The best paint for bathroom cabinets is a toss-up between latex and hybrid alkyd enamel paint. I decided to go with a hybrid alkyd enamel.
There are a number of reasons I painted my bathroom cabinets with this type of paint and part of it was personal preference. Read the rest of this blog to see which one is right for you.
What Types of Paint Can You Use for Bathroom Cabinets?
Choosing the right type of paint for your bathroom cabinets is crucial to having a professional-looking paint job that will last for a long time.
There are several options, and some are definitely better choices than others.
When painting anything in the bathroom, it’s important to consider that your painted surface will be exposed to damp warm air, as well as chemicals such as fragrances, hair spray, deodorant, and cleaning supplies to name a few.
You need to choose a paint that is durable enough to tolerate all those conditions.
Latex and hybrid alkyd paints are great for this environment. If you want to use something like chalk paint or milk paint, you’ll need to carefully apply a couple of coats of a good water-resistant sealer. Otherwise, your paint job will start to deteriorate fairly quickly.
Another thing to consider when you’re planning your bathroom painting project is that this will likely take you a few days.
It’s not several days of constant hard work, but the primer (if using) and paint will need time to dry between coats. Some paints, such as oil-based paints, take considerably longer to dry than other types of paint.
If you’re applying a sealant after the paint, you’ll need to allow another day or two for that to dry, also.
If you have a second bathroom, you might want to use it exclusively while you’re working on this project. Otherwise, just be super careful around the wet paint, and realize that it might take the paint a little longer to dry if the bathroom is getting steamy from hot showers.
Oil-based paints are durable, and stain resistant, and the colors last a long time without fading or yellowing.
However, there are some drawbacks to oil-based paints.
They take a really long time to dry, and because of their high VOC (volatile organic compounds) content, they have an odor.
Unfortunately with oil-based paints, that “new paint smell” can last for several days, up to a week. You absolutely need to be outside or in a very well-ventilated area when painting with oil-based paints.
If you’re working in a small space (and most bathrooms are going to be fairly small), there are better paint choices that will give you excellent results.
Latex is the most common type of paint you’ll find in home improvement stores for any interior painting project. The colors and finish are comparable to oil-based paints.
The biggest difference between latex and oil-based paints is that latex paint has a much faster drying time, and while it still has some odor it’s not nearly as strong as the smell of oil-based paints.
Latex paints are a budget-friendly option as well.
Because most major paint manufacturers sell latex paints, you’ll find the most color choices at affordable prices.
Hybrid Alkyd Enamel Paint
Hybrid alkyd enamel paints combine the best features of oil-based and latex paints together. Hybrid alkyd paints are water-based like latex paint but contain alkyd resin pigments like oil-based paint. With this type of paint, you get beautiful colors and an appearance similar to oil paint, with a low VOC content and durability like latex paint.
Hybrid Alkyd paints are virtually odorless and clean up easily with soap and water. As this type of paint is becoming more prevalent, you’ll have no trouble finding it in a variety of finishes, and in nearly as many colors as latex paints.
They are another budget-friendly option, with pricing similar to most brands of latex paints.
We all love chalk paint, right? It’s so trendy right now, and there are so many beautiful colors available. It’s being used by professional interior designers and DIY enthusiasts to create lovely and unique looks for any home.
However, chalk paint probably isn’t the best choice to use on bathroom cabinets. The biggest reason for this is that chalk paint is prone to chipping.
Even with a good sealant or chalk paint wax, chalk paint’s durability might not stand up to the amount of moisture that it will be exposed to in a bathroom. Chalk paint, even with sealant, won’t stand up to the amount of cleaning that a bathroom needs, also.
Milk paint is another type of paint that is becoming increasingly popular in home design.
With milk paint, you can achieve will a velvety matte finish similar to chalk paint, but milk paint is a more durable choice than chalk paint for cabinets.
