If you’re remodeling your bathroom, you may wonder how to paint bathroom cabinets to make them look like new and save money. You can take out your current cabinets and add a fresh coat of paint before installing them back into their new place. You won’t have to worry about picking out and buying new cabinets. In turn, this can hurry the remodel process along, and it can help your budget.
Maybe you’re not doing a complete remodel, but your cabinets look dingy due to exposure to moisture and heavy usage, or it’s looking very dated to your current decor. Learning how to paint bathroom cabinets can be a lifesaver when it comes to helping refresh your storage pieces. You can successfully paint engineered wood or solid wood, and it doesn’t matter if the cabinets are sealed, unfinished, or painted previously.
Knowing how to prepare the surface, having the right products, and paying meticulous attention to detail are the keys to getting professional-grade results when you learn how to paint bathroom cabinets. This step-by-step guide will walk you through the painting process, and we’ll also list out all of the tools you need to pull it off. In turn, your project can go smoother from start to finish.
It’s easier to remove the cabinets and paint them in pieces than it is to keep them all together. You’ll be able to get to all of the small nooks and crannies in the cabinets when you do it yourself, and this can lead to a professional-grade look. Main Floor Bathroom Cabinet by HandsLive / CC BY 2.0
Materials and Tool List
First up, which tools do you need when you’re learning how to paint bathroom cabinets? Getting them all in one place ensures you can knock out this project in a few days without any major interruptions. You’ll need to purchase:
- 5-gallon bucket
- Drop cloth or two
- Paintbrush or roller
- Painter’s tape
- Paint tray
- Roller cover
- Shellac primer
- Tack cloth
- Trisodium phosphate
- Vacuum cleaner
- Work gloves
How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets – Step-by-Step
Once you have everything you need, it’s time to learn how to paint your bathroom cabinets. There are several steps to this process, and you could have more or less depending on the setup you currently have in your bathroom and which types of cabinets you have.
Step One – Prepare the Room
The first thing you want to do is get your bathroom ready for this project. If you’re remodeling, you can pull the cabinets out to paint them. If you’re not and you just want to paint the existing cabinets, you’ll have more prep work. Get your drop cloths and lay them on the floor around your bathroom. These cloths will help protect the rest of the bathroom from sanding dust and paint splatters.
Empty the cabinets themselves. Take everything from the cabinets, drawers, and from the top of the sink that could get in your way while you work. Now is a great time to sort through your items and toss anything expired and take stock of what you need to purchase. Organize all of these items and set them in another room.
Step Two – Remove the Cabinets
It’s easier to paint the cabinets after you remove them from the wall itself. This step in how to paint bathroom cabinets will allow you to get a more uniform, cleaner paint finish on your cabinets. Get your screwdriver and detach any hardware like hinges and knobs. Get your screwdriver and carefully remove this hardware.
To make it easier on yourself, break out your baggies and put all of the hardware from each cabinet in a separate baggie. Label them and put a corresponding label on the cabinet it came from. This will streamline the process when you go to put your cabinets back together.
- Clip Mount – If the cabinets have a clip mount system on them, you’ll unclip the side of each door hinge on the cabinet’s interior. Next, you’ll lift the door up and away from the cabinet to remove it.
- Screw Mount – If the cabinets have a screw mount system, get a screwdriver and remove the screws that secure your hinge to the door and cabinet body. There’s usually a set of screws that secure your door to the hinge and a second set that secure the hinge to the inside of the cabinet. Put your screws in a baggie to keep track of them, and toss the hinges in the bags too.
Take your doors and set them aside somewhere where they won’t accidentally get splashed with paint because this can create more work for yourself when you’re trying to make everything look neat and clean.
Step Three – Remove the Drawers
Once you get the doors off, the next step in how to paint bathroom cabinets is to remove the drawers. You want to start with the top-most drawer and work your way down to make the process easier. Pull your drawer out as far as you can. Eventually, the drawer will stop rolling forward when the wheels hit the end of your drawer rail.
