Medicine Cabinet Buying Guide

What To Look For When Considering a Medicine Cabinet

Back in the old days, a medicine cabinet was just a very simple, shallow set of shelves, sitting behind a door that doubled as a mirror for men to shave in and women to do their makeup and fix their hair in. Back in those days, the vanity usually wasn’t in the bathroom, and bathroom décor was pretty sparse.

These days, though, the vanity is no longer the sole domain of women, and it’s moved into the bathroom and replaced the old medicine cabinet setup. The need to store prescriptions, hair and facial products, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and other lavatory odds and ends hasn’t gone anywhere, though. We still need our medicine cabinets, but now we have a lot more options when it comes to picking one out.
arts and crafts bungalow

Depending on your style, decor, and the size and shape of your bathroom, you might want a recessed medicine cabinet or a surface mounted one. You might want a larger one with double doors. You could choose a cabinet large enough to hold spare towels, as well as medicine and other accessories, over the toilet. You can get a bathroom medicine cabinet that’s made of wood, or you can get one that looks like a mirror mounted on the wall.

The choices can get overwhelming pretty quickly. Fortunately, though, we’ve created this buying guide for you to help you learn about your options, which ones are best for different purposes, and how they fit in different bathrooms. Equipped with this knowledge, you’ll be able to go out and find the best medicine cabinet for your bathroom. Let’s get started!
Signature Collection Custom Framed Triple Door Medicine Cabinet

Installation Type – Recessed or Surface Mount

The old school style of medicine cabinet was almost always a surface mount cabinet. It was screwed to the wall or held in place with adhesive, and it stuck out a few inches from the wall. These days, depending on how much space you need, you have a choice of installing a recessed medicine cabinet if you don’t like the looks of a surface mounted model.

Recessed cabinets look just like a mirror mounted directly to the wall. Unlike the old telltale versions, they don’t stick out at all. The hinges are hidden by the frame of the mirror, and no one will be the wiser, unless they go prying at the side of your mirror.
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However, recessed cabinets only give you so much storage space. The depth the cabinet can be is entirely dependent on the space in between your walls. At the same time, if you choose a surface mounted cabinet that’s too deep, you’ll run the risk of hitting your head if you bend over at the wrong angle or turn around too fast.

However, recessed cabinets only give you so much storage space. The depth the cabinet can be is entirely dependent on the space in between your walls. At the same time, if you choose a surface mounted cabinet that’s too deep, you’ll run the risk of hitting your head if you bend over at the wrong angle or turn around too fast.

When choosing between recessed and surface mount cabinets, make sure that you take into account your style and the practicality of the cabinet. If you have a very narrow bathroom, a deep, surface mount cabinet could be a hazard. If you like the look of a recessed cabinet, but you need more storage space, you might want to consider a stylish surface mounted model or additional cabinets for more of your lavatory accessories.

Materials, Colors, and Finishes

These days, with the popularity of larger bathroom vanity mirrors, you don’t necessarily need to have a reflective medicine cabinet. Some people choose a small mirror-fronted surface mount or recessed medicine cabinet on the wall perpendicular to the vanity mirror. Others choose a wooden medicine cabinet with a slatted door that’s either recessed or surface mounted.

When choosing your bathroom medicine cabinet, your options range from mirrored to wood to stainless steel, along with any number of other materials. When choosing the right material, think about the style you want for your bathroom.

A recessed cabinet with slatted wood doors could look like a shuttered window. In a light tone, this could lend itself to a beach motif. Smoked glass double doors go well with modern décor, stainless steel, and exposed, industrial-looking fittings and accessories. An accordion door can add a clean and classic look to it, especially if it’s mirrored or has delicate paintings on its front panels.


Once you’ve chosen the material, though, you still have options for color and finish. You could choose a high-gloss or matte tone. You can go with painted wood, bare or stained glass, brushed or high-shine metal, and a number of other choices, as well.
If you’ve decided that you want a recessed cabinet with a mirrored front, you’ll need to decide whether you want the edges of the mirror to be beveled or not. Beveled edges add a little bit of dimension, and some people like them for their classy touch. Others prefer a simpler look. Either way, you’ll have a number of looks to choose from if you want a mirrored door.
When considering these things, you should also consider whether or not you want the mirrored front to look like a framed or frameless mirror. You have options for either one. A frameless mirror front with a simple beveled edge on a recessed medicine cabinet can be a great look for a modern or minimalist bathroom. An ornate frame on a recessed cabinet is great for a more classic or romantic style. A surface mounted cabinet can lend a retro vibe to the room.
Basically, if you have a theme in mind for your bathroom, there’s a medicine cabinet out there for you. All you have to do is think about your style, the décor in your bathroom, and the materials you like best.
Wilshire 2 Single Door Medicine Cabinet

What Size Medicine Cabinet Do I Look for With My Bathroom Vanity…and Shape?

