DIY

A Bathroom Tile Makeover…With Paint

Remember my little run-in with a full jar of gold leaf a few weeks ago? (Not one of my finest moments.)

But honestly? I wasn’t all that upset about the fact that I’d just completely destroyed my floor with a permanent paint-splatter. Because I’d already decided that I was going to (finally) do something about the terrible, dark-grouted, 1970s-style tile in our master bathroom. And the solution that I’d come up with would mean that I’d be able to fix up the floor (which was tinted a lovely shade evoking a 1981 urinal) as well…at no additional cost.

Stay with me.

When we first saw our home on a FaceTime video, the master bathroom was one of the spots I sort of shrugged off as “well THAT’S terrible, but obviously we’re going to fix it up.” And then we sort of…didn’t. Because like many people, I prefer to spend my money fixing up spaces that are for all of us – the playroom, the living room, the dining room. I wasn’t especially motivated to spend a bunch of money on a room as un-sexy as a closet-like bathroom that no one will ever see but us.

And besides: MAN, is retiling ever expensive. I briefly entertained the idea of leaving the tile and just swapping out the grout for something lighter-colored, but virtually everybody at Home Depot plus my parents plus my husband plus three separate friends (one of whom is a certified home renovation expert), told me that the process is long and miserable and easy to screw up, and is basically the perfect example of A Thing That One Should Pay A Professional To Do.

Except I have no money for stuff like this right now. And so I’d basically put this item on the back-burner, but when my friend Elise came over to help me paint my bathroom, I mentioned my ugly shower tiles and she said, “Oh, you can just paint over those!” Apparently she’d had the same dark and 70s-ish grout situation in her own foyer, and to spruce it up she had used…

Ba da daaaa…..

Paint.

But not just any paint: an epoxy paint specifically created to create a flawless, durable finish on tile.

To be clear: I did not believe her. I’ve done a bunch of research on how to rehab ugly bathroom tile, and “paint them” has never popped up in my search results. But when Elise showed me her (kind of spectacular) before and after shots, I figured…I mean, what was the worst thing that was going to happen? I’d screw up tiles that were already screwed up, and just have to do what I had originally planned to do (hire a professional)?

So I did it. And you know what happened? My bathroom transformed into a FREAKING VISION.

(Or at least as close to a “freaking vision” a bathroom can come when it is approximately four square feet and is possessed of the elegant, cozy appeal of a linen closet, if linen closets contained toilets.)

No but seriously: LOOK.

how to refresh the look of your bathroom tile using paint

Right?!?! I’m sort of floored. (Floored! Hee.) (Sorry.)

How-To: Rehab Your Bathroom Tile Using Epoxy Paint

  1. Start by preparing your area: you’ll need drop cloths, painter’s tape (to tape off any areas you don’t want painted), a tray to pour your paint into, a large roller and a small one, and – this is important – excellent ventilation. My bathroom has one tiny window way up by the ceiling, so I put a couple of fans in the room, opened up every window in the adjacent bedroom, and took breaks for fresh air. This is by far the worst part of the process: epoxy paint is super toxic and smells terrible, and it is imperative that you protect yourself, or you absolutely will get sick (I didn’t take frequent-enough breaks, and I ended up nauseated and lightheaded for the next few hours). Get a mask and take the time to set up fans; it’s a big deal. Don’t skip it.
  2. Next, scrub the ever-loving shit out of every spot you plan to paint. I was doing my shower stall and the bathroom floor, so I went over the area once with a bleach-containing antibacterial spray, and then followed up with a swipe of denatured alcohol (this may be overkill if you’re not working with a space that’s in reasonably decent shape, but better safe than sorry; you don’t want any bacteria/soap scum/whatever hanging out underneath your epoxy paint).
  3. If you’re so inclined, give the entire surface a light sanding. I did not do this, but I’m also a person who tends towards corner-cutting when it comes to home renovation projects, so take that for what it’s worth.
  4. Pour the epoxy paint into a tray, and use a large roller to quickly cover the bulk of the surface area (epoxy paint dries suuuper fast, so make sure to catch any drips right away). Then use a small roller and/or an angle brush to get in corners and along edges. Wait an hour or so, and then apply a second coat.
  5. Don’t touch the area for three days or so, after which you’re OK to go for showers and baths and such.

Pros/Cons Of Epoxy Paint

PROS:

  • It’s a silly-cheap solution ($28 for the paint, about $15 for the brushes, drop cloths, etc).
  • It’s relatively easy (really just painting, aside from the ventilation issues and the fact that it dries super-quickly).
  • It has the immediate gratification element: an hour or two of work, and your tile looks spectacular.

