Can You Paint Tile? Here's What You Need to Know Before Getting Started

If the tile surfaces in your home leave much to be desired, you might wonder if painting (rather than replacing) is an option. Here’s what you need to know before you begin this home improvement project.

Tile in your bathroom or kitchen looking drab? You have a few options when it comes to upgrading them, including tearing out old tile and replacing it, or painting over tile. Replacing tile is usually a costly and labor-intensive endeavor that needs planning and patience. Painting tile, however, seems like an easy and affordable alternative. But you might be wondering if it really works and how long painted tiles last. How do you prevent them from peeling or chipping? Which tools, equipment, and paints work on ceramic, porcelain, or glass tiles? Before committing to painting tile, here's everything you need to know about the home improvement project.

kitchen with green and white cabinets and stenciled floor tiles
Annie Schlechter

First Things First: Can You Paint Tile?

Absolutely! There are many reasons why people opt to paint tiles. First, it's a cost-effective upgrade. Painting tiles can spruce up your space and extend the life of tiles in high-traffic areas, like floors, kitchens, and bathrooms.

However, paint also covers the original characteristics of the tile, and grout lines will likely be painted over. In areas with lots of traffic and water, painting tiles is not recommended. Shower tiles, in particular, are not recommended for painting, because the paint tends to chip quickly.

"​​When painted correctly bathroom tiles look extremely impressive. The best part is that your outdated ugly colored tiles will be completely transformed in a day, versus a week if you have to completely gut the bathroom," says Tomas Satas of Windy City HomeBuyer. But he does not advise that a homeowner buy a refinishing kit and do bathroom tiles themselves. Instead, he suggests a professional paint job with high-quality epoxy paint, which is extremely durable and difficult to scratch or damage.

Can You Paint Bathroom Tile?

According to Bob Vila, most tiles, except for glazed quarry tiles, can be painted over. Ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone are fair game, but they need to be sanded, primed, and painted with epoxy paint. Bathroom walls and backsplashes are better suited for painting.

What about the shower, though? While shower surfaces can be painted, it's not practical or cost-effective. Due to constant exposure to water and moisture, bathroom tiles are more susceptible to premature fading, peeling, or blistering.

The Best Paint for Tile

Not every paint type is suitable for tiles. Water-based paints disintegrate, and ordinary wall paint won't stick to the surface. Epoxy paint is a good option because it is highly resistant to abrasion and cleaning solutions. Alkyd urethane and enamel paint are commonly used, as well as silicone-based paint. There are also specific water-resistant tile paints available that are built to withstand the high temperatures and moisture of kitchens and bathrooms.

Pros of Painting Tile

It's cost-effective. It is more economical to paint tiles than to replace them. Painting provides a cost-effective way to renew the look and feel of old tiles. Painting materials are cheap compared to extensive replacement options.

Homeowners can complete the project themselves. Painting tiles can be a simple DIY task that can transform the color and pattern of a room. You can customize your tiles to suit your needs and style. Painted tiles also require minimal maintenance. Regular cleaning with a gentle detergent will do the trick.

Cons of Painting Tile

Expect a lot of prep work. Painting tile requires extensive preliminary work, including repairing any broken tiles and priming the surface.

It's not permanent. Painting tiles is not a permanent solution. Instead, it prolongs the life of your existing tiles. Paint will eventually peel or crackle. Greater exposure to moisture or foot traffic will hasten deterioration. Using mats and rugs, especially in high traffic areas, will prolong the life of your painted tiles.

Also, paint needs time to dry. Your kitchen or bathroom will be out of commission for a little while. So, schedule this during a time when few people will need to use those spaces.

Tips for Painting Tile

Gather all the materials you'll need, including paint, primer, a roller and brushes, sealant, and any stencils for a patterned finish. Next, clean and dry the tiles thoroughly before painting. Dirt, dust, grease, mold stains, or food residue can prevent paint from adhering correctly, so don't skip this step.

Then, repair any damaged tiles. To fix broken tiles, use a two-way epoxy filler that is also paintable. Sanding the tiles will give the paint something to adhere to, especially for high-gloss tiles. Finally, prime the tiles before painting. Be sure to give them adequate time to dry and apply any sealants before resuming normal use.

While kitchen tiles can be manageable for the handyperson in your home, Satas says it's important to find a skilled worker who will stand behind their work when it comes to painting bathroom tiles. Daily exposure to water and humidity makes this job best for someone who has years of expertise under their belt. He says this staying power helps ensure the contractor will honor a warranty for the job and correct any areas that need to be touched up.

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