Ceramic facelift

Ceramic facelift

Are you stuck with drab, tacky ceramic tile in archaic colors like avocado green, mustard yellow — or a color better suited for a fruit bowl?

Instead of replacing that old, dingy backsplash and incurring a myriad of expenses and headaches, many homeowners paint their old tile for a rejuvenated look that costs a lot less. Plus, color options are as endless as the sea of paint chips available at any local paint store.

According to Michal Jones, of Rodda Paint, any do-it-yourselfer can handle the job.

"It's pretty easy," says Jones. "You just clean, prime and paint, but it has to be done with the right materials." A poorly done job can result in flaking or peeling paint, especially on glossy tile surfaces, he says.

With the right preparation and supplies, most any type of tile can be painted, including ceramic, glass and porcelain. Tile floors can be painted, too, but Jones doesn't recommend it because the paint is more likely to scuff or wear off.

Bathrooms and other high-moisture areas with temperature variations might best be handled by professional painters who use airless sprayers to apply several light coats. This includes bathtubs, surrounds and sinks.

"In those situations, we'll use an airless paint sprayer with real small tips to create a mist," says Erick Clements, of That Cheap Painter. "We'll do three or four coats. If you don't apply the products just right, it's not going to work."


Making sure you have a clean surface is essential. Washing can be done with options ranging from dishwashing soap to commercial tile cleaner. If there are any damaged tiles — with cracks or chips — now is the time to fix them, as any imperfections will show through the paint. Cracks can be repaired by filling with caulk, and a quick-drying epoxy will fill any chips. Let it dry thoroughly before proceeding.


Use a high-quality, 100-percent acrylic latex primer and paint, according to Jones.

"You don't want to use a vinyl latex," Jones says. "Hundred-percent acrylic is the most durable. It holds up longest with the best color retention and resistance to abuse. If you don't use a special primer, the paint will just peel and flake off."

Acrylic also provides better adhesion, moisture resistance and blocking resistance, which means it won't be sticky when it's dry. Acrylic primer costs more than typical primers (1 gallon for approximately $30), but it's worth it for the durability.

For both priming and painting, use a fine, soft brush (such as a poly-nylon blended brush specific for acrylic paint) around the edges of the tile and a lint-free, low-nap roller on the main areas. These products will ensure there are no lines or bubbles showing. Start with one thin coat of primer and roll in all directions to avoid marks. After it's dried, apply a second coat and let it dry thoroughly (follow the primer instructions for drying time).


Latex paint is easily washable and is fine for this project. While any gloss can be used, Jones recommends using higher-gloss paint on kitchen tile because it is easier to clean.

With painting, use the same procedure as with the primer: Apply several thin coats to build up the surface strength, allowing it to thoroughly dry between coats. The stronger the surface, the more impervious it will be to wear and tear.

Grout lines can either be painted over along with the tile or painted separately with a contrasting color after everything is dry. A small artist brush is perfect for hand-painting the lines. They can also be taped off with acrylic masking tape.


If using a high-quality primer, Jones doesn't recommend using polyurethane — which he says will eventually wear off — to seal the tile. Painted tile should be cleaned every couple of weeks with standard, nonabrasive cleaners or dishwashing soap.

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