Can You Paint Bathroom Tile?

Yes, you can paint bathroom tile. But you need to carefully clean and prepare the tile, and you need the right kind of paint.

One of the advantages of a tiled wall or backsplash is its permanency. Once properly installed, grouted and sealed, tile is there to stay. The durability of tile, however, can also be a drawback when it loses its luster or you’re just tired of it, because demolishing tile is a major project. Rather than go to all the trouble, many homeowners choose to leave the tile as is and cover it with another material.

An even easier option is to paint the tile, which I did years ago to the bathroom in my rental unit. The paint gave the bathroom a fresh, new look and has stood the test of time.

I no longer own the unit, but when I was invited to walk through the property some 10 years after completing the project, the tile still looked great. Gone were the moldy grout lines that had been painted over, and the paint was free of chips and blemishes!

Can You Paint Bathroom Tile?

As someone who’s done it, absolutely. There are, however, some important considerations, because the process isn’t the same as painting a wall.

  • You must meticulously clean and scuff the tiles before you paint. Glazed tile, the kind you find most often on bathroom walls and kitchen backsplashes, is non-porous, so adhesion is the main concern. Any stray grease or soap scum left on the tile will result in lifting paint.
  • You can paint most tile, but tile with a clear urethane finish should not be painted. Use a razor scraper in an inconspicuous area to check for a clear finish.
  • You need to prime. Primer acts like an adhesive.
  • You need the right kind of paint. The best choice is a waterborne epoxy formulation such as Behr Pro. But some super hard acrylic resin formulations like Benjamin Moore Aura Bath and Spa or Majic Paints Diamond Hard Repurpose will also work.
  • Think twice before painting tile with lifting or cracks or crumbling grout, or tile subjected to unusual amounts of water. You’re probably better off covering that with a vinyl liner or wall panel.

Pros of Painting Bathroom Tile

Before you undertake any multistep home improvement project, know what benefits you’ll realize. With painting tile, here’s what to expect:

  • Cheap and easy upgrade: Painting tile provides a fast upgrade for your bathroom walls or kitchen backsplash at a fraction of the cost to replace them or cover them with something else.
  • Color control: You have hundreds of colors to choose from. If you make the wrong choice, you can always repaint.
  • Design flexibility: You don’t have to go for a solid color, although that’s the easiest approach. If you want, use a stencil to create painted patterns on the tile.
  • Easier cleaning: When you paint the grout as well as the tile, which is recommended, you’ll avoid cleaning moldy grout lines in the future. Here, learn how to change the color of grout.

How To Paint Bathroom Tile

As with any painting job, the quality and longevity of a tile paint job depends on the prep work. It’s even more important when painting tile, because without it, the paint will lift.

Here’s a quick overview of the prep and painting procedure:

  • Do an initial cleaning: Wash the tile thoroughly with a degreasing cleaner. A household cleaner containing ammonia is good, but a solution of 1/2-cup trisodium phosphate (TSP) substitute per gallon of warm water is better. This strong detergent really cuts through the grease, and it helps to dull the shiny surface of glazed tiles. Wear gloves and goggles.
  • Make repairs: Fill chips and cracks with a durable repair putty like Bondo All-Purpose Putty. Use a putty knife to force it into cracks in the tile and voids in the grout. Then scrape off the excess and, when the putty hardens, sand down the repairs with 120-grit sandpaper.
  • Sand the tile: Get out your handheld orbital sander, put on a sheet of 120-grit sandpaper¬†and sand the entire area you plan to paint. The sandpaper dulls the shine and makes micro etches that provide traction for the paint.
  • Clean again: Wipe down the entire area you sanded thoroughly with a damp rag to remove sanding dust.
  • Lay drop cloths and mask with tape: Put drop cloths (preferably canvas) on the floor to catch drips. Lay painter’s tape around the perimeter of the wall or backsplash and cover anything you don’t want to paint, like faucet handles or soap dishes.
  • Apply a coat of primer: Use a high-quality bonding primer like Insl-X Stix or Behr Bonding Primer. Apply it with a four-inch roller fitted with a long-nap (1/2-inch or longer) roller. Keep an angled trim brush handy for cutting in, painting around obstructions and filling in voids left by the roller.
  • Paint the first coat: Wait two or three hours for the primer to dry. Then scuff with 220-grit sandpaper, wipe off the dust and apply the first coat of paint.
  • Paint the second coat: Scuff the first coat with 220-grit sandpaper when it’s dry, which may take eight hours or more depending on the temperature and humidity. Apply a second coat, which should be the last one you need.

How Long Does Tile Paint Last?

The longevity of the paint in my former rental unit notwithstanding, tile paint isn’t meant for long-term repairs and generally starts to fade after about six years.

If you’ve done your prep work properly, however, it shouldn’t crack or peel, so you can always freshen it up with a new coat. Repainting is easier, because all the old paint needs is a good cleaning and scuffing. You shouldn’t need to prime it.

Chris Deziel
Chris Deziel has been active in the building trades for more than 30 years. He helped build a small city in the Oregon desert from the ground up and helped establish two landscaping companies. He has worked as a carpenter, plumber and furniture refinisher. Deziel has been writing DIY articles since 2010 and has worked as an online consultant, most recently with Home Depot's Pro Referral service. His work has been published on Landlordology, and Hunker. Deziel has also published science content and is an avid musician.