How to Repair Water Damaged Kitchen Cabinets

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Last updated: May 5, 2023

Do you know why cabinet water damage is so urgent? Water touching wood presents many problems.

The first thing it does is it makes everything wet. Wood and water deteriorate its sound structure. MDF and particle board cabinets swell and crumble while hardwoods, softwoods, and plywood warp and splinter.

Continued wetness leads to an ideal environment for mold and mildew. The particles spread to neighboring cabinetry. The extent of the damage will be so massive that new cabinets will be the only option.

Avoid this nightmare and learn how to repair water damaged kitchen cabinets now. I also tackle common questions about this. I will describe various ways to stop every type of water damage, to help you prevent future damage.

What you learn here applies to bathroom cabinets as well. Always wear gloves, a face mask, goggles, and a long sleeve shirt before diving in.

Table of Contents

How to repair water damaged kitchen cabinets

Before I repair the affected cabinetry, I would survey the extent of the water damage. After a thorough examination, you may find that only parts of the cabinets need a replacement. There may be irreversible structural damage, or there may be minor issues.

Take personal items out of the cabinet and grab a flashlight. Check for cracks or holes in corner joints and warps in wood walls, bottom, and doors. Then, look for wetness, mold growth, and damage to old braces.

Minor damages are salvageable. You can choose between hiring an expert and going DIY with these steps. Cabinet damage with major issues must rely on an expert to resolve the issue. 

Hardwood, softwood, and plywood

Dry the cabinets completely. There cannot be any amount of wetness inside or outside the wood. To ensure this, use thick towels to clean up standing water and powerful fans to dry the wood.

The most affected areas are a sink cabinet and cabinets in front of the wall plumbing. Fix the source of the problem. Causes of water damage are a leaky pipe, a pipe burst, or high humidity. 

I always recommend hiring a plumber to fix a persistent leak or burst pipe. Attempting to treat this like a DIY project causes more harm than good. For high humidity, I would advise to add more ventilation in the kitchen.

The next step is repairing the wood cabinets. Most solid wood cabinets split into pieces when water touches the corners. If a cabinet door or removable bottom shelf splits, use carpenter’s glue to bring the split parts back together.

Glue joints and other loose wood pieces together. Filling cracks, holes, and gaps with water-resistant wood putty or filler after that dries is a good idea. Let that dry, and sand the wood with a pad sander or sandpaper. 

With sandpaper, start with 220-grit sandpaper, then 120-grit sandpaper, and end with 100-grit sandpaper. As you remove the hardware and hinges from the door, understand that sanding removes the existing finish and paint chipping. Stained cabinets need a matching wood stain solution to highlight the best parts. 

Conversely, painted cabinets need a fresh coat of paint. The first step is adding coats of the primer to the sanded surface. Let the first layer dry before adding the other one.

Then, add one coat of paint, let it dry, add another coat, and let that dry. Reattach the hardware and attach painted cabinet doors to its hinges. 


Particle board water damage differs from solid wood. Water makes it crumble upon direct contact. Contrary to popular belief, replacement is the only option in extreme cases.

Most of the time, salvaging particle board begins by letting it dry and scooping out the wet areas with a chisel or flathead screwdriver. Fill the holes with wood filler and sand the surface after they dry. Finally, you vacuum the dust and add a sealant.

For swelled particleboard, sand it down with low-grit sandpaper until flat. Use contact cement on flattened particleboard areas and let it dry for 10 minutes. Then laminate the whole surface.

How do you dry wet kitchen cabinets

Wet cabinets dry by learning how to dry them yourself or by hiring an expert. I will always recommend an experienced water damage expert because of technology access and know-how to triple-check the wood for dryness before repair. After all, the expert dries wet kitchen cabinets in stages.

Two Happy Male Cleaners Standing With Cleaning Equipments In Front Van

The Expert Way

Generally, the expert will use a wet vac to suck up the excess water. That occurs after removing the cabinet door and the items inside. They will also turn off water valves under the kitchen sink or the home water system if the issue is wall plumbing.

Then, the expert will use air movers and high-volume fans to speed up the drying process. A dehumidifier removes excess humidity from the entire cabinet. The expert repeats the previous steps to dry wetness in hidden areas and neutralize mold growth. 