You may think that you’re stuck with a rectangle that’s about a foot wide and about eighteen inches tall, but there are so many more options when it comes to medicine cabinets these days. You’re really only limited by the dimensions of your bathroom. You can have as much storage space as you need, and you can have it in an interesting and beautiful cabinet.

You can get a 21-inch by 31-inch oval-shaped, recessed cabinet that will work as a large enough mirror for your vanity and a great storage space for all of your prescriptions and any bathroom supplies you don’t want lying around on the counter within reach of the kids or within sight of guests.
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As far as size, the only thing you want to keep in mind is you don’t want your mirror or medicine cabinet for that matter to be wider than your bathroom vanity.  As far as height, of course that all depends on your wall size, vanity height, faucet height, lighting, etc.  Shape on the other hand is really just a matter of preference and style you are going for.

If you’re concerned about the size, shape, and depth of the medicine cabinet, keep in mind that you have a lot of cabinetry options for your bathroom these days. You can choose to put your medicine cabinet under your towel rack, over the toilet. You can install more than one recessed cabinet in your bathroom, in fact. You can have as many as you can fit, if that’s what you want.

When choosing a recessed cabinet, though, you may want to discuss it with a professional first. Unless you know where all of the pipes and wiring are in your walls, you might not want to do this yourself. A professional contractor can help you find the best place for a recessed cabinet or advise you against it, if it’s unsafe.

How Many Shelves Does A Medicine Cabinet Have?

Do you need just a couple of shelves with a lot of vertical space for things like hairspray bottles and shaving cream? Or do you need more shelves for smaller bottles and jars? A lot of medicine cabinets come with movable shelves so that you can customize the interior storage situation to your liking.

Keep in mind, again, that you can put cabinets and storage spaces in a lot of different areas in a modern bathroom. If you’re in love with a certain medicine cabinet, but it doesn’t have room for everything, including shaving cream, hairspray, razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc., think about how much you love the style of the cabinet versus how practical it is.

Does this cabinet give you enough storage space to justify it taking up space on the wall in your bathroom? Will you ever use it? Will it become an eyesore that you wish you hadn’t purchased and installed? Think carefully about how you answer these questions, and you’ll know whether or not you need to pick a different medicine cabinet.


Signature Collection Custom Framed Triple Door Medicine Cabinet with Contemporary Integral Lighting

Signature Collection Custom Framed Triple Door Medicine Cabinet with Contemporary Integral Lighting

Weight Considerations

A large medicine cabinet can get pretty heavy, especially if it’s made of solid wood or if it has a large mirror for a door. You’ll need to keep this in mind when installing it. Make sure that it’s anchored to at least one stud in your wall, or it could pull its screws out of the wall, along with a chunk of drywall, and crash down to the floor.

When considering the weight of your new medicine cabinet, you should also take into account that it won’t just be holding its own weight. It will also be holding everything you put in it. So, you’ll want to make sure that it’s held in place securely. Otherwise, you’re looking at a big mess that could get very expensive, very quickly.

If you buy your medicine cabinet online, be sure to read about everything that comes with it and all that’s required to install it. If you’re purchasing it at a brick-and-mortar store, don’t be shy about asking the salespeople about all of the materials you’ll need to install the mirror.

As with the wiring and plumbing situation, unless you’re absolutely sure, this may be the time to call the professionals and let them do their job. You don’t want to spend the money on a cabinet you love, only to have it fall and break. Then you’ll have to purchase a new cabinet and pay for installation, too.



Photo by Tatiana Takaeva

Installation Considerations and What’s Included

As we mentioned concerning wiring, plumbing, and weight, there are a few things you’ll need to take into consideration if you’re going to install your cabinet yourself. If you’ve decided on a recessed cabinet, do you have the hardware and tools to do the job? Are you comfortable with cutting into your drywall? Are you prepared to patch, spackle, and paint the wall if you cut the hole too large?

