After deciding on a color and investing in quality brushes and paint rollers to create a professional finish, choosing the type of paint is perhaps more important for a bathroom than anywhere else in the home. Humidity and condensation do not make for a healthy environment for this kind of finish, but it’s an area of the home where leading brands have focused considerable effort. The result is that today’s best paint for bathrooms not only looks beautiful, but it is also formulated to deliver long-lasting protection against peeling, mold, mildew, and unpleasant odors.
This guide explores several factors to consider as you shop for paint, and then showcases some of the best paint for bathrooms in a variety of categories.
- BEST OVERALL: HGTV HOME by Sherwin Williams Infinity Satin Paint
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Diamond Brite Paint 40400 1-Gallon Kitchen and Bath
- UPGRADE PICK: KILZ TRIBUTE Interior Semi-Gloss Paint and Primer
- BEST ECO-FRIENDLY: PPG Diamond 1 Gal. Pure White Satin Interior Paint
- BEST SATIN: BEHR ULTRA 1 gal. Ultra Extra Durable Satin Enamel
- BEST SEMI-GLOSS: PPG TIMELESS 1 gal. Pure White/Base 1 Semi-Gloss
- BEST FOR HUMID CLIMATES: Valspar Ultra Semi-Gloss Tintable Interior Paint
- BEST FOR ODOR RESISTANCE: Rust-Oleum Corporation 02711 Mold and Mildew Proof
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Paint For Bathrooms
With the right materials and technique, it’s possible to give a new look to bathroom cabinets, refresh tile, or even change the color of a faucet, a washbasin, or a tub. While the best paint for bathrooms can take several forms, in this guide, the focus is on the specific characteristics of paint for walls and ceilings.
Read on to learn about considerations to keep in mind as you shop for the right option for your bathroom. These considerations include the type and finish of the paint, its moisture-resistant and antimicrobial qualities, the presence of volatile organic compounds, its coverage ability, and the length of its drying time.
Oil vs. Latex
Oil-based paints were long considered the better choice for bathrooms because of their durability and resistance to water and to abrasion when being wiped down. However, they are slow drying and may contain high levels of volatile organic compounds that are toxic—more on that in a moment. Additionally, the cleanup of oil-based paints is more difficult, as it requires spirits or solvents.
Latex paints (also called acrylics) are water-based. They are far more environmentally friendly, have a low odor in use, and cleanup only requires washing brushes and rollers with water. Today, the best latex paint for bathrooms offers a number of features that equal or exceed the performance of oil-based alternatives.
Bathrooms typically have high humidity and frequently suffer from condensation as a result. The walls and ceiling can be damp for long periods, and while ventilation from an extractor fan can help, it’s only part of the solution.
To withstand this environment, bathroom paint needs to be moisture resistant. Some paints are specifically described as such, and paint termed “washable” effectively has the same meaning. Technically speaking, these paints have a molecular structure that’s closer knit than that of water, so moisture cannot penetrate.
An additional benefit is that walls coated with moisture-resistant paint are easier to clean because the smooth surface makes it difficult for dirt to take hold.
Mold and mildew are both common microorganisms—types of fungi—which grow best in warm, damp environments. Unfortunately, bathrooms are an ideal habitat. Small patches are relatively easy to manage, but if left untreated, they can grow surprisingly rapidly and may present a health hazard.
Many of the best paints for bathrooms now boast antimicrobial properties. Mold-killing primers include a fungicide that can be painted directly over existing outbreaks. Other products may be a primer and paint in one, designed to prevent reoccurrence of mold or mildew for a number of years.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are solvents found in both oil-based and latex paints (though they are generally of much lower quantity in the latter). They are released into the air as the paint dries. VOCs are toxic and frequently cause dizziness or headaches. While long-term effects remain a subject of debate, the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) considers some VOCs to be carcinogenic.
