Do you need to know how to remove kitchen cabinets without damage for your home? As fun as popular DIY shows on TV make it look, people don’t normally use sledgehammers to remove kitchen cabinets.
Maybe you’re replacing your cabinets and decided you could use the current cabinets in your laundry room or in your garage. In this article, we’ll show you how to remove kitchen cabinets without damage so you can use them somewhere else.
I’ll show you the best way to take down your cabinets with the least amount of damage. The goal here is to minimize the damage to yourself, to the cabinets and to the wall behind them. So, here we go.
Protect Yourself, First and Foremost
Kitchen cabinets are heavy, depending on what they’re made of. Even the lightest cabinet will be unwieldy and may come off the wall suddenly and without any real warning. Before you even begin the process of removing the cabinet, it is important to take some precautions and to know your limits.
This is not a solo project especially for overhead cabinets, solid oak cabinets or anything that might fall apart and cause injury. Since failing to prepare is preparing to fail, here are some tips for preparation:
- Get a work buddy. Decide who is doing what before you get started, assigning tasks based on strengths and preferences
- Remove all breakable items from the entire area and then empty all cabinets. Make sure that adjoining cabinets are emptied because they may decide to come down as a unit.
- Remove all pets, small children, whiny teens and anyone who is not going to be of any help whatsoever.
- Have all necessary tools in the area and ready to go. Include a first aid kit, just in case. Tools you’ll need are a cordless drill with different bits. Most cabinet screws have star or square heads and some older ones are phillips head. You’ll also need a utility knife, pry bar and a wrench for water valves.
- Put down a drop cloth to protect as much of the area as possible.
Assessing the Cabinets and the Walls Behind Them
80% of cabinets are screwed through their back to wood studs behind drywall walls. With walls, it may come down to accepting some damage but trying to minimize it as much as possible. Drywall is the worst because cabinets may have been screwed in to studs using long screws and metal brackets. In some cases adhesive may have been added to make the connection between cabinet and wall even more secure.
If the connection is not immediately obvious you may have some trouble, but most screws are at the top of the back of cabinets. Most wood studs are centered 16 inches apart.
You can guesstimate the locations of the other screws after you find the first one. For custom or older cabinet along a long wall, it may be one unit which will be very heavy.
On newer cabinets, multiple cabinets are connected together to form one unit. You’ll see screws at the top and bottom of their face frames. If you cannot tell where screws, nails or adhesive is you won’t be able to easily or safely remove it.
While there is no easy way to find the adhesive you can use a magnet to help you find some of the nails or screws so you have an idea of where to start your removal process.
- The first thing to do it take your utility knife to cut through the bead of caulk used at the back side of the cabinet against the wall and wherever the cabinet and wall meet.
- Second thing to do is remove all doors and hinges. Most hinges are screwed to the face frame of the cabinet. Removing the doors will help keep them damage free as well as make the cabinet lighter.
- Remove drawers for same reason as doors. Try to remove the screws evenly, holding the cabinet with one hand (or having another person do this) while working the cordless drill.
- Once you start feeling the cabinet move, you will know you are moving in the right direction.
If you have removed all of the screws and the cabinet is still in place it is time to switch tactics.
In this case you will need a prybar that you can slide behind the cabinet. Gently work the tool in as far as you can safely and give it a slight back and forth wiggle.
If you get any movement, that means the cabinets were installed using adhesives which means that you will have to pry them from the wall. This also means it is highly unlikely that you are going to get them free without some damage to their backs as well as to the wall.
If you do damage the back of the cabinet, depending on how thick the back panel is, you can probably just add some 1/4 plywood to the back of the cabinet.
Repairing the Walls: How Much Will Need Done?
Now that you’ve successfully removed the cabinets. The cabinets themselves are fine but the walls are kind of a wreck. How much repair work will you need to do before installing the new cabinets? That might depend on a few factors.
- Where are the new cabinets going?
- Will there be anything for screws to lock in to without major repairs?
- Will the damage show once the cabinets are in place?
If you’re replacing the old area with new kitchen cabinets, you’ll only need to do minimal, functional repairs. If the cabinets are moving, even to a very small degree it is best to repair the wall for both function and aesthetics.
This may mean something as simple as filling in some holes and smoothing that all out to an all out effort with repairs and painting or wallpapering.
If you’ve removed a lot of screws in odd places, they were probably hoping to hit a wall stud. Do your own testing and mark the correct stud location to make installing new cabinets easier.
If you’re installing IKEA kitchen cabinets, then you’ll have a railing system for the cabinets, which makes it all much easier.
Install a single cabinet and then step back and make sure that you don’t see any damage that may need to be addressed before installing the others. Some slight touch-ups here and there is one thing but if you are going to need to do more than that, do so before moving on to the next cabinet.
A Final Note of Caution
Some cabinets can hide things such as wiring and plumbing. Especially cabinets located above built in microwaves.
Those areas have attached lighting and sink cabinets for plumbing. If you can’t see where the wiring runs and exactly where it starts and ends, don’t try to remove that cabinet without shutting the power off to that area.
Use a tester to determine if the line is live and have your buddy turn off breakers until you find the correct one. You don’t want to start prying a cabinet and end up slicing in to a live wire. This also applies to removing a base cabinet with plumbing through the back. Make sure to shut off water at the valves located in the cabinet before disassembling the plumbing and waste lines.
Taking your time and being careful of exposed screws, nails, electrical wires and plumbing will help you be successful in this project. The added satisfaction of knowing that you did this on your own is more than enough of a reward.