How Can I Darken This Cabinet Hardware?

I have the original hardware on my kitchen cabinets, and I’d like to keep them, but the pulls that receive the most frequent use (like the one on the left) are noticeably lighter than the rest.

How can I make them the same dark color?

They are  made from some kind of die-cast metal; I don’t think they’re brass. They are forty years old, and the finish is wearing off.

What is the best way to restore them?

I could spray paint them. I have a spray can of oil-rubbed bronze paint in my garage, but I’ve only painted things like mirrors and light fixtures, not things that need to withstand frequent handling.

I could use a metallic wax like Rub n Buff, or is there a chemical that would be better?

Our strategy for this home renovation is to use good materials that will last so that we only have to do it once. I don’t care so much about how it will look when it’s finished or when I take a picture for the blog, I care more about how it will look in a few years from now.

Do you have any suggestions? Have you tried to refinish hardware? I have extra pulls if I need to experiment.

I looked at these photos and wondered if I should just leave them alone, but then I went back into my kitchen, and they really do look better in the photos than they do in person.

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.

Comments

  1. lunettes says:

    What about switching out the most-used pulls for the least-used pulls?

    • I might need to do that, since I have extras, but all of them are showing a little wear. That’s definitely an option I’ll keep in mind.

    • Yup, that was my first thought too. Whatever you put on the handles will wear off again. Sometimes its nice to see that things have been well used.

  2. I have tried the oil rubbed bronze spray paint on kitchen hardware and wouldn’t recommend it. It wore off and looked awful, especially on handles that were opened with slightly damp hands, which happens in a kitchen.

  3. You probably don’t want to hear that I’d just leave them. I like the character of them showing authentic use. They don’t look bad – they’re just not shiny and new. I wouldn’t use spray paint – it won’t hold up. I know that from experience – not with cabinet handles, but other things I’ve painted that get used and touched regularly. So, really I’m not helpful at all.

    • Warning me not to spray paint is definitely helpful. I promise they look better in the pictures though. I’d like to do something, but not make them worse.

  4. Is the dark colour actually the original finish or is it just tarnish due to age? It may be better to clean the darker ones to make them match that way.

    • The dark is the original, and the light is where the surface has worn off. I don’t think it’s tarnished.

  5. I’d be curious whether there’s a chemical you could use to take the finish off the less-used ones. (Or do you prefer the darker look?)

    • I’d like them to be darker because they’re not brass. The metal is plain, and it has kind of an odd shiny color that stands out like it needs some finishing.

  6. Jennifer B says:

    The way to do it so it will last would be to pay a professional to re-plate the metal with the finish that you want.

    You may find that the cost to re-plate the handles is more than just choosing new handles to put into the kitchen instead….

  7. We did the same thing with our first house that had 55 year old hardware on the cabinets. First Itok off all the cabinet pulls & cleaned the grease & grime off by using Simple Green and a scrubbie brush.

    Then we mounted all the pulls onto a sheet of cardboard so we could spray paint them all at once & not make a huge mess either.

    We first used a spray primer just to ensure the spray paint would “take” & last for the long haul. I don’t recall the name (Krylon maybe) but it was purchased at Lowes in the same section the spray paint is located & was called spray paint primer.

    After that dried, we sprayed the pulls & knobs with a satin black spray paint & ta-da! Looked brand new & the 2 cans of spray paint (primer & paint) cost less than $10.
    We still own that house but have since turned it into a rental & the cabinet hardware still looks fab even after 12 years!

  8. Depending on what kind of metal it is, you might could have the hardware “blued” like on gun barrels. Then it would be an allover dark color again.

    http://www.vansgunblue.com/

    • That looks interesting. It looks like it only works on steel. I wonder what kind of metal the cabinet pulls I have are.

  9. You can use the spray paint, prime them like Jane said and make sure you poly them after to help protect them.

  10. younghouselove uses orb (oil rubbed bronze) spray paint for EVERYTHING, even door knobs with no problems. check them out! love that site!

  11. Here is a “how to” on how to refinished door handles and knobs with spray paint. They look great!

    http://www.younghouselove.com/2011/08/how-you-like-them-handles/

    I want to try this too!

    • Thanks for that link, I’ve seen that before but I had forgotten about it. Sherry recommended using a liquid deglosser and primer before painting, and I have some.

      • for what it is worth, I used the same method on our door handles about 8 months ago. I sanded, deglossed, and then used the new ORB with Primer. The handles are still going strong, even with daily use. They are a bit sticky to turn (I think paint got into the mechanism) but the finish has held up really well.

