Must-Know Tips for Painting Bathroom Cabinets

Forget about remodeling. Give tired bathrooms a stylish lift for just a few bucks by painting cabinetry. Follow our instructions for painting bathroom cabinets, and get a fresh look in no time.

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How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets

Water splatters, steam, toiletry splashes, and drippy lotions take their toll on bathroom cabinet and vanity finishes. Luckily, everyday wear and tear doesn't adversely affect the structure of bathroom cabinetry. With thoughtful planning, prep work, and proper materials, even novice DIYers can successfully bring new life to bathroom cabinets in just a day or two. Here's how to paint bathroom cabinets, along with expert painting tips that ensure smooth cabinet refinishing.

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What You Need

  • Cordless drill or screwdriver
  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
  • Bucket
  • Rubber gloves
  • Protective goggles
  • Sponge
  • Putty knife
  • Spackling compound or wood putty
  • 120- to 220-grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth or rag
  • Deglosser
  • Painters tape
  • Masking tape
  • Drop cloths
  • Primer
  • Paintbrushes: 1.5-inch tapered and 2-inch-wide synthetic fiber brushes (natural-bristle brushes for oil-base paints)
  • Microfiber paint rollers: 2-3 inches wide
  • Paint
  • Paint tray and stir sticks

Before You Begin

Devise a Plan: Bathrooms are generally tight on floor space, so figure out where you can set up a station to paint bathroom cabinets that's out of traffic's way but still convenient. Consider whether you want to replace vanity tops and bathroom sinks: If you do, removing them before you start the project will make prep, priming, and painting go more quickly. Think about whether you want to paint bathroom walls and woodwork; your decision may influence your cabinet paint color choices.

Do a Little Research: You'll need to know what your cabinets are constructed from and how they are finished to ensure painting your bathroom vanity is a success. When in doubt, remove a vanity cabinet door and take it to your favorite paint store. Talk to a paint pro to learn about the best painting practices and materials for your bathroom cabinets.

Pick the Proper Products: Bathrooms are high-humidity areas, so make sure you choose bathroom cabinet primers and paints that offer moisture-, mildew-, and stain-resistant properties. You can opt for either latex (water-base) or alkyd (oil-base) enamel primers and paints. Latex paints are low-fume and clean up quickly with water and soap. Oil-base paints, which require mineral spirits for cleanup, release unpleasant odors and contain solvents that can make you ill; they should only be used in well-ventilated spaces. Select a bathroom cabinet primer recommended for your cabinet's surface type (wood, metal, or laminate), and have it tinted to the color of the top coat to ensure dark stained or painted finishes won't bleed through the new finish. This is especially important when painting bathroom cabinets in shades of white or pastel.

Consider Paint Sheen: Semigloss latex enamel paint—thanks to its shiny finish, wipe-clean qualities, and moisture-proof nature—is the preferred paint for bathroom cabinets. The higher the gloss, the more durable the finish—but remember that glossy paints highlight surface imperfections and need to be applied with a steady hand to ensure the final surface is smooth and without visible brushstrokes. Paints with satin, eggshell, and flat sheens work, too. They are especially suited to bathroom cabinets with marred surfaces and for creating antiqued or distressed finishes. Ask your paint retailer about self-priming enamels designed for cabinets; they are pricier but offer a convenient alternative to applying both primer and paint coats.

Step One: Disassemble Cabinets

Use a cordless drill or screwdriver to remove all cabinet doors, drawers, and hardware. Pull out all adjustable shelves and supporting hardware. As you remove hinges and hardware, wrap each piece and its screws in a piece of masking tape; label the tape with the hardware's position so you can return each piece to its proper place after painting is complete. Place all the taped hardware components in a plastic bag so they don't get lost in the shuffle. Use pieces of painters tape to label the positions of doors and drawers (e.g., label a drawer with LL for lower left).

Step Two: Prep the Surfaces

Before painting bathroom cabinets, clean the surfaces with a dirt and grease remover, such as trisodium phosphate (TSP). Mix TSP and water in a bucket, following the manufacturer's directions, and sponge the mixture onto all surfaces, rubbing away grime as you go. Wear protective goggles and rubber gloves when using TSP.

Once the cabinets are clean and dry, use a putty knife and spackling compound or wood putty to fill any nicks or dents; let dry. Sand the surface with 120- to 220-grit sandpaper to dull the surface and smooth imperfections. Sand inset contours on paneled doors using a contoured sander, a small sponge wrapped with sandpaper, or a commercial sanding sponge.

When sanding bathroom cabinets, always sand in the same direction as the wood grain to prevent scratches that show through the top coat. Use a tack cloth or damp rag to remove all dust after sanding. If bathroom cabinet surfaces are in good shape and require no patching, consider using a liquid deglosser to remove existing glossy finishes instead of sanding.

Step Three: Do a Trial Run

Prime and paint the back of a bathroom cabinet door to ensure you like the color and to check that the paint adheres smoothly to the cabinet surface. Create smooth finishes by using the right type of brush: synthetic-bristle brushes work best for applying latex coverings, and natural-bristle brushes work best for applying oil-base products.

Step Four: Prepare for Painting

Use painters tape to protect walls, floors, and backsplash tile from any paint spills or mishaps. If the vanity top is to remain in place, protect it with a drop cloth. Lay a drop cloth on the bathroom floor to catch paint spatters. Keep moist and dry rags handy so you can immediately wipe up errant paint drips.

Step Five: Prime and Paint Bathroom Cabinets

Use a roller or paintbrush to apply primer to the faces of cabinet boxes, cabinet frames, drawer fronts, and both sides of cabinet doors. Set cabinet doors atop like-size bricks to keep them off the work surface; this will make it easier to prime and paint door edges. Let primer coat dry.

Load a roller or brush with paint, and paint bathroom cabinet doors. Use multiple thin coats for a drip-free finish. Allow each coat to dry before adding the next. While the doors dry, paint cabinet boxes and framework. Tape off drawer sides and glide hardware before painting drawer fronts. When the cabinet door fronts have dried, flip them over and paint the back sides. Let all the components dry thoroughly before reassembling the painted bathroom cabinets.

Step Six: Reassemble Painted Bathroom Cabinets

Remove all tape and drop cloths. Wipe down vanity tops, dust all bathroom surfaces, and sweep or vacuum the bathroom floor to create a clean slate for showcasing your painted bathroom cabinetry. Reattach drawer pulls and hinges in the appropriate spots, hang doors on the cabinetry boxes, slide in drawers, and enjoy the stylish new vanity you've created.

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