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How do you tone down yellow in cream cabinets?


Cream or off-white kitchen cabinets can start to take on a yellowish tinge over time due to sun exposure, grease buildup, nicotine, and other environmental factors. If your creamy white cabinets have developed an undesirable yellowish cast, don’t worry – there are several methods you can use to tone down the yellow and restore a nice bright white color. Here we’ll discuss why cream cabinets turn yellow and the best ways to fix yellowed cream cabinets through cleaning, sanding, priming, and repainting.

Reasons for Yellowing

There are a few common culprits when it comes to yellowed cream cabinets:

Sunlight/UV Rays – Sunlight streaming through windows can react with the wood stain or paint on cabinets, producing a yellowing effect. This photochemical reaction tends to happen most on cabinet doors and frames that get the most direct sunlight exposure.

Grease Buildup – Greasy splatter and film from cooking can also stain and yellow cabinets over time. The kitchen area around the stove is particularly prone to grease accumulation.

Smoke/Nicotine – If there is cigarette smoking in your home, the nicotine can condense on kitchen surfaces and cause yellowing. Smoke from candles, incense, or cooking with oil can also lead to yellow discoloration.

Oxidation – Natural oxidation of wood stains and paint can make them slowly take on a yellowish tinge. This is especially true for cabinets that are older.

Natural Wood Tones – With natural wood cabinets, the underlying wood grain and natural pigments may influence the color over time, creating a more yellow undertone.

So in summary, it’s generally exposure to sunlight, grease, smoke, and natural aging that turns creamy white cabinets yellow.

Cleaning Methods

If your cream cabinets have only light yellow discoloration, cleaning may help remove some of the yellow tinge by getting rid of surface stains and grime buildup. Here are some cleaning approaches to try:

Dish Soap – Mix warm water with dish detergent and wipe down all cabinet surfaces with it. Rinse thoroughly afterwards with just warm water. Dish soap can cut through greasy buildup well.

Baking Soda – Make a paste of baking soda and water and use it to scrub the cabinets. Baking soda has natural whitening and degreasing abilities. Rinse thoroughly afterwards.

Hydrogen Peroxide – Dip a sponge or cloth in hydrogen peroxide and wipe down cabinets. Hydrogen peroxide can bleach and disinfect. Be sure to wear gloves as it can irritate skin.

Vinegar – Mix equal parts white vinegar and warm water and wipe on cabinets. Vinegar helps remove grease and stains and its mild acidity can slightly bleach the wood.

Ammonia – Dampen a sponge with household ammonia and go over the cabinets. Ammonia is an effective grease cutter and whitening agent. Make sure to open windows as ammonia can be irritating.

Always spot test cleaners on a small hidden area first to check for any damage or discoloration. Harsher cleaners may be needed for heavy staining.


If cleaning alone doesn’t remove heavy yellow discoloration, some light sanding may help expose fresh wood underneath so that new stain or paint adheres better. Use 150-220 grit sandpaper and sand in the direction of the wood grain, taking care not to dig into the wood.

After sanding, apply an oil-based high adhering primer like Kilz or Zinsser. Primer will help the new color go on evenly and prevent the wood’s yellow tones from bleeding through. Spot prime any knots in the wood too.

Stain Options

For stained cabinets, choose a gel stain in a whitewashed or pickled white shade. Gel stains go on thicker than liquid stains for good coverage. Apply at least 2 coats, letting each coat dry thoroughly before adding the next. Lightly sand in between coats for the smoothest finish.

Some good whitish gel stain color options include:

– White Wash
– Bleached White
– Cotton White
– Simple White
– White Pickle
– Weathered White

Apply gel stains in the direction of the wood grain with a foam brush or lint-free cloth. Use long, even brush strokes.

Paint Options

For a creamy painted look, opt for a high quality cabinet paint. Choose an ultra white or antique white shade without yellow undertones.

Some top cabinet paint colors include:

– Ultra Pure White
– Decorators White
– Linen White
– Dove White
– White Dove
– Swiss Coffee
– Extra White

Be sure to use a primer meant for painting cabinets first. Apply at least 2 coats of cabinet paint with a brush, foam roller, or paint sprayer. Lightly sand between coats and use painter’s tape for clean edges. The smooth finish of cabinet paint will help hide any remaining yellow tones.

Repainting Tips

If repainting over existing paint, properly prep and clean the cabinets first:

– Lightly scuff sand to rough up the old paint so the new paint adheres
– Remove all doors and hardware
– Clean with TSP substitute to degrease
– Fill any cracks or holes with wood filler and sand smooth
– Spot prime over troubled areas
– Replace hinges/pulls for a refreshed look

Preventative Measures

To prevent cream cabinets from yellowing again after treating:

– Use window treatments/blinds to block UV sun rays
– Promptly clean up any grease or food spills
– Have good ventilation while cooking to avoid grease buildup
– Clean cabinets regularly with mild detergent
– Avoid letting cabinets age excessively before recoating
– Don’t smoke indoors


Yellowed cream or off-white cabinets can detract from your dream kitchen’s appearance. But with a good cleaning, sanding, priming, and repainting or restaining in an ultra white shade, you can tone down that unsightly yellow tinge. Careful prep work and using top quality primer, stain, or cabinet paint will help you achieve a clean, bright white finish. Pay attention to preventative measures as well, so your refreshed white cabinets maintain their pristine appeal for years to come. With some elbow grease and the right products, you can have stunning creamy white cabinets once again.