  12. Well, I took all of my knobs off and spray painted them the oil rubbed bronze look and it worked. They look great. There were only a few I had to touch up a bit because of drips. Good luck!

  13. I spray painted mine and they look great and have held up well. I second the “clean well and use a primer first” tip!

  14. Man, do NOT spray paint them. We bought our house in 2005. The previous owners had taken the gold doorknobs and spray painted them. I don’t know when they painted them, but since they bought the house somewhere around 2000, it was fairly recent to when we moved in. One of the doorknobs was chipping when we moved in, and after 6.5 years now, all of them have chipped substantially.

  15. I haven’t tried it on metal pulls, but this article: http://justagirlblog.com/how-to-paint-furniture/ shows how to get the matte black “pottery-barn-esque” look. I used the Zinsser primer on a wood table & then painted a matte black enamel (the kind that you would use on a metal patio table) over it – both the Zinsser primer/bond AND the enamel are for indoor/outdoor, wood/metal/plastic use… I’d try that, if I were you… (my table has held up to a 3yr old, a dog & lots of Legos, “guys,” trains, paints, markers, etc. I could see it working wonderfully on metal knobs) If you don’t want black, you could always choose a different enamel color… Good Luck!

    • Oh! & I did not use the Benjamin Moore brand of enamel… just another low-lustre/matte enamel that our hardware store had – & definitely use a foam brush/roller…

  16. I’d take them to a professional who does powder-coating–the same thing that’s used on playground equipment and outside stairway bannisters. I think this would cost much less than having them replated, and you’d have a choice of really awesome colors. Maybe you could even match your oven…..

  17. First, I’m jealous! I so wish our 70s house had original cabinets/hardware.
    Second, I don’t know the answer to your question, but I know who probably does: Pam Kueber at Retro Renovation (http://retrorenovation.com/). One of my favorite sites!

  18. Here is the link to our spray paint knob projects. I only one that is wearing it the one I hang hangers on in the bathroom.
    http://bellakates.blogspot.com/2011/01/cabinet-knob-project-finale.html

  19. I used a spray paint meant for metal (I think it was Rustoleum), mounted them on a egg carton, and applied a couple of light coats within an afternoon. You have nothing to lose but the cost of the spray can. I did have to retouch mine twice in 8 years, but it was with the original can of paint, and they looked as good as new. So worth the risk!

  20. Many years ago my parents painted their worn copper handles shiny/glossy white with spray paint. They looked beautiful and lasted at least 10 years until they did a full kitchen reno. Think it’s all in the prep and making sure they are absolutely grease free before you paint.

  21. annie p says:

    all our cabinet hardware is old and horrible looking, some seems rusted. i thought we’d have to throw them away and buy new ones, but it’s nice to know there are cheaper options. and what do i have to lose, since i was ready to replace them anyway? thanks for starting this topic!

  22. Love your blog and organizational tips! I’m just down the road from you in Austin and I’m more than happy to share my experiences on the subject, especially since you selflessly offer yours. Not long ago, I spray painted my shiny gold doorknobs following young house love’s tips…and they have help up wonderfully. Spray painting is the way to go if you prefer to save some money but you must follow these tips: use steel wool to roughen the surface, use a QUALITY spray paint (Rustoleum Universal Spray Paint with built in Primer), and apply SEVERAL THIN COATS allowing each coat to thoroughly dry. Can’t stress that last tip enough. I learned that the hard way. You can even finish it off with a matte or glossy sealer for extra protection. Good luck…and can’t wait to see how they turn out.

  23. Carolyn says:

    A contractor told us that he keeps an old crockpot just for cleaning hardware. He puts them in water in the crockpot on low overnight. I don’t think he added anything else. Since you have extras, you might want to try this on a few of the worst ones. Yours do look fine in the pictures.

  24. If they are getting shiny from use, chances are they are real brass. Even so, I have had a lot of luck spray painting brass and having it withstand wear and tear by priming first. On my bedroom furniture pulls I primed with automotive paint – black – them spray painted with a matte black. They look great and I have handled them daily for over a year now. Wish I had done it sooner…Look:

    http://cannaryfamily.blogspot.com/2010/03/little-things-add-up.html

    Gina

  25. I would recommend soaking all of them in a strong white vinegar/water mixture for a day or so. It’ll even out the finish and unify the colors…AND it’ll strip off anything that might be on them as far as residue. So if you decide to paint them they’ll be clean. If you want to spray paint them with something that’ll hold up to CONSTANT use and in a wet environment I would recommend auto paint. You can get spray automotive paint and it’s so much more durable then regular spray paint. Its made to stand the test of time so you may have more luck with the finish staying strong. Just a thought… :)

  26. I have used spray paint lately on hardware to update it and give it a fun look. But for you I would recommend sophisticated finishes. It’s a paint at michaels. It’s about $10, but obviously you could use 40 % off coupon. It comes in all different shades. I’ve tried pewter and I like it. I also feel like if you poly the hardware it might hold whatever you put on it a little better over time.

