Painting Bathroom Cabinets: A Beginner’s Guide

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Updated: March 30, 2023

If you are a beginner looking for a tutorial on painting bathroom cabinets, you are in the right place! Those of you that are wondering if you should tackle a similar project – you are going to LOVE this post!

pinterest image that reads how to paint bathroom cabinets like the pros

Are you questioning whether you can handle painting bathroom cabinets- if you should just hire it out or avoid painting all together?

YES YOU CAN do it yourself! I just finished painting our bathroom cabinets with a fresh coat of Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy- and I had these questions myself. I have a strong dislike for anything complicated. It also feels important that any changes made in our home be done the right way, to maintain our home’s value.

But you don’t need to be an expert to paint your bathroom cabinets. You just need to follow the steps listed here. It’s fairly simple, super affordable (I bought the expensive paint and it was still less than $100), and doesn’t even take that long.

Painting Our Bathroom Cabinets Benjamin Moore Hale Navy

Our downstairs powder room is our most used bathroom by our family. This room is a cute, non offensive all white bathroom cabinet, and only 2 years old.  It looked nice, very neutral- perhaps to the point of being described as vanilla.

The Before: Our White Bathroom Cabinet

painting bathroom cabinets - the before photo of a white bathroom

Nothing exciting but it is pretty, bright and clean. The white on white trend is still going strong – but I was ready for some interest in here. I wanted something that stood out, so I said goodbye to our white bathroom vanity.

The budget for this bathroom refresh was small since it is basically new – so I thought I would try my hand at painting the bathroom cabinets myself!

The After: Our Navy Bathroom Vanity

bathroom with hale navy painted vanity and bone inlay mirror

I wrote all about Benjamin Moore Hale Navy here and included lots of images of homes painted Hale Navy! It’s a great post to read if you’re considering this color.

I LOVE how it turned out! I was able to do this paint job in just a two days time – and I was only working mornings while my youngest was in preschool.

The new darker Hale Navy painted cabinetry feels more on trend with 2020. Don’t you love the long handles on the vanity? I’ve seen this trend being done in other places lately and wanted to get in on it. This was a perfect spot to take a small risk like that.

Scroll To Shop My Finished Bathroom:

Quick Note On The Basics of Painting Bathroom Cabinets

Painting bathroom cabinets is an excellent way to enhance the look of your space without breaking the bank on expensive upgrades. Wood is an easy surface to paint and typically produces results that will more than satisfy you. When painting wood bathroom cabinets, you can use various materials, including latex, oil-based enamels, and even specialty paints. However, moving between similar materials is usually the best course of action for this project; other surfaces, such as melamine or thermofoil, can be painted but may not produce as satisfactory results as those achieved with wood.

For the smoothest finish possible when painting bathroom cabinets, it’s advantageous to remove them entirely if you can. If not possible due to cabinet structure or connection points to the wall and countertops, at least try to remove any doors or drawer fronts so that these items can be treated separately with less risk of overlap or paint spills onto other surfaces. Be sure to take great care when laying out surface and cabinet protection before beginning: mask off any areas around windows and baseboards, surround countertops and floors with tarps directly beneath and adjacent to all cabinetry sections, cut in edges with painter’s tape for extra protection against accidental brush strokes outside the designated area.

What Is The Best Primer For Cabinets?

I recommend always buying the best primer your budget allows, as this plays an important factor in how durable your paint will be. This is not where you cut corners to save a few bucks! Afterall, a coat of primer means using less paint! But even more importantly, in the long haul, a good quality primer will be worth years of your cabinets looking their best.

Ask to have the primer tinted to the color of the paint you are using, unless they already are similar. (A white primer isn’t ideal if your paint is dark- you may have to put on extra coats of paint later, just to cover the white primer underneath!).

If you are painting bathroom cabinets that are unfinished, as in unfished wood that is not painted or stained, you will want to use a primer that blocks wood tannis (the visible knots and the color of the wood!) from bleeding through later. Zinsser Smart Prime is a great example of a primer you could use.

