Waterproofing Drawer Bottoms

When a customer wants to stash wet, muddy boots in the bottom drawers, how do you protect them? March 26, 2008

I recently built some lockers for a customer and they now wish to store wet boots in the bottom drawers. Yuk! Has anyone used a coating that is not too ugly? They have looked for plastic trays and such with no luck. The drawers vary in size, so a brush on coating seems like it might work. I would be willing to fabricate pans for each drawer if I knew of a material to use. We have considered shower pan rubber, but it seems like a tough one.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
Though it would be ugly, Ice and Water Shield would do it.

From contributor L:
How about a 3/4" solid surface material that you could size and router out the inside so it would be like a shallow pan? Spendy, though, and heavy. If the drawers have no finish on them (raw wood), you could coat them with West System epoxy and this should be waterproof. How about applying a countertop laminate? It wouldn't have an edge so it wouldn't be a pan, but it would protect the bottom. You could even wrap the sides and caulk the seam. That's all I have for now.

From contributor A:
I have used thin sheet acrylic (0.080" or 1/8") cut to size of drawer bottom, and edged with a small bead of clear silicone in a similar application. I've also supplied same (without caulk) as shelf liners as an upgrade. If you don't have a special blade for cutting acrylic, a 60T TCG blade with a neg. hook works pretty well.

From the original questioner:
The drawers are finished with Sherman Williams pre-cat, but I am still looking for something to coat them with. There are 7 of them and not very small.

From contributor M:
Just use the West System - it's easy and will be indestructible for your application. One thinned down coat to soak in, and a regular coat after that.

From contributor I:
West System sure sounds easy, but will it even stick to the finish or to the drawer bottom that I believe is epoxy painted hardboard? Sold to me as vinyl coated, but I have seen lots of it before sold as painted and that's what I think it is. West System - will it stick to that stuff or to the pre-cat lacquered sides? Is it really that easy?

From contributor N:
Try a little bit of store bought epoxy. If it sticks, then so will the West System.

From contributor Z:
Epoxy sticks to almost anything with the exception of polypropylene plastic (PP). That's what the mixing containers as well as most food containers (yogurt cups, etc.) are made of. I do not think this is a good application for epoxy. I believe the best product would be a marine grade 2 part linear polyurethane paint (Awlgrip brand). This sprays beautifully. It is essentially bombproof. I believe it is harder than epoxy. Sanding it off a surface is a real pain in the butt. Awlgrip is the real thing. The newer 2k polys designed for the woodworking industry are not as durable, but not as toxic. I would outsource this to a boat sprayer or an auto sprayer. Another product that the auto guys will recommend is Imron (old school 2 part acrylic topcoat for cars). It's pretty bombproof as well, but more brittle. You can brush the Awlgrip, but a normal respirator will not work for the fumes. You need a forced air mask.

From contributor R:
The whole idea would make me very uncomfortable. Because... where is all the water from the wet boots going to go? It is either going to evaporate in a smallish enclosed space, raising the humidity in that space to a problematic level, or because of the smallish space, it won't completely evaporate, and leave the boots still wet. I'd guess a combination of the above, which is going to lead to a hellish mess of accelerated rusting of metal components (drawer slides), or accelerated failure of the finish, or breakdown of the cabinet (particularly if it is particleboard), or moldy mildewy growth, or dank damp uncomfortable boots, or ____________ (insert the nasty of your choice here).

The closest example I can think of is a wet locker on a boat. These are designed to have wet articles put in them, and usually have drainage and louvered or otherwise aerated doors. And even then if you go into one that is regularly used for this purpose, they are nasty places.

From contributor O:
Working with sheet acrylic is easy. You can make (or have fabricated to your specs) a liner box to fit within the drawer... Once the sides and bottom are glued together, it's basically a fish tank without the water or fish.

From contributor T:
Hey guys... My wife just read this over my shoulder and said it's just like a bunch of
you (cabinetmakers) guys to over-engineer a simple problem. Her suggestion: Buy them a throw rug to put in front of the lockers and tell them to wipe their feet (our house). Throw an old bath towel in the drawer and when it gets dirty/wet, wash it. Unless you are going to charge them a lot of money per drawer, is their problem going to keep you up at night?

From contributor V:
What are the drawers made of?
What state and city are you in?
What is the temperature range?
Is this wet storage seasonal or all year long?
Is the pre-cat a lacquer or conversion varnish or what?
How much water are we talking about and how long will the water sit there?
How much ventilation is in the room?

What is the humidity in the room, and does it vary?

I am a general contractor and have used many a waterproofing product as well as finishes on houses and cabinets and furniture. On top of that my father was a painting contractor for 50+ years. All the above questions need answers to really nail down what you need because it seems that you are trying to balance looks with performance.

A couple of things I can suggest are an exterior elastomeric paint that you can get in almost any color. The problem may be adhesion as it usually likes a rough or very porous surface. However if you check with your paint store, they sell bonding additives that can be put in certain types of paint that will get it to stick to almost anything.

Another product that I am using instead of lacquer is Benjamin Moore Stays Clear floor finish. It is a water base and leaves a really nice finish on cabinets (I brush it, but I hear it can also be sprayed successfully). Needless to say it is much tougher than regular cabinet finishes. I was also told by my paint store guy that some painters are using it as an in-between primer, so to speak. In other words, the clear acrylics don't like to stick to varnishes (or vice versa), so they put this on first and then put the acrylic or varnish on afterward.

I have used it in areas that get a lot of humidity (bathroom vanities) on fairly sensitive veneers and it holds up like nobody's business. Do not thin it more than just a smidgen or you will lose the adhesive qualities of the material. I usually put three coats on the exteriors and two inside drawers. It dries really fast in moderate weather but a fan will speed it up a lot. (Don't ever use excessive heat to dry paint, as it will seal the surface too fast and will actually slow sown the drying time).

If what you are doing is a light moisture situation with just a few drops of water here and there, then this may work for you. If not, don't waste your time with it. I also recommend caulking the seams of the drawers with a good siliconized caulk (Alex Plus or better) after the coating is applied except in the case of the elastomeric.

Always remember that silicone is the "S" word. It is only good for shower doors and aquariums. Other than that it doesn't hold up for anywhere as long as a good caulk. It also hates sunlight. If I wake up in the middle of the night with that perfect solution I will let you know.