  27. My mom used Drano to soak layers of paint off old hardware and restore it to its original look. Not sure if this would work in this case, but you might try it on one. If it’s a matter of ancient grime, maybe it would work for this, too.

  28. They might be brass. Does a magnet stick to it? A magnet will not stick to real brass. Depending on the metal, you can age metals (make darker) with aging solutions like the ones available at House of Antique Hardware. Look under tools and supplies, aging solutions.

    I am a professional contractor specializing in pre-1920 architecture and use these products on new reproduction items to match already existing fixtures in my houses. I prefer to replace with the real thing, but sometimes that is not possible or cost effective. These products work very well, and a little goes a long way.

    Good luck with your project!

  29. Spray painting definitely varies depending on that material of the knobs. We had a variety in our kitchen and tried to get them all matching. The cheaper cabinet handles (closer to your picture) took the spray paint with just one coat of primer and have held up for seven years. The more expensive solid brass ones did not hold the paint nearly as well. I don’t know how to precisely tell the metal either (won’t steel hold a magnet as well?) but we just periodically re-do the other ones (every two-three years?) and it hasn’t been too big a deal. Especially vs putting in our dream cabinetry and hardware which will have to wait awhile longer! If they are real brass, there is an antiquing solution that works much better that I have used on doorknobs and other things. The weight of them may tell you. Or if you have spares you could try it!

  30. rachael says:

    I have mixed emotions about painting things with honest wear, but if you decide to do it, I’m a firm believer in priming for dark colors with high heat black – you know, the stuff on bbq pits and iron furniture? I don’t know what it is, but it grabs like nothing else. I used it underneath orb on our rental house shiny gold doorknobs and it’s going strong after a year and a half. I’ve used it to spray drapery hardware and shower curtain hooks, too, all with excellent results.

    • I think I have some of that too in the garage. It makes sense that you would prime with something dark.

  31. Hmmm. You probably don’t want to hear this, but I don’t think they are worth the time, effort, and money. I’d go get new ones. Modern ones in a brushed nickel that look the same year after year. Course, that might not be your style.

    • I have about forty of them for all of the drawers and cabinets if I had to replace them, but that’s something to consider.

      • 40? Yikes. Then again, how much would you spend on degreasers, primers, quality spray paints, etc? And, how much time would you spend? Time is money.

        If you like the look of the handles, and you want to keep something original to the house… restore.
        If you prefer something less intricate, easier to clean, updated, softer on the hands… replace.

        In a kitchen, I prefer smooth surfaces. No tile countertops. No dust-and-grease-catching nooks and crannies on the hardware. Smooth. Sleek. Wipe-able! Simple.

        Whatever you choose, I can’t wait to see the “after” pics!

        • I had almost these exact handles. I contacted bulk ordering companies online to see about discounts. I had over 70 to order. Mine were actually in a length that was no longer standard in the stores. kitchen-cabinet-hardware.com price matched a cheaper price I found on amazon and gave a 10% discount.

  32. I took all the “gold” knobs & handles off my bedroom furniture about a year ago & spray painted them (about 40!) We’ve had the furniture probably more than 20 years. I used a Pewter metallic spray paint (no special brand) & laid them out on plastic in the garage to do it. I sprayed the back, let them dry, then sprayed the front. They look good & have lasted just fine. I also spray painted my brass lamps in the living room: one black matte, & one a cream color. They were expensive lamps bought 20 years ago, but we were really tired of brass. Now they are very “hip”…

  33. I re-did my dresser two years ago and had the same question about refinishing the drawer pulls. I took a risk and spray painted them and it worked wonderfully.
    First, used a bit of sandpaper on each one to rough it up just a little. Then I used Rust-Oleum spray paint and sprayed 2-3 coats. They turned out fantastic! And still look fantastic!

  34. Most metals can be anodized or colored through electrolysis. They would first strip the top layer (usually with acid.) Then depending on the metal composition different chemical baths would be used, some with electricity to first color and then to set the change. These processes actually change the structure of the top layer (10-50 micron thickness), so the color won’t chip, smudge or corrode over time. The real question, which shop would have this and for how much. It might just be too expensive for it to “make sense”, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be so. Might worth looking into.