If you’re not comfortable using a stud finder or tapping and listening to find the studs in your wall, you should definitely call the professionals. In fact, if anything about this makes you at all uncomfortable, think about how much installation costs versus how much time, effort, and materials will cost you to do it right. There’s no shame in asking for help when you need it.


Radiance Single Door Traditional Medicine Cabinet

Radiance Single Door Traditional Medicine Cabinet

Online Shopping Considerations – Shipping and Return Policies

It’s understandable that you might want to make your purchase online. After all, you can usually find a much better price on the Internet than you can at any store. However, when you’re shopping, be sure that the cabinet you choose comes with everything you need to install it.

Furthermore, check the weight and the shipping and handling costs. It could be that you’ll get a better deal in a store, when you factor in the shipping cost, especially if the cabinet is a very heavy one. If the total price isn’t still significantly lower, keep shopping around. If you can’t find a better deal, you should probably go with the medicine cabinet at your local store, as the people who work there can help you find a professional who can install it for you at a reasonable price.


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Another thing to consider when purchasing your medicine cabinet online is the seller’s return policy. What if the cabinet gets to you, and it was damaged in shipping? What if the color is right on the website but wrong when you see it in person? Is it actually bigger or smaller than you thought it would be?

If your medicine cabinet doesn’t meet your needs in any way, you should be able to return it for a refund or for an exchange. If the seller’s return policy doesn’t allow that, you’ll be taking a pretty big risk if you buy it.

Now that you have all the information you need to select, purchase, and install your medicine cabinet, get out there and get shopping! Remember not to settle for anything that doesn’t meet your needs, and enjoy your new bathroom!

Three Mirrored Door Medicine Cabinet

Three Mirrored Door Medicine Cabinet

How to Measure for a Medicine Cabinet?

Whether you’re doing a full-scale remodeling job, or you’re just replacing this particular cabinet, you need to take a couple of things into account. You’ll need to make sure that your new medicine cabinet will fit into the space you have available.

In this article, we will give you an overview of the measurements you’ll need to take before you choose a recessed or surface mount medicine cabinet for your bathroom. Surface mount medicine cabinets involve fewer measurements and less work for installation, but a lot of people prefer the simple and elegant style of a recessed medicine cabinet. There are lots of cabinets to choose from, and after you read this article, you’ll have the tools to choose the one that’s right for your bathroom.



Measuring for a Recessed Medicine Cabinet

If you’ve decided that a recessed medicine cabinet is the way to go, you’ll want to make sure that it fits where you want to put it. This is largely contingent upon the spacing of the studs in your walls and the size of the medicine cabinet you want to install.

How far apart are your studs? You can tap with your knuckle horizontally along the wall to find the studs. When the tapping sounds hollow, you’re tapping over empty space. When the tone changes to a more solid sound, you’ll know that you’ve found a stud.

If you can’t seem to differentiate the sounds, there’s no need to worry. You can use a stud finding tool to locate your wall studs. Once you’ve located two adjacent studs, measure the distance between them. They should be between 12 and 18 inches apart.

If your medicine cabinet is wider than the space between your studs, you can still use it, but you’ll need a more custom installation. You’ll need to cut studs and then reinforce them to maintain the wall’s stability. If you’re not cutting into a load-bearing wall, this is actually a fairly easy job. However, it is still more involved than a simple installation.

If this process makes you nervous, you can choose to do one of three things. You can choose a smaller, narrower medicine cabinet. If you need more space, you could even purchase and install two smaller cabinets, if that look works for your bathroom’s motif. Your other choices are to choose a surface mount cabinet that won’t require you to cut any studs, or you can call a professional and have them do the installation of your recessed medicine cabinet for you.



Measuring for a Surface Mount Medicine Cabinet

If you’ve decided on a surface mount medicine cabinet, all you need to do when measuring is assess how much space you have available and how many studs are in that space.

Most surface mount bathroom medicine cabinets are only wide enough to drill anchor screws into two studs. However, if you choose a larger medicine cabinet, it may need more support. Measure the width and height of the space available, and count how many studs are in the area. This will give you all of the information you need to pick out the right medicine cabinet for your space.

Just to be sure, you should measure the depth of free space in front of the medicine cabinet at its bottom edge. If you mount a cabinet too low, the sink faucet could get in the way and prevent you from opening the cabinet door all the way. You’ll want to make sure that you can use your new medicine cabinet once you’ve installed it.

tape measure measuring space

Let’s Talk More About the Height

You may want to know more about the height in regards to where to install it…how high should the medicine cabinet be above the sink?  The height is all variable depending on many factors.  First one being of course the size and shape of the mirror.  Second one being the average height of a bathroom vanity which is 32-36”.  You’ll also want to keep in mind who will most be using this bathroom.  The height will also vary depending on your faucet height.  Just make sure that it is around eye-level for the majority of it’s users.  You’ll want to hang it a few inches about the faucet which is about 5-10” above the sink.  And of course you’ll want to center it with the sink.

