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How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets

A grey set of bathroom cabinets

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Your bathroom cabinets saw your kids start kindergarten, and now they see them off to college. You have decided it’s time for a change, but how will you give them a new paint job?

Painting your bathroom cabinets is a do-it-yourself task, provided you follow the simple steps to get the best results. There is, therefore, no need to call the professionals when you can have a fun time doing it yourself.

Continue reading our guide, which will detail step-by-step How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets, however, if your cabinets are made from stained wood then take a look at our guide, as the steps may vary.

When to Paint your Bathroom Cabinets

There is a wide range of reasons you may decide to repaint your bathroom cabinets, and some of those reasons are listed below. However, the list is not extensive:

  • You are installing new cabinets or renovating your house.
  • You are tired of seeing that same old paint job every morning.
  • Your old paint is peeling off.
  • There are no leaks into the cabinet that could damage the new paint job.

If you seek to learn how to paint bathroom cabinets for one of these reasons or another, we will provide you with clear steps to give your bathroom cabinets a rejuvenated look.

🔐Key Tip: If you want to refresh your entire bathroom along with your cabinets, browse through our’ How to Paint a Bathroom’ guide.

What to Consider Before Painting:

Site preparation 

Painting can be a messy activity involving backsplash and random paint streaks. It is therefore essential to prepare your bathroom before painting.

  • Remove any items that may get caught in the paint, including the cabinet contents. The last thing you want is to paint over your prescription. 
  • Remove any clothing that may soak in the paint and paint solvent chemicals- no need to smell like turpentine after a hot shower. 
  • Cover the floor and other areas with rosin paper and use masking tape to hold it in place. Brown builder’s paper can also be used in place of rosin paper.

Identify the type of cabinet material.

A woman looking at different materials for article how to paint bathroom cabinets

It may not seem necessary, but the type of material used to make your cabinet determines the type of paint you will use.

There are various materials commonly used to make cabinets.

  • Solid wood
  • Laminates
  • Wood veneers
  • PVC (Polyvinylchloride)
  • Aluminum or stainless steel
  • Clear or frosted glass

However, the most efficient and most commonly used materials are solid wood, plywood, and MDF. We are going to use this as the material of choice.

Furthermore, if the cabinets in your bathroom are made out of laminates, the steps will differ. We have provided a simple guide to set out what you need to do.

How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets: The Best Paint

Bathroom cabinets should withstand moisture, grime, and grease even though they are not as susceptible to these as kitchen cabinets. This could be through the material of choice or the type of paint you choose to use.

The standard paint options are acrylic enamel paint, water-based paint, and oil-based paint. 

Acrylic and water-based paint are easier to use and have lower fumes. This makes it a safe option to DIY with your family.

Oil-based paints, however, require solvents such as turpentine, which require good ventilation to use. The solvents are also contained in the paint and can irritate.

However, much effort is needed to apply oil-based paint, and it is worth the time. This gives a hard and durable paint finish that works well in moist conditions.

To avoid brush streaks, self-leveling paint is advised. Paint on a flat surface to allow the paint to settle well.

🖊️Note: Semi-gloss and high-gloss paints repel moisture better than flat and eggshell paints, while darker paints effectively hide more dirt compared to bright paints.

How to Choose the Best Paintbrush

A set of paintbrushes

When considering how to paint bathroom cabinets, choosing the best paintbrush not only gives you a nice finish but also saves you time.

Now that you have chosen the right brush for the job, you should consider your paint type. Oil-based paints require a brush with natural bristles, while latex-based paints require synthetic brushes.

If you are unsure, go with nylon or polyblend brushes. These are all-purpose brushes that can be used for various paint types.

Foam brushes in the form of rollers give a nice, smooth finish, but they are harder to clean. These are often discarded, so you should not go for this option if you’re planning another DIY painting project.

Angled brushes are best for more minor details like engravings or curved surfaces on the cabinet. They can also be used when you want some detailing on the paint job.

Cheaper brushes leave bristles, and you don’t want this all over your perfect work.

How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets: Step by Step

Gather the necessary supplies.

You’ll need a few supplies to get started, which you can pick up at your local hardware store or online.

  • Primer 
  • Paint 
  • Paintbrushes; 3″, 2″, and 1″ paintbrushes.
  • A screwdriver set
  • Rosin paper: You’ll use it to cover up the bathroom surfaces.
  • Painter’s tape
  • Safety equipment
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Sandpaper

Other supplies, like new hardware equipment, are optional where applicable. You may want to get rid of the rusty hinges or handles.

You have the supplies, and it’s now time to fold your sleeves and get started.

  1. Remove your cabinet doors and drawers.

To get a good paint job, remove all the components of the cabinets to work on them individually. You don’t want paint on the hinges.

Use a screwdriver to unscrew the screws from the hinges holding the doors in place. It is essential to store each screw well and label where it goes.

You can mark on the door which way the hinges go to avoid putting them the wrong way. This can be done on the spot that the hinge will cover up after.

Tape where you do not want to paint, for example, the cabinet handles and other components that just won’t come off.

2. Cleaning the cabinet doors and interiors

Now that you have access to parts of your cabinet that you didn’t have before, you can take this opportunity to clean up.

  • Surface cleaning

Using a sponge and soap, thoroughly wash the paintable surfaces to remove any grease spots and dust. Also, clean the interior, even though you may not paint it.