As a result, the federal government puts limits on the amount of VOCs in all paint. For household products, that amount is 380 g/l (grams per liter) for non-flat coatings (semi-gloss, for example) and 250 g/l for flat coatings like satin. California has stricter rules, with a maximum of 50 g/l for all paint finishes. Manufacturers who comply with this limit are entitled to describe their products as low-VOC bathroom paint.
Zero-VOC bathroom paints also exist—though, somewhat controversially, they may still contain 5 g/l of VOCs, and the level may rise if tints are added.
Coverage and Drying Time
It’s common to look at a gallon of bathroom paint from two different manufacturers and compare prices directly. However, each may offer different coverage—usually described in square feet per gallon—so the math isn’t quite as simple as it first appears.
Consideration should also be given as to whether one or two coats will be required. If you’re painting a pastel color over an existing dark color, even bathroom paints that claim to be a one-coat product may need a second coat.
Pay attention to drying time as well. A bathroom paint that has a drying time of two hours—at which point it can be touched without being tacky—will generally need several more hours before subsequent coats can be applied. It’s important to follow a manufacturer’s specific instructions carefully. Recoating before sufficient time has elapsed can cause the second coat to lift the first.
The finish of bathroom paints has a greater impact than just the color choice or the dictates of home decor. It’s likely you’ll be living with your selection for several years, or perhaps longer, so understanding the different finish properties is important.
Gloss paints, while less popular than in the past, nevertheless offer a durable, easy-to-clean surface. The drawback is the way they reflect light. Faults and imperfections in the underlying structure are more likely to show.
Semi-gloss paints share the benefits of gloss but aren’t as reflective. They’re also a logical solution for high-humidity environments like bathrooms.
At the other end of the scale, matte and eggshell are the flattest paint finishes. They hide flaws well, but the almost complete absence of reflection can make them feel somewhat utilitarian. Satin paint is a good compromise and a popular finish right now for bathrooms.
Our Top Picks
Now that you understand the key features relating to the composition of bathroom paints, it’s time to go shopping. The following recommendations provide an in-depth reference for the best bathroom paints in their respective categories.
HGTV Home Infinity Satin Paint by Sherwin Williams is 100 percent acrylic enamel—a hard-wearing latex—and incorporates a primer so it provides single-coat coverage. While this could be used in any room, its high mold and mildew resistance makes it well suited for bathrooms.
This bathroom paint meets the independent GREENGUARD Gold certification standard for low VOCs. It can be tinted in a wide range of pastels and midrange colors, and the availability of matte, eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss finishes provides choices for all tastes.
Diamond Brite latex kitchen and bathroom paint is a budget-priced product designed for use in rooms that are frequently subject to high humidity, water splashes, condensation, or steam. It can be applied by brush, roller, or paint sprayer. This paint is especially fast drying, and it should be possible to apply a second coat in under an hour. While the covering of previous finishes appears unimpressive during application, the paint becomes more opaque as it dries. Once fully dry, the semi-gloss finish is fade resistant and easy to clean with soap and water.
For best results, the manufacturer recommends pre-painting with Diamond Brite Primer Sealer. While this does add to the cost, it remains a very economical way to paint a bathroom, although the manufacturer’s color range is somewhat limited.
KILZ TRIBUTE is a 100 percent acrylic combination of primer and paint that provides excellent hiding characteristics. In most cases, one coat is all that’s necessary to dry to a tough, mildew-resistant sheen. Coverage is an impressive 400 square feet per gallon (on smooth surfaces).
While it does come at a premium price, KILZ TRIBUTE can be used on wood and masonry as well as drywall and plaster. Choose from 100 colors in eggshell, matte, satin, and semi-gloss finishes. This paint’s low VOC credentials are supported by GREENGUARD Gold certification.
Acrylic latex paints are a more environmentally friendly choice for bathroom paint than their oil-based counterparts, particularly due to the low VOC variants. PPG Diamond goes one better with this zero VOC formulation that still delivers the mildew protection and stain resistance necessary for the bathroom. It is both paint and primer in one, with advanced hiding properties and coverage in excess of 300 square feet per gallon.