I asked my paint store contact what he recommended as a high quality primer for a prepainted vanity. He recommended Benjamin Moore Fresh Start Latex Primer for the cabinet primer.

What Is The Best Paint For Bathroom Cabinets?

Whatever brand you buy, paints have various tiers of quality. For a long lasting and professional looking job, use your brand of choice’s better quality tiers, especially for cabinets that are used frequently! You don’t want your beautiful paint job chipping in a few months.

My paint store buddy also asked if I would be going with Benjamin Moore Advanced Satin Latex Paint for the cabinet paint because it is an alkyd based paint. Yes, actually, that was my choice too!

The best paint to use on bathroom cabinets is an alkyd based paint. This cures to a super hard finish (similar to oil based paints!), which is what you need in high traffic areas. My bathroom cabinets are frequently used, knocked against by my kids’ step stools, etc. We want the hard finish of alkyd based paint in a bathroom.

Of course, you don’t have to use Benjamin Moore’s Advanced Paint. There are other alkyd based paints (Behr, for instance).

For the best bathroom cabinet paint, I recommend using a water based, alkyd paint. You don’t need a top coat if you go this route, either!

Oil based paints are going out of favor. These days, latex paints are made just as well and are much easier to work with! Less clean up, faster dry time and less chemical smell make latex paints the ideal paint for bathroom cabinets.

Go with a satin or semi-gloss sheen, as it is easy to wipe down! I used satin. No, it is not shiny. But it is washable.

This is the primer and paint I used for this project:

pinterest image of paint that says best paint for painting bathroom cabinets

I found Benjamin Moore’s Advanced paint to dry quickly. It did not leave brush strokes easily.

As far as paint colors, make swatches on paper of your favorite colors and tape them up to the bathroom cabinet to help yourself envision the final look!

Once I put these swatches up, I could immediately see Hale Navy was the look I was going for. white bathroom cabinet with hale navy paint and old navy paint

(If you are considering a blue or navy paint too, you HAVE to read this post on why Hale Navy literally goes with everything!)

I went into my local Benjamin Moore store, and chatted up the owner about the best way to go about this project. In little mom and pop paint stores, it will behoove you to ask the owner/manager painting questions. Talk them up. Those people are a wealth of knowledge and always drop nuggets of painting wisdom. (I’ve had a variety of experiences in the bigger box stores, where some of the people really know their paint, and some do not).

For Painting Bathroom Cabinets You Will Need:

  • primer (I bought a quart, used about a third of the can)
  • paint (I bought a quart, used about a third of the can)
  • brush (small, angled) my one big tip is this life changing shortcut angle brush – it has made me the edging queen! I couldn’t find it on the first day and it made it so much harder on myself)
  • mini foam roller and mini paint tray
  • Optional: Krud Kudder spray, Wood Filler

1: Prep BEFORE Painting Bathroom Cabinets

I know you just want to start. But bad prep leads to sloppy work that you’ll pay for later!

Take off all your doors and drawers, and all of the hardware. Put the screws and hardware into a zip lock bag, and store inside the vanity for safe keeping. Do NOT try painting bathroom cabinets with the doors on!

Tape where you don’t want to inadvertently paint. I will admit- I skipped the taping part. But I have gotten pretty good with the brush so I was confident in my abilities. Unless you feel similarly, do as I say, not as I do!

Lay old towels/sheets down around the bathroom cabinet to protect the floor.

What do I clean my bathroom cabinets with before painting?

My vanity looked pretty clean, but I knew it wasn’t. Dirt, mildew and grease, even if unseen, will cause the paint to not stick.

For a heavy clean, you should use Krud Kudder spray, a heavy duty prepaint cleaner that is well known and available on Amazon.

But if you don’t have this product or your cabinets are fairly new, you could also make your own cleaner. In a bowl, mix up half vinegar and half warm water. Put in just a few drops of liquid dish soap. Dip a rag into the mixture and wipe down the cabinets throughly. Do not allow the mixture to dry on its own- dry the cabinet well with a separate rag.

