Porous materials, such as wood and drywall, take well to paint. Their pores aid in grabbing the finish and helping it stick. But tile has a couple of factors working against it when it comes to painting.
First, bathroom tile used for interior applications, such as showers and bathtubs, is dense and either vitreous or impervious. Vitreous tile absorbs no more than 3 percent of its weight in water while impervious tile, the densest available, absorbs less than 0.5 percent of its weight. Second, the type of tile that many homeowners wish to paint is often subjected to a great deal of everyday abuse and painted tile is best suited to areas that are not high traffic. For instance, shower tile receives vast amounts of water possibly several times a day, along with soap scum buildup, and painted tile in this space would likely not last long.
Does this mean tile can't be painted? No. But it does mean you can't skip preparation techniques, including scuffing and cleaning the tile. You also should accept the fact that painted tile will never look the same as replacement tile. The most vibrant and durable tile colors and designs are those that are incorporated during the firing process. That said, if you want to paint your tile, here are four of the best tile paints to try.
XIM Tile Doc is almost a legend in the world of tile paints. The company likes to call itself the "undisputed durability champ" based on extensive independent testing. But laboratory tests are one thing, and real-life is another. For years, XIM Tile Doc has been an easy-to-use tile cover in tough commercial applications, including public bathrooms, hotels, and schools. As a bonder product, XIM Tile Doc is specifically meant to stick. And because tile is frequently subjected to hot water, this product is formulated with that purpose in mind.
Two-step tile-bonding products are effective. But if you are pressed for time, Tile Doc might be what you need, as it is an aerosol that sprays on with little effort and dries to full use within three days. This epoxy-modified acrylic paint requires xylene for cleanup. Furthermore, one significant downside to choosing the aerosol is it only comes in glossy white. For tints, you'll need to go with the XIM Tile Doc Kit.
Valspar Terracotta Touch is made specifically for tile and glass, as well as wood, metal, and plastic. Because this is a spray paint meant for creating a suede-like or stone texture, you greatly increase your chance of achieving a consistent surface capable of hiding minor flaws.
One downside to this product is the spray paint mist can be difficult to confine indoors, even when you take precautions. It also must be applied in a well-ventilated area. Moreover, due to Valspar Terracotta Touch's texturizing properties, be sure to spray in multiple thin layers rather than one thick layer for best results.
If you want a wide range of color choices for your painted tile, consider Valspar's Premium Enamel Spray Paint. It comes in nearly 50 color choices, along with primers and clear sealers. Its finishes include flat, satin, and gloss.
This enamel spray paint can be used for ceramic tile, stone, terracotta, and more. It dries to the touch in less than an hour, and one can will cover as much as 24 square feet. It dries to a smooth, hard finish for added durability. And it’s not supposed to fade or yellow over time.
In addition to XIM, Rust-Oleum also has a two-coat product that works well for ceramic tile. The Rust-Oleum Tub & Tile Refinishing Kit is available in three colors: white, almond, and biscuit. As a two-part paint kit, the two substances need to be mixed together and then applied as one.
The product can be applied to ceramic, porcelain, or fiberglass, and it creates a smooth, porcelain-like finish. The product dries in just a few hours and can make old, stained tubs, sinks, and tiles shine like new. For best results, clean the surface as thoroughly as possible before painting. Make sure you have adequate ventilation when applying it.
Best Practices for Painting Tile
Stick with vertical surfaces: It is not standard practice to take a roller to your kitchen or bathroom floor tile. Paint on horizontal tiled surfaces that receive traffic will soon wear off. Tile paint works best on vertical surfaces that receive less abuse, including backsplashes, wall tile, and wainscot tile.
Scuff the surface: Fine-grit (400 grit or higher) sandpaper is sufficient for deglossing the tile prior to painting. Your aim is not to completely remove the gloss to the base material but to bring down the gloss so the tile is no longer shiny. This helps the paint to adhere better.
Clean thoroughly: Because tile tends to be installed in areas that receive a lot of soap scum, food splatter, and other kitchen and bathroom debris, you must thoroughly clean the tile before painting. If the tile is very dirty, you might even need to clean it before sanding and then clean once more after sanding. Pressure washing your tile is an option to get it clean enough for painting.
Opt to paint the grout: Not only can you paint tile grout, but it is nearly impossible to avoid painting the grout. Masking off grout is difficult to do effectively for a clean look. However, you never should paint over any flexible areas, such as caulking or silicone seams.
Realize painting might not be a long-term solution: View painting tile as a treatment that might eventually wear down. Whether six months or six years from now, the paint will begin to flake and chip. Painting is a quick and low-cost way to freshen up tile in the short term. But tile replacement is always the best option for long-term durability.