instead of the sealant that came with the kit. I didn't have the white balling issue that others have had.

  18. I did a large kitchen in 2013. We just got tenants out --a huge family of 8-10 people after 2 years.
    We didn't expect so much wear and tear but found 2 areas around knobs worn down to original surface and lots of nicks from fingernails, bumps etc. Any comments on how your projects have held up over time??? Thanks L

    1. We moved shortly after I redid the kitchen, so I really couldn't say how well it holds up personally. I'm surprised that it would wear away that fast with the top coat though!

  19. I did my kitchen last year and I too have wearing where the cupboard handles are.

  20. I used the furniture transformation in black.
    Everything went well until the topcoat, which I was worried about. I did EXACTLY like the directions said and put it on thin, no gummy stuff. When it dried I had lines and brush strokes. Instead of using the topcoat that came with, I ran and got minwax wipe on. I lightly sanded with 600 and put on the minwax. I could still see the lines. A man at hardware store said to take sandpaper, 600 or higher and put in bowl of water w/ drop of dish soao and wet sand it. Dont worry about some shine still showing you want a dull look. Put on wipe on minwax. The lines and brushstrokes are almost gone, I have another coat or 2 to do but the too of the dresser is so smooth and nice!
    I think if you use this kit skip their topcoat, it is horrible!