This durable bathroom paint is available in matte, eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss finishes and can be tinted with a remarkable 1,100 colors. The addition of tint will, however, increase the VOC level, with the actual amount depending on the chosen color.
A criticism sometimes leveled at satin finish bathroom paints is that they’re not as easy to clean or as durable as semi-gloss versions. That’s not the case with this paint by Behr Ultra, which bears the title “Scuff Defense” to underline its toughness. The combined paint and primer is suitable for a wide variety of surfaces, which, unusually, even includes vinyl. It also features stain-blocking and mildew-resistant qualities. A gallon will cover upward of 250 square feet, and it can be recoated in two hours if necessary.
The low VOC claim of this paint is backed by GREENGUARD Gold certification. It’s available in hundreds of colors and also comes in matte, eggshell, semi-gloss, and gloss finishes.
Semi-gloss is many people’s finish of choice for bathroom paints because of its subtle reflective qualities, inherent durability, and easy-clean properties. This semi-gloss option by PPG TIMELESS is a paint and primer combination that offers one-coat coverage. It features high wear resistance that helps ensure the color doesn’t fade over time.
This paint also contains stain blockers. It is low odor and low VOC with a range of over 1,000 tint colors, though one-coat coverage is only guaranteed when using PPG’s own tints. While not mold or mildew resistant, the nature of semi-gloss paints means this is seldom a problem.
Humid climates demand either gloss or semi-gloss bathroom paints for the best long-term beauty and protection. Gloss bathroom paint is frequently oil-based, and latex versions tend to be expensive. By contrast, this Valspar Ultra semi-gloss latex paint is remarkably affordable. This paint and primer combination can often be applied as a single coat, though relatively rapid drying means a second coat could be applied the same day if necessary. It is also easy to clean and features “Scrub Shield” technology for a high resistance to wear.
This bathroom paint can be tinted in hundreds of different colors to suit personal preference. Its environmentally friendly formulation is backed by the independent GREENGUARD Gold certification.
With this bathroom paint, Rust-Oleum has created a highly effective antimicrobial formula that provides excellent odor resistance by preventing the growth of mold and mildew. This multi-surface bathroom paint can be used on masonry and concrete as well as drywall and plaster. It also boasts reliable durability and stain protection.
This satin finish paint dries in as little as 30 minutes. Proper covering of previous midrange and darker colors will probably require a second coat. It can be tinted in pastel and medium colors, though Rust-Oleum provides little information on this process, so patch tests may be required.
FAQs About Paint for Bathrooms
Now that you’ve learned about the key features offered by the best paint for bathrooms—and had the opportunity to consider the recommendations—you might be ready to make a purchase. However, a few questions may remain, particularly about how to achieve the best possible results. Check out some of the most frequently asked questions below.
Q. Do I need special paint for the bathroom?
It’s definitely recommended to use special paint for a bathroom. While it’s possible to use ordinary paints in a bathroom, paint manufacturers invest a lot of effort to produce bathroom-friendly formulas. These specially formulated paints are better suited to survive the humid environment and resist peeling and prevent the growth of mold and mildew.
Q. Is there a waterproof paint for bathrooms?
There are numerous water-resistant bathroom paints designed to prevent humidity from attacking the underlying wall structure. While these paints easily shed water, they may not withstand being submerged—in the event of a bathroom flooding, for example—or survive water from a burst pipe being sprayed directly at painted walls over a significant period of time.
Q. Do I need to prime bathroom walls before painting?
Many of the best bathroom paints incorporate a primer, so only one product is necessary. However, separate antibacterial and mold-resistant primers are also available.
Q. How do you prepare a bathroom for painting?
Although some primers can be directly applied, first undertaking a thorough cleaning of the walls and ