How To Repaint & Stencil Ugly Rental Vinyl Tile Flooring

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment renters share common challenges, whether it be unsightly overhead lighting covers or looking for easily removable decor solutions which won’t result in forfeiture of our deposits. In our case, the eyesore lives in our bathroom and kitchen, where an ugly, yellowish roll vinyl flooring has always bothered us. We finally found the initiative and opportunity to do something about it!

Vinyl tile can be repainted a new colour and even embellished, but we discovered it does require some planning and patience. Because vinyl flooring is a high gloss surface, the first half of this project requires prepping the surface, while the second is primarily painting and sealing your new surface application. It’s been a fun, if not somewhat demanding project that was just completed this afternoon in the nick of time (the plan was to redo the bathroom floor as a surprise before my better half Emily returned from her holiday visiting her family in Texas). Here’s how and what I did…

What You Need

Equipment and Tools

  • 180 grit sandpaper
  • Sanding pole
  • TSP solution (tri-sodium phosphate)
  • Deglosser cleaner
  • Small paint roller
  • 3-4 small paint trays
  • Mixing sticks
  • Mask
  • Latex gloves
  • Latex primer/sealer
  • Paint brush(es)
  • Exterior “porch and floor” or vinyl siding paint
  • Stencil (we used Ed Roth’s Stencil 101 Decor)
  • Blue painters masking tape
  • Polyurethane sealer
  • Stenciling brush
  • Optional: small fan to help airflow/drying times


1. Getting down to the nitty gritty: here’s where you get to rough up your floor using some sandpaper and sanding block. Start off by washing the floor with TSP solution, a powerful cleaner which will reach some of the uneven surfaces that may have accumulated dirt. We started off using a sanding pole attachment, which allowed us to give the floor a good abrasive wipe down standing up; we then returned with new sheets of sandpaper and a painter’s mask to hand scrub down sections we couldn’t reach using the pole (our bathroom is small, so there were plenty of these nooks and crannies).

2. Deglossy Jr. High: after sanding down as much of the vinyl clear coating away as possible, it is recommended to degloss the vinyl surface with a specially formulated deglosser to remove an remaining finish. The 1-2 combination of sanding and the deglosser is all to give your new paint something to hold onto when applied later. If there’s a lot of gloss finish remaining, let the formula sit for about 10 minutes before wiping off. We recommend doing this step with windows/vent open, a mask on and latex gloves. After we finished this step, we swept and vacuumed the whole surface clean.

3. Prime time: now that your floor has been stripped of all its former glow, it’s time to give it a nice even coat of primer. Prep the area by masking off any walls or detailing that you don’t want painted. We applied the first round of primer on the peripherally using a small paint brush, creating a frame of sections where we’d fill in; two coats was sufficient enough for us to create an even-smooth surface. Let dry overnight.

4. Time to roll: with the primer all dried and one quick dry wipe or gentle vacuum (you don’t want scratch the primer surface like we accidentally did), now is the time get to the part where you start believing all this hard work is paying off. We used an outdoor paint formulated for hard wear.

Follow the same procedure as the primer, starting from the outside border with a brush, then roller painting the center. Go on light the first round, let dry, then do once more for a solid coverage. We used a pure white semi-gloss. Let dry overnight with the aid of an open window and small fan if available.

5. Pencil, then stencil: now here’s where we wanted to impart a little flair onto our new glowing white floor. Ed Roth’s Stencil 101 Decor is chockfull of great design patterns and stencils, so we choose a geometric that hinted at traditional tile design, but with a vinyl paint colour that complemented the rest of our bathroom. The book has a lot of helpful tips and we watched the instructional videos on Ed’s site to get a handle on how to effectively stencil a surface. Using the stencil, we marked off the grid in which we’d position and then later paint the design.

6. Apply dryly: Best tip we learned was to use a stencil brush and practice the dry brush application technique beforehand. You want to just barely get paint onto the brush and gently sweep from the outside inward all around the stencil pattern. Too little paint is better than too much if you want crisp lines. It was on our 4th stencil sheet round that we began getting the technique down, so consider practicing on a piece of cardboard to improve results on your actual surface.

Because the paint requires time to dry, we had to jump around to different sections of the floor to optimize application time. We’d also like to note this whole process is best done knowing your bathroom (our only bathroom) may be unavailable for blocks of time. A detail worth seriously noting. Really.

7. Patience is a virtue: since the bathroom had plenty of hard to reach spaces where the stencil could not easily fold into place, we resorting to make our own stencil using painters tape. This allowed us to get around the toilet, sink counter and around the tub. It also resulted in some razor sharp painting!

8. Almost done: with the pattern completed, let it all dry sufficiently agin (we think at least half a day). Return with a gentle dry wipe with a soft cloth and/or light vacuuming to pick up an residual paint debris or dirt. Now is also a good time to go in with a little bit of Magic Sponge or similar material to clean up any smudges, alongside add any touchup paint where your stenciling may have gone awry.

9. Clearly finished: all this hard work deserves a protective coat (actually 2 or 3 coats) of clear polyurethane. This will make the finish durable and waterproof, protecting your new paint job for at least a couple of years, depending on how much traffic the surface endures (we’re a no shoe household, so it should last a long while).

10. Call everyone over with ugly rental vinyl flooring and proudly show off your handiwork and paint splattered clothing. Now for the kitchen…

Additional Notes: We recommend having on hand several stencil paint brushes of various sizes. We only one broad sized one and it limited access to certain sections.

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