Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.
Painting Your Vanity vs Replacement
Painting a bathroom vanity is easy and often cheaper than buying a new one and paying for installation. Most vanities can be painted with only one gallon each of primer and paint. With a roll of painter's tape and a few basic painting supplies, you can complete this small project for around $150, or less. A pre-made vanity of decent style and quality will cost more than that brand new.
Materials for this project:
- Surface cleaner
- Fine grit sandpaper
- Wood filler
- 1 roll of painter's tape
- Drop cloth
- Oil-based primer
- Latex, or oil-based paint
- High quality paint brush ( 2 to 3-inch)
- Fabric roller (1/4-inch nap)
The Best Paint for Vanities
Moisture and exposure to soap and cleaning chemicals should be taken into consideration when choosing paint. Does the vanity need constant cleaning from soap and tooth paste splatter? If so, you might even look beyond paint.
White lacquer: While this option might not work for everyone, white pre-catalyzed lacquer is an excellent option for vanities, cabinets, and furniture. White lacquer looks very similar to paint, but it's far more durable and chemical resistant. However, lacquer dries really fast and should only be applied with a sprayer to get the best finish. This is a great option though if you happen to own an HVLP sprayer, or an airless sprayer. Lacquer is very thin in consistency and lays out like glass when sprayed.
Oil-based primer and paint: I recommend using a good oil-based primer on a bathroom vanity, not shellac-based primer, or latex. Oil primer is an excellent sealer for preventing tannin bleed. The primer is more water resistant and less prone to rub off than latex. Latex primer doesn't properly seal bare wood. It also dries too soft and raises the grain on raw wood for a gritty finish. Latex primer is fine though if the surface is already painted and you're only changing the color of the paint.
Skip the shellac primer too. While it's an awesome sealer and undercoat for paint, high humidity and moisture in a bathroom can cause problems with the finish. Finally, oil-based paint is a more durable alternative to latex paint, but know that white's tend to gradually yellow over time. The odor and clean-up is unpleasant too, but the finish holds up better than latex for cleaning purposes.
Acrylic enamel: The most common choice for cabinets and vanities is acrylic enamel, or modified acrylic, which is formulated with alkyd resins to make the finish a little harder than regular acrylic. Clean-up is easy with plain old water, no paint thinner needed. A couple products I've used many times is Pro Classic acrylic enamel and Emerald urethane enamel. You can also buy enamel specially formulated for bathroom use. These usually contain a mildewcide to prevent mildew growth, or you can add your own to a product you already own. Choose enamel formulated with a leveling agent so the finish dries smoother.
Prepare Your Vanity for Primer
Bathroom vanities are always dirty and need to be cleaned before sanding and priming. Contaminants like hairspray, toothpaste and soap residue will cause adhesion problems for primer and paint. Don't sand before cleaning. Doing so will grind contaminants into the wood grain. This is important for open grain wood like oak.
Wood cleaners I use and recommend:
- Savogran Dirtex powder cleaner. A wood cleaner, not a de-glosser, that rinses easy without leaving heavy residue on the surface. For that reason, I use this more than TSP. This works well for basic cleaning, but for removing heavy grease, a separate de-greaser, or denatured alcohol, will do the trick.
- Savogran TSP. One of the most widely used cleaners for paint prep. TSP eats into grime and cleans well while slightly de-glossing the finish to be painted. You have to carefully rinse the surface otherwise the white residue left behind can cause fish-eye and adhesion problems. You can also buy the no-rinse version.
- Denatured alcohol. The alcohol dissolves grease, wax and glue. Wipe down grease with a scrubbing pad, but wear protective cleaning gloves. Denatured alcohol won't burn your skin, but it shouldn't be absorbed. I keep a container handy to spot clean heavy grease. The alcohol evaporates quickly without leaving behind residue.
Sand the Vanity
Remove the doors first with a drill. A random orbital sander makes sanding a lot faster, but for a small vanity, a sheet of fine grit sandpaper is fine. Sanding aggressively down to the bare wood is unnecessary and can cause damage, depending on the type of wood. You only need to dull the surface gloss so the primer can stick better.
For maple, I would use 180 to 220-grit sandpaper and 150-grit to 180-grit for oak. Sometimes a coarser grit is needed if the wood is coated with a thick lacquer coat. If the sides of the vanity are laminated particle board, 180-grit to 220-grit works well for that, but anything coarser than 180, especially using an electric sander, will start grinding into the particle board underneath and change the surface texture. After cleaning and sanding, wipe off the dust with a tack cloth, or a damp rag.
Prime and Paint Your Bathroom Vanity
As I explained earlier in the article, I recommend using oil-based primer for a bathroom vanity. The primer Zinsser Cover Stain is one of my favorites. I've used the product for a long time for both interior and exterior priming. Yes, it smells bad, but it's also an awesome bonding primer that seals wood and can be top coated with any paint. When you allow it to dry overnight it sands very easily into a fine powder.
Apply the Primer
First, apply tape to the floor and wall along the edges of the vanity, using blue tape, or green Frog tape. I'm a big fan of Frog tape for getting sharper paint lines. This tape is coated with a special powder that forms a seal upon contact with paint to prevent leakage. The tape costs a couple extra bucks per roll, but holds back paint better than regular blue painting tape.
Cover the floor with a drop cloth, or thick plastic, and cut-in the first coat of primer with a natural bristle brush, followed by a 4-inch to 6-inch mini roller, rolling in one direction from top to bottom. These small size rollers make it easier to roll narrow cabinet frames and give you more control than a wider 9-inch roller. The best roller sleeve to use for oil primer is a blended roller made from natural and synthetic fibers. Select a roller with a nothing thicker than 1/4-inch nap.
Apply the Paint
Sand the last coat of primer until it's nice and smooth. Repeat the same application process for the paint as the primer, only this time use a fabric roller of the same width and nap as the primer roller. Foam rollers work well too. Use a high quality enamel, either latex, or oil-based, and one that's self-leveling. For the doors, you'll have to prime and paint one side, allow it to dry overnight, and flip them over to paint the other side the next day.
Two coats of paint over two coats of primer will give you the best results for coverage and sheen. Don't over-apply the primer and paint. Apply enough so it's smooth and evenly coated across the surface. Always roll from one side to the other. When sanding between coats of paint, use 320-grit. Anything coarser will scratch the finish. In a bathroom, a semi-gloss finish is the best option for durability. You can also apply a clear coat over the top for added protection.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Matt G.
Matt G. (author) from United States on September 04, 2020:
Danny from India on September 04, 2020:
Matt thanks for sharing these amazing tips. It better to paint rather than keep it monochrome.