How to treat your wooden bathroom furniture?
You’ve just seen a beautiful bathroom in your favorite magazine! The bathroom’s vanity is made of wood. You really like the look, but a question comes up: "Can I actually put a wooden vanity in the bathroom?". Didn’t I hear that humidity is wood’s worst enemy? Yes, but there is a but. It all depends on the wood’s specie and its protection. Between varnish, epoxy and oil, there are certainly major differences in look, but in the end, all these products will provide a water repellent treatment to your bathroom furniture.
By reading this article, you will see that if you follow a few guidelines, you will be able to give your new bathroom a nice look with a wooden furniture whether it is coated with varnish, epoxy or an eco-friendly oil.
Determine the wood specie of your bathroom furniture
It may be useful at first to know that wood species can be segmented into 5 wood classes defined by NF EN 335. They include wood species subjected to:
Class 1: a moisture content always below 18%.
Class 2: an occasional moisture content greater than 18%.
Class 3: a moisture content frequently higher than 18%.
Class 4: moisture content still above 18% and fresh water.
Class 5: salt water
While the vast majority of wood species meet Class 4 conditions of use with adequate treatment, some wood species do not meet Class 1 conditions without treatment. This is particularly the case for white fir and hemlock for softwoods and maple, birch, ash, beech, poplar and linden for hardwoods. Some species of wood reach Class 2 conditions, such as pine, red oak and elm, Class 3 conditions such as Douglas fir, larch and red cedar, walnut and oak, and some unprotected woods even reach conditions of Class 4 such as black locust (false acacia) and teak.
In a bathroom, it is desirable to get at least Class 2 protection. So you now know why it is essential to add a water protective finish to lots of wood species. If you decide to take an exotic wood grade 4 or 5, be sure to look for PEFC certification and FSC label. They will ensure that the wood comes from sustainable forests and is respectful of local workers and indigenous peoples.
Choose the best coating product according to your needs
Depending on the chosen wood specie, you will need to treat and protect your wooden furniture from water and humidity. With the exception of wax, all finishing products will provide waterproof protection. This is the case for oil, varnish and epoxy. To choose either product, you must compare the visual appearance, ease of application, scratch resistance and ease of repair for each finish.
Differences in visual appearanceIn the case of varnish, it is possible to obtain matte to gloss finishes. The glossier the varnish, the more it will highlight the defects and imperfections of your wooden bathroom cabinet. That's why matte finishes are prioritized for sober and modern looks. Regarding epoxy, according to the manufacturers, this is the equivalent of about 50 coats of varnish in a single application. Epoxy will act as the addition of a glass to the surface of your wooden furniture.
Regarding oil, it is the best product to keep the natural appearance of your wood and to bring out all the richness of the wood’s veining. The appearance will vary depending on the resin and pigment content as well as the method of application. Because it is necessary to obtain water repellent properties, your oil needs to contain a resin. This is the case, for example, with the product LINN 1703 - Bathroom Oil which is particularly resistant to stagnant water, soap and toothpaste. It should be noted that the more resin the oil contains, the more satin it will be. To increase the gloss level, you can apply the oil with a polishing pad, or if you wish a more matt finishing then simply apply the natural oil with a cotton wick.
If it is already tricky to add a varnish over an oil, adding epoxy on the oil needs to be done after the solvent has completely evaporated and the oil has hardened. Conversely, it will be completely unnecessary to apply oil over another finish, as oil is a saturation product and must penetrate into the wood.
Ease of application
The ease of varnish application depends very much whether it is water, oil or alcohol based. Water and alcohol based varnishes dry very quickly. This makes theses varnishes more tricky to apply. You need to apply water and alcohol varnishes along with the grain of the wood by forming strips. When go back next to a strip, make sure the edge is always moist. Otherwise, brush marks will appear.
Oil varnishes as well as natural oils are the easiest to apply. Their longer drying time makes these products easy to work with. The only problem with oil varnishes is that its odor is so strong that it can remain inconvenient for almost a week. They can both be applied with a brush, but natural oil can also be applied with a cotton wick which enable a thinner coat to be applied and therefore avoiding product loss. Natural oil is easier to apply as it does not require a specific direction of application to obtain a beautiful finish. This can be of great use to hard-to-reach places. In addition, dust generation is not a problem, as it will be easily removed with a dry cloth after the oil has hardened.
