A Guide to Restaining Bathroom Cabinets

A bathroom vanity with cabinets, mirrors, and double sinks.
  • 4-6 hours
  • Beginner
  • 100-400
What You'll Need
Safety glasses
Latex gloves
Face mask or respirator
Masking tape
Drop cloths
Varnish remover
Plastic scraper
Wood stain
Varnish brush

If you're considering restaining bathroom cabinets, you should begin the process with a careful assessment of the existing cabinets. Are they merely in need of refinishing, or should they be replaced instead? If the cabinetry is solid wood that merely needs a facelift, then restaining your bathroom cabinets will take care of the problem. This procedure is relatively easy and quick, and within two weekends, an industrious do-it-yourselfer can have their bathroom cabinets looking like they're brand new again.

Assess the Cabinets to Make Sure They're Functioning Properly

Begin by carefully inspecting the bathroom cabinets to make sure the wood is indeed solid, without any structural damage having been caused by water leakage. Make sure that the doors fit well, and still close and latch properly, and that they aren't swollen or ill-fitting, and that they are still in relatively good condition. There is no sense in restaining your old bathroom cabinets if they are really in need of replacement. Be sure that the hinges, doorknobs, and catches are all functional as well, and if anything needs to be fixed or replaced, now is the time to do it.

Choose an Appropriate Wood Stain

When deciding which stain to use on your bathroom cabinets, you must first consider the actual wood they're made of. If the cabinets are made of good quality wood such as oak, or cherry wood, it would be sensible to stain them according to their natural finish. Additionally, many kinds of wood can take a different stain, even if they are not of that species. For instance, bathroom cabinets that are made of pine will easily take other stains like golden oak or red cherry.

Practice Safe DIY

Since you will be removing the existing finish from the cabinets and working around dust and chemicals, it's important to take proper precautions for your health. Before beginning any work on restaining bathroom cabinets put latex gloves and safety glasses on to protect your hands and eyes. Use a face mask or respirator to avoid dust from sanding and from inhaling toxic fumes. You should also attach drop cloths using masking tape in the bathroom where necessary so as not to damage any fixtures, flooring, or carpeting.

Remove the Old Wood Finish from the Cabinets

Someone sanding down wood cabinets.

Once you've outfitted yourself in your protective gloves and glasses, remove the old cabinets finish by applying a liquid stripping compound. Read the manufacturer's directions on the package for each specific product and application carefully before applying. You can physically remove the old finish with a combination of steel wool, a plastic scraper, and sandpaper. Work carefully on the old finish, since many bathroom cabinets are made of wood with a very thin veneer which is easily damaged or stripped if sanded too vigorously.

Apply the New Stain to the Cabinets

Someone dipping a paint brush into a wood stain container.

Carefully the read manufacturer’s instructions on the packaging before applying a new stain to the wood. A good technique to follow when restaining bathroom cabinets is to apply a coat of the stain in an inconspicuous place to see what it will look like before applying it to the entire surface of the cabinets. When satisfied with the desired look of the stain, let it dry thoroughly before applying several coats of varnish.

Apply Varnish to Seal and Paste Wax to Waterproof

There are many products that are suitable for applying a final finish after restaining bathroom cabinets. The key to the final finish is to be patient and wait for the recommended time before applying the next coat. Apply the first coat of varnish in a 50-50 ratio of varnish and mineral spirits. When this coat is thoroughly dry, apply a second coat of 75 to 25 percent varnish and mineral spirits. The final finish would be two coats of 100 percent varnish sanded with 0000 steel wool between each coat. A final coat of hard paste wax can be applied to ensure that the cabinets are waterproofed as this is especially important in a bathroom.