Slowly tilt your drawer downward and toward you. This will lift the wheels right off the track, and you can pull the drawer straight out then to remove it. Set the drawer somewhere safely out of your way. Repeat this step for any additional drawers. You don’t have to tilt them far to derail them.
Step Four – Remove Drawer Hardware
The goal of the removal process is to strip your cabinets and the drawers and components back to bare material without anything in the way. This way, when it comes time to paint, you won’t have to worry about working around small pieces and having to clean them up.
Get your screwdriver and remove the door hardware. To find the screws that secure each knob or pull on the door, look at the back of the drawer or door face. You’ll be able to unscrew them and lift the hardware from the front of the drawer or door. Set it all aside safely out of your painting area. To keep yourself more organized, label each cabinet component and drawer with a piece of painter’s tape and a marker. This will make it easy to put back together when you finish painting it.
Step Five – Seal off Surfaces
You’ll want to seal off surfaces you don’t want to get paint on in this step on how to paint bathroom cabinets to help keep your work area clean. Get out your painter’s tape and cover any surfaces that you don’t want to paint like exposed wall areas that are adjacent to the cabinets or the underside of your vanity’s top. Open your old newspaper and tape itto the inside of your cabinets. You can skip this step if you want to paint the interior wall as well as the cabinets themselves.
Step Six – Scrub the Cabinets
When you get everything taped off, the next step in how to paint bathroom cabinets involves putting on your respirator and gloves. Once they’re on, you’ll carefully dilute ¼-cup of trisodium phosphate into one gallon of warm water. Put this in your five-gallon bucket. Get your sponge and start scrubbing down the outer and inner frame of your cabinets.
Make sure you also scrub down the drawer and door fronts and door backs as you go. Allow it to sit on your door and cabinets a few minutes before getting a clean damp sponge. Pass this sponge over your cabinets to remove any remaining trisodium phosphate solution. Towel-dry your cabinets vigorously. Allow them to sit for a few hours and air dry. You can speed up this process by getting a few fans and aiming them toward the cabinets on high.
Scrubbing the cabinets before you paint them will give you a clean surface to sand and apply your paint. It reduces the risks of having an uneven finish or bumps. Sanding the cabinets also ensures you don’t have darker and lighter spots on the finished cabinets. Untitled by Kevin Marsh / CC BY 2.0
Step Seven – Sand
You can sand your cabinets by hand or with a sander. You’ll want to sand the outer and inner cabinet frame, drawer and door fronts, and the door backs. This will give you a smooth and clean surface to paint on, and it can help ensure you get even layers.
If you’re sanding an unfinished cabinet during this step of how to paint bathroom cabinets, you’ll do a single pass over the whole thing using 220-grit sandpaper. If the cabinets have a clear protective sealer or paint, you’ll do one pass with medium-grit 120 to 150-grit sandpaper. This will remove the peeling paint and clear coat. You’ll do a second pass with a 22-grit sandpaper.
If you’re not sure whether or not your cabinets have a clear protective sealant, you can check by lightly sanding a small area. The coating will flake off when you lightly scrape at it.
Step Eight – Vacuum and Clean Up
Sanding will kick up a ton of dust and fine particles that you want out of the room before you start painting. If you don’t take steps to remove it, they could get into your paint and lead to an uneven or bumpy finish. Vacuum the dust from the cabinet first. Then, get a water-dampened cloth and wipe down the sanded areas. This will remove any residual dust. Get a tack cloth and make a final pass over the entire cabinet.
Step Nine – Prime the Cabinet Surface
Now you have a clean slate to paint on if you’ve made it to this step in how to paint bathroom cabinets. You’ll want to prime the cabinets before you paint them because this helps get an even finish because it stops the paint from sinking into the cabinet. To prime your cabinet, get your paint tray and pour a small amount of oil-based primer or shellac into it.
Both oil-based primers and shellac are usually much more effective than traditional latex primers in sealing the cabinets to protect against moisture. Shellac primers also minimize brush marks much better than an oil-based primer will. Shellac gives you more flexibility too because you can use a water-based paint or an oil-based paint over it without it streaking.
