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Don't trash a dated but sturdy bathroom vanity. Learn how to paint bathroom cabinets to achieve a beautiful finish with these step-by-step instructions.
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Follow these instructions whether you’re refinishing an existing vanity or painting the bare wood of a new, unfinished vanity. Because you’ll need to remove the doors and hardware from an existing vanity, this is a good time to upgrade the knobs and pulls. For a complete makeover add a new vanity top, sink, faucet, and backsplash.
Remove the cabinet doors, drawers, false drawer fronts, and any attached hardware. If you plan to replace the vanity top and sink, remove these as well for easier access and less masking later. If the cabinet has working drawers, remove them from the cabinet. Then unscrew the drawer fronts, where possible, and finish them separately.
If you want to replace the cabinet knobs and pulls but the new hardware won’t fit the old holes, now’s the time to fill the existing holes with wood putty and sand smooth before priming.
Using trisodium phosphate (TSP) cleaner and a scrubbing pad or sponge, thoroughly wash all surfaces to be painted. Then rinse at least twice with fresh water and a sponge.
If rubber cabinet bumpers you peel or scrape off leave behind an adhesive residue, remove it with mineral spirits while working in a well-ventilated area. Then wash the areas with TSP.
For wood surfaces protected by a clear finish, sand with 220-grit sandpaper to remove any gloss. Reach into the inside corners of the cabinet panels and recesses of any moulding.
For previously painted surfaces, remove any loose or damaged paint. Sand to feather the edges of the paint with the bare wood and apply a latex primer to the bare spots.
For melamine or thermofoil-covered surfaces, common on cabinet sides and some doors, check that the plastic film is firmly bonded to the material underneath. If not, consider removing all of the film by using a heat gun to loosen the remaining adhesive. After the film is gone, use a rag with alcohol or mineral spirits to wipe off the adhesive. If the film is firmly bonded to the backing, sand it lightly with 220-grit sandpaper just until the surface becomes dull.
Some film surfaces may be loosened by the primer you use. Check them carefully as you work and after the first coat of primer dries.
For all surfaces, vacuum any sanding dust and wipe the surfaces clean with a soft damp cloth.
Use painter’s tape to mask off the underside of the vanity top, adjoining walls, floor, and the inside face of the cabinet frame.
Even if you plan to apply a combination paint and primer, a dedicated primer may be necessary to overcome problems with the vanity surfaces. For sanded bare wood and painted surfaces, apply an even coat of primer and sand smooth. If you notice any dings or surface damage, patch them with putty, sand smooth, and apply primer to the spots.
The glossier the paint you plan to apply, the smoother you need to make the primed surface. Flat finishes will hide small surface imperfections, but a gloss finish enhances them.
For thermofoil and melamine surfaces -- even after sanding -- you’ll need the stickiness of a shellac-based primer. Brush or roll on two coats and check for loose film.
Match the brush to the primer you use. For example, latex primer (and paint) is best applied using a synthetic-bristle brush. A shellac-based or oil-based primer should be applied using a fine natural-bristle brush. For the smoothest finish, buy the best quality brush you can afford.
After the first coat of primer, sand lightly and wipe the surfaces clean. Apply a second coat of primer as needed and let dry overnight.
Brush or roll on the first coat of paint and let dry. Then add two additional coats to protect the surfaces from daily use. Remove the tape, let the third coat dry overnight, and reassemble the vanity.
On a raised-panel cabinet door, notice that the panel is loose within the frame (even if it doesn’t move when you touch it). That allows the wood to shrink and swell with seasonal humidity changes. When painting panels, use the tip of your brush to force paint into the tiny gap between the panel and frame. Otherwise, the panel will expose an unpainted strip when it shrinks.
Drill holes in the cabinet doors and drawers as needed for new hardware. Then screw the drawer pulls and door handles in position.
Reinstall the door hinges and loosely fasten the door to the cabinet frame. For two facing doors, adjust the door positions using the hinges until the adjoining door frame edges are even; then tighten the screws.
Got a mounting screw that won’t tighten or constantly comes loose? Apply wood glue to a wooden toothpick or match and insert it into the hole. Break off the surplus portion of the wood and allow the glue to dry for an hour. Then insert the screw as you normally would.
If you removed the drawer fronts or false fronts for finishing, reattach them to the drawer boxes and cabinet. Replace the drawers and check that they slide open easily.
Add new cabinet bumpers to the doors. Then replace the countertop, sink, and faucet as needed.