How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets
Longing for that clean spa atmosphere in your own home? Freshen up the look of your bathroom with these easy steps.
When it comes to bathroom vanities, you may think what you see is what you get. But bathroom cabinets can easily be upgraded with a fresh coat of paint and new drawer pulls. A job that seems like a headache is made easy when you know the right process. 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
Before You Begin: Choose the Right Paint
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 top coat. This is especially important if the surface is dark or stained because the original finish can show through the top coat. Consult with the expert at your paint retailer who can help you select the most appropriate primer.
When it comes to paint, you'll need to choose between acrylic enamel paint and alkyd paint for cabinets. Acrylic, or water-base, paints are low-fume and clean up easily with water. Alkyd, or oil-base, 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. Whichever 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.
Step 1: Remove Hardware
Before you paint, remove the cabinet doors and drawers from the vanity and uninstall 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
Before painting bathroom cabinets, it's important to 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.
An alternative to sanding cabinets that are in good shape—and don't require you to fill nicks and dents or to sand smooth—is to apply a liquid deglosser, 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
Before you paint cabinets, try the new color by priming and painting the back of a cabinet door. 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, don't start now. 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 Interior and Reattach
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.
Bonus: How to Get 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 may include an air compressor, sprayer gun, and tubing. These tools are easy to use and 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 kitchen 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. Paint vanity cabinet boxes yourself—this is a manageable do-it-yourself project.