Q: Paint on my bathroom vanity — a 30-inch Brinkhill model made by WoodCrafters — deteriorated, so I got replacement parts. The paint peeled on those too. I now have another set of replacement pieces. I don’t want the paint to fail again, so I’m going to paint the new replacements. How can I best do this? Should I sand first? Use primer? What’s the best paint to use?
A: Paint should not peel off the way yours has. The model you bought is sold by Home Depot, where customer reviews on the website give it 3.9 stars out of five, which seems pretty good. But if you scroll through some of the 700-plus reviews, you can see that the raves are mostly from people who have just installed the vanity, which is expected. When things go well, people aren’t likely to send in a review months or years later.
To see what it’s like to live with a product over a longer period, there’s often much to learn from the negative reviews. For this model, about 20% of the reviewers gave only one or two stars, and a great many of them complained about the same issue you’ve experienced. In less than a year, sometimes in just a few months, the paint began peeling off.
It’s great that the manufacturer sent replacement parts, but of course you don’t want to keep getting and installing them. Before you invest in the time and materials needed to repaint the new replacement parts, consider whether high humidity in the bathroom is contributing to the problem. All wood products shrink and swell as moisture in the air shifts, and if there is a lot of shrinking and swelling, paint has to shrink and swell, too, or it cracks and peels. If there is dripping water on the mirror, window or walls when showers end, the humidity is too high and could be at least part of the reason for the paint problem. Try taking shorter or somewhat cooler showers, installing a better bathroom fan or leaving the door open a crack while showering.
Generally, a fan should run during a shower and for 10 to 15 minutes afterward. If you upgrade the fan, get one that’s suited to the size of your bathroom and meets the energy and efficiency standards of the federal Energy Star program. If people in your home forget to turn the fan on or off, consider installing one with a humidity sensor.
You might also consider how you clean the cabinets. If you wipe them down with a cleaning solution, consider switching to a dry microfiber cloth. If you repaint, it’s especially important to avoid using a liquid cleaner for 30 days, because it takes that long for water-based paints to cure to a durable, washable film.
The Home Depot listing says this vanity is made of particleboard with a front of natural wood, but there aren’t any details about what kind of paint and primer the manufacturer used. Chelsey Knutson, the public relations person for MasterBrand Cabinets, which owns WoodCrafters, said company policy is not to disclose vendors, so she could not say what paint or primer is on these vanities. But she did endorse cleaning only with a dry cloth.
Without details about what finish the factory used, Frank Glowacki, the brand director at Rust-Oleum, recommended scuff-sanding the surface, then cleaning with a non-sudsing cleaner. He recommended Krud Kutter Concentrated Cleaner/Degreaser.
When the surface dries, prime all surfaces of the replacement parts. Glowacki recommended B-I-N Shellac-Based White Interior Primer and Sealer, which he said is used by many professional cabinet refinishers. Apply with a brush or a very short nap mini-roller (avoid foam). It will dry in an hour, but let it set up overnight. To remove any burrs, sand lightly with 220-grit sandpaper before painting. Wipe clean. Then apply a topcoat with any good-quality paint, including water-based.
If your coat of paint peels too, your remaining option would be to start fresh with bare wood. You could sand off the paint while protecting your lungs with a high-quality disposable respirator. Or you could, once again, request replacement parts — but without paint, please.