How to Paint Tile for an Instant Makeover

By Sharon Brandwein

Tiles are a staple in almost every home design and build. Whether they’re ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone, they’re the perfect finishing touch for areas like bathrooms and kitchens. But while tile is often chosen for its exceptional durability, sometimes the tilework itself can outlive its aesthetic appeal. In other words, your tile may still be doing its job of protecting your showers, bathroom walls, and backsplashes, but they just don’t look so great anymore.

The good news is there is something you can do about it. Rest assured that if you want to give your bathroom or your backsplash an upgrade, the tile is not going to be the proverbial brick wall you thought it would be—there is a way to paint tile.

In fact, you can paint most types of tile, so think of this guide as “how to paint tile 101.” Ahead we share the tools and materials you will need for the project at hand and offer a step-by-step tutorial to help you give your space an upgrade in no time.

white-painted tile powder room

Photo via Urban Acreage

Choosing a Tile Paint

Before you get started, it’s important to know the ins and outs of paint and what types and colors may or may not work over tile.

Type of Paint

The type of paint you use will largely depend on the type of tile you’re working with. Typically, latex or epoxy paint will work well if you’re painting over ceramic or porcelain tiles. However, latex works better in low-traffic areas and where water splashes are not an issue. Just keep in mind that if you use latex paint, you will need to use a good-quality primer.

If you’re giving tile backsplashes, countertops, or other wet areas a facelift, epoxy paint might be your best option. This type of paint is abrasion-resistant, durable, it cures to a harder finish, and mounts a better defense against moisture and heat.

If you’re working with natural stone tiles, opt for paint formulated for masonry or stucco. And finally, if your tile is porous (like marble, limestone, or concrete), you could easily use interior acrylic latex paint.

Paint Color

Color and aesthetics are very subjective. For instance, you might think a dandelion-yellow wall in the bathroom is a spectacular idea, but your partner? Not so much. In addition to personal preference, you may be limited by your existing decor. Ideally, you don’t want to choose a color that’s so far out of left field that it sets off a domino effect, forcing you to change five other decorative elements in the room—unless you want to, of course. 

If you’re not sure where to start when choosing a new color for any part of your home, hit up the usual suspects like Hometalk, Pinterest, or Instagram for some design inspiration. 

And don't worry about painting a light color, like white or taupe, over bright, colorful tile; a good-quality primer underneath a few coats of paint is sure to cover up any tile color.

Top Coats and Sealants?

In most cases, it’s best to skip a top coat or sealant when painting tile. The reason for this is that if your paint becomes scratched or chipped somewhere down the line, a topcoat or sealant can make it exponentially harder to do a quick touch-up. The only exception to this will be if you’re painting natural stone tiles. Typically, this type of tile is porous, and if you’re using them in kitchens or bathrooms, a sealant is probably a good idea. 

How to Prep Tile for Painting

Before you dive into your paint can, there are a few things you’ll need to do to prep your work surface and the surrounding area. Here are the details.

Tools and Materials Needed

  • Commercial tile cleaner 
  • Caulk 
  • Putty knife
  • Sandpaper
  • Clean, soft cloth 
  • Tack cloth
  • Clear plastic sheeting 
  • Gloves
  • Painter's tape
  • Respirator (if needed)

Step 1: Clean the Old Tile 

Dust, dirt, and grease can prevent your paint from adhering properly, and the result will not be what you expected it to be. So before you begin, take the time to clean your tile with your favorite tile cleaner.

Step 2: Repair Chips and Cracks 

After you clean your tile, give your work area a once-over and inspect the existing tile carefully. Look for cracks and chips and fill them in with caulk. Once the cracks are filled in, take care to scrape away any excess caulk with a putty knife so that your tile surfaces are completely smooth. Wait until your repairs are dry before moving on to the next step.

Step 3: Sand the Old Tile 

Tiles often have a layer of glaze meant to protect them and keep them looking good year after year. When you’re painting tile, however, that glaze will prevent your new paint from adhering to the surface of the tile. So, you’ll need to sand everywhere you intend to paint. Scuffing the old tile gives your new paint something to bite onto.

Step 4: Give the Tiles a Final Wipedown 

Caulking and sanding can leave a lot of dust and debris in your work area. If any of that gets mixed in with your new paint, you’ll end up with a little unintended texture on your tile, so to speak. So, before you proceed, give every inch of your workspace a good wipe down and use a tack cloth on any particularly dusty areas.

Step 5: Protect Your Work Area

From tripping on a paint can to rogue splashes of paint, you never know what can happen during any DIY project. So, spare yourself the headache and spread some plastic sheeting in and around your work area, and secure it with painter's tape if necessary. 

Paint fumes can be overwhelming, so while you should take care to keep the windows and doors open to ensure adequate ventilation, you may also want to add a respirator to your supply list. 

hand rolling white paint over tile

Photo via Lindsay Eidahl

How to Paint Tile

Painting over tile is relatively easy and not that different from painting a standard wall. One thing that often comes up in relation to painting tile is whether or not you should paint the grout. The answer to that is yes. If you think about it, trying to preserve the grout lines would make this project pretty time-consuming, if not impossible. Here’s how to proceed with painting your tile once you’ve cleaned and prepped the surface. 

Tools and Materials Needed

  • Primer
  • Paint tray and liners 
  • Paint roller and cover
  • Paint
  • Small paintbrush

Step 1: Apply Primer 

Pour some primer into a lined paint tray, dip your paint roller into the primer, and roll out the excess. Then roll a thin coat of primer evenly onto the tile surface. Use two coats if necessary. 

The Importance of Primer

While you might be excited to get on with the project and get some color onto your tile, primer application is one step you don’t want to skip. Paint primer serves two purposes: It hides the color of your existing tile and will help the new paint adhere better. This step is particularly important if you’re working with glazed tiles.

Step 2: Switch Out Your Supplies 

After you’ve applied the primer to your work surface, discard the liner with the primer and place a fresh liner in the tray.

Step 3: Paint Your Tile

Add a small amount of paint to your tray. Dip your paint roller into the paint and roll out the excess. Proceed to roll the color onto your tile surface. Use the paint roller to cover large swaths of your work area, and use a small paintbrush to get into the edges. Let the paint dry completely before running any water or cooking near the painted tiles.

Painted Tile Care Tips

With proper care, your freshly-painted tile will look great for years to come. Here are a few pointers to help you keep it in tip-top shape:

  • Do not use abrasive cleaners on your tile. Opt for a mild liquid cleanser or use water mixed with mild dish soap instead. Be sure to steer clear of bleach and any type of acid. 
  • When cleaning your tile, be sure to rinse off all cleaning agents thoroughly with water. 
  • Do not use steel wool or scouring pads, which will rough up the surface of your painted tile. 
  • If your tile happens to crack or chip, do your best to fix it immediately, especially if the tile is located in a wet area of your home. Cracks and chips are entryways for water, and over time, unchecked water damage could lead to a far bigger issue.

Have you ever painted tile? Tell us below—we’d love to hear about it!

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