Older ceramic tile will date a bathroom very quickly regardless of the other accessories you choose to decorate with. Unfortunately, ceramic tile can be expensive and messy to fix. A more affordable, albeit labor-intensive solution, is to paint the tile. Proper preparation is necessary because paint, regardless of the level of quality, will not stick to the shiny and slick surface of tile.
Tile You Can't Paint in the Bathroom
You will not be able to paint any tile surface that gets repeatedly wet yourself. This leaves you with two options: replace any unattractive tiles around your bathtub or hire a professional company with the proper equipment to paint your shower surround. These companies use highly specialized paints and glazes to recoat shower stalls, toilets, ceramic appliances and fixtures, and bathtubs. You will not be able to find these paints at your local hardware store and they require a lot of skill and training to use.
Properly Prepare the Surface
Preparation is often considered the most important part of any painting job. It's crucial when working with tile that you correctly prepare the painting surface otherwise the paint won't properly adhere to the surface and it could chip or flake off in mere weeks.
Begin by removing or repairing (if you can) any broken tiles. It's important to take care of damaged tiles because if left as is, they can deteriorate the quality of your final paint job. Take care of this problem first since it can make a mess and you only want to go through the cleaning process once.
Begin by thoroughly cleaning the surface. This is especially important in the bathroom because it's common for grime to build-up especially in the grout and in areas like behind the sink or around the toilet. Try a solution of half ammonia and half water and a stiff-bristle (or even steel bristle, but be careful that it doesn't gouge the tile) brush to clean the tile and grout. Make sure you remove all mildew and all loose grout. Repeat one or two times as needed. Then go over the area with a commercial tile cleaner. Make sure the tile cleaner you choose is mildly abrasive. This combined with the firm bristles of your cleaning brush will remove every trace of grime build-up and will also break down the tile's shiny surface.
The Importance of Sanding
Rinse the surface thoroughly. Allow the tiles to air dry completely. Begin the sanding process using a hand pad sander and 220-grit sandpaper. You can use an orbital sander to make the process go faster. It's important to only use fine grit sandpaper that won't leave marks on or gouges in the tile but will effectively remove the gloss. This is and removing all traces of the dust is a tedious step, but it needs to be done correctly otherwise the paint won't stick. Don't forget the corners of the tiles. One way to make sure you've removed all the dust is to vacuum the tiles and then go over them with clean lint-free cloths.
Apply the Primer and Paint
Use only quality, high adhesion primer. Apply it to the tiles using a 1/8-inch, short, napped roller and a brush for the corners. Be careful not to create lines from too much primer squeezing out of the edges of the roller. Allow the first coat to dry before applying the second coat. When the primer is dry, very lightly go over the surface by hand with 220-grit sandpaper to remove any primer burrs. Apply the top coat. Use an oil-based high gloss or semi-gloss alkyd that won't peel off the bathroom tiles.
Be aware that oil-based paint will take longer to dry but is has a more durable finish. You'll also need paint thinner to clean up any spills.
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