How To: DIY Paint Ceramic Tile

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Got a bathroom or kitchen with an outdated colour palette? That burnt umber and avocado green tiling not floating your boat in the kitchen or bathroom any longer? Tiling around kitchen backsplash, floor tiles non-sink countertops, fireplace tiles and wall tiles all can be repainted even if they have a shiny finish (continually and regularly wet tiling require an epoxy formula). You might want to consider repainting those eyesore tiles rather than replacing them. Here's how to do it yourself:...

What you'll need:

  • Commercial tile cleaner with a mild abrasive.
  • Bleach or hydrogen peroxide to remove any mold.
  • Repair kit for any damaged grout; repair beforehand
  • 1800 grit sandpaper
  • Orbital sander
  • High adhesion primer for glossy surfaces
  • Paint brush
  • 1/8" short napped roller
  • Oil, latex or epoxy based high gloss paint
  • Clear urethane finish
  • Vacuum/cloth for cleanup

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Like any home improvement job, the determining factor between a pro looking finish and an obvious DIY mishap is preparation. Repair any damaged tile work or grout before you start. After, you'll want to do a thorough job of cleaning the tiles with a mild abrasive tile cleaner; this will begin to remove the high gloss finish of your tiling and create enough surface tension for primer and a new paint finish to sit upon. If you can get your hands on an orbital sander, further treat the tiles to a 1800 grit sandpaper session, and evenly remove any remaining gloss. This is the most important step that will determine whether your new painted tiles last for years or just one week after all the hard work you throw at this project.

Vacuum all remaining dust and then just use a wet absorbent cloth to wipe down/clean the surface. Let dry.

Now you'll be using an oil based high adhesion primer. Oil versus water based: oil primers tend to have better colour and stain blocking effect, giving you a more neutral base to paint ontop of. They also offer a better adhesive base for the paint that will soon sit ontop. Apply two coats and sand gently with the 1800 grit sandpaper after second coat dries, removing any noticeable rises in the overall surface. Don't sand too vigorously, just enough to create an even surface for paint to be applied upon. Remove dust and cleanup surface again with damp cloth.

You're now ready to apply the paint. There's debate between using oil or latex based paints, not to mention epoxy finishes for high traffic tiling. Many note that latex, although dries quicker, finishes with a characteristic soft, rubbery finish that is prone to rip off if scratched. So an oil based paint might be a better choice in surfaces that might have to endure some occasional mishandling. An epoxy coating can be used for areas that are regularly wet, providing a high gloss and better adherence character compared to both latex and oil based paints. Apply several thin coats of a semi-gloss or high-gloss paint, following your paint's direction for thinning the mixture. The secret to a good paint job is to err on the side of being a turtle rather than a hare: slow and steady. Apply several thin coats, with sufficient time inbetween for each coat to dry. Allow paint to dry for 2-3 days depending upon weather/humidity, and then finish with a couple of coats of clear urethane. Now you've got a yourself a repainted tile work that cost you hardly anything compared to a tile replacement job!

[Creative Commons Photo: qgil and Robyn Gallagher]

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