How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets

Reviving a tired vanity with fresh paint will transform the look of your whole bathroom. This step-by-step tutorial will help you get started today.

By Manasa Reddigari and Bob Vila | Updated Jul 14, 2022 10:58 AM

How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets

Photo: istockphoto.com

Whether your bathroom vanity has gone dingy with heavy use and exposure to moisture, or it’s just looking dated, painting your bathroom storage is an easy way to refresh it. Yes, you can successfully paint both solid wood or engineered wood, no matter whether the bathroom cabinets are unfinished, sealed, or previously painted. Careful surface preparation, meticulous technique, and the right products are key to professional-quality results. Get started with our thorough guide on how to paint bathroom cabinets; you’ll find all the tools you need to give that vanity a beautiful and durable new look.

Project Overview

Working Time: 9 hours
Total Time: 24 hours
Skill Level: Intermediate
Estimated Cost: $200

Before You Begin

Painting your bathroom vanity is not a difficult project, nor one that requires a lot of physical strength or skills with tools, but there are lots of things DIYers must do and think through before they pick up a paint brush. Determining the kind of primer and paint to use is one concern. What’s more important to think about is how you’ll protect yourself as you tackle this project. Bathrooms are typically fairly small spaces, and fumes from paint, primer, and trisodium phosphate can become bothersome quickly if the room is not well ventilated. Always be sure to run the exhaust fan and open windows while you’re painting in the bathroom. We also recommend protecting your body by wearing protective goggles, clothing that covers your skin, and a respirator.

Tools & Materials
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STEP 1: Prepare the space for painting.

How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets

Photo: istockphoto.com

Lay drop cloths on the floor around the bathroom cabinets to protect it from sanding dust and paint. Remove all items from the cabinets and temporarily store them elsewhere.

STEP 2: Remove the cabinet doors.

Removing the cabinet doors will help you achieve a cleaner, more uniform paint finish.

  • If the hinges of the cabinet doors are mounted with clips, unclip the side of each door hinge mounted to the interior, then lift each door from the cabinet.
  • If the hinges are mounted with screws, use a screwdriver to loosen the screws that secure each cabinet door hinge to the cabinet. (There’s usually one set of screws securing the hinge to the door and another set securing the opposite side of the hinge to the cabinet interior.) Stow the screws in a safe place. Pull each door away from the bathroom cabinets, along with its hinges.

Set the doors and hinges aside where they won’t get splashed with paint.

STEP 3: Take the drawers out of the cabinet.

Remove the cabinet drawers, starting with the upper drawers and working your way down. Pull out the drawer as far as possible (it will naturally stop rolling forward when the wheels reach the end of the drawer rail). Tilt the drawer downward and toward you to lift its wheels off the rail, then pull the drawer straight out to remove it. Set drawers aside.

STEP 4: Remove the cabinet hardware.

With a screwdriver, remove the hardware from the doors and drawers. (The screws that secure each pull or knob are usually located on the back of the door or drawer face.) Lift hardware from the front of the door or drawer and set it all aside, away from the painting area.

RELATED: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Cabinet Hardware

STEP 5: Protect surfaces you don’t want to paint.

How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets

Photo: istockphoto.com

Use painter’s tape to cover any bathroom cabinet surfaces you don’t want to paint, such as the underside of the vanity top and wall areas adjacent to the cabinet. Tape old newspaper to the inside of the bathroom cabinets unless you also plan to paint the cabinets’ interior.

STEP 6: Clean the cabinets with trisodium phosphate.

Open bathroom windows and turn on the exhaust fan because TSP can cause respiratory irritation. After donning work gloves, safety goggles, and a respirator, dilute one-quarter cup of trisodium phosphate (TSP) in one gallon of warm water in a 5-gallon bucket.

Vigorously scrub the outer and inner cabinet frame, the door and drawer fronts, and, if desired, the backs of the doors, with a sponge saturated in the TSP solution. Make a second pass over the cleaned surfaces with a water-dampened sponge to remove the TSP solution. Towel-dry the cabinets well, and then allow all pieces to air-dry completely.

RELATED: The Pros and Cons of Cleaning With TSP

STEP 7: Sand the cabinets.

How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets

Photo: istockphoto.com

With a knife, test an inconspicuous area of the cabinet to determine whether it is coated with a sealant. If a coating flakes off, you’ll need to do some extra sanding. Make sure that your gloves, respirator, and goggles are still in place before proceeding.

Sand the outer and/or inner cabinet frame, the door and drawer fronts, and, if desired, the door backs with sandpaper.

  • If you are sanding unfinished cabinets, make a single pass over the cabinet surfaces with 220-grit sandpaper.
  • If you are sanding a cabinet that’s coated with paint or a clear protective sealer, make a first pass with a medium-grit (120- to 150-grit) sandpaper over the cabinet surfaces. This will remove the clear coat or any peeling paint. Then, do a light sanding using 220-grit sandpaper.

STEP 8: Clean up the sanding dust.

