Published on September 3, 2020

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Photography by Meghan McNeer

Your bathroom came with the sought-after shower nook, the cool patterned backsplash, and enough cabinet space to house your dozens of beloved bath products—if you never looked down, it would be perfect. The problem is, the floor needs some work. Do you commit to a whole renovation just to upgrade the dated (or even just plain bland) ceramic squares or can you paint bathroom tile? We asked Caleb Ebel, cofounder of Backdrop Paint, to weigh in. 

His answer is simple: “As long as you have the right supplies and have done your research, don’t be afraid of the process. Just have fun with it!” According to Ebel, most projects should only take a day to complete, whether you’re tackling the flooring or the walls. Read: You can easily squeeze this DIY into your next free weekend. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Come prepared with the proper tools. A small roller works if you’re covering the surface in one solid color; work with a brush for precise application. 
  • Keep extra paint on hand so you can touch up as needed for maximum coverage and durability.
  • Make sure your materials work in your favor: The more porous and matte your tiles are, the easier they’ll be to paint. Clay or stone will provide better results than porcelain and glass.
  • Open the windows. As with any paint project, ventilation is key. 

Once you have your hue (scroll to the end for our picks) and necessary equipment ready to go, here’s how to transform even the most boring tilework. 

Assemble the Right Supplies 

The most important parts of this project are the bookend steps. Start with a bonding primer to give the paint a better surface to adhere to, and finish off with a clear urethane sealer to maximize durability. “If the painted surface is intact, moisture can’t get through,” Ebel points out. For the in-between stage, pick a premium-quality acrylic latex paint (general purpose is fine) to sketch on your design. We’re partial to bolder shades you can stencil onto white tilework for some custom contrast. 

Prep a Blank Canvas

After passing over the floors with the obligatory vacuum and mop, Ebel recommends using a scour pad and soap to tackle any stubborn grease or residue, and sandpaper to gently scuff each tile so you get a more adhesive slate. “Of course, make sure to dry the surface with a towel before you start painting,” says Ebel. 

For the Best Coverage, Be Speedy

Work across the surface quickly in a way that doesn’t allow the paint to ever fully dry in the area you’re still dealing with, to avoid overlap marks and make sure that the finished project is smooth and seamless. 

Leave Your DIY Alone (for a Little While)

Picture this: You spend hours painstakingly mapping out your dream design, only to have it smudge because you tiptoed across the tiles before they were dry. Ebel suggests three to six hours between each coat, and an extra seven to 10 days (or up to four weeks, if you want to be super-safe) for curing before regular use. Shut the door to the room and wait—good things take time. 

See more things to know for your bathroom tiles:
From Ceramic to Zellige, the Best Kind of Tile for Every Project
Bathroom Floor Tile Stickers Are a Renter’s Best Friend
We’re Taking a Shine to These Glass Tile Bathrooms

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