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Hear us out: Giving your dated flooring or basic backsplash a makeover doesn’t require a full-on reno. Before you call up a contractor, why not consider painting the tile instead of replacing it? For one, investing in new squares can get costly, depending on the type of tile you’re pining after. Plus, taking a paintbrush into your own hands leaves room to personalize rather than limiting yourself to store-bought options.

We tapped designer Katie Zamprioli for a supply list and steps, and Alex Sinclair, director of product information at Sherwin-Williams, for a breakdown on how to treat different materials, what you shouldn’t paint, and advice on how to complete the process.

Painting Kitchen Tile vs. Bathroom Tile

According to Sinclair, one of the main factors of painting tile (or not) boils down to its surroundings. If the area attracts a lot of moisture—like a kitchen countertop or a bathroom, particularly in and around the shower or tub—or has high foot traffic, she doesn’t recommend painting tile at all, because water exposure and constant wear and tear can easily ruin the finish. 

But if you’re going to whip out the brushes for another location, Sinclair says preparing the surface is an absolute must. Use a reliable tile cleaner or emulsifying dish soap to thoroughly wipe down any space that you plan to prime and paint. Then rinse with clean water and allow it to air-dry between steps. She also suggests scuff sanding to help the primer adhere to the tile, as well as using a two-part, paintable epoxy filler to fix any chips or cracks prior to painting. Wipe away sand dust with a clean, damp cloth. 

Attention, stone lovers—Sinclair says this earthy material generally does not hold paint well, even if you use a bonding primer, so it’s best to leave that be. Ceramic, on the other hand, has a soft, porous nature that makes the material easier to paint; it also dries quickly. 

How to Paint Tile

The Supplies

Step 1: Prepare Your Canvas

Clean your floors (or tiled surface) really well, sweeping and vacuuming any excess dirt before mopping. Then use painter’s tape to tape off the floorboards and/or edges of the wall to avoid splattering them.

Step 2: Add the Primer

Slick on two coats of bonding primer—Zamprioli recommends using a roller and 2-inch flat brush for this. Let it dry for a full 24 hours between coats.

Step 3: Begin Painting

After the second layer of primer has dried for 24 hours, apply your first coat of paint (the main color under the stencil). Zamprioli’s hue of choice was Crystal Clear, which reads white but is actually a pale pink.

Step 4: Stencil in Your Pattern

Lightly spray the back of the stencil with spray adhesive to help it stay in place on the floor, and tape down the edges with painter’s tape for extra security. Zamprioli suggests starting against a wall and working right to left to avoid smudging your work. You might have to cut up the stencil to fit curved areas (like the toilet and shower).

Pro tip: Less is more when it comes to the amount of paint. Blot your brush each time before putting it to the stencil; it should be more of a stamping motion than sweeping. Zamprioli used the
1 ½-inch stencil brush for Melting Violet and saved the ½-inch brush for Plumville. Wait for the whole thing to dry, then do a second coat.

Step 5: Do Touch-ups

When you first lift up your stencil, it will almost certainly have left some bleeding. “I don’t know who these people are who create perfect line stencils on the first try, but I’m convinced they aren’t human,” says Zamprioli, laughing. But don’t panic—there’s a quick fix. Enter the angled brush, which you can use with the base color to clean up all the lines by hand.

Step 6: Seal It Up

After all the painting is finished, let it cure for 48 hours. Then using a roller, put down a coat of concrete sealer to waterproof the floor. (This also prevents it from getting scuffed and dirty.) After that is fully dried, you’re good to go.