Load up your roller cover with primer and work it over the inner and outer cabinet frame. Always go in the direction of the wood grain to get a professional-grade finish when you’re learning how to paint bathroom cabinets. Paint the flat areas on the door fronts and the drawers next. If you have grooves in the drawer fronts or door, get a bristle brush to apply your primer first. This will give you much better reach into all of the small nooks and crannies. Look at the manufacturer’s instructions to see how long the primer has to cure for after you apply it.
If your cabinets have been painted before, and this is especially important if you’re going from a darker hue to a lighter one, you’ll want to put a second coat of primer on after the first one cures. Apply it to all of your areas where you applied the first coat and let it cure again. You can skip the extra coat of primer if you have unfinished cabinets.
Repeat these steps to prime your cabinet door backs if you plan on painting them. If not you can skip it and move to the next step.
Step Ten – Paint the Cabinet
Now you’re going to learn how to paint bathroom cabinets using interior paint. Get a small amount of latex or oil-based paint and pour it from the can into your paint tray. Oil-based paint is generally the best choice for damp areas in your home like the bathroom, but you can also get mildew and mold-proof latex-based paint from certain companies. This is generally a faster drying choice than oil-based paints, and it emits fewer VOCs.
When you pick out your paint, high gloss and semi gloss are better at repelling moisture than eggshell and flat paint. Darker colors can also work better to hide dirt over lighter colors. In order to get the best finish possible when you learn how to paint bathroom cabinets, get the best tools based on your paint type like:
- Latex – Use a synthetic roller cover
- Oil – Use a wool, polyester blend, or natural fiber roller cover
Load up your roller cover with paint and apply a base coat to the inner and outer cabinet frame. The next part of how to paint bathroom cabinets is to cover the flat areas in your cabinets. Always work in the grain of the wood, and don’t forget to fill in any crevices.
- Latex – For latex-based paint, use a synthetic bristle brush for this part.
- Oil – For oil-based paint, get a natural bristle brush to paint the drawer and door fronts and any grooves or crevices.
Once you have the base coat on, you want to allow it to dry completely. Check the manufacturer’s instructions to see how long it’ll take to dry. If you don’t let it dry before you apply another layer, it can bubble up over time or trap moisture.
Picking out your paint type can have a direct impact on how the finished product looks. Some paints are more prone to streaking or smudging than others, and some paint types have better moisture-resistance that suits the bathroom better. Interior paint is done: kitchen by David Wuertele / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Step Eleven – Apply Additional Coats of Paint
When the cabinet dries according to the manufacturer’s instructions, you’ll want to apply additional layers of paint. Each cabinet should get one or two coats of paint over the base coat. The amount of coats you end up applying depends on the color depth you want. Each coat should dry 100% before you apply the next coat. When you apply the top coat, the same rules apply.
Repeat steps 10 and 11 to apply paint to your cabinet door backs if you want to paint them. This is completely up to you as some people want everything painted while other people leave them unpainted since you don’t see them unless the door is open.
Step Twelve – Clean up the Area
When everything is dry, get rid of your drop cloths and remove the painter’s tape from the cabinet. Get your hinge clips or screws and reattach your door hinges to your cabinets. Reinstall your cabinet drawers and doors like you removed them. Finally, reattach the door and drawer hardware. You can keep the old hardware or switch it out for something new.
Why Paint Bathroom Cabinets
Now that you know how to paint bathroom cabinets, you should know reasons why this could be a good project for your tackle. Here are a few of the biggest reasons why you should know how to paint bathroom cabinets and how it can benefit you:
Update Your Bathroom’s Look
Any remodeling project, be it your kitchen or your bathroom, can get very expensive very quickly. Painting your cabinets can make a huge difference in how your bathroom looks and feels. It’s one easy way to make your bathroom look more up to date and modern. It can also make your space look brighter and lighter, and this is especially useful in smaller bathrooms. It can make your vanity look better too.
