Install a Recessed or Surface Medicine Cabinet

By James Dulley

December 12, 2019 4 min read

Dear James: Now that our daughters are getting older, I need to install a large medicine cabinet in their bathroom for their things. Is a surface or a recessed one better? And how do I install one? — Gary T.

Dear Gary: Installing a medicine cabinet is the best way to increase the amount of storage in a bathroom. That spot on the wall is already being used for the mirror, so you might as well include some additional storage behind it.

Installing a surface-mounted medicine cabinet is definitely much easier than a recessed one, but either project is within the skill level of most homeowners. If you are adding a medicine cabinet with built-in lighting and there is an electric outlet nearby, it will be easier to run the wiring to a surface-mounted cabinet.

Before you make your decision on which type to get, visit a home center store to check out the various medicine cabinets. There will be at least 20 models on display and about 100 more in catalogs. Select one that compliments the bathroom decor and provides adequate storage space.

Steel cabinets are generally reasonably priced, durable and easy to install. You will see some with square corners and some with rounded corners. The ones with rounded corners are made from drawn steel, and the ones with square corners are welded together. Most people prefer the appearance of the square corners, but these are usually more expensive than the rounded corner models.

Medicine cabinets with lights positioned vertically down each side provide the best lighting for putting on makeup. Fluorescent tube lights use much less electricity and last 10 times longer than standard bulbs. To get the most natural color under the lights, purchase full-spectrum fluorescent tubes for the fixtures.

Also consider the shape of the mirror on the medicine cabinet. If your daughters are different heights or still growing, select a style that is taller rather than wider. This will accommodate different heights as your children grow.

The most difficult part about installing a surface-mounted medicine cabinet is finding the studs inside the wall. Use an electronic stud finder to locate them. Since you want to have the cabinet centered over the sink, you may be able to screw it securely into only one stud. Use appropriate hollow-wall anchors for the screws on the other side.

Installing a recessed cabinet requires you to cut a hole in the drywall. Before you start cutting, make sure there is no electrical wiring, plumbing, etc., behind the wall. Some new stud sensors also sense electric wires inside a wall. Another option is to carefully cut a small hole through the drywall and look inside.

Have a helper hold the cabinet against the wall, and draw a line around it on the wall. Cut out that section of drywall. Most likely, there will be a wall stud in the way where you want to install it. Using a reciprocating saw, remove a section of the stud, being careful not to cut through the other side of the wall.

Measure the distance inside the wall from one stud to another, and make two horizontal supports with 2-by-4's. Toenail these supports in place with 3-inch nails so the cabinet will fit snugly between them. Attach the cabinet to the supports with the hardware provided.

Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: JamesDeMers at Pixabay

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