Medicine Cabinet Buying Guide

Whether you’re building a new bathroom, remodeling, or making gradual updates, the medicine cabinet you choose plays a key role in how your bath functions and looks. To purchase a medicine cabinet that best fits your needs -- and space -- study our buying guide before you choose.

Types of Medicine Cabinets

Types of Medicine Cabinets

Your first purchase decision when choosing a medicine cabinet is whether you want a recessed or surface-mount unit. If you’re replacing an existing recessed medicine cabinet, it’s easiest to install another recessed model that fits in the old cabinet's cutout; if the new cabinet is a different size, you'll need to modify the hole accordingly. If you prefer a wall-mount version, you’ll need to fill the cutout with insulation and mount the new medicine cabinet over it. So measure carefully before purchasing.

Recessed Medicine Cabinets

Built into the wall, recessed medicine cabinets are often nearly flush with the wall, so they save precious bathroom space. Because they are recessed, these cabinets often have deeper shelves. If you want to replace a surface-mount model with a recessed model, make sure before purchasing that there are no pipes or wiring in the wall and that the model you choose fits between the studs. Installing a recessed medicine cabinet might require a pro with plumbing or wiring skills.

Surface-Mount Medicine Cabinets

You might choose a surface-mount medicine cabinet simply because you like its look and features, but doing so is a necessity when the wall you intend to mount it on has internal plumbing or wiring. Surface-mount models are relatively easy to install, come in many sizes, and can add to the decor of the room, but they protrude into your bathroom space more than recessed models do.

Purchase Considerations

Purchase Considerations

Style and features will no doubt play a role in the medicine cabinet you choose, so consider who will use it, how it will be used, and how it fits into the decor of your bathroom. Many medicine cabinets are white or a neutral color, but models are also available in vivid hues.


Because a medicine cabinet operates in a humid environment, choose one made of wood, plastic, aluminum, or metal with an enameled finish to prevent rust and ensure a longer life.


Some medicine cabinets -- often those with a more traditional look -- have swing doors. If you’re considering a large cabinet, check to make sure the hinges are sturdy enough to support frequent swinging of a heavy door, especially one with a mirror. Other models have sliding doors; if they’re mirrored, you can use only one mirror while accessing the cabinet's interior. Models are available with one, two, or three doors, and push-button doors minimize fingerprints. If you’re planning to store medicine in your medicine cabinet and don’t want others -- especially children -- to be able to access it, choose a model with a lock. But also be aware that medicines are best stored in dark, humidity-free areas that are likely more secure than a bathroom.

Helpful Features

High-end medicine cabinets offer mirror defoggers, chilled compartments, built-in electrical outlets, and interior lights.


If you want to gain as much storage space as you can by buying a larger medicine cabinet, first consider how it looks in proportion to your sink and vanity. Bigger isn't always better.

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