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Painting and Staining Cabinets for Girls Bath Makeover

Progress on my girls’ bathroom for the $100 Room Challenge, beginning with staining and painting the ugly old oak cabinets.

This project, like most of my room makeovers, started with painting and staining cabinets. Because I was unsure how the staining would go, I decided to start with that project. I figured if it turned into an epic fail, that would give me more time to change course and try something else.

Transform Oak Cabinets with Gel Stain

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Staining Oak Cabinets without Sanding

I’m more of a paint girl than a stain girl, so this project was a little outside of my comfort zone. And truthfully, I’m not even sure I did it right, so this will be less of a tutorial and more of a collection of my thoughts on the process.

I decided to follow the process in this post from Designing Vibes, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out!

Dark stained oak cabinets

I used some Minwax wipeable gel stain that I had leftover from one of our flip house projects. I knew my only option was to go darker, unless I wanted to start by sanding down the whole cabinet to its original wood, which frankly was more work than I wanted to do. Plus, I thought a darker stain would bring out more of the deep colors in the granite. (It’s actually super nice granite, just a little orange for my taste.)

Stained cabinet with granite countertop

I think the dark stain really grounds the space and gives the wood a richer feel. (Don’t worry, prettier pictures will be coming soon!)

Wipeable Stain Process

If you’ve read any of my other cabinet posts, you know I hate sanding. Yes, stain is supposed to go on naked wood. No, I was not willing to put in the time and mess to make that happen. Enter gel stain.

Staining cabinets with Minwax gel stain

Supposedly this stuff is made to be wiped on and wiped off, with less mess than liquid stain. In my experience, both times I’ve used it, I needed to brush it on.

No problem, I love brushes!

Brushing on gel stain

Rather than brushing it on, then wiping it off after the recommended 3 minutes, I brushed it on and let it completely dry as is. That created a nice dark semi-opaque stain with a pretty satin finish.

(Because I didn’t sand the cabinets, when I first tried the wipe on/wipe off process, all the stain wiped right off. This is where my process deviates from the recommended use, so I can’t tell you to do it this way. What I can tell you is it worked for me.)

Before and after staining cabinets
One more set of doors to go!

My Caveats for Going Off-Label

Since this isn’t the recommended use for the product, I feel compelled to add a couple of my own warnings here.

First, I don’t know how this finish will stand up over time. I’ll definitely come back and update this post in the future.

Second, make sure you open a window. For DAYS. Brushing the stain on so thickly made for a lot of fumes. My daughter said, “Mom, I know bathrooms stink sometimes, but never like this!”

Finally, you’re an adult. That means you get to do what you want in your own house, as long as it’s not a safety concern. If an off-label process works better for you than the one recommended by the manufacturer, go for it! Just be ready to adjust your plans if things don’t go well or hold up over time. In my case, this vanity needed a change, and this was a good first step. If it doesn’t last, I’ll just cross that bridge when I come to it. There’s always paint.

Painting the Old Oak Cabinet

Speaking of paint, I decided the cabinet in the shower room needed to be lighter, not darker like the vanity. It got the same treatment my kitchen cabinets got, using leftover paint from that project. Super easy, and great for the budget!

Painted white cabinet in bathroom

It already looks better in here with the fresh white cabinet and all the visual clutter removed.

Next week, I’ll tackle the wall paint. It’s not a huge space, but there are a lot of edges between the two rooms, so it was more than I could handle this week. Plus the fumes from the stain were so bad I couldn’t work in here very long!

$100 Room Challenge Updates

Before you go, be sure to sign up for the newsletter to get updates on the next few weeks of the challenge. Or follow along here:

Week 1 ~ Week 2 (you’re here) ~ Week 3 ~ Week 4 Reveal

In the meantime, check out how my other blogging buddies are doing on their makeovers. Hopefully some are farther along than I am!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


Sunday 21st of February 2021

I noticed the edges of the drawers have a worn look. Was this done on purpose, or did the stain not adhere in those spots?


Monday 22nd of February 2021

No, I think I was just not being careful to get into all the edges. The stain adhered here well to everything I meant for it to!


Saturday 23rd of January 2021

That's awesome! I had sanding too. It makes such a mess!


Monday 25th of January 2021

Me too! It takes patience that I just done have!


Monday 18th of January 2021

I really like gel stain too. Your cabinets are looking beautiful!


Tuesday 19th of January 2021

Thanks Sherry, now I see why everyone love this stain!


Sunday 17th of January 2021

Making the oak darker did help bring that orange tone down from the countertop. Looking good- can't wait to see what you tackle next.


Tuesday 19th of January 2021

Thanks Jackie! Yes, I'm pretty happy with less orange!

Erin- Lemons, Lavender, & Laundry

Saturday 16th of January 2021

I completely agree that the darker color works well, especially with the granite. I have never tried a gel stain, but it looks like it worked well (even if you took your own path with it).


Tuesday 19th of January 2021

Thanks Erin, yes I'm happy with how it came out. Now I'm just curious to see how well it holds up over time!


Creating a color-filled life. Conquering my little world one DIY project at a time. With lots of coffee and chocolate. Albuquerque NM. Pinterest ~ Instagram ~ Facebook