How to Install a Medicine Cabinet
When I first thought about renovating one of my bathrooms it always seemed to be too big of a
project and that mindset held me back for year.Â For years I lived with this all or nothing mentality
rather than making smaller changes that lead to big results. It was not a matter of money, I just
wanted to do it all at once, but inevitably I did nothing.
Finally I started doing smaller projects in the bathroom such as installing a new medicine cabinet
above the bathroom sink and vanity. This particular model was a surface mounted version, although
it had an option to be recessed into the wall.Â It also had four lights along the top that were built
into the cabinet.
If you want to install a cabinet so that it is recessed into the wall, measure the space carefully before
going out and buying a new one. In fact, the measurement is so critical that you probably need to
remove the old one first to get an accurate measurement.Â However, if it contains lights within the
cabinet assembly, do not forget to turn off the power at the circuit box before removing any pieces.
As far as home improvement projects, this is one of the easiest ones and does not require a lot of
specialized tools. Typically you will only need a power drill, possibly a masonry bit if your walls are
made of tile, a screwdriver, 3 foot level, tape measure and maybe some wire strippers if you are
running new wire.
If you are rewiring for built-in lights, check with your local codes because they may require that the
work be performed by an electrician. In that case, you may need to get a permit before the work is
Types of Medicine Cabinets
Medicine cabinets come in all styles and colors, some steel, other made of wood or plastic. There is a
price point for every type of buyer.
There are basically three types of medicine cabinets.
Recessed Cabinets - installedÂ into the wall between two wall studs with the front flush with the
Surface Mounted - the back of these united are flush with the wall and have holes in the back to
mount to the wall. Most professionals recommend that if your bathroom wall is a load bearing wall,
you should install a surface mounted unit. This is the easiest type of medicine cabinet to install.
Semi Recessed Unit - mounted between the studs inside the wall and protrudes slightly past the
drywall on the exterior.
Installing a New Surface Mounted Medicine Cabinet
The following steps assume that you are removing an old cabinet and installing a surface mounted
unit with lighting attached within the unit.
Turn off the power to the bathroom at the circuit breaker box then remove an electrical tape or wire
nuts from the connections.
Remove any screws that hold the medicine cabinet in place then the unit should pull freely from the
Now you may be staring at a big hole in the wall depending on whether or not you have removed an
old recessed model. Surface mounted versions do not mount to the sides of the wall studs like a
recessed one, so you will need to create some wall anchors first before proceeding.
Hold the new cabinet up in place where it will sit and place a 3 foot level on top of it to make sure it
While holding it steady, mark the locations of where the wall anchors will go through the
holes in the back of the cabinet. If you are are installing it on drywall, these can be done with a
pencil. However, if you are working with tile, you either need to use a black marker or drill a small
hole to mark the location until you can drill further.
Now that the location of the screw holes are marked, set the new cabinet aside and drill holes into
the wall as specified by the manufacturer.Â The unit will probably include plastic anchors to surface
mount it to any wall, but if you are installing a large unit into drywall, you may need to buy stronger
anchors at the hardware store. For a tile wall mount, the plastic anchors will work fine for any
normal sized medicine cabinet.
With the hole drilled and the anchors inserted into each one, position the cabinet on the wall so the
holes in the back line up with the anchor holes on the wall. Some people like to start driving the
screws to hold the cabinet in place with a screwdriver, then finish it up with a power drill. However,
do not completely tighten any of the screws into all of the screws have been inserted and are
partially tightened. Alternate tightening each one in place, sort of like you would alternate
tightening lug nuts on are a car wheel.
Route the electrical wires from the breaker into the cabinet and secure them.
Connect the ground wire to the cabinet.
Connect the black wire to the black wire on the unit.
Connect the white wire to the white wire on the unit.
Place a wire nut on each connection, then wrap with black electrician's tape.
If you purchased a metal cabinet that does not have flush sides, you can easily create them using
small pieces of wood purchased in any home improvement store. Then simply glue them to the sides
of the metal box with construction adhesive for a flush, professional look.
In all, this type of project should only take a few hours depending on the type of installation you are
doing and how much electrical work is involved. The biggest expense will be the type of medicine
cabinet you decide upon as there are not special tools or additional items required for installation.Â
You can easily replace your old unit with a very nice, modern looking fixture for under $200.