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A Quick Look At How Bathroom Vanity Drawer Outlets Work (And How To Get One)

UPDATE: Since I wrote this article in 2018, many manufacturers have discontinued their bathroom vanity lines that feature drawer outlets. This is still one of our most-asked questions, though, so I’ve updated the information here exploring why this feature is so difficult to come by, as well as a few more readily-available alternatives.

There’s tons of advice out there about sneaking more storage into your bathroom and making your space more usable. But there’s one functional necessity that’s almost always in limited supply: bathroom outlets. For some, that might not be a big deal. But if you need somewhere to plug in your drier, hair straightener, curling iron, electric razor, electric toothbrush, water pick, and charge your cell phone before work? A single outlet probably isn’t going to cut it, and one overloaded with outlet extenders can be a fire hazard. Luckily, high tech bathroom vanities with built-in drawer outlets are becoming more common.

High Tech Drawer Outlets, Mass-Produced

Until recently, having outlets in the drawers of your kitchen or bathroom cabinets was something of a novelty; a luxury you might have heard of, but one that you’d have to have custom manufactured, often at great cost. But it’s a feature that’s definitely making waves, and one that’s become more common in the last few years. Nearly all the vanities in James Martin’s updated 2018 collection include one either in the back of a drawer or in an internal shelf, making them an actually-attainable convenience.

Update: In-drawer outlets have gone the way of the dodo (and back to mostly-custom work). But built-in outlets are an increasingly common feature of James Martin’s new vanities. They’ve also updated the remaining 2018 designs in their collection to have shelf-mounted rather than drawer outlets. That includes their Portland series, though the 60″ model above is one of the last remaining holdouts.

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How Do You Put A Working Outlet In A Drawer?

Once the novelty of the mere idea of having an outlet inside your drawers wears off, though, you’ll probably find yourself wondering how exactly they manage to fit a working outlet into a moving drawer. The answer is surprisingly hard to come by. For whatever reason, many companies are a bit opaque on the point of how to install these high-tech vanities. That can be a little disconcerting, if not outright off-putting. The good news is, setup is a snap. Just plug your new high-tech bathroom vanity into an existing outlet.

Update: With the benefit of hindsight, I suspect this tight-lipped attitude and the disappearance of these vanities from the market is probably related. Shelf outlets are much more straightforward, and just as simple to connect.

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Are Drawer Outlets Safe?

Of course, the actual how of building one of these vanities is a little more complicated. Before they were commonly mass produced, drawer outlets were made using somewhat makeshift parts. Think a standard outlet installed into the back of a shortened drawer, with a heavy-duty extension cord for power. These types of drawer outlets raised some safety concerns; specifically that the cord might become kinked, frayed, or damaged, and potentially cause a fire. Aka, a fire behind the drawer and out of sight where it can’t be monitored.

Update: the moving parts of drawer outlets are the big concern. Relocating them to a fixed shelf eliminates the complex engineering and leaves you with an attractive, built-in power strip.

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Engineering For Safety

Modern, mass produced outlet drawers tackle safety issues head on. For one, the outlets themselves different. Depending on the model, you can find outlets rated for different levels of power; ones with a combination of standard and USB plugs; and even ones with thermostatic safety shut-offs, in case you leave a curling iron on inside the drawer. Even more importantly, more sophisticated outlet drawers use a special mechanical arm to protect all the electrical wiring from the moving parts of the drawer. The arm folds and unfolds smoothly as you open the drawer, keeping the extension cord from bending or twisting and preventing potential damage long-term.

Update: This is all still true of quality custom outlet drawers. So for what it’s worth, I suspect their disappearance from mass production was more an issue of cost than safety. Shelf-mounted outlets don’t require any complex moving parts.

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Simpler Vanity Shelf Outlets

Outlets installed onto shelves rather than in the backs of drawers are, of course, much simpler to pull off. You don’t have to worry about moving parts, and the outlet itself is generally pretty unobtrusive. These types of outlets are a little more common, but work functionally the same way; you plug a cord coming out the back of the vanity into a wall outlet to power the outlet inside. In-drawer outlets are a little more convenient for storing stuff you use every day and want to keep plugged in (with the messy cords concealed), like a hair drier or curling iron. But shelves give you an extra outlet at about knee-height that you can use with your vanity door open. Still a great way to avoid having to constantly plug and unplug your every-day counter-top items.

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Other Ways To Add An Outlet To Your Bathroom

If you’re really hungry for outlets, I have even more good news. Bathroom vanities aren’t the only appliances getting a high tech update! You can also find medicine cabinets with built-in outlets and other cool features; think built in speakers, bluetooth connectivity, and USB charge and data connection, so you can play music directly from your phone while it charges (and while it’s safe inside a waterproof cabinet). Depending on the model, these may require a little more specialized installation. But a high tech medicine cabinet will afford you not only more outlets, but also fun functionality for your space.

Not having enough outlets is a perennial household problem. But these days fixing it doesn’t have to be an unobtainable luxury. Whether you just want one more plug for your pesky curling iron or want to charge half a dozen devices while listening to tunes in the shower, an extra outlet or two can make your morning go a lot more smoothly.

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