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April’s Kitchen Remodel Series: Stripping the Old Cabinets

The cabinets were originally golden oak.  Then somewhere along their journey they were painted black; trendy, fun, and I rather liked them when we bought the house.  But over time I felt the black was adding to the dark, closed-in feel of the kitchen. (It was fun to dance around in, but needed some updating.)

Missy K Dancing in Kitchen

Answer:  Refinish the cabinets.

The first step in this process was stripping the paint and varnish off.  This can be done with super stinky chemicals, plastic gloves, and eye protection.  Or…one can do it with water.

stripping the black paint

That’s right.  The only thing we used to strip our cabinets was water, right from the tap. Oh, and Robears handy Sargent Steam.

Sargent Steam

This little steamer was a amazing when it came to stripping all the paint off our kitchen cupboards. With nothing but water and a little elbow grease we were able to get all the paint and varnish off and prepare the cupboards for priming. It is definitely the healthy, green, environmentally friendly and chemical free way to strip paint. No fumes, no toxins, and cheap. I just spent a few dollars on some metal pot scrubbies. The copper ones worked the best.

Steaming the paint

A quick minute with the steamer and then a little scrubbing with a pot scrubber was all it took to take most of the paint off. Twice over left the wood ready for priming.

Much thanks goes out to our friend Rachael and my mother Robear for the hours of work they put into scrubbing paint off cabinets. As easy as it might have been with the steamer, it still took a fair amount of time. Thanks you guys.

And a little thanks to my children for pitching in here and there as well. Using the steamer meant there weren’t any harmful chemicals to worry about so I was happy to give them gloves and a scrubby pad. Go for it Total Sweetness.

TS helping strip paint

My one warning is that the steam coming from the machine is very hot. Wearing gloves was helpful. Just be sure to keep all body parts a few inches from the steamer end. Beyond that, the steam is warm but not scalding.  I should probably note that I also knew this was relatively new latex paint.  I’m not sure how it would work with oil based paint and always be careful if you have lead paint in your home.

Happy tons of work left.


  • I had Joyce Mathie check out your post here and she thought it was great. She owns and sells Sargeant Steam machines and loves to see it helping women work smarter not harder.

  • I shared how you steamed off the paint with no harsh chemicals with my mom and she loved it! I can’t think of any paint that needs steaming but thank you for the idea.

    Oh, and thank you for your offer from earlier. I talked to my dad and in one afternoon he helped me change a two prong outlet to three prong, fixed the outside porch light (which had a loose connection to the bulb) and we put a new plug end on a long orange extension cord. Now I should ask him to come help me with some plumbing…but I think I’ll wait until after Father’s Day and give him a break!

  • Trisha! How nice for you and your dad to work together. I am amazed at all that you girls can do!

  • How interesting. I am guessing my little steamer isn’t strong enough because I use it to clean my kitchen cabinets. (It has way too many cracks and corners for my liking.) Not once has the paint loosened. I would loooove to repaint them.

    • For my two cents, which may not mean much, it may not be that your steamer isn’t strong enough. It may be that the person who painted the cupboards used primer, an oil based paint, polyurethane, or a combination of the three which will really make stripping the cupboards a little more difficult. Options, prime and paint over it. Or, break out a paint remover like orange–a citrus based paint remover that is less toxic than other chemical based removers.