It will still need a good sealant, preferably two or more coats. Milk paint actually becomes stronger over time, but for even more durability you can mix in a bonding agent for a super-tough finish.
Even with a bonding agent and sealant, milk paint can be prone to scratching and scuffing on areas that are touched or moved often. It’s not the worst choice for your bathroom cabinets, but you’ll still have to be careful with it. For bathroom painting, milk paint is better than chalk paint.
Milk paint is sold in powder form, so you can mix it with water to get just the quantity you need.
The powdered form has a long shelf life, so you won’t have to worry about disposing of leftover paint. You can keep the powdered paint in an airtight container and it will be handy if you have to do any touch-ups after a while.
Best Finish For Bathroom Cabinets
The finish of your paint choice is an important consideration for any room project. You want to have at least a little bit of a glossy sheen to your paint finish.
A surface with some shine to it will be easier to clean, and it will stay looking new for a longer period of time.
I prefer a semi-gloss finish for the bathroom, although a satin finish looks great if you want your cabinets to look a bit more matte in appearance.
Glossy or high gloss finishes are a good choice, but I just like the look of semi-gloss more. That’s strictly my personal preference, so if you love a glossy shine, go for it!
I wouldn’t recommend creating a distressed or “chippy” look on your bathroom cabinets. Although this look is wonderful on some pieces of furniture when you do this on a surface that is touched or moved a lot you’re taking a risk of having more paint flake off. Y
ou can mitigate this with a good top coat, but after a while, even a top coat can start to wear. A durable paint that has a finish formulated for daily use is your best bet.
Should You Use Primer for Bathroom Cabinets?
Whether you should use a primer on your bathroom cabinets depends on what type of paint you will be using. Personally, I almost always prime before applying paint.
I think the end result looks more professional, and the paint job stays looking great for a long time. Yes, I have even been known to use a primer if the paint is “paint and primer in one”.
If you’re going to paint your bathroom cabinets with chalk paint (not recommended) or milk paint, you will definitely need to apply a primer first.
Oil-based paints work best with a primer coat also. With latex and hybrid alkyd paints, you can get away with not priming for most brands, but I’m still a fan of applying a primer coat first for the best results.
Should You Use Sealant for Bathroom Cabinets?
Depending on what type of paint you use, a separate coat of sealant may not be necessary. Latex and hybrid alkyd paints are durable and provide a good moisture and stain-resistant finish; you don’t need to use a sealant with these paints.
Milk paint and chalk paint should absolutely be sealed. I wouldn’t recommend a wax finish for anything in the bathroom, especially if you enjoy very hot showers!
The heat from your shower or even from frequently using a hot hairdryer will eventually soften the wax and deteriorate the finish. Before you know it, the moist heat and humidity will break down your wax sealant and you’ll need to reapply it.
A polycrylic sealant over chalk paint or milk paint is, in my opinion, the best choice. Use at least two coats, and make sure every surface of your painted cabinet is fully sealed. Read the label on the polycrylic paint you buy to make sure it is water-resistant.
Polyurethane sealants have a much stronger resistance to water, but there are some downsides to using them. They do have a strong odor, and over time they tend to “yellow”.
The yellow cast will show more if you apply polyurethane over neutrals or light colors.
How to Choose the Color
Choosing the paint color is one of the most fun parts of planning a painting project. There really aren’t any hard and fast rules to picking out colors. Choose colors that make you happy!
However, I do have some tips to help you find the perfect color for your bathroom cabinets.
White, off-white, and very light neutral shades are popular choices for bathrooms. They make smaller rooms seem more open and clean, and they can be accented with any color.
If you’re not a fan of whites or neutrals, pastel or muted colors also look great in bathrooms. These lighter shades aren’t overwhelming in a smaller room, and it’s fun to find darker colors to complement them,
Many homes have very small bathrooms, and darker or jewel-toned colors can make a small room seem even smaller.
If you want to paint your bathroom cabinets in a darker color, it will probably look best if the rest of your bathroom is painted with neutrals or very light colors.