Boost Your Home’s Value
Bathrooms can be a selling point in a home, and dated bathrooms can drag down your price. Not only can learning how to paint bathroom cabinets have a great return on investment, but it can improve your home’s value and help you sell much quicker. Dirty, old, and dingy cabinets can cause your home to sit on the market for longer periods.
Any potential buyers will factor in that they need to perform a bathroom remodel, and they know that this can be expensive. Also, a lot of potential buyers won’t have the budget for this project, especially if it’s a first-time homebuyer. Painting the cabinets can make your bathroom look much nicer, and it can give the illusion that your bathroom is more inviting and larger.
Learning how to paint bathroom cabinets and doing it yourself is far less expensive than replacing them entirely. Cabinets can be one of the most expensive parts of a remodel process. So, if you can avoid buying new ones, this is more cost-effective for your project. You also won’t have to factor in the costs to dispose of and remove the old cabinets and install the new ones.
Also, don’t forget that if you replace your cabinets in the bathroom, you’ll most likely end up replacing the sink and countertops to match, and this means you have to hire a plumber. So, it’s a domino effect when it comes to your total project costs.
When you remodel or add a bathroom, these can be time-consuming projects. It can take from 6 to 12 weeks for a remodel process from start to finish, or it can go even longer if something goes wrong and causes a costly delay. When you paint the cabinets and put them back together, you’re going to have a much faster process. It usually only takes a few days from start to finish, depending on how long the paint has to cure between coats and how many coats you want to apply. You also won’t have to worry about hiring a contractor and waiting for your cabinets to come in once you order them.
Improved Paint Choices
If you haven’t ever updated your cabinets, learning how to paint bathroom cabinets will expose you to a huge range of vastly improved paint choices. As the demand for paints that can survive a damp environment increased, manufacturers have introduced new paint types that are specifically designed for this area of your home. They go on much better in a few coats, and they can resist mold and mildew growth by locking out moisture and sealing the cabinets.
Where to Find Bathroom Cabinet Painters Near You
If you don’t want to learn how to paint bathroom cabinets or do it by yourself, you can hire a local contractor to do it for you. This will be more expensive, but you’re guaranteed to get professional-grade results that can boost your bathroom’s look. You can start your search here:
Frequently Asked Questions
Asking questions when you’re learning how to paint bathroom cabinets is the key to being successful with this project. The more you do it and the more you experiment, the better off you’ll be. July 3, 2014 by osseous / CC BY 2.0
1. Is it possible to just paint over cabinets?
Wooden cabinets are ideal for learning how to paint bathroom cabinets. However, any surface that you can scuff with sandpaper can be painted relatively easy. Laminate cabinets need you to apply a specialized bonding primer before you paint them. You can paint over your cabinets, but you want to sand them down first to give yourself a clean slate to ensure you get even coverage.
2. Should you paint with a roller or brush?
This will depend on the type of paint you use. Oil-based paints tend to smear and streak when you use a brush. A roller can help you get a smooth finish. If you use latex-based paint, both brushes and rollers work well to apply the paint in an even layer.
3. What happens if you don’t wash the sawdust away after sanding?
It only takes a few pieces of sawdust to ruin the finished look of your cabinets. When you learn how to paint bathroom cabinets, it’s essential that you wipe them down after you sand them. Sandpaper can give you a gritty finish that looks like you painted right over sand. To fix it, you’ll have to take the cabinets apart, sand them, and paint them all over again.
4. Should you prime the cabinets before you paint?
Yes. You want to apply at least one or two coats of primer before you paint your cabinets. Doing so will help ensure that the paint doesn’t sink unevenly into the wood to give you lighter patches in your finished product. Make sure everything dries 100% between coats to prevent bubbles or moisture buildup.
Now you know how to paint bathroom cabinets with this step-by-step guide. You can take what you learned and tackle your own cabinets this weekend. You’ll update your bathroom’s look, make the room feel larger, and learn a valuable skill that you can use all around your home.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.