How to Paint Tile

painting tile can make the home design more aesthetically pleasing

Tile is a terrific way to make areas of your home, such as kitchen backsplashes, easy to clean. However, if changes in color scheme or ownership mean you now have tile that just doesn’t work in your space, you can change up the color of existing tile with a careful paint job.

Painting vs. Tear Out and Replace

prepare the surface before painting tile

Tearing out old tile is messy and expensive. Depending on the material the tile was applied to, you may wind up having to replace or repair sheetrock before you can apply your new tile.

If you plan to do it yourself, be aware of a couple of things. One, tearing out backsplash tile will have you working at a very awkward angle. Two, this may leave your kitchen with no counter space until the project is done.

Painting may be your best option. Here are the steps to take to paint tile at your house.

​How To Paint Tile in 6 Steps

If you are painting your tile, first check the finish of the tile you want to paint. One of the main concerns when determining how to paint tile is working out how to prepare the surface.

Step 1: Clean and Degrease

  • Scrub your tiles with TSP to strip away all dirt
  • Degrease your tiles with rubbing alcohol until they're squeaky clean
  • Allow the grout lines to dry for a couple of days

Step 2: Prepare the Surface

If your tile is glossy, you'll need to sand the tiles. This will cause some mess and dust, so be prepared to wipe the tiles again with rubbing alcohol. Repair any cracks with caulking or epoxy, and be ready for more dry time. Applying wet paint to wet grout or uncured repairs will not give you a good result.

Step 3: Prime

Apply primer in light layers and leave plenty of dry time. A thick, heavy coat will be more likely to peel away. Light layers will cling and give you a better finished surface.

Work with a brush so you can really coat the grout lines. Try to work with light, varied strokes, such as a cross-hatch pattern. Your finished surface will be matte, not glossy.

Water-based primers allow for easier clean-up, but oil and epoxy-based primers will give you better cling. If possible, mask well, open up the doors and windows for plenty of fresh air, and use the epoxy primer.

This is especially critical around sinks where water exposure may damage your paint job. When figuring out how to paint ceramic tile, you will want to consider what your paint job will be exposed to and protect the finish as best you can.

Step 4: Color Coat

how to paint tile

Again, work in light layers. The first coats of both primer and top coat will not look very good. Keep going! If you're applying a gloss or semi-gloss top coat, be aware that you'll need to apply more layers of paint for that finish.

Working lightly will also reduce the risk of drips. Grout lines are great places for paint to collect and drip down onto your countertop surface. If you taped along the edge, be sure to go back after each layer and check for drips that may have puddled.

If you want to avoid drips and uneven coats all together, check out our buying guide on the best airless paint sprayer for inside​ walls.

​Clear these puddles away, or when you take up the tape you may peel away your newly painted surface! One of the challenges of how to paint tile is how to protect it until you can apply the top coat.

Step 5: Seal

You can use a water or oil-based sealer to complete your project. Again, go with a light touch and apply several coats. Depending on what you're covering, you can choose a flat, semi-gloss, or gloss finish. If you're covering a basic tile and just want a different color, a gloss finish will give you the closest thing to a smooth tile surface.

A word about sealers: Test your sealer on a paint sample or unobtrusive area before covering the whole surface. Some sealers have a slightly yellow tone and will not look good over a cool gray or bright white surface.

Step 6: Creative Options

If you know your painted tile update is temporary, you can try more creative options. For example, you can make your backsplash a communication tool by covering it in chalkboard paint. This backsplash actually didn't start out tiled, but it is a creative demonstration of what you can do with paint and a straight edge!

painting tile can make the home design more aesthetically pleasing

Painting Ceramic Tile In Other Environments

Water is hard on paint. If you're painting the tile in a bathroom, consider investing in marine paint. Please note that most boat painting projects are done outside, so it's critical to plan for good ventilation. Don't do this project when the house is sealed up tight against the cold, or when it's too hot to open the windows.

The steps to applying a secure coat of marine paint are quite ​similar. Clean, repair, sand, and prime. Marine paint will protect a boat's surface from water damage, and should offer a great seal for your ceramic tile.

​Finishing Steps

A ceramic tile application can look awfully permanent, especially if you really hate it. However, anything you can prime can be painted, and there are great primers on the market today. Clean and degrease thoroughly!

Once it's time to paint, if you can possibly work with epoxy-based paint for the prime coat, do so. If not, work lightly and build up several layers of even, primed finish. Once you've got the technique down, apply your color coat in the same way, then seal. Allow for plenty of dry time between layers!

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