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Ceramic tile can be painted

The Baltimore Sun

Can you instruct me on how to paint ceramic tile? Money is very tight now, and painting my ceramic tile is the only thing I can afford. Can you paint old ceramic tile, so it won't peel? Is there a special ceramic tile paint? What is an easy way to paint ceramic floor tile, and should I paint the grout?

You can really transform the look and feel of a room by painting ceramic tile. If you have painted walls and even flooring before, you can do this job.

Any ceramic tile can be painted, whether it's 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.

You can clean ceramic tile with just about any soap, but the more powerful ones often do a better job. Use a scrub brush aggressively to 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, as 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 ceramic or other glazed surfaces that I would not paint, such as 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, however, paint a ceramic-tile backsplash that gets occasional water on it. You can even paint the ceramic tile floor in a bathroom as long as it won't be exposed to too much water splashing on it.

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. You can find proof in any basketball court. Patterns are painted on the court floor; then, after the paint cures for two days, the entire floor is covered with several coats of clear floor finish. Water-based urethanes work well, as they stay clear for a long time without yellowing.

Should you paint the grout? That's a personal decision. 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, you will have to painstakingly tape off the grout lines with the special acrylic masking tape that won't 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.

Expert home builder and remodeling contractor Tim Carter has 20 years of hands-on experience in the home industry. He is a licensed master plumber, master carpenter, master roof cutter and real estate broker. If you have a question, go to and click on "Ask Tim."

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