How to Refinish a Bathroom Cabinet

It's time to refinish the bathroom cabinet, but you're not exactly sure what procedures to take to get the job done right, right? Well, there are a few things you need to know about the finish that's already on your bathroom cabinet before deciding what steps to take next. In addition, some finish removers are messy or have strong fumes that could be harmful. And, even when you're finished stripping the cabinet you still have to decide what type of finish to put on it that will last a long time and look good with your current decor.

  1. Determine the type of finish that the cabinet already has by performing a few tests (see next section). Then you can select the type of stripper that you need.

  2. Prep your work area. Cover floors and bathroom fixtures, and be sure that you can ventilate the area.

  3. Strip the cabinet using a commercial stripper and sand paper, as necessary.

  4. Be sure that the cabinet is clean and free of any leftover stripper, paint, oils or dirt before moving on to the next step. Vinegar, added to hot water, will help remove oil and dirt from the cabinet after it's stripped.

  5. Decide on the type of finish you would like to have on the bathroom cabinet. Some choices include stains, varnishes and clear or tinted shellac.

  6. Apply the new finish. Some finishes require two or three coats.

How to Determine the Type of Stripper to Use

  1. Place a drop or two of turpentine on the cabinet, in a discreet place, to see if the finish dissolves. If it dissolves, the finish is wax-based.

  2. Determine if the finish is shellac by applying a few drops of denatured alcohol. If the finish begins to dissolve, the cabinet finish is shellac.

  3. Detemine if the finish is water-based by using a few drops of Xylene.


  • Cabinet strippers can RUIN linoleum, rugs and other surfaces, so use plenty of thick drop cloths when stripping a bathroom cabinet.
  • Most strippers emit hazardous fumes, so use plenty of ventilation when stripping a bathroom cabinet.
  • If using fans to ventilate--be careful! Fans can blow dust onto the cabinet and make tiny lumps on the cabinet surface.
  • Keep all strippers, paints, varnishes, and accessories away from kids and pets.
  • Don't concentrate only on prices when you choose a stripping product. Some are priced higher because they work much better or require much less of the product.

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