Whether or not you can repair water-damaged cabinets depends on the extent of the damage.
If only the cabinet finish is stained or peeling, you may be able to get away with refinishing or refacing your cabinets. But if the cabinet boxes show signs of structural damage, you’ll likely need to completely replace your cabinets.
To help you determine whether your water-damaged cabinets can be saved, we’ll go over:
Assessing cabinet water damage
The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out how badly your cabinets have been damaged.
Remove everything from your cabinets and take a good look at your doors and inside the boxes. You may need a flashlight if your cabinets don’t get much light.
You’ll want to look for 2 types of damage:
- Surface or finish damage: When the water has gotten underneath the finish, causing it to stain, peel or bubble. Unfortunately, if you see this kind of damage, there’s a good chance the cabinet structure may be damaged.
- Structural damage: When the underlying material (typically an engineered wood or sometimes hardwood) has started rotting, warping or even molding.
We’ll go over what each type of damage means for your cabinets.
Surface damage: Repair with refacing or refinishing
If you’re working with veneers that have stains, you can try coating the stains in a mixture of hot water and oxalic acid (a common wood bleach), which you can find at most home improvement stores. But if the veneers have started to peel, you’re better off having the damage repaired.
A professional can repair water-damaged cabinet finish through either:
- Cabinet refinishing, which entails removing the water-damaged finish from cabinet boxes, doors and drawer fronts and then applying a new finish of your choosing.
- Cabinet refacing, which includes everything in a refinishing, except you get brand new doors and drawer fronts. Some companies, like Cabinet Coatings, will give you solid hardwood doors, which hold up better against water damage than plywood or particle board covered in veneers.
Refinishing or refacing cabinets also gives you a change to upgrade hardware, like soft-close tracks or hinges, and install new pulls for a brand new look.
Learn more about what’s involved in cabinet refinishing and refacing in our blog, “Cabinet Refinishing vs. Refacing vs. Remodeling.”
Structural damage: It’s time to replace cabinets
With structural damage, your cabinets are at risk of not doing their job: solidly holding whatever you need them to. This kind of damage usually means you’ll need to replace the cabinets entirely.
Your cabinets have structural damage if they’re started:
- Warping or sagging. Plywood, which is made of thin sheets of wood glued together, will start to delaminate when it gets wet, causing shelves to sag and boxes to warp or ripple.
- Crumbling or rotting. Particleboard, which is made of tiny wood chips adhered together, will start to break down when wet. This causes the material to crumble and appear to rot.
- Growing mold. While mold may not impact the actual framework of your cabinets, it’s very hard to get rid of and can cause or worsen health issues if not taken care of.
For more details about what’s involved in replacing cabinets, visit our cabinet remodeling page.
Preventing future water damage
To prevent cabinets from further water damage:
- Fix any drips or broken seals. To prevent water from reaching your cabinets, repair dripping pipes and replace cracked or peeling sink seals. If you’re not comfortable making those repairs yourself, call in a plumber.
- Dry cabinets if they get wet. Spills and leaks happen. When they do, make sure to dry the cabinets immediately so the water doesn’t seep under the finish and cause damage.
- Keep cabinets well ventilated. This helps keep cabinets dry to prevent mold and mildew from growing in wet areas.