Q&A / 

How To Paint Ceramic Tile

DEAR TIM: Can you instruct me how to paint ceramic tile? Money is very tight now, and applying paint to my ceramic tile is the only thing I can afford. Can you paint old ceramic tile, so it will not peel? Is there a special ceramic-tile paint? What is an easy way to paint ceramic floor tile, and should I paint the grout? Leslie S., Belleville, IL

DEAR LESLIE: I will gladly help you discover how to paint ceramic tile. If you have painted walls and even flooring before, you can do this job. The best part is you can really transform the look and feel of a room when you paint ceramic tile.

Any ceramic tile can be painted no matter if it is old or new. The most important thing is to make sure the tile is perfectly clean. Many people ignore the instructions on paint cans. If you take a few moments to read these instructions, you will discover that they tell you to apply the paint to clean, dry surfaces that are free of grease, wax, dirt and dust.

As crazy as it sounds you can paint a ceramic-tile floor like this. The key is using the right paint and covering the paint with clear urethane.<br />IMAGE CREDIT: Tim Carter

As crazy as it sounds you can paint a ceramic-tile floor like this. The key is using the right paint and covering the paint with clear urethane. IMAGE CREDIT: Tim Carter

You can clean ceramic tile with just about any soap, but the more powerful ones often give you a better job. I urge you to use a scrub brush to aggressively clean the tile and the grout. The best tile and grout cleaner I have ever used is oxygen bleach. This is a powder that you mix with water. You apply a generous amount of the solution and let it soak into the grout. Millions of oxygen bubbles attack the dirt. After a 10-minute wait, scrub the grout with excess oxygen-bleach solution and the grout looks like new. If you plan to also paint the grout, you must let the grout dry for at least 48 hours.

To ensure that the new paint will not peel, you need to use the right paint. In the past, I have had great success with oil-based paint. Pollution laws that address volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in paint make it harder and harder to find oil paints. Many people also do not like the clean-up process where you need to use mineral spirits or paint thinner to clean the brushes, rollers and other tools.

Water-based paints that contain a urethane resin are good paints to use as well. Urethane is a very sticky glue, and after all, that is what paint really is - a liquid glue that contains color. You really need a sticky paint to adhere to the glossy surface of most ceramic tile.

There are places where I would not apply paint to ceramic tile or other glazed surfaces. Do not apply it to ceramic tile that gets wet on a regular basis. Examples of this are tile surfaces inside a tub or shower area. I would also not paint the inside glazed surface of a toilet bowl. You can successfully paint a ceramic-tile backsplash that gets occasional water on it. The ceramic-tile floor in a bathroom can also be painted so long as the water sports in the bathroom do not get totally out of control.

To keep the paint on the tile looking like new, you need to protect it. This is especially true if you decide to paint ceramic floor tile. Painted floors of any type work well, and proof of that is any basketball court. Painted basketball courts are created by painting the patterns on the floor, let the paint cure for two days and then coat the entire floor with several coats of clear floor finish. I have found that the water-based urethanes stay clear for a long time, never yellowing.

As for painting the grout, that is a personal decision. There is no doubt it will make the job easier if you paint the grout the same color as the tile. If you do want a contrast in color, then you will be painstakingly taping off the grout lines with the special acrylic masking tape that will not stick to fresh paint.

If you want natural grout and need to regrout, do so before you paint. The regrouting process will damage the freshly-painted tile. Keeping paint out of grout requires great skill and patience.

You can use a roller to paint a ceramic-tile floor. I suggest a roller with a low nap to keep bubbles and texture to a minimum. You can also add products to the paint that allow them to flow well and attain a finish as if they had been sprayed. If you have a sprayer, you absolutely can spray the tile. Be sure to protect adjacent surfaces from overspray.

Make sure the urethane you use to protect the paint is applied to a clean dust-free surface. Read the paint-can label to see how soon you can apply the urethane. It is best to let the paint cure as long as possible so it gets nice and hard. This will make it more durable.

Author's Note: We've received other questions with similar problems or questions. Here's one from E.J. Vincent of California regarding her ceramic tile painting project.

"I want to paint my own design onto ceramic tile, like the ones you would buy at Home Depot. Is there a special ceramic tile paint and sealer I need to use? The ceramic tiles will be incorporated in with the same unpainted tiles on the kitchen cabinet top and back splash."

Message from Tim:

Years ago while researching a column about cleaning decks, I discovered the wonders of Oxygen Bleach. It is perhaps the 'greenest' cleaner I know of as it uses oxygen ions to break apart stains, dirt and odor molecules. There are no harsh chemicals, and it works on just about anything that is water washable.

I decided to create my own special blend using ingredients made in the USA. In fact, the raw materials in the active ingredient are food-grade quality registered with the FDA. I call my product Stain Solver. I urge you to use it to help with cleaning your tile grout. You will be amazed at the results!