  35. Are they the original cupboards painted over? They look great! Did you just paint the hinges with the same paint as you used on the doors? I have put off painting our kitchen cupboards for 5 years because I didn’t know what to do with the hinges, which are on the outside like yours and a brass colour.

    • Thanks, we had the cabinets painted by professionals which is why they look so great.

  36. I’am afraid I’m on the “get new handles/knobs” team. I cleaned, scrubbed, and spray painted my old handles black, using Rustoleum black. The high-use cabinets started wearing off very quickly.

    We purchased brushed nickel knobs for the upper cabinets and old-fashioned bin pulls for the drawers. One of the best purchases ever and they weren’t that expensive. About $3 for knobs and $5 for pulls. They gave a whole new look to my old cabinets.

    • P.S. – We got new hinges to match. That was a nightmare. My brother installed them for me. They weren’t an exact match to the old, so he had to take all the door and sand them a fraction of an inch to make the new ones fit. In hindsight, I would have painted my old hinges, and just bought new handles.

  37. I know I am in the minority here but I actually like that they show some wear, including that they are different. I mean, they are 40 years old so they shóuld look like that. I wouldn’t really worry about them and just let them sit there, being their authentic selves. If you paint them, you take away the original feel they have now. Plus I like the contrast of the crisp looking cabinets with the worn handles. If anything, you could sand the newer looking ones to wear them down more so they become similar to the other ones.

  38. I would call an actual auto paint shop (like maaco or a local auto body shop) and ask what they would charge to spray your handles for you. The most high quality spray paint you can buy yourself is not close to the same quality they use. A friend of mine had an outdoor patio set painted for less than $200 5 years ago and it looks brand new still today.

  39. Two years ago I spray painted my 40 yr old kitchen knobs. I cleaned them well but did not prime them. The edges of the frequently used cabinets are just starting to wear but I like the look.

    If you do a clear coat I think they would last longer.

    Good Luck!

  40. I used a rock tumbler with stainless steel shot and Dawn to refinish the hardware for an old dresser and it came out great. I already have the tumbler and use it for lots of things, no rocks however. Harbor Freight has a tumbler that less expensive. Also people polish with walnut shells and all kinds of stuff. Here is some information. Kids love them too.

    http://www.urbanmaille.com/_blog/Serenity/post/Tumble_Polishing_Jewelry/

  41. I used Rustoleum spray primer and paint on the metal heater covers in my bathroom this past summer. I have to say it looks like it is holding up well. The paint comes in all kinds of colors. The one I used matched our wall beautifully. I like the idea of the previous commenter to mount them all on cardboard. That way you could get them from all the necessary angels. A light touch from a consistent distance is key!

    • Just wanted to add….buying new ones would be fun and probably not that expensive. Shame on me, but I can’t help say it.

  42. momaleck says:

    Sorry, but I would replace them. As it is, the handles & hinges don’t match. It looks like you might have replaced the hinges recently, but the overall effect is a bit disjointed. I know the hinges match the new paint, but the new hinges will show their wear and flake off at a different rate than the old handles, whether you refinish them or not. So, in 10 years or so, you’ll have a new set of issues to deal with. New metal hinges and handles and you’ll be set for the long term (something that I know is important to you).

  43. I don’t have any hardware tips, just wanted to say your cabinets look great!!
    Donna´s last post…Can You Stand One More Bird? :)

  44. Leeanne says:

    If you do want to replace them, Elliot’s Hardware in Plano is having a HUGE sidewalk sale starting yesterday….my mom loaded up on knobs and pulls last night for 50 cents each.

  45. It may not last long, but it is so easy that it may not matter: black sharpie. Draw it on and wipe it off before the marker dries. It leaves a nice finish.

  46. I don’t know if this will work on the type of metal you have, but my parents had some brass candlesticks that they wanted to darken, and they read somewhere online that you can use the fumes from ammonia to darken it. They put the candlesticks into a plastic bag along with a small dish of ammonia, and left it overnight (sealed). The next day, the candlesticks had darkened from shiny brass to almost black. Like I said, I suppose it depends on the type of metal it is (and what’s on it), but it’s worth a try.

  47. Melanie S. says:

    I used spray paint appliance epoxy in stainless steel for some hardware on my hutch and it is as tough as nails. Costs about 5-6 dollars a can and it goes a long way. I love it!

  48. I sprayed all my lichen hardware with ORB paint — only two need to be resprayed and that’s after about two years.