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Satin Vs Semi Gloss Paint For Bathroom Cabinets: Which To Choose?

Bathroom cabinets are an important component in both the function and the aesthetics of this essential space. When it's time to paint these cabinets, should you reach for satin or semi-gloss paint? We've researched this issue to help you choose the right finish for your bathroom.

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Paint your bathroom cabinets with semi-gloss for maximum durability and style.

Semi-gloss paints are more resistant to moisture, cleaning, and handling than satin paints. They also reflect more light than satin, lending a sense of depth and polish to your bathroom cabinets.

Ready... Set... Hold up! Before you pry into your paint, read on to discover more as we detail the best-looking, long-lasting sheen with tips from the experts, as well as things to avoid. By the end of this article, you'll be in the know on all the issues related to this topic.

Colorful paint pots open and color palette on white table for renovation of materials, Satin Vs Semi Gloss Paint For Bathroom Cabinets: Which To Choose?

Satin Vs Semi Gloss Paint For Bathroom Cabinets: Which To Choose?

Semi-gloss is the way to go for your bathroom cabinets. Let's discuss why it's the clear winner of this contest.

A solid choice for maximum durability

In the context of bathroom cabinets, durability means resistance to moisture, handling, and cleaning.

Semi-gloss places second-to-the highest in the shininess ranking. This matters because, as a rule of thumb, the shinier the paint is, the more durable it is considered to be.

While gloss is the shiniest and, hence, most durable sheen, it's also the most prone to showing imperfections and the hardest to apply.

This is why most experts recommend semi-gloss instead. 

Resistance to moisture

Semi-gloss paint resists moisture better than satin does. And since bathrooms tend to get very moist (which molds love!), choosing to paint the cabinets with semi-gloss helps reduce the chances of uninvited growth. 

It also helps prevent wooden cabinet doors from warping or deteriorating due to typical bathroom humidity.

In the worst-case scenario, a leak from a nearby fixture can not only dampen your cabinets but also douse a cabinet door or two. If discovered late, even the sturdiest wooden cabinets can succumb to irreparable water damage.

A proper coat of semi-gloss helps prevent this (or could lessen the severity, at the very least).

Resistance to cleaning

Semi-gloss paint holds up well against stains. Due to its water-resistant nature, semi-gloss painted surfaces tend to let liquid slide off instead of setting in (which is how watermarks and other liquid stains form).

And if it ever comes to a point where you need to scrub the cabinets, you most certainly can. Unlike flatter sheen, semi-gloss can take a rough scrubbing. You won't have to worry about stripping the paint off when dealing with dirt.

You can even use soap and water on it should you feel the need to do so. But generally speaking, bathroom cabinets won't be too exposed to stubborn grime as much as kitchen cabinets are accustomed to. 

Resistance to usage-related damage

Most people use their bathroom cabinets every day or even multiple times a day. Mishandling the cabinets can potentially cause superficial damage to them — even regular, everyday handling, for that matter, can do the same.

The main way to prevent this type of damage is to be more gentle with your cabinets. However, the type of paint used also matters.

Semi-gloss paints offer stronger resilience than satin against careless scratches by long fingernails (long-overdue for clipping) and against chipped pieces after banging the cabinet door and then announcing, "Oops! I didn't mean that sorry."

Speaking of application methods and tips for firm adherence, we will get to that shortly.

Pick the sheen for peak appeal

Semi-gloss fits this description perfectly!

Whether the bathroom is going through a makeover or this is slated to be its first appearance, choosing semi-gloss for the cabinets contributes to a sense of depth and elegance that will lend itself well to the bathroom as a whole.

Sense of depth

The difference between satin and semi-gloss can be like night and day. Semi-gloss is more reflective than satin, so it allows more light to bounce around the room. While this makes it too shiny to use for the bathroom walls themselves, semi-gloss is the perfect choice of sheen for the cabinets.

More light equals better general visibility—which is particularly important for bathrooms with windows that are usually on the smaller side (if there are any at all). Cabinets painted with semi-gloss make for a livelier, more radiant finish.

A polished look

Semi-gloss has an inherent glimmer that works well to give off a polished look, which flatter alternatives just can't replicate.

While satin also appears velvety (it features more sheen than matte or eggshell), it likely won't stay that way due to the humid atmosphere that bathrooms produce. Semi-gloss, on the other hand, can be wiped clean time and time again, making its sheen easier to maintain. 

Depending on your color choice, painting your cabinets with semi-gloss can make them stand out, especially if you use bright tones. More neutral tones also work well with semi-gloss to give that simple yet elegant appeal.

