Painting over Ceramic Tiles


We all remember the horrible avocado greens and burnt oranges that so many kitchens and bathrooms in the 1970’s were adorned with. Dated or unattractive bathroom tiles are common in older homes and are expensive to remove. A good DIY solution is to mask the colour of these tiles with paint. With the right paint tips and a little bit of extra preparation, you can paint your own tiles and create a durable surface that is much more aesthetically pleasing than the old-fashioned look that you may presently have.

Once you have decided to do it yourself, remember that it is not recommended that you paint any tile surface that will constantly get wet. If you try to paint your shower surroundings or even the bathtub itself, you will be cleaning paint chips out of the bottom of your tub within no time at all. It just won’t work! There are specialised services that are available that will refinish your ceramic appliances and fixtures. Things like your antique claw-foot bath, toilet and basin can all be revamped successfully using these companies. What we’re concentrating on in this article is painting wall tiles that get daily use but don’t get soaking wet all the time.

Preparing the Tile for Paint

As with most painting projects, preparation is the key to a lasting finish. Don’t forget to get tape, paint remover, rags, gloves and dust masks. Your aim is to create a surface that the paint will bond to. Since we already know that most paints won’t adhere directly to the tile surface, we need to get rid of that shine.

The first step is to clean the tile vigorously with a commercial tile cleaner that has a mild abrasive. This can be bought from your local Jack’s Paint & Hardware stores. This will not only remove all the grime build-up on the tile and make it nice and clean, but the abrasives will begin to dull the shiny surface. Make sure that crumbling grout, mildew stains, and cracked tiles are all taken care of first. You can’t go back and fix them after you have finished painting, unless you want to repaint the entire thing. Once you are positive that the surface is clean, you need to get a little more insistent about taking that shine off the tile.

The most effective and easiest way to accomplish this is with a hand held orbital sander using 220 grit sandpaper. This will be course enough to remove the gloss, but still fine enough to prevent you from leaving any scratch marks that may show through your paint finish at a later stage. If you don’t have an orbital sander, do it by hand – it will just take a little longer. Sanding is tedious and is generally not very much fun, but one cannot overemphasize how important this step is. If you skip or only do it half-heartedly, the paint won’t stick. After every surface that is going to be painted has been sanded, including the corners, make sure that all the dust and debris is thoroughly removed. Vacuum up all the loose bits and then wipe thoroughly with a clean, lint-free, damp cloth.

Prime and Paint

Now that you have a freshly sanded surface that is dry and dust-free, you have the perfect base for a good paint job. Remove any fixtures that can be removed from the tiles; remove the shower head and faucet handles if possible. If you cannot remove the fixtures, cover them tightly with a plastic bag. Protect surrounding areas by taping them off; taking special care to tape off the tub and protect surrounding walls and built-in soap dishes.

You need to apply a super-adherent primer. This is a primer that is designed to be applied over the top of unusual or hard-to-paint surfaces. The primer provides an “anchor” for the topcoat so it can’t be rubbed, chipped or scraped off easily. Cut in the primer or paint first. This is done by painting the inside corners of the tile wall, and the edges where the tile meets the ceiling and walls. Also, cut in around the fixtures and anywhere a roller cannot reach. A short napped roller can be used to apply the primer to the flat surfaces. Using a high quality and high adhesion primer, continue to build the base that your paint will be applied over. This is not the project where you want to skimp on paint costs. Don’t buy a cheap primer – you need a strong bond in order for this to stick to the tile. The best painting technique is to work slowly and make sure that you don’t leave any lines caused by paint squeezing out of the edge of the roller cover. These will be visible later when you apply your finishing coats. Allow the first coat of primer to dry for the amount of time recommended, and then apply a second coat.

Once the primer is dry, take a fresh sheet of 220 grit sandpaper and very lightly rub over the primed surface. You are not trying to remove the primer, you simply want to remove any small imperfections or bubbles and make sure that the surface is perfectly prepared to receive the paint.

Use an oil-based semi-gloss or high gloss alkyd for your top coats. Apply several thin coats instead of trying to do one thick one. You want to build up the strength of the paint. You need to have paint thinner on hand to clean up the oil-based primer and paint, as well as a pretty good supply of rags. To keep the tiled effect, use a thin brush and re-create grout lines or if you want to get creative, now is the time to add your faux.


If you want to paint the grout a contrasting colour, you can go back over it with an artist’s brush. Though it may be a little extra work, using the oil-based product on your tiles will give you a much higher quality finish and in the long run, you will be glad that you did. Oil-based tile paints are usually already glossy so it’s like they have their own built-in glaze.

Follow manufacturer directions for drying time between coats. When you have finished painting, do not use the bathroom shower or tub for at least 48 hours. Perhaps the hardest part of this project will be reducing moisture in the bathroom area for at least a week to give the paint time to cure. Your finished project will be fully cured in approximately two to three weeks and you should avoid harsh abrasive cleaning agents. A soft wipe with a good general cleaner for painted surfaces is all that should be used. Re-painting your old tiles can be fulfilling but it doesn’t hurt to get additional, professional assistance from your local hardware and paint specialist.

Consult your nearest Jack’s Paint & Hardware store for more information.