As for epoxy, is the most difficult product to apply. You will not be able to apply epoxy directly in your bathroom. Epoxy should be applied in a separate room (unless you have a very large bathroom) and you will need to protect your floor because epoxy is applied by pouring it onto the surface and will therefore run out to the floor. It also requires the use of a dryer to remove the air bubbles that would form. In addition, any form of dust and contaminant that is not removed before the epoxy hardens will be trapped until coating is redone.
Scratch resistance and ease of repair
On this subject, there are two strategies that are completely opposed to one another. The first one, more traditional, is to apply the product that is a most scratch resistant as possible. The more expensive the product is, the more it is expected to be tough... until you see a first scratch, then a second and so on. Time passes and you tolerate these imperfections on your bathroom furniture until the day you cannot anymore... On this day “D”, you must start all over again! As such, the great champion in this sustainability battle is epoxy followed by oil varnish and then water-based varnish.
Natural oil takes a completely different approach... this is to give the surface of your wooden bathroom furniture an almost infinite lifetime! With natural oil, it is possible to build coats on top of the other and thus build a finish on the very long term. In the case of deeper scratches in the wood, it is easy to sand down locally and apply oil again. The results? Scratches disappear underneath the new oil coat and your wooden bathroom cabinet keeps a new appearance even after 10, 20 or 50 years.
The steps to treat your wooden bathroom furniture
Whether you choose varnish, epoxy or a natural oil finish, in any project, surface preparation is what determines the success of a wood finish.
Application of a varnish
If you decide to apply a varnish on your wooden bathroom cabinet, make sure your wooden surface is clean and dry, with no stains or traces of grease. The latter would prevent the products from adhering well to the surface. If such traces are present, sand lightly to expose the wood.
Stir the product and apply with a brush. If it is a water-based or alcohol-based varnish, be careful to apply the product in the direction of the grain of the wood by forming strips. Proceed quickly enough to avoid creating a brush mark as these types of varnish dry very quickly.
Apply 2 to 4 coats depending on the type of varnish to prevent water infiltration. The application should be as uniform as possible so to decrease the risk of creating imperfections that are tricky to correct. Sand before the last coat of varnish for a finer quality finish.
Application of epoxy
Applying an epoxy finish requires more care and preparation than any other type of finish and often only applies to the top of the furniture. It will therefore be necessary to apply another finishing product to the vertical surfaces of your wooden bathroom cabinet. Be sure to put a temporary flooring underneath your wooden cabinet to protect it from product spillings that will be generated during application. It is important to level the surface of your wooden furniture in order to obtain a uniform layer of epoxy. Just as with varnish, make sure your wooden surface is clean and dry, with no stains or traces of grease.
Stir the resin and the hardening agent individually, then mix them together. Pour the mixture so that it spreads evenly over the entire surface. Smears on the edge of the furniture can be smoothed by sanding afterwards. After 5 minutes, heat the surface with a heat gun and a propane torch to blow the bubbles into the epoxy mixture. Avoid staying in the same place to avoid burning the resin. After 15 minutes, remove any contaminants that may be present. After 6 hours, the surface should no longer be sticky. Avoid putting objects on the surface for a minimum of three days.
Application of natural oil
Oil will bring out all the beauty and veining of the wood as well as all sanding defects! The quality of the finish will therefore depend more than any other type of finishing product on the sanding quality. If you are restoring a varnished piece of furniture, the surface must be clean and free from any trace of the old varnish in order to allow the oil to penetrate well into the pores of the wood.
If such varnish traces are present, perform a progressive sanding to expose the wood using an increasingly fine sanding paper. Depending on the type of finish desired, you can sand up to 180 grit. In all cases, always sand in the direction of the grain of the wood.
Stir well the natural oil to obtain a homogeneous product. Using a cotton cloth or wick, apply the oil to the surface of your wooden bathroom cabinet. After 10-15 minutes, wipe the excess of oil from the surface so that the coat does not become sticky. Wait 12-24h between coats and apply 2-3 coats. Do not place objects on the surface for a period of at least one week.
Say “Yes” to your new wooden bathroom cabinet!
Whichever type of finish you choose for your bathroom cabinet, opting for wood is creating a warm, natural and timeless classic space. If you found this article helpful, please let us know in the comment section.
To learn more about how to make your wooden projects look natural, download our comparison guide.
Thanks for that tip about using oil varnishes. I didn't know that they were so easy to work with, as you said! Do you have any videos on how to apply them properly?
Bram, you can watch the video of natural oil application on floor with French subtitles on YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZLFz_pDDaM
Here is another video of natural oil application with cotton wick also on YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLcrbqDdLK8
I am glad to find it. There are so many bloggers working on this part but this is one of the best innovative post ever. Thanks for such post.
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