How to Paint Tile
Replacing ceramic or porcelain tile adds value to a home. But new tile can be expensive. Tile-setting, too, is difficult to master—many do-it-yourselfers opt for professional tile-setting. If that wasn't enough, demolishing and disposing of old tile is laborious, messy, and hardly environmentally friendly.
Painting tile is a faster, lower cost, and significantly cleaner alternative to full tile replacement. While painted tile will never last as long as new tile, it's a project that can extend the life of the tile and restore it to an almost-new appearance.
Before You Begin
Understanding the main types of primer and tile paint can help you choose the one best for your project.
For painting tile, use a primer with "bonding" in its name. Avoid concrete, masonry, or metal primers. Bonding primers form an adhesive link between the tile and the paint with special resins not found in universal primers. The bonding primer will mitigate peeling, flaking, and chipping.
- One-part epoxy paint: One-part epoxies are easy to work with since multiple coats are not required. One-paint epoxies are air-cured products. By contrast, multi-stage epoxies cure by a chemical process. Some one-part epoxies are found in spray can form.
- Two-part epoxy paint: After one component is mixed with a second component, the resulting substance is brushed or rolled onto the tile. It's usually easier to find two-part epoxies, so more choices are available.
- Two-process paint: This type of tile paint requires two separate steps. First, you apply a bonding agent. Second, you apply the top finish coat. Two-process tile paint is tough and long-lasting.
Pros and Cons of Painting Tiles
Avoids removal of the existing tile
Provides a chance to fix minor tile problems
Less expensive than tile replacement
Paint may peel over time
Covers the grout in addition to the tile
Requires extensive preliminary work
Ventilate the area and wearing breathing protection when using bonding primer and tile paint.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Paint roller and cover
- Paint tray and liner
- Tack cloth
- Orbital sander
- Putty knife
- Clean bucket
- Scouring pad sponge
- Latex or latex-substitute gloves
- Eye, hearing, and breathing protection
- Tile paint
- Bonding primer
- Polyurethane clear coat
- TSP or TSP-substitute cleaner
- Paintable caulk
- Exterior-grade waterproof spackling paste
- Tile grout
- Painter's tape
- Sheet plastic
Clean the Tile
Fill the bucket with warm water and add the TSP to the bucket. Wearing gloves, wipe down the tile to remove as much of the dirt as you can. Start at the top and work downward, frequently changing out the bucket with warm water and TSP. Rinse the tile with clean water and let it dry.
What Is TSP?
Trisodium phosphate, known as TSP, is an odorless dry powder. When mixed with water, it becomes a highly effective cleaner for cutting through grease and grime. In some areas, TSP is banned. If that's the case for your area, look for phosphate-free substitutes.
Repair the Tile
Thin cracks and small chips on the tile surface can be repaired with caulk. While wearing gloves, apply a small amount of caulk to the crack or chip and wipe it level with your finger.
Larger defects can be filled in with exterior-grade waterproof spackle. As with the caulk, apply a tiny amount to the crack or chip. Use the putty knife to wipe off the excess, bringing the filler down to the tile surface.
Repair the Grout
Since painting tile means painting over the grout, it must be in good condition. For small spot repairs, use tile grout sold in tubes. Apply the grout with a gloved finger, then wipe away. For more extensive grout damage, remove the grout and replace it with new grout.
Sand the Tile
While wearing eye, hearing, and breathing protection, use a hand-held orbital sander equipped with sandpaper in the #100 to #150 grit range. Do not sand down to the tile body (the section below the glazing). Instead, scuff up the glaze.
Clean the Tile With Tack Cloth
Clean the tile with water. After the tile has dried, clean once more with a tack cloth. Hard pressure on the tack cloth will embed beeswax on the tile surface, requiring another round of sanding. Keep the pressure light.
Protect Non-Paintable Areas
Use painter's tape and sheet plastic to protect areas that will not be painted.
Apply the Bonding Primer
Pour a small amount of bonding primer into a lined paint tray. Dip the paint roller into the primer, then roll out the excess on the tray until the roller is nearly dry. Roll the primer onto the tile, being careful not to press too hard on the roller. Apply only a thin coat to avoid dripping.
After the primer has dried, apply a second thin coat of primer.
Paint the Tile
Put a new liner in the paint tray. Add only a small amount of paint to the tray reservoir, then roll out the roller until it is almost dry. Roll the tile surface with one coat of paint. Fill in and touch up the edges with a paintbrush.
Let the paint cure, then apply a second coat. If two coats are not sufficient, you can add a third coat after the second coat has dried.
Apply a Sealer
Once the paint has completely cured, apply two coats of polyurethane sealer to protect the color coats.
5 Tips for Painting Tile
Painting tile is unlike many other painting projects because tile surfaces do not take paint well. Tile surfaces are often glazed to a high sheen to repel practically anything—dirt, smudges, dust, oil, and yes, paint. The key to painting tile is to give the surface tooth—an informal term for dullness or a lack of gloss.
- Choose the best surface: Painting tile works best on vertical surfaces such as dry or low-moisture walls or backsplashes. It also works well on low-impact horizontal surfaces such as select tile countertops.
- Clean the tile: Because tile is a protective surface, years of dirt and grime can be difficult to remove. Take time to thoroughly clean all areas of the tile, especially the grout seams.
- Scuff the tile: Glossy surfaces shed paint more easily. Sanding the tile surface creates a matte finish—tooth—to help the paint stick better and longer. Tile will never have the porosity of wood. But sanding away the gloss does expose some of the pores below the tile glazing.
- Primer the tile: While the use of primer may be debatable with other surfaces, it's mandatory with difficult surfaces like tile. Always use primer, and make sure that it's a bonding primer.
- Use tile paint only: Acrylic-latex interior or exterior house paints should not be used when painting tile. For better results and maximum durability, use epoxy paint or paint designated as tile paint.
When to Call a Professional
Professional painters usually deal with walls and ceilings more than kitchen or bathroom tile counters or wall surrounds. But companies that refinish bathtubs usually include tile coating or painting in their list of services.