Time to Set Up a Painting Station: 

Setting up a painting station is an essential part of any project involving paint and a great way to ensure a professional finish. The first step is to identify a well-ventilated spot that features plenty of natural light and comfortable work surfaces.

For a painting station, choose a space that has an abundance of natural lighting and ample space for laying out the doors and drawer fronts. To protect from splatter or drips, lay down an extra-large dropcloth on the floor, then place a folding table over the top that’s topped with another drop cloth. This provides enough cushioning between the surface below and that which you’re working on above. Additionally, having access to a television nearby allows you to sit back and relax while patiently waiting for each coat of paint to dry.

Precaution Tip Before You Paint:

It is important to take necessary safety precautions when working with oil-based paint. Oil-based paint should always be applied in an incredibly well-ventilated area, such as outdoors or in a ventilated garage. If the cabinets cannot be moved to an open area, it is essential that you wear a respirator and ensure there is a steady stream of air from the bathroom to the outside. This is especially important when dealing with strong fumes or if you need to apply multiple layers of paint.

Regardless of where the painting job takes place, make sure that your work environment has proper ventilation and doesn’t trap in excess fumes or lack the necessary airflow. The inhalation of too many fumes can be detrimental to your health, presenting breathing difficulties and nausea. To create a safe and comfortable workspace for yourself, always read labels before using any chemical products and always use recommended protective gear. Taking into consideration these precautionary steps will help you stay healthy and prevent any potential accidents.

2: Fill Holes / Scratches

Any scratches, gouges, or dents in the wood you can quickly fill with Wood Filler. That little $5 tube I bought off Amazon works wonders! I love that stuff. If you change out the hardware on your cabinets and have holes from the old knobs, you can also use wood filler to fill in the holes!

This is a super easy step you don’t want to miss. Just smush the wood filler into the hole with your finger, and wait for it to dry. You want an excess rather than not enough. It doesn’t take long to dry- then sand off the excess wood filler quickly, and later you will paint right over it. Amazing!

3: Do I Have to Sand Before Painting My Bathroom Vanity?

Sanding your entire vanity down is necessary for maximum primer adhesion. This is especially important if you have a shiny finish.  BUT – and this is a big but – this step DOES NOT have to be a big deal! There is no need to get out an electric sander or make this time consuming. I think people hear “sand” and imagine this to be a big drawn out thing.

Just run a fine sanding block (like these!) over the cabinets, doors and drawers. Do your best to get into the nooks and crannies a few times. Your goal isn’t to take off the finish completely – it’s to just rough it up. If your vanity is large and you have lots of cabinets and drawers, set up a table in a different room with an old sheet underneath and sand there.

The cabinetry will be covered in dust when you are done. Clean the dust off thoroughly with a tact cloth. Dust in the paint will turn into pieces of dirt you can see, stuck in the paint. You could even use another quick wipe down of the Krud Kudder spray you used earlier.

My cabinets were previously unpainted – this was a factory finish that was only 2 years old. I didn’t spend a lot of time sanding, just enough to get off the top coat, and since my vanity is small I did it right here in the bathroom. I used Krud Kudder spray and a tact cloth again to grab any dust left behind.

4: Prime Time

bathroom cabinet painted without doors on

I approached the cabinetry one piece at a time. I poured primer into a small painting bin, then used a 2″ brush to brush the primer into the parts of the surfaces that weren’t flat. I immediately followed up with the mini foam roller for the larger, flat spots and the entire side of the vanity.

I like the foam rollers best for glossy paints, rather than nap rollers! They are less likely to leave lap marks. You wouldn’t want your primer to start drying before you start in with the foam roller, so make sure to just work on one section at a time.

5: Painting Your Bathroom Cabinets

sheets with painted bathroom cabinet on top

On the second morning after getting my daughter off to preschool, I sanded the dry primer coat very lightly, one time. You just want to remove anything extra. Gently remove the sand left behind with a microfiber cloth. This part is important for a smooth finish!

kitchen covered in sheets with painted bathroom cabinet on top

Then, paint the cabinet just the same way you primed. Use the brush, followed by your foam roller. Paint both sides of the cabinet door for a nice finished look. Of course don’t paint inside the vanity itself.