The DIY Way

Drying cabinets the DIY way begins with grabbing thick rags or towels to soak up as much water as possible. Most water from water damage is gray or black, not clear water, so wear protective gear before cleaning. Use a damp rag plus a paper towel to dry moist areas.

Open the cabinet door, open a window, and open a door. Air circulation should dry the wood. Do not use box fans to dry wet cabinetry as they are not powerful enough to reach water soaked in the wood.

A better idea is to go to a rental equipment company and use an air mover and dehumidifier. This method dries the cabinets faster. Dry cabinetry makes it easier to survey visible water pipes and the extent of damage.

How do I remove deep water stains from kitchen cabinets

Sometimes, the best drying solutions cannot remove water stains deep in the wood. I would not ignore these stains. It may cause further damage to its interior, ruining all the hard work you did in repairing the cabinet.

After sanding the cabinet door, walls, and bottom, the water stains become more noticeable. Therefore, tackle the issue now before you stain or prime. The best way to remove these stains is to buy oxalic acid and baking soda.

Grab a paintbrush and paint a water-oxalic acid mix on the damaged area. Add a few coats and let it sit for a minute. Use a gallon of water mixed with baking soda to eliminate the acidic mixture. 

Blot the mixture with a towel and let it dry. It should remove the excess moisture for easy priming and painting or staining. If it does not, your only option is to repeat the process until it does work.

Water damaged high gloss white MDF bathroom vanity cabinet door with molding. Moist bathroom condition concept

Can I repair water damaged MDF kitchen cabinets

So, you have medium-density fiberboard cabinet material with signs of water damage. Cabinet bottoms, doors, and walls will curl, swell, warp, and deteriorate upon contact with water. Even water-resistant cabinets are prone to water damage if they get past the top layer.

The trick to salvaging MDF cabinets is catching the signs early and resolving the problem. The solution will not make your cabinets new again because the damage is irreversible, but it will buy your cabinets more years of use. 

While I recommend an expert, there is a DIY way to save your cabinets.

  • Remove items stored in the cabinet. 
  • Dry your cabinets completely to keep them from falling apart
  • Fill in cracks, holes, gaps, and dents with plastic wood filler or putty
  • Sand it down with an electric sander or sandpaper
  • Add edging strips to cabinet edges and sand them down

Then, add shellac primer so the paint sticks better and covers imperfections. You should also pick waterproof or water-resistant paint to match the kitchen decor and color scheme. Add a glossy or semi-gloss top coat, and the cabinet will persevere for a long time. 

Can I waterproof kitchen cabinets

The best solution to waterproof kitchen cabinetry is not having water damage in the first place. However, nothing is 100%. There are ways to make kitchen cabinetry less prone to water damage. 

A somewhat effective way is to add a laminate coating or buy a laminate cabinet. A laminate surface is a smooth, shiny outer layer that prevents drops of water from entering the wood. If you add a coating to existing cabinetry, ensure it covers the entire surface to block moisture from seeping through the back of the laminate.

The alternative is a waterproof clear coat, seal, or varnish. The type of paint underneath is irrelevant; the laminate is now the first line of defense against water damage.

I would add caulking, sealant, or polyurethane sealer, too. Small holes can appear in corner joints that are not visible to our eyes. This is an extra layer to block water from creeping inside.

A waterproof version is the best option, but if water resistance is the only way, it will suffice.

Full length view of shocked woman in jeans dealing with water leak in kitchen

Are there other preventative measures for waterproofing cabinetry

There are innovative ways to prevent water damage to kitchen cabinetry. You can purchase items to add or reinforce surrounding objects. These are the items you can buy.

Floor mats and vinyl tiles protect cabinet floors from water dripping on them. A portable fan is a ventilation option for kitchens with no ceiling or range hood fan, but an open window is equally effective. A flood or leak alarm detects water leaks for you. 

Buying everything listed is unnecessary. One or two items offer adequate layers of protection against water damage. Meanwhile, this is your outline for reinforcing the kitchen.

  • cleaning up water spills as you see them
  • caulk gaps in the countertop and backsplash
  • caulk sink edges touching or meeting the countertop
  • fix plumbing leaks and bursts immediately
  • monitor leaks around plumbing areas and appliances

While most are one-and-done jobs, cleaning up spills and monitoring leaks is frequent. Wiping up spills as you cook and clean will make the chore less mundane. Peeking under the cabinet for signs of leaks will take a few minutes, but you can do this once a week, twice a month, or once a month.

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