Staining a Bathroom Cabinet

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Phase one of my bathroom makeover is complete!  I finally finished staining the vanity cabinet, which has gone from this dated honey oak….


…to this much more tolerable espresso finish.


I’m still having a hard time believing that I actually did this and that it turned out so nice.  It was so easy…just a little bit time consuming since I had to put on so many coats and then wait for them to dry.  So, how did I do it?  I’m glad you asked.

First, I gathered the following items:

  •  Java Gel Stain by General Finishes I bought the 1/2 pint and that would work even for a much bigger cabinet.  A little goes a long way!
  • A few tube socks
  • Rubber or latex gloves
  • Some painter’s pyramids
  • Painter’s tape
  • Sandpaper
  • Screwdriver
  • 1/2 pint of polyurethane
  • A foam brush

You will want to start by prepping the cabinet.  I put painter’s tape on the walls to protect them from stain and I didn’t worry about protecting the carpet because I am going to rip it out anyway.  I removed the hardware from the door and drawers and removed them from the rest of the cabinet.  Then, I lightly sanded every surface.  You don’t have to go crazy here, you just want to scuff up the surface a bit so that the stain can adhere to the wood.  Once everything is sanded, wipe it down with a damp rag to remove any dust, dirt, or grime on the surface.

Now, you’re ready for the stain.  I got the idea to do this from another blog called Monica Wants It and you can find it by clicking here.  I found her tutorial on Pinterest and she recommends using tube socks instead of a brush to apply the stain.  We always have a few stray socks around here that are missing a mate, so I didn’t have to look far to find some.  I put a glove on my right hand (to protect it from the stain) and then covered it with a sock.  Then I just dipped the sock into the stain and started applying it to the cabinet.  Once you start applying, you will begin to see how much you need.  Start out with a very small dab and then smear it around to see how much coverage you will get.  That will help you gauge how much to use.  Be careful to smooth out any globs.  I used the painter’s pyramids here to prop up the door and drawers after I applied the first coat.  The first coat looked a bit streaky and weird, but in my opinion, it was already a huge improvement from where I started.

First coat

So, I let the first coat dry for about 24 hours and applied the second coat the next evening.

Second coat
Second coat

I think you could probably apply the third coat in another 24 hours, but I didn’t have the opportunity to work on it again until the weekend, so it dried for about 4 days before I applied the final coat.

Once I had the third coat on, I probably could have added another coat to make it really nice and dark like many of the other photos I have seen online, but I kind of liked the subtle variations in color and being able to still see the wood grain a bit.

Once you have achieved the color you want, let the stain dry for several days before you seal it with the polyurethane.  Life got a little busy around here, so I didn’t have an opportunity to work on it for a few weeks.  I finally was able to apply a few coats of polyurethane.  The tutorial I followed suggested that you can continue to use a sock to apply the polyurethane, but I decided to use a foam brush.  This seemed to work fine and I didn’t have any trouble.  Again, just be careful to smooth out any drippy spots.

Finally, once the polyurethane dried (about 24 hours), I was able to add some new hardware and reattach the door and drawers.  So, here’s the official before and after.  What do you think?

Cabinet Makeover  I love the update!  Michael likes it so much that he wants me to do the same in our downstairs bathroom.  I’m not sure I’m that ambitious.  One project at a time please.

3 thoughts on “Staining a Bathroom Cabinet

  1. I tried to do this with my bedroom furniture. I tested on a side table first, and was disappointed when the stain wasn’t as dark as I’d hoped. I shouldn’t have stopped at one coat…bah! Oh, well. I love how the furniture turned out (I painted instead) and I have plenty of dated pieces crying out for an upgrade!

  2. I recently did this same exact treatment to my downstairs half bath and I love it!! It makes a huge difference doesn’t it?? I’m in love with it and as soon as I can find the time, I plan on finishing my two upstairs bathroom cabinets! Good job, yours looks great.

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