With any paint project, I think it’s important not to make a color choice too quickly. Get paint sample cards from your local home improvement store.
Another tip is to buy a small container of one or two paint colors you like, and paint a couple of pieces of cardboard with them.
Tape the painted cardboard to the front of your bathroom cabinets and leave them there for a day or two. Colors can look slightly different in the light from your bathroom than they might have looked in the home improvement store.
Supplies You Need for Painting Your Cabinets
It’s a good idea to gather all your supplies in one place before starting any major painting project. You won’t need any specialized equipment to paint your bathroom cabinets, but here’s a basic list of supplies you’ll probably use:
- Painters tape (masking tape) and drop cloths. You’ll need these to protect your walls, sink, floors, and countertops.
- Brushes and rollers. You should probably have brushes in a couple of different sizes, with at least one smaller width brush to easily paint the edges of your cabinets.
- Sandpaper and wood putty. You won’t need a lot of sandpaper, and you don’t need very heavy grit. A light to medium sandpaper should be sufficient to scuff up your cabinets. The wood putty is to fill any holes and cracks. It’s also a good idea to smooth a very thin layer of wood putty over wood cabinets with a deep grain (such as oak) if you want a perfectly smooth look when completed.
- Cleaning supplies. You should have a roll of paper towels, some rags, and a bucket of soapy water nearby to clean up any drips or spills. If you’re using paint that is not water-soluble, such as oil-based paints, you’ll need to have a solvent such as turpentine or mineral spirits on hand for cleaning.
- Paint and Primer. Have all the primer and paint ready to go as soon as you begin the project. You don’t want to get partway through the project and have to stop to buy more paint, so be sure you have enough to finish painting all your cabinets.
Should You Use a Roller or a Brush for Bathroom Cabinets?
My personal opinion is that both brushes and rollers do a great job on your bathroom cabinets. In fact, I think it’s necessary to have both on hand to make the painting job as easy as possible.
For broad, flat surfaces (such as cabinet doors), using a paint roller will make the job so much easier. Use a high-density foam roller, four to six inches wide, for the best results.
The foam rollers will apply the paint as smoothly as if you’d sprayed it on. The “flocked” paint rollers will work fine, but it might take you a little extra work to get the paint to look perfectly smooth.
Get one or two brushes, in a medium and narrow width. Brushes are perfect for “cutting in” the paint where the cabinet is attached to the wall and floor, and for small areas such as edges and textured details.
How to Paint Your Bathroom Cabinets – A Brief Overview
Painting your bathroom cabinets can seem like a big job, but it can be easily broken down into several easy steps. Here are the basics:
- First, take some “before” pics of your project! I forget to do this so often and find myself wishing I had “before” pics for comparison.
- Clean the bathroom. Even if you think it’s clean, go ahead and clean it again. You don’t want any hair or dust getting painted into your project. Remove anything in and around the cabinet. Put down drop cloths.
- Remove the doors from your cabinets, and remove the hardware. If you don’t want to remove the hardware, cover them with painter’s tape to keep them clean.
- Apply painter’s tape where the cabinets meet the walls, and on the edges of any countertops.
- Lightly sand your cabinets. You don’t have to remove all the finish, but rough it up enough to help the primer and paint stick better.
- Clean again! Wipe down the sanded cabinets with a damp cloth to get rid of any dust.
- Fill in any holes or scratches with wood putty.
- It’s time to prime! Apply one or two coats of primer (allowing drying time between coats)
- Finally, you’re ready to paint! Two to three coats is best, and be sure to allow enough time for the paint to fully dry between coats.
- Once your paint is fully dry, you can apply a sealant if you’re using one.
- Now all you have to do is clean up, and put your bathroom back together!
Take those “after” pics now, and post them on your social media with your “before” pics! Be proud of the great job you’ve done and let your friends see your beautiful new bathroom.