Use a tougher stain remover like trisodium phosphate for harsh stains. These chemicals can be corrosive to the skin, and it is essential to wear safety equipment such as gloves and goggles.

🧠Remember: Different materials react differently to cleaning agents. It is, therefore, necessary to know which cleaning agent to use.

  • Deep cleaning 

Deep cleaning can be completed by sanding or de-glossing the surface to be painted, and it will help remove the varnish or paint on your bathroom cabinets.

Sanding requires a lot of effort and time. It is also messy and may require vacuuming afterward, or you can do it outdoors.

A de-glosser simplifies the sanding process because it is applied to the surface, allowed to sit for 15 minutes, and then wiped away with a rag.

3. Fill in any holes.

A painter with wood putty and spatula

Unless you want an uneven painted surface, fill in any chips, dents, and holes on the surface to be painted. 

You can use wood filler or putty, then sand down the surface to get a smooth finish.

Cover up the screwdriver holes from the previous hinges if you intend to use a different set of hinges and door handles

4. Prime the surfaces to be painted.

Priming is a necessary step before painting. The type of primer depends on the kind of material to be painted on.

To get used to de-glossing, priming, and painting, start with the interior of the doors and drawers. You can then gradually work towards the exterior and more look-sensitive parts.

🔥Hot Tip: Shellac and oil-based primers are preferred over latex primers and work more effectively. Shellac primers are suitable bases for both water-based and oil-based paints.

Latex primers do not take more than an hour to dry out, while oil-based primers take a long time to dry out. You should wait about 2-3 hours for latex primers and 24 hours for oil-based primers.

  • MDF (medium-density fiberboard)

MDF boards have an uncovered edge from the manufacturer. This is usually covered post-project by an MDF strip. 

When priming MDF boards, it is crucial to ensure the exposed parts are covered as they are susceptible to water damage and chipping.

  • Particleboard

After removing the laminate surface, you should use a high-adhesion primer to ensure the paint sticks to the surface. 

  • Plywood 

Plywood tends to absorb a lot of moisture and bend along its length or width.

It also takes up a lot of paint. Priming before painting reduces the number of layers needed for a good finish.

  • Solid wood 

Natural wood has a gradient of grain. This is the directional flow of the wood fibers.

It is essential to prime along the grain as the wood follows this path when expanding or contracting. This is to avoid cracking and peeling of the paint.

5. Painting the surfaces

The painting method you decide to use depends on the type of paint you choose. 

After the primer has dried up, you are ready to start painting. If you are painting a cabinet that previously had a layer of paint, apply another coat of primer before finally painting.

Suggestions:

  • Before painting on the main surfaces, conduct a paint test on one of the back surfaces. This will give you a chance to decide whether the paint will look good for your final finish.
  • Start with the larger surfaces, like the cabinet doors, as they take time to dry.
  • Floetrol gets rid of brush and roller marks quickly, giving a more polished look.

Painting

Mix your paint in the recommended ratios with the recommended solvent. It is advisable to use the paint within 24 hours of mixing.

You should handle oil-based paints with proper equipment like masks and gloves. You can also paint outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.

Pour your paint mix into a paint tray and get your necessary paintbrushes.

Suggestions:

  • Use a roller for larger flat surfaces, like the backsides of cabinet doors. You can also use a 3” brush for this purpose.
  • Use minimal paint when loading your roller or paintbrush; this will help avoid drip streaks all over your cabinet.
  • Paint with long, steady strokes to have a smooth finish.
  • Paint in layers. Do not be tempted to cover up light parts as the paint settles, as this counts as another layer.
  • Most paints will self-set, and you may need about two or three coatings of paint, depending on how you mixed the paint.

6. Reassemble your Cabinets

Once you are sure the paint is cured, you can reassemble your cabinets.

Before attaching the drawer and doors, you can assemble any new hardware you have purchased, such as hinges and handles.

⚠️Be Mindful: Check the numbering on your cabinets to ensure you reinstall each piece in the correct place. Do not forget where the hinges were so that you do not ruin your new paint job.

Clear everything up and remove the rosin paper and painter’s tape.

You have successfully given your cabinets a new look. 

FAQ

Do I need to add a topcoat?

Applying a top coat isn’t necessary for your finish, but you can use a sealer to protect your paint job.

Should I sand my cabinets first?

It’s not essential to sand your cabinets before painting them, but if your cabinets are coarse-grained or have loose flakey paint, you should sand them.

You can avoid the mess by using a de-glosser instead. 

What else can I paint?

Well, if you have some leftover paint, you can complement the new cabinet color with other bathroom components.

These include the towel holders, window frames, and even the bathroom door. That is if you feel creative and adventurous.

Can I use spray paint or a sprayer?

Spray paint is advisable for hinges and door handles. However, spray paint is thin and won’t give the best finish for your cabinets.

On the other hand, a sprayer creates a nice thin finish between each layer of paint, ideal for painting furniture. You will also save money on paint, so it would be highly beneficial if you could get your hands on one.

Should I paint over the molding?

If you have mold all over your cabinets, you can paint them after cleaning. However, if this has caused rotting around the cabinet, you should replace it.

Use this opportunity to paint those moldy corners of your ceiling if you haven’t already done so.

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