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39 Responses to How To Paint Ceramic Tile

  1. I have recently purchased a new house that has non slip tiles on the outdoor pation areas. These tiles are extremely hard to clean. Forgetting about the non slip part of the tile is there a paint suitable to cover these new tiles that would make them easier to clean?


    • Rod,

      You should NEVER paint them. That's a mistake. Try my Stain Solver. It's an unbelievable cleaner I developed back in 1996. You mix it, pour the solution on the tile, let it sit for 15 minutes and scrub. Then rinse. It's an amazing cleaner.

  2. Thanks for the tips. Would this apply to sea glass tiles as well for a backsplash? I have a beautiful sea glass backsplash but it does not match the counter tops and I want to paint them until I can replace it.

  3. I am going to be creating a community art project where we will be using ceramic tiles to create a mural. My concern is that these tiles will be outside (on a wall) and I have no idea of what paint and coating to use to ensure that the paint won't chip due to the weather. I am also concerned about the paint being safe for the kids to use. Can you give me some advice?

  4. I have white grout & ceramic tile in the living room and want to paint them a grayish color. This is a high traffic area, will the paint hold up to my cleaning them every 4 days?

  5. I want to paint the tiles around my fireplace (about 7 extra-large files in total). They are currently an orange-y marble-like color and I want to paint them pale gray or white. Is this do-able over an orange/marble like tile? Also, the tiles they are super-shiny, is that easy to paint over and/or does that make a difference? I want to you a paint with a "grit" (i.e. rough surface) so it looks like stone and not just flat/shiny tiles. Any advise, appreciated!! Thank you!

  6. My tiles at my entryway get very slippery when feet are wet I would like to know what I can put on them to stop from being slippery. PLEASE HELP ME!!

  7. My 3,000 sq. ft. house has all tile floors, which is great because we live in the country and have a lot of tracked-in dirt. The previous owners chose a pale beige, and every speck of dirt is visible. I was injured and just cant keep up with it anymore, but changing out the tile is too costly. Are there products available to change the appearance, and are there contractors who specialize in this? I dont know where to begin.

  8. I have a 450 sqm swimming pool i want to change the ceramic colors and want to add some decorative ceramic and help will be useful

    Thank You

  9. Our tiles on the front porch need a touch up, they have other paint stains on them, we want to paint over the same color, can we do that,

  10. I have tile floors in kitchen an hallway. It stays really nasty because I have four older dogs who stay in the house, with one peeing al the time. I mop with bleach on a daily basis. If I paint it with polyurethane will it seal it so I can use something milder to clean the floor. I have just ordered pee pads for my dogs which should help. Thank you

  11. Hi,I have white ceramic high gloss tile all tgrough my kitchen. It shows dog hair and dirt very easily. If I lightly sand/scuff and clean well, apply the correct paint, will this more than likely hold up in a kitchen? Also, what is the correct paint/finish to use? Thanks!!

    • Painting floor tile is the LAST tile I'd paint. Too much wear. As a last resort, do it.

      Painting is NOT going to eliminate your problems!!!! You'll still have dog hair and dirt!!!

      Use a dry vacuum cleaner once a day for the hair, and use my Stain Solver Certified organic oxygen bleach to keep the tile AND grout looking like NEW.

  12. hi. i have a concrete floor in a side room off my kitchen. i'd like to paint and stencil it but I don't want it looking like a painted garage floor but rather a glazed encaustic tile effect (I don't need the grout lines or anything, just the more refined finished touch without the expense of buying painted cement tiles). any particular paint or process you can suggest to give me the result i desire? thank you!

  13. Hi I have tile in my room and I was wondering if I can do exactly what you said but add glitter. I'd realllllly like to do glitter but I couldn't find anyone to help me with exactly what I want. Please help thank you

    • Yes. You can add glitter! I'd clean the tile. Dry it. Apply a thin coat of water-based CLEAR Varathane urethane. Immediately sprinkle the glitter into it. Wait three hours. Recoat the tile with two subsequent coats of the urethane. Send photos to show us. Do a TEST first on a separate piece of tile that looks like what you have to MAKE SURE you like what you see.

  14. You mentioned to avoid painting over tiles that gets wet consistently. I would like to paint over tiles in my kitchen floor. However, we consistently sweep and mop our floors at least 3 - 4 times a week. Can I still do this over painted ceramic tiles.

  15. I want to paint the ceramic tile on my kitchen floor from a light beige to a dark gray and black sponge effect. Is that doable with the right paint? I also plan to regrout before painting. How does that process work?

  16. Hi.
    I would like to paint small 4inch by 4 inch ceramic tiles to put inbetween my other tiles as a highlighter .
    What paint should I use ? Does the tile need to be fired after that ? Do you know if urethane is available in india ?
    I would really appreciate your help in msking my dream project come true.

  17. Would this work if I was painting my whole bathroom? We're mving into a one bathroom home and it's bright green and pink. The walls and floor are ceramic tile and I absolutely hate it. How long does it take to dry and how many coats of white would I need to do?

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