How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets for an Easy Vanity Upgrade
Revamp your old vanity with no demo work required. Learn how to paint bathroom cabinets for a colorful new look in just a few days.
You don't always need to embark on a lengthy remodeling project to give your bathroom a fresh new look. To quickly revamp your bathroom without any demo work, update the vanity with a colorful paint job in just a few days. This simple project is a great way to refresh old wood cabinetry to complement your bathroom color scheme, and it's even more impactful if you swap out the existing hardware at the same time.
Before you start painting, it's key to select a primer that's recommended for the type of bathroom cabinet surface you have (wood, metal, or laminate), and have it tinted to the color of the topcoat. This is especially important if the surface is dark or stained because the original finish can show through the topcoat. Consult with the expert at your paint retailer who can help you select the most appropriate primer.
Choosing the best paint for bathroom cabinets is also important. Although bathroom cabinets don't gather as much greasy buildup as those in the kitchen, you'll need to select a paint that will protect your cabinets from moisture and grime. The most popular options for bathroom cabinets are acrylic enamel paint and alkyd paint. Acrylic, or water-based, paints are low-fume and clean up easily with water. Alkyd, or oil-based, paints require good ventilation because the paint contains solvents that can irritate your lungs and make you feel sick. Alkyd options require mineral spirits for cleanup, but they provide a hard, durable paint finish that works well in the moist environment of a bathroom. In general, higher-gloss sheens are more resistant to moisture and everyday wear than flat or matte finishes.
Whichever type you use, buy the best-quality paint you can afford for a lasting bathroom cabinet finish. A self-leveling paint that levels out the brush marks as the paint dries for a super-smooth finish is often a good choice for painting bathroom cabinets. It does, however, set up fairly quickly, which can make blending brushstrokes tricky.
How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets
Follow these steps to make your old bathroom vanity look like new.
What You Need
- Cordless drill or screwdriver
- Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
- Rubber gloves
- Protective goggles
- Putty knife
- Spackling compound or wood filler
- 120- to 220-grit sandpaper
- Tack cloth or rag
- Painters tape
- Drop cloth
- Synthetic-fiber paintbrushes: 1.5-inch tapered and 2-inch
- Microfiber paint rollers, 2-3 inches wide
- Paint tray and stir sticks
Step 1: Remove hardware.
Start by removing the cabinet doors and drawers from the vanity and uninstalling the hardware. You never want to paint over hardware, such as hinges and handles, because it will affect the way the cabinet functions. If your hinges and hardware have been previously painted, you can contact a paint shop and ask to have them restored.
Make a map of how the doors and drawers go together in the vanity, carefully labeling each piece with its position for easy reassembly. Use a cordless drill or screwdriver to remove hinges and hardware. If your cabinets have adjustable shelves, be sure to remove those—and the hardware that supports them—from the cabinets.
Step 2: Clean and sand cabinets.
Before painting bathroom cabinets, clean the faces of cabinet boxes and drawers and both sides of doors and shelves with a product that removes dirt and grease, such as trisodium phosphate (TSP). Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the packaging, mixing water and TSP in a bucket as directed. Wear protective goggles and rubber gloves. Apply the TSP-water mixture with a sponge to clean. Once the cabinets are clean and dry, use a putty knife to fill any nicks or dents with spackling compound or wood filler; let dry.
Sand the surface with 120- to 220-grit sandpaper to dull the surface and smooth down any imperfections. To sand all the contours of paneled doors, try using a contoured sander, a small sponge wrapped with sandpaper, or a commercial sanding sponge. Use a tack cloth or damp rag to remove dust after sanding.
If your bathroom cabinets are in good shape—and don't require you to fill nicks and dents or to sand smooth—an alternative to sanding is to apply a liquid deglosser ($9, The Home Depot), which removes the glossy finish on cabinets and helps the new paint adhere to the old finish. If you need to sand your cabinets regardless, you do not need to degloss before painting bathroom cabinets.
Step 3: Test paint and prime.
Test the new color by priming and painting the back of a cabinet door before you coat the whole thing. This gives you a chance to make sure that you like the color and, more importantly, that the paint finish you've chosen will adhere to the cabinetry and your prep steps will yield a smooth finish. If you are not pleased with the finish, consult your local paint shop for advice on painting bathroom cabinets.
Use painters tape to protect the wall or mirror from paint drips or messes while painting the vanity. Cover the floor with a drop cloth. Use a roller or paintbrush to prime the faces of cabinet boxes and drawers and both sides of doors. If your cabinets have a lot of detailing, it will be easier to use a tapered brush. A roller works well on larger flat surfaces and flat doors. Paint cabinets with one light coat of primer; let dry.
Step 4: Paint cabinets.
Paint stores recommend using your paint within 24 hours of having it mixed to ensure even coverage. Regardless, always make sure to stir your paint well, then pour it into a paint tray. Load a roller or brush with paint. Start with cabinet doors, which will take longer to paint because you'll need to allow dry time before you turn them over to paint the opposite side. If your shelves are adjustable and the insides of your cabinets need a fresh coat of paint, now is the time to start painting those, too. If they have never been painted, this isn't necessary.
Paint cabinets with light coats. Painting thinner coats means fewer drips for a high-quality paint job. Be prepared to apply at least two coats per side when painting bathroom cabinets.
Paint the front of each drawer but not the drawer sides or glide hardware. Use painters tape to protect the rest of the drawer from errant brushstrokes. Set cabinet drawers on their ends; they should balance easily in this position. Paint cabinets with light coats using a brush, allowing paint to dry completely between each coat.
Step 5: Paint cabinet frame and reassemble.
Use a roller or paintbrush to paint the frame and sides of the cabinetry unit or cabinet box. Avoid painting inside the cabinet unless the shelves are fixed and would benefit from a fresh coat of paint. Paint cabinets in light coats, allowing paint to dry completely between each coat. This can take a day or more per coat.
Once the bathroom cabinet paint finish has dried completely, it's time to reattach drawer pulls, screw the hinges onto the doors, and hang the doors on the cabinetry box according to the map you made. If desired, spray-paint hardware and let dry before reattaching. Slide each drawer back into place.
Bathroom Cabinet Painting Tips for a Super-Smooth Finish
If you have a big project to tackle, consider renting a power sprayer from your local hardware store. Talk to the paint professional about what sprayer is right for you, and work with them to get what you need. This might include an air compressor, sprayer gun, and tubing. These tools are easy to use and will help guarantee a smooth finish.
For a super-smooth finish, you can send your cabinet doors and drawers to a professional paint shop or cabinetmaker. They can spray-paint bathroom cabinets off-site for a good-as-new look. To find a professional, ask your paint retailer for a recommendation or search online for painting contractors. Plan to paint the vanity cabinet boxes yourself—this is typically a manageable do-it-yourself project.