CONS:

  • Oh, god, the smell. Oh god.
  • It’s durable, but I’m sure it’s not as durable as actual tile; I definitely expect chipping at some point.
  • Even though you’d have to look pretty closely to realize that it’s paint, the overall effect is less upscale than new tile.

Take a look for yourself, and let me know what you think!

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  • Erin

    Looks amazing! Stealing this 🙂

  • melodie

    looks fantastic Jordan!

  • Nicole F.

    Wait! How long did this take? And is the tile on the floor real (ceramic) tile? This is crazy!

    • jordanreid

      RIGHT!? it took about three hours total, between the prep work and the painting itself. the floor isn’t real tile – it’s laminate – but to me it looks more like real tile now than it did before.

  • Heather K

    Wow, impressive! Do you know if there are any rules about how you can wash it afterward? Like will aggressive scrubbing wreck the paint?

    • jordanreid

      well, it’s made for bathtubs, so i have to assume it’ll stand up to normal wear-and-tear…but i definitely assume that it’ll chip at some point (hopefully not for a long time though).

  • Rain Mikajlo

    ooh impressive! how long did you wait til you used the shower? our main shower has the same tiles and i curse them every time i see them. (plus i need a project to clear my head.)

    • jordanreid

      you technically need to wait three days, but we were out of town so it was about a a week before we used it.

  • Beth

    Is the flooring vinyl? It looks super smooth like it doesn’t have any texture/grouting on the finished photo so o thought I’d ask.

    • jordanreid

      sorry, i misspoke when i said laminate – i didn’t install it, but it looks like sheet vinyl to me.

  • Manda

    So many questions. Because I might have to do this — we’ve been wanting to remodel our bathroom (with kind of adorable but ultimately old and difficult-to-keep-clean 60s tiling) since we moved in, but other things keep coming up.

    (1) Would you do this in your “main” bathroom? Our main floor bathroom is the one guests use a well as me and my daughter. Or would you only do this in a more hidden-away bathroom?

    (2) Our bathroom is about 10 feet from our daughter’s bedroom door/crib. Would we be best to find a time to do it and go away a few days?

    (3) Is there a specific white color you used? Did you ever consider slightly darker floor color and pure white wall color?

    (4) Would the paint cover pale-colored tiles? We have some multi-color action on the floor.

    (5) How easy is it to clean? Most of my cleaning in life revolves around black dog hair.

    (6) Think I could hire someone on Thumbtack to do this for me?

    Thanks in advance!!

    • jordanreid

      hey manda! answers:

      1) i would, with the caveat that i’m not bothered by little imperfections, and i know some people really are. i’m sure some people would end up with perfectly straight lines and 100% even coverage, but my job is clearly DIY-ed if you take a close look. personally, though, i’d say the finish is totally nice enough to work in a main bath.

      2) my kids were napping in their own rooms behind closed doors (with fans in their rooms running) when i did this, and the smell bothered my son enough that it woke him up, so kendrick took them out for the remainder. i would say keep your daughter out of the house while you’re working, and for a couple of hours afterwards, and then keep the house (and especially her room) well-ventilated steer clear of the immediate area for a couple of days afterwards.

      3) The kit i used comes in three colors (white, and two shades of ecru), but I like the look of the white wayyyy better.

      4) Yes. You might need two coats, but I used two coats anyway, to make sure I had even coverage.

      5) So far it’s as easy to clean as vinyl. Super smooth.

      6) Yes, totally – a handyman should be able to do it no problem (as opposed to a more expensive “painter”). Just make sure to warn them that they’ll need a mask and encourage them to take frequent breaks.

      • Manda

        Thanks so much!!

  • Jessie8383

    Looks great! We used this to refinish the inside of our claw foot tub a few years ago, and it looked wonderful for a while… then started to seriously chip and peel. Unfortunately these “over the counter” solutions don’t work so well in the long run, we learned. You may have better luck with floor/wall tiles than a tub (because I think the standing water helped to break down the epoxy), but here’s what it ended up looking like for us after about two years:

    • jordanreid

      ahhhh, yeah, i figured that a solution this inexpensive and easy might not last forever. this isn’t our “main” shower, though, so my hope is the fact that the room is relatively low-traffic will keep it looking new longer. (also the base of the shower isn’t tile and i didn’t paint it, so that should help too re: standing water.)

  • Kimberly

    Hi! Thinking of doing this to my bathroom … how has the tile paint held up ?!

    • jordanreid

      it’s held up perfectly, actually – but just as a caveat, this is the bathroom in our house that gets the least traction. i don’t know how the paint would hold up in, say, a bathtub that gets used every day.