Painting Tiles

Painting Tiles

Tiles are a wonderful material – hard wearing, they withstand damp, don’t stain, they are easy to clean and available in a huge range of colours and finishes. For all those reasons they are also hard to remove or cover so what do you do if you have an area of tiles that you hate? There are actually quite a few ways you can cover tiles so don’t despair! In this article, we will tell you how you paint over tiles.


Before you paint you should think carefully about the practicality of re-tiling. If your room has a shower or bath in it then tiles are great material. There are thousands of options – wood panel effect, metallic tiles, mosaic tiles, high gloss huge porcelain tiles, marble, stone effect and concrete effect. The options are endless. If you are working to a tight budget then you can find good looking tiles for very low prices. You can also save money by tiling over your existing tiles rather than removing them first and you can also do the tiling yourself rather than hire a professional. Of course, there are plenty of reasons that you might not want to re-tile. So what else can you do?

Paint Them

Yes, you can paint over tiles and the effect can be rather good. This option is cheap, fast and requires very little skill however the preparation and the correct choice of paint are essential. You can’t paint tiles that will get wet regularly – so don’t try this on tiles around a bath or in a shower enclosure. However, you can paint the tiles in the rest of the bathroom or in a kitchen.

This is not a very long lasting solution. It can work well for the period of time it takes you to save up for more tiles or it can fix an unattractive area while you sell your property. The paint will start to come off though. If the tile paint gets wet and is cleaned regularly the paint will come off faster. Some touching up will be possible but if you have a flat colour it will be noticeable.

From nasty green to clean!
From nasty green to clean!

How to Paint Tiles – Preparation

You are going to need to roll up your sleeves and use some elbow grease. Preparation is vital – if you don’t do it your paint will simply not stick to the tiles and you will end up with a complete mess. Here is what you need to do;

1) Clean the tiles and grout well to remove all dirt, soap and grease. Get a nice firm scrubbing brush and a small headed one for corners and tight spots. Use an abrasive degreasing cleaner. Scrub every tile and crevice well and then rinse off all the detergent.

2) You need to fill all the cracks and missing grout. This is really easy and fast. You can buy squeezable tubes of tile grout. Squeeze some onto your finger and run it over the holes or cracks forcing the grout into the holes. Leave for a minute and then wipe the area with a damp cloth to remove the excess grout. Leave the grout to dry for as long as it says on the tube.

3) Protect your bathroom fixtures. You should use decorator tape and plastic sheeting to cover your sinks, toilets, shower trays etc. It really doesn’t take long but it will save you loads of time and prevent you from ruining your bathroom fixtures with paint splotches.

4) Sanding the tiles is essential. If you have a large area buy or rent a handheld sander. We always advise you to use a facemask while sanding. Use fine sandpaper and make sure you have a good system for remembering where you have and have not sanded – on most tiles you won’t be able to see where you have sanded and if you miss a patch your paint won’t stick. Keep checking your sandpaper and replace it if it looks worn. If your tiles have angled edges a handheld sander might not get them – run over them with sandpaper manually. Clean off the tiles with lots of water and leave to dry.

Preparation is now complete.

Choose Your Paint

You can either buy a special tile paint or buy an undercoat and topcoat. High gloss finishes are best avoided as they will show up any drips or slight imperfections in the tiles or your paint coverage.

All paint shops now stock at least one range of tile paint which do not need an undercoat. If you are painting a floor you should buy ceramic paint for floors – these are a bit more hardwearing than the wall versions. Many of these paints suggest you only need one coat. In reality, if you want flat perfect coverage you should expect to apply two coats.

Tile paints are usually only available in a small number of colours and finishes. If you don’t want any of them then you can choose any paint but use an appropriate undercoat first. You need to buy an acrylic primer. It might be marketed as a primer for ceramic, a tile primer or tile bonder. If in doubt ask the shop assistants to make sure you have the right paint. You will need to apply at least one coat – if you can still see the colour of your old tiles after this apply another coat. Once the primer has dried you can apply your top coat. Epoxy paints are the hardest wearing and you should consider these for areas that will get dirty or wiped regular – round sinks or behind hobs.

Apply Your Paint

Here’s how you apply the paint.
1) Mix your paint really well, a quick shake or stir will not do it. Use a spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the container and fold the paint over and in a figure of eight pattern. You might notice darker colours or oils on the bottom or top – you need to keep stirring until all these different colours have blended evenly. Specialist tile paints may come with a small bottle of resin that you have to mix into the paint before you use it – DO NOT miss this step. Add the resin and give it a really good stir in.
2) Paint in small sections as the paint can dry quickly. If you try to do a large area and run the roller over paint that has started to dry you can get wrinkles and bumps. Use a small brush to work the paint into the corners and grout lines Then use a small, tight foam roller to apply paint over the rest of the surface of the tiles.

Left to right; before, undercoat and after
Left to right; before, undercoat, first coat. No matter what it says on the tin you will probably need a second coat!

You might choose to apply your paint with a sprayer. If so wear a mask!! Apply the paint in several thin coats, don’t be tempted to apply a single thick coat to save time – all you will get are drips and an uneven, unsightly finish.


Kitchen and bathroom edges are usually finished with plastic sealants. Paint will not stick to these. You can remove the sealant first, do your prep, paint and then reapply fresh sealant once your paint has dried. An alternative is masking off the sealant and only painting up to it. You can also try using denatured alcohol and a brush to wash the sealant – this creates tiny pits in the sealant which can help paint stick – for a time – but don’t expect it to last as long as the paint on the tiles. You can buy denatured alcohol in any DIY shop, it will be with the paint thinner and white spirit.

Be Creative

There are loads of different paint effects and you can use them on tiles as well as walls. An effect is good on large walls to add interest and draw attention away from imperfections in the tiles or paint coverage. You can buy textured rollers for your second coat to add a variation in colour. You can use stencils to add patterns. You can use a can of spray paint in a slightly different colour to your base layer to add variation in colour or texture. Metallic and glitter sprays add a really attractive top layer and sparkles look particularly good over a flat base colour. We would recommend you practice on some spare cardboard so you know how thinly to apply the spray paint or how to work the textured roller for best effect.

Other Alternatives

If the tiles are not going to get wet you can wallpaper over them. You still need to complete the preparation but rather than undercoat – you use a thick backing paper. You may also consider filling in the gaps between the tiles with tile cement to create a completely flat surface before you paper. Then you can apply any wallpaper over the backing layer. Thick and textured papers are best as they will hide the tile pattern better.

You can use bathroom panels to cover tiles. These are bought in packs of 3-6 and they are full height and around 40 cm wide. They are very tall wide tongue and groove! The finishes are faux marble, cement and wood. They are completely waterproof and are a good solution for showers.

You can buy a wide range of stick-on floor and wall tiles – these are usually plastic and they come in a range of finishes; very nasty shiny plastic; thin layers of natural material or high-quality vinyl and ceramic effects. The cost varies widely with quality – some are self-adhesive and some require specialist glues.

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