Look how sleek dark blue appears with just the right amount of shine.

How do you get the smoothest finish when painting cabinets?

Person holding paint brush and painting kitchen cabinets

Your choice of tools, materials, and methodology all matter if you want the smoothest finish for your cabinets.

Which tool do I use to apply paint?

Professionals often use paint sprayers to provide that fresh-from-the-factory look. Think perfectly-uniform coatings with no room for flaws—that's what paint sprayers can do.

Spray painting

A handyman sprays lacquer wood finish to the end panel of the bottom cabinet in the kitchen

With the pros come the cons: Spray painting is more expensive than applying brush or roller application, and the prep work needed for it is much more demanding—including readying the equipment and protecting everything else in the room from getting dirty.

This is why hiring professionals comes at a higher cost. Conversely, if you can do it yourself and spend considerably less, then why not, right?

While spraying paint makes sense for larger projects, it might be impractical for a lone bathroom cabinet and some accompanying doors. The good thing is that DIY-ers can often rely on more common tools found at the nearest hardware stores.

Enter rollers and paintbrushes.

Should you roll or brush cabinets?

Painting Kitchen Cabinets in white using a roller

The advantage of using a roller over a paintbrush is that it is faster due to the larger surface area it can cover.

However, since bathroom cabinets usually have ridges here and there, you can't use a roller alone. Sure, it works well to cover the larger, flatter areas, but the paint won't reach the deeper creases.

In the photo above, you will see that the yellow cabinets are indented in the middle to form borders. The brush can take care of irregular portions like those.

However, aside from taking longer than rolling, the other downside of using a brush exclusively is that it can leave brush marks. A newly-painted project with brush marks can look sloppy or amateurish 

You'd be hard-pressed to find an appropriate response when a house guest suddenly remarks, "You should leave a negative review for the pros that did your cabinets! The color and sheen look fine, but something's definitely off."

The best approach, then, is to use both. Later, we will show you how to combine both tools for the best results.

A note on choosing materials

From the primer to the paint itself, all we can say is: Don't skimp on materials. By choosing the cheap stuff, you'll be subjected to the sight of, well, cheap-looking cabinets.

If you don't want to spend each morning casually brushing your teeth while looking down with regret, choose only the best stuff.

Check out this INSL-X Cabinet Coat paint on Amazon.

The method

Here is the seven-step method to getting the smoothest finish:

  1. Remove cabinet doors
  2. Clean doors and cabinets with TSP
  3. Fix imperfections
  4. Sand to prep for primer
  5. Apply primer
  6. Sand to prep for paint
  7. Get painting!
  8. Reassemble cabinets

1. Remove cabinet doors

For ease of application, take the doors off of the cabinets. You can also start setting up drip cloths and painter's tape around the work area at this time. This will help to ensure that you only paint your intended targets.

2. Clean doors and cabinets with TSP

TSP is a cleaning solution that can remove stubborn dirt and grime. It can also de-gloss painted surfaces (helpful when repainting cabinets). Since it is a mild skin irritant, make sure to wear gloves and rinse it off generously with water.

Note: Because TSP is banned in some states, you can also opt for other cleaners labeled "TSP substitutes."

For more on this, check out: How To Clean Bathroom Cabinets Before Painting Them

3. Fix imperfections

Fill chips and dings with putty. Allow it to dry completely according to instructions on the packaging before proceeding.

4. Sand to prep for primer

A handyman using a piece of sandpaper to smoothen out the edge of a wall cabinet prior to painting

Sand with 220-grit sandpaper to roughen up the surface. Doing this helps make the primer and paint adhere well.

5. Apply primer

Use either a paintbrush or a roller to apply primer. It doesn't have to look perfect. The objective here is to just cover everything completely.

6. Sand to prep for paint

Once the primer is completely dry, sand with 220-grit sandpaper again.

7. Get painting!

A handyman paints a fresh coat of varnish on the surface of a base kitchen cabinet with a medium sized brush

This is when the fun begins! Use the paintbrush to apply the paint evenly, then use a dry roller to pass over the wet paint to remove brush marks.

Apply two coats of paint. Allow the paint to dry and lightly sand it with fine-grit sandpaper between each coating. 

8. Reassemble cabinets

After the final coat dries, put the pieces back together and admire the job well done.

In closing

Between the two sheens, semi-gloss is the clear winner of this contest. It can spice up your bathroom cabinets and make them last for years to come.

We hope your project turns out well, but if you're looking for more design recommendations before starting, head on over to:

11 Great Master Bathroom Cabinets Ideas

What Color Should Bathroom Cabinets Be?