My wife and I bought a new house last year, walked into the master bathroom, and immediately realized—no medicine cabinet!
The medicine cabinet used to be a staple feature in every bathroom. Remember the old metal ones that mounted over the sink? No? Well, take my word for it. The tiny bathrooms in many old homes had a single mirrored door that opened to reveal a white metal shell with a couple of shelves, just enough to hold a few items. Utilitarian at best, the old medicine cabinets were usually just screwed to the wall and not even mounted flush, so they stuck out into the room like a sore thumb.
Which meant this happened a lot: bend over the sink to wash your face in the morning, straighten up after rinsing the soap off, and whack your head on the bottom of the medicine cabinet door. Ouch.
Today’s medicine cabinets have come a long way from those early, ugly and painful models. They’re made in literally hundreds of configurations and styles, with multiple cabinet areas, integral electrical outlets and lighting fixtures, and shapes to match just about every home’s style and décor. You can flush-mount most of them to avoid that painful wake-up call, too.
Anyway, I quickly realized I had to install a medicine cabinet in our new master bath, so here’s how I did it, in 4 easy steps, in one afternoon:
1. Measure the Space
Our new master bath had a huge wall-mounted mirror over the vanity, so we chose a side wall to mount the medicine cabinet. The side wall had the advantage of being bare except for a light switch—more on that in a minute. When measuring, it helps to have a magnetic stud-finder, so you can determine (without cutting holes in your drywall) the distance between your wall studs. Typically, in most newer home construction, you can count on 24-inch centers, which means you have approximately 22 ½ inches of free space for mounting a medicine cabinet in between standard 2”x4” studs. Medicine cabinet manufacturers know this, of course, so they typically make their cabinets in the right widths. For the right height, most builders install the top of any medicine cabinet six feet from the floor—but that will depend on your family’s vertical measurements, too.
2. Pick Out the Medicine Cabinet
We went to a few local big-box home improvement stores and chose a cabinet that matched our bathroom best. So many options exist that you may have a hard time deciding, but here’s a general rule: pick a medicine cabinet that doesn’t overwhelm the space or fight with your existing bath décor. We chose a single-door cabinet with a white-painted wood frame and a beveled mirror; and paid attention to the width of the cabinet—in our case, an 18” width seemed just right.
3. Cut Into Your Wall
This part scares most do-it-yourselfers, but it doesn’t have to. Just mark the outline of your new cabinet with a little masking tape on the wall, then drill in the center of the outline. Enlarge the hole with a stab saw (a pointed drywall blade) just enough so you can see inside the wall with the aid of a flashlight. You’ll find the studs that way, and note any obstacles, too. If you discover wiring or plumbing that you can’t move, you’ll need to surface-mount your cabinet, and remember to watch your head in the morning.
4. Finish Cutting and Mount Your New Cabinet
Assuming you’ve found no obstacles inside your wall, finish your cut with the stab saw—but only after determining where you can mount your cabinet to a vertical stud. Cut the correctly-sized hole, slip your new cabinet into the wall, and screw it securely to the stud. If necessary, you may want to install some horizontal and vertical 2”x4” blocking to support larger cabinets.
Most new medicine cabinets come with a “self-finishing” overlapping edge, which requires no patching or painting of the wall. That means most fairly handy DIYers can finish this simple job in an afternoon, and de-clutter their vanity counter the same day.