How to Paint a Bathroom the Right Way

paint can and brushes in a bathroom

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Painting a living room or bedroom is a familiar project to most do-it-yourselfers. 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 and 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 final touches.

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

Instructions

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 components that dry to form the protective acrylic-latex layer on your wall. Often, it pays to buy better (and often more expensive) paints because they have more solids and thus 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. Drier areas of the bathroom need at least satin or eggshell paint sheens. Flat or matte sheens can develop water streaks and are not recommended for bathrooms.

Calculate the amount of paint needed for your room.

Clean All 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 bowl, or base. The messy section is the base, and that section will not be removed. Turn off the water supply at shutoff valve on the wall, flush the toilet to expel all water, then remove the tank with a couple of old towels on the floor to catch spills.

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 off 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 dip 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 by 2 feet, using angled strokes that roughly make a "W" on the wall, then fill in the blank areas of the W with a series of roughly parallel passes of the roller. Move to an adjacent area, making sure that you work from the wet edge of the preceding section.

Paint a Second Coat

Wait at least two hours for the paint to dry. 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 hardware and accessories that you removed earlier.