With this information, you’re ready to go shopping for your new medicine cabinet!

How to Install Medicine Cabinets

Whichever style you prefer, in this article, we’ll walk you through the basics involved in installing your new medicine cabinet. If you’re comfortable with basic carpentry and the design of your bathroom, you will most likely have no trouble installing your own bathroom medicine cabinet, but if any of this looks too complicated or makes you uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to call a professional to do the job for you.


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Whether you’re installing a recessed medicine cabinet or a surface mount medicine cabinet, you’re going to need a few tools. You will need:

1.  Hammer
2.  Nails
3.  Stud Finder
4.  Level
5.  Drill
6.  Screwdriver
7.  Measuring tape
8.  Saw

Before you do anything else, you’ll need to read all of the instructions that came with your medicine cabinet. Make sure that you have all of the hardware and tools you’ll need, and purchase construction adhesive if the manufacturer’s instructions call for it.

Once you’ve gathered your supplies, you’ll be ready to get started. First things first, you’ll need to find the studs you’ll be anchoring your medicine cabinet to.

If you can locate studs by tapping on the wall with your knuckle and listening to a solid sound versus a hollow sound, you won’t need a stud finder. Not everyone can do this, though, so if you can’t, just use your stud finder.

Next, mark the studs with your pencil. If you’re installing a recessed medicine cabinet, go ahead and skip the next section of this article and go straight to the section on recessed cabinets. If your cabinet is surface mounted, keep reading.

DIY at home toolbox kit


Installing a Surface Mounted Medicine Cabinet

Your surface mounted medicine cabinet should have 4 holes or slots in its back, near the corners. Line these up with the studs you’ve marked with your pencil. Use your level to make sure that the cabinet is square against the wall, with its top parallel to the ceiling, so that it doesn’t look crooked and awkward.

Use your pencil to mark where the holes of the cabinet are. Place the cabinet out of the way on the floor. Drill pilot holes into the studs. Now you can place the medicine cabinet back against the wall and screw or drill in the screws that will hold it in place.

Now you’ve successfully installed your surface mounted medicine cabinet. Have fun organizing all of the bottles and lavatory supplies that have been cluttering up your vanity!



Installing a Recessed Medicine Cabinet

Installing a recessed medicine cabinet is a little bit more involved than installing a surface mounted cabinet. You’re going to have to cut a hole in your drywall and make sure that your cabinet is securely anchored in place. If you don’t have any experience with carpentry, this is probably not the job to start with. If any of these instructions seem a bit too adventurous for you, go ahead and call the professionals to do the job right.

If you decide to continue with this project yourself, you might want to enlist the help of a friend for the first part. For this, you’ll need to hold the cabinet up to the wall and mark with your pencil where on the wall you want to place it. An extra pair of hands will help with this.

Mark out the dimensions of the cabinet with your pencil. Once you’re sure that the dimensions are correct and that you’ve chosen the correct placement, it’s time to cut the drywall away. Be careful here. If you are uncertain if there is any wiring or plumbing in the wall, between the studs, you’ll want to call a professional and make sure that you’re not about to cut into something vital or dangerous.


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With the medicine cabinet braced and level, drill anchor screws into the studs on either side of the cabinet. You may or may not want to add some caulk or construction adhesive to further help hold the cabinet in place.

At this point, if you’ve done everything correctly, your cabinet should be in place and ready to use. The door should hide the cutout in the wall, and it should just look like a mirror mounted on the wall above your sink.

We cannot stress enough how important it is to measure twice and cut once, and that includes taking stock of your abilities and skills with carpentry. If you aren’t comfortable with doing this yourself, call a professional contractor. It will cost you less to do it once right than to buy a new cabinet if you break the first one while trying to install it. Now, enjoy your new medicine cabinet!



Now That You Have Your Medicine Cabinet Installed, Now Time for Organization Tips

Over years of use, your medicine cabinet can get pretty cluttered so why not tackle it now when it is empty. Pinterest is a great place for ideas on how to do this…for pennies on the dollar!

cups and canisters medicine cabinet storage