When your vanity is painted and completely dry, not tacky to the touch, you will want to repeat it all again. Lightly sand, remove dust, and give it one more coat. If you have used good quality paint then at this point you should have a nice, durable finish!

6: Vanity Painted: Time To Wait

Although the paint will feel dry to the touch within a few hours, cure time is much longer than dry time.

What does cure mean for paint?

Cure means the actual paint solvent has fully evaporated from the pigment. All that will be left behind will be the pigment coating. It can take about a week (or longer!) for the paint to fully cure.

However, if you must – you could reattach your drawers and cabinet fronts onto the vanity after 3 days. I really wouldn’t recommend it any sooner- unless you want to be at risk for having your freshly painted bathroom cabinets stick and peel. I waited a full week before I reattached cabinetry, and even then I was sure to be gentle with the cabinet fronts.

At this time I installed the new hardware (I used these 8″ Aubrey Pulls in polished nickel).

Not the exact shade you desire or seeing imperfections in the paint? Lightly Sand and Repeat

Lightly sand any surfaces that were painted, and then repeat the process with a second coat. This is important to ensure that you have an even finish and that excess paint has been eliminated, which can lead to streaks or bumps in the surface.

Sanding also helps ensure that your paint adheres properly and gives it an extra layer of protection against cracking or chipping. By using light sandpaper of around 300 grit, you can easily remove any imperfections in your work without damaging the underlying frame or doors. Once everything has been lightly sanded, apply another layer of paint while taking care not to overwork the area to achieve a smooth finish.

7: Reinstall Your Cabinet Doors & Drawers

Reinstalling your newly painted cabinet doors and drawers is the final step to giving your bathroom vanity a fresh, updated look. After the last coat of paint has had about 3 days to dry, it’s time to begin reattaching the doors and drawers to your vanity. If you’ve chosen new hardware for your doors and drawers, be sure you have drilled the holes into them before reattaching them back on the vanity. Anything with pull-out shelves or tilt-out trays should also be reinstalled at this point. Similarly, if there is a large center door that looks like a cabinet, check to make sure it is attached correctly to its pull-out hamper counterpart.

8: Accessories? New Mirror, Art

bone inlay bar harbor mirror from Serena and lily

I thought the old mirror was just okay, so I brought in this fabulous mirror from our dining room. (See our old dining room here). Honestly, I feel like this Bar Harbor Bone Inlay Mirror from Serena & Lily is an heirloom piece. As soon as I brought it in “just to see”, I knew it was the one.

Because it is so big (and our light was installed so low), I did need to move that bendable light up by a few inches. Luckily, you can pop out a piece of shiplap and put a new piece in, and then caulk and paint the edges. I had our handyman do this part for me, as I didn’t want to screw it up.

nautical flag framed from pottery barn

The framed nautical flag art above the toilet was from my son’s room (see his adorable teen room here!). It felt like it was perfect for the nautical vibe that was happening in here. I hung it up using command strips. And just like that, the bathroom refresh was done!

Tip: For the first few weeks after installing everything back onto your vanity, treat it gently while allowing the paint to cure fully. Wipe off anything that finds its way onto it immediately so that nothing can damage its finish or leave unwanted markings behind. With these few easy steps, you can give your outdated bathroom vanities an uplifting new look and feel in just a few hours’ work!

navy painted bathroom cabinets in a white bathroom

Shop The Finished Bathroom:

Create A White and Black Bathroom

In my boys’ bathroom that they share upstairs, we did a full on white and black theme, and on a budget too. We had the cabinet installed and used black mirrors and black tile with black grout as contrast agains the white vanity. Take a peek at our fun kids bathroom here – as seen in Country Living.

Pin This Tutorial Now,  Find Again Later: pinterest image that reads how to paint bathroom cabinets like the pros

You will also like: Proof That Hale Navy is the Best Paint, or all about how we used Sherwin Williams Extra White and Ice Cube in our Home, or Two Toned Walls In Our Son’s Room.

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