Asked on Mar 12, 2014

Can MDF Bathroom Cabinets Look Like Stained Wood?

Sallie N
by Sallie N
I have old builder grade bathroom cabinets and want to update them. I thought they were wood that had been painted, but when I removed the paint from one of the drawers and found MDF. I was hoping for wood that I could stain a dark rich color. Is there any way to get the stained wood look from MDF?
Old beat up bathroom that needs HELP!
  20 answers
  • Gladys Gladys on Mar 12, 2014
    I don't know the answer on this, but anxiously await comments because we bought two MDF cabinets also, and I tried staining, but it didn't work, and I need to know what does work. Thank you for asking!
  • Sallie N Sallie N on Mar 12, 2014
    As you can see from the photo I NEED to do something. Someone here knows the answer and all will be revealed
  • Keith Keith on Mar 12, 2014
    I know there's painting techniques that can resemble stained wood, but I believe you'll find that's one of those "easier said than done" projects.. and most contact paper looks like, well, contact paper, and it wouldn't hold up long term.. you could also consider covering it all with wood veneer, and then stain and finish, but veneer isn't cheap (you'd likely be able to buy a new vanity for what it costs).. I'd suggest painting it and starting a "new vanity savings account" :-) Sorry, I know these aren't the answers you're looking for, but I'm just passing on my opinion and experiences..
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    • Sallie N Sallie N on Mar 12, 2014
      @Keith Again thank you!!!
  • Z Z on Mar 12, 2014
    Sallie, when I designed and built our custom closet we decided to go with MDF over plywood because of how smooth it was and it saved a couple hundred dollars at the time. I still wanted the look of wood so I purchased Minwax oil based gel stain and a chip brush (they're the cheep ones you can by in multiple packs) and went to work. Up close you know it's not wood, but it does have a richer look that solid paint in my opinion. I did this on raw MDF.....
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    • Mary L Adkins Mary L Adkins on Apr 29, 2015
      @Barbara sikes I know this is an older post but I was thrilled to see your posting on your cabinets. I am going to try to save so I can remember what you did. Thanks so much.
  • Tradition Wood Works Tradition Wood Works on Mar 13, 2014
    Like Keith said above, it can be done but a lot of work, we have done similar type finishing but it takes some practice to get a good look. I'm guessing the doors are mdf and not the cabinets. You might be able to get new doors made of wood fairly reasonable, you have to consider your time vs the reward.
    • Z Z on Mar 13, 2014
      Good point about new doors @T WW. If @Sallie, has a Habitat ReStore near her she could check them for doors and drawer fronts. Ours always have quite a few on hand.
  • Venezias Finishing Touch Venezias Finishing Touch on Mar 13, 2014
    If you base coat them with an light orangish primer. Then get some oil artist paint in the tube Burndt Umber is a good color. I like rembrandt. and some Liquin. squeeze paint onto a pallet. Keep liquin separate. dab brush into paint first then into liquin and start brushing. You will get an idea of how dark you want it. the more liquin the lighter it will be. Play around by shaking your hand to get some wood grain going. It takes a very long time to dry so there is plenty of work time. After it is dry you must put a clear coat over it.
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    • Z Z on Mar 14, 2014
      @Polly, MDF stands Medium Density Fiberboard. It's an engineered wood product that's sold in sheets 49 by 97 inches in size, if I'm remembering correctly on that size. I know for sure it's just a bit larger than a 4 x 8 foot sheet of plywood. Unlike particle board, it has a nice smooth finish so it works well for building things you want painted. You can even find molding and eight foot lengths of "one-by" lumber that's pre-primed for painting made from MDF at both HoDe and L's.
  • Sallie N Sallie N on Mar 13, 2014
    You guys are the best and have given me lots to think about. Thanks for the support. I'm a new DIYer so any help is appreciated. I'll be back with more questions I'm sure.
  • Rita Shehan Rita Shehan on Mar 14, 2014
    You could try Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations. My daughter used it on some old cabinet doors and she is quite happy with the results.
    • Sallie N Sallie N on Mar 14, 2014
      @Rita Shehan Thank you. I found that product on my internet search but I am looking for a lighter color than they offer.
  • on Mar 14, 2014
    You're welcome @Sallie N, hope it helps!
  • Sallie N Sallie N on Mar 14, 2014
    Everything helps. I'm looking for something that I can do to the cabinets that won't cost to much money or time. Looks like I'll be using a can of white paint with new knobs. That's something I can do on the weekend.
  • Momcat1211 Momcat1211 on Mar 14, 2014
    Be sure to put some nice nobs/pulls on the doors as well that will give it that updated feel that it needs. If you want that modern look finish it out with nice looking finishes.
  • Kris Kris on Mar 14, 2014
    We moved into a home with builder grade bathroom cabinets with a bad white paint job. I opted to distress them for a shabby chic look. I used a dry brush technique and antiquing glaze. I don't know if this is too rustic for you, but it's an easy option
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  • Abbe N Abbe N on Jun 08, 2014
    I did it and so can you! It was not that hard.
    • Sallie N Sallie N on Jun 08, 2014
      @Abbe N Thanks. I'm still trying to decide what I want to do.
  • Edward Noyer Edward Noyer on Jan 04, 2015
    I would really consider adding molding as there is nothing to give visual interest to the doors as even getting the MDF looking like wood it will end up looking like an MDF bookshelf from a box store. I would reconsider the wood stain and paint the door in a light color and dry brush a darker shade, once dry use painters tape and mark off a center panel I'm a complimentary color. Cheaper than molding and will make the cabinets look more like a piece of furniture.
  • Denise Denise on Aug 30, 2015
    Put some small trim molding on the doors to add interest, then paint inside the molding area with a matching color, or even a 'pop' color. We have mdf cabinets in our apt. kitchen, and I hate them. I wish I could do something like this to brighten them up. Good luck
    • Sallie N Sallie N on Aug 30, 2015
      @Denise Thanks for the idea. I'm at the point that I don't know what to do any more. I want to just demo the whole bathroom. I'd like 2 sinks instead of one, tile floor and shower with a frame less glass door, new lighting and toilet. I have even less money that when i started. I need to turn off the HGTV.
  • Denise Denise on Aug 30, 2015
    Molding not on edges, but on face front, about 2 inches in, from all sides, like some people do with walls
  • Denise Denise on Aug 30, 2015
    Lolol. I understand. HGTV is addicting! Good luck whatever you decide to do. Sounds like you and I both have champagne tastes and beer pocketbooks!! Good luck
  • Rob Bromley Rob Bromley on Jul 22, 2018

    They now have inexpensive wood graining rollers that you roll on during the second coat that looks just like knots and various wood grains. Turns mdf into realistic hardwoods! While it is not intuitive, the base coat (after prime) could be a light orange or yellow. Once dry, the second coat should be darker like Kilz Tonka Bean or Behr Rich Mahogany mixed with a liquid mixing glaze. Adding an additional coat of the darker color will darken the overall appearance.