How to Paint a Bathroom the Right Way

Master bathroom

 Joe Schmelzer / Getty Images

Painting a living room or bedroom is a familiar project for most do-it-yourself homeowners. With a minimum of effort, you can get a fantastic payoff. But painting the bathroom is a bit different than painting other areas of the home. Bathrooms are small, full of water from various sources, and they receive lots of heavy use. For beautiful results, it is important to pay special attention to all aspects of bathroom painting, from surface preparation and color choices to the process of painting, and the follow-up.

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 6 hours (for a small bathroom)
  • Total Time: 8 hours
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Materials Cost: $50 to $100

Tools and Supplies You Will Need


Use the Best Paint for the Bathroom

Bathrooms are wet places and water will eventually get on your paint, no matter how hard you try to avoid this. Some paint manufacturers sell what they call bathroom paint: a paint that has both mold-inhibiting agents and a better surface for resisting moisture.

Even if you don't want to buy special bathroom paint, you may want to spend a little bit more for a quality brand of paint. Some of the cheaper paints have the same pigment makeup as the more expensive paints, but they have fewer solids. Solids are the physical product that dries to form the protective acrylic-latex layer on your wall. Often, it pays to buy a better (and often more expensive) paint, so that more solids are deposited on your bathroom wall for greater durability.

The next time you look at shower tile, notice that the surface of the tile is glossy. Higher gloss sheens tend to do a better job of repelling moisture and debris than do flatter sheens.

If you have drywall in the upper section in the shower or tub stall area, go for higher gloss paint. Less water-intensive areas need at least satin or eggshell paint sheens. Choose semi-gloss or glossy sheens for the bathroom ceiling. Flat or matte sheens can develop water streaks and are not recommended for bathrooms.

Calculate the amount of paint needed for your room.

Choose a Color Appropriate for the Bathroom

Dark, weighty colors in small spaces can make the user feel claustrophobic. Should you automatically choose that classic bathroom color, white? Not necessarily. Light, airy, bright bathroom paint colors such as light-blue or light-yellow work well. Since darker paint colors make spaces feel small, any type of lighter color will be an improvement.

However, this is not an iron-clad edict. To make darker colors work in bathrooms, include other elements that leaven the ponderous feeling that dark colors bring on. Shiny, reflective chrome or brass sink fixtures or cabinet pulls add bright stars of light to dark spaces. Also, make sure that your bathroom lighting is adequate both for the space and for the color palette.

Thoroughly Clean Surfaces to be Painted

Soap scum and other embedded substances on surfaces can seriously interfere with your paint job. In other areas of the house, you can sometimes slide by without cleaning the walls. In particular, dining rooms and bedrooms usually just need a light dusting.

But in the bathroom, it is crucial to clean the walls. Soap scum around bathtub and shower surrounds can cause your nice paint job to peel off. And that's if you can even get the paint to stick in the first place. Trisodium phosphate, or TSP, might be considered a miracle cleaning product because it is so inexpensive, cleans off the gunk, and won't compromise your paint job.

Remove the Toilet Tank

It is exceedingly difficult to paint around toilet tanks and do a good job of it. Specifically, the problem is that narrow crack between the tank and the wall. The space is so small, you have to meticulously apply painter's masking film and painter's tape around the tank, then daub the brush repeatedly in that area to get a solid color. Instead of working around the obstruction, the best move is to remove the obstruction.

Removing the toilet tank may sound messy and difficult, but it is not. Toilets typically come in two sections: the top tank and the lower seat. The messy section is the seat, and that section will not be removed. Turn off the water supply at the toilet base, flush the toilet to expel all water, then remove the tank with a couple of old towels on the floor to collect run-off.

Remove All Other Obstructions

Remove wall plates, mirrors, bathroom exhaust vent grilles, towel racks, and any other items that you may remove relatively easily.

Cover Areas That Will Not be Painted

Tape away the ceiling, trim, bathtub surround, backsplash, and other areas that will not be painted. Drape drop cloths over the bathroom vanity, sink, mirror, and over the flooring.

Cut In the Paint

With the 2-inch sash brush, paint up against the painter's tape in all areas. Keep the brush fairly dry when painting against the tape to avoid drips.

Paint With the Roller

Fit the roller cover on the roller frame. Open the paint can and pour paint into the bottom reservoir of the paint tray. Generously drip the roller cover in the paint, then thoroughly roll it out on the upper area of the paint tray.

Paint a square area about 2 feet by 2 feet with a W-shape, then fill in the blank areas of the W-shape. Move to an adjacent area, making sure that you work off of a wet edge.

Paint a Second Coat

Wait at least two hours for the paint to fully cure. In cool or wet conditions, the paint will take longer to dry.

Repeat the earlier painting process. Begin by cutting in the paint, then move to rolling out the walls.

Clean and Finish

Remove the painter's tape after the paint has dried. Remove drop cloths, properly disposing of any plastic sheeting. Replace faceplates, the toilet tank, towel bars, and any other obstructions that you earlier removed.