Painting Tile Is One Alternative to Full Replacement

Painting Tile - Adhesion Primer from Sherwin Williams

Sherwin Williams

Painting tile seems like the ultimate win-win solution for nasty—or just tired—tiles in your bathroom or kitchen. After all, tile is permanent. The tile installed by Romans is still here 2,000 years later. Tile replacement is not an easy task. That's why many homeowners who would not ordinarily consider painting tile begin to think in that direction.

Painting surfaces that were not meant to be painted should give you some pause.

The surface of the ceramic tile is glazed to a high sheen to repel practically anything—dirt, smudges, dust, oil, food, etc.

If you've ever dripped latex paint on the tile while painting walls you probably know how easy it is to scrape off the paint with your fingernail.

If You Successfully Paint Your Tiles

  • It prolongs the life of tiles.
  • It avoids costly and messy ripping out and re-installation of tiles.
  • It achieves exactly the color you want, rather than being limited to the "baked-in" tile colors.
  • It allows you to patch cracks and dings (the paint will cover up the patch material).

Risks Include

  • The paint will begin to peel over time.
  • The painted tiles also mean painted grout.
  • It requires extensive tile-cleaning to prepare the surface.
  • Future buyers of your home may be put off by painted tile.
  • At best, painting tile is a temporary fix; it will not last as long as the Romans' 2,000-year-old tiles.

Use Tile Paint

Tile paint generally can be grouped into one of three categories:

  1. Spray Paint: Cans of epoxy modified acrylic paint such as Valspar Terracotta (which is texturized) or Valspar Premium Enamel Spray Paint (untextured).
  2. Two-Part Paint: Mix part A with part B, resulting in a third substance that you brush or spray onto the tile. XIM Tile DOC Kit is one such product.
  3. Two-Process Paint: Rust-Oleum Tile Transformations is the best-known example of two-process tile paint. You apply a bonding agent and then apply the top finish coat.

Prepare the Surface for Painting

You probably already know that any painting job requires extensive surface preparation, such as sanding and cleaning. When painting tile, this is crucial because the margin for error is so slim.

You can get by and forget to clean or sand the wood that you are painting. However, forget to prepare your tile surface properly, and you may find the paint peeling off six months later. One exacerbating problem is that, unlike painting a house exterior, you cannot simply hit the tile with a pressure washer. This tile is in your home interior, so you have to go easy on the water:

  1. Assess exactly where your tile is located because this makes a difference. Tile counters (around stoves) and tile backsplashes near stoves will be the hardest to clean due to years of grease buildup. Tile around bathtubs and showers have a similar problem, but in this case with soap and cleansers. Even within a single field of tile, you can have different areas, some cleaner than others. A tile surround in a bathtub/shower will undoubtedly have much soap and cleanser buildup in the lower rows of tile. The tile in the upper rows will be relatively clean.
  2. Begin by taking off the large areas of imperfection—mold, mildew, gunk—with a commercial cleaner, rinse with clean water and let thoroughly dry.
  3. Clean with TSP, rinse well.
  4. Use a hand-held orbital sander with fine-grit paper (400 grit or higher—remember, higher numbers mean a finer grit). Hit the tile lightly. The intention is not to completely sand off the glaze but to further remove grease, soap, and other types of buildup, and to lightly scuff the glaze.
  5. Clean thoroughly with water.
  6. Use a tack cloth. When the tack cloth comes up completely clean, the tile is ready for painting.


Given the difficulties of painting your tile, it is worth looking at a couple of alternatives:

  1. Bathtub-Shower Refinishing Companies: These companies, in addition to refinishing showers and tubs with industrial-grade paints, often will paint tile. For a higher cost than DIY-painting (but a lower cost than full replacement), you can have a refinisher do your paint job.
  2. Lay New Tile Straight Over Old: No, this is not tile-painting, but note that you do not necessarily need to remove old tile before installing new tile. Cement backer board can be laid over old tile as a sub-surface for new tile. In some cases, if the old tile is in good enough condition, it can be the sub-surface for the new tile—no backer needed.