Vacuum sanding dust from the cabinet using the dust-brush attachment. Wipe down the sanded areas with a water-dampened cloth, then make a final pass over the cabinet with a tack cloth.

STEP 9: Prime the cabinet surfaces.

How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets

Photo: istockphoto.com

To prime the cabinet, pour a small amount of shellac or oil-based primer into a paint tray. Both shellac and oil-based primers are generally more effective than latex primer in defending bathroom cabinets against moisture. Shellac primers, however, minimize brush marks more effectively than oil-based primers. A shellac primer also gives you more flexibility, because you can use either an oil-based or water-based paint over it.

Coat the paint roller cover with primer, then work the primer over the outer and/or inner cabinet frame in the direction of the wood grain. Next, tackle flat areas of the door and drawer fronts. For grooves in door and drawer fronts, apply primer with a natural-bristle paint brush to better reach recesses and tight corners.

Let the first coat of primer cure according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

STEP 10: Add a second coat of primer (optional).

If you are priming bathroom cabinets that have been previously painted, especially if you’re going from a darker to a lighter paint color, apply another coat of primer on each cabinet surface and allow it to cure completely. (If you’re priming an unfinished cabinet, you can usually skip the extra coat.)

Repeat Steps 9 and 10 to prime the backs of the cabinet doors, if you are painting them.

STEP 11: Paint the cabinet.

How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets

Photo: istockphoto.com

To paint the bathroom cabinet, pour a small amount of oil-based paint or mold- and mildew-proof latex paint into a paint tray. (The best paint for wood furnishings in bathrooms and kitchens is oil-based paint, but mold- and mildew-proof latex-based interior paints can be swapped in for oil paint if you prefer a faster-drying paint that emits fewer volatile organic compounds.) When choosing paint, note that semi-gloss and high-gloss finishes repel moisture more effectively than flat and eggshell finishes, and darker shades hide dirt better than lighter colors.

RELATED: Beyond White: 15 Alternative Hues to Color Your Bath

For a professional-looking finish, work with the tools best suited for the type of paint you’ve selected:

Load the roller cover with paint, then apply a base coat to the outer and/or inner cabinet frame. Next, paint your bathroom cabinets’ flat areas (the door and drawer fronts) in the direction of the wood grain. Don’t forget to paint the nooks and crannies!

  • If you are using oil-based paint, use a natural-bristle brush to paint grooves in the door and drawer fronts.
  • If you’re using latex-based paint, use a synthetic-bristle paint brush.

Let the base coat dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

STEP 12: Apply another coat (or two) of paint.

How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets

Photo: istockphoto.com

Give your bathroom cabinets an additional coat of paint or two over the base as needed to achieve the desired depth of color. Allow each coat to dry fully before applying the next, then let the top coat dry completely.

Repeat Steps 11 and 12 to paint the backs of the cabinet doors, if desired.

STEP 13: Clean up and reattach the cabinet doors.

Roll up and remove the drop cloths, and remove the painter’s tape from the cabinet. Retrieve the hinge screws (or clips) to reattach the door hinges to the cabinet. Reinstall the cabinet doors and drawers as you removed them, then reattach the door and drawer hardware.

Final Thoughts

How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets

Photo: istockphoto.com

Painting a bathroom cabinet is a relatively easy DIY for those with a working knowledge of sanding and painting. Indeed, the most challenging part of this job is probably preparing the space for the priming and painting: removing drawers, cabinet fronts, and hardware, and protecting surfaces that you don’t want painted. Speaking of protection, always remember to wear gloves and proper respiratory protection, and open windows and turn on your bathroom exhaust fan while you’re working. It’s easier than you think to transform a tired-looking vanity!

FAQs

When painting a bathroom cabinet, there are lots of decisions to be made regarding the appropriate primers, paints, and tools to use. These frequently asked questions will help you learn more about the best products to use and procedures to follow in your particular situation.

Q. What kind of paint do you use on bathroom cabinets?

The best type of paint for bathroom cabinets is oil-based paint because it can withstand dampness and humidity. Alternatively, you can also use a latex-based paint that has mold- and mildew-proofing properties, such as Zinsser paint products.

Q. Can you paint bathroom cabinets without sanding them?

Paint adheres best to cabinets that are sanded, and this is particularly true of cabinets that already have paint or a protective coating on them. For professional-looking results, we recommend at least one pass with 220-grit sandpaper.

Q. How do you paint over stained cabinetry?

Because most stained cabinets are protected with a coating of lacquer or varnish, you’ll first need to remove that with a liquid deglosser. Then, follow the directions above for cleaning, priming, and painting the cabinet.

Q. How do you use chalk paint on bathroom cabinets?

To paint cabinets with chalk paint, prepare the cabinets as directed in Steps 1 through 5. Clean the cabinets’ surfaces with a rag and soapy water, dry thoroughly, and apply the chalk paint in thin layers. Seal the paint with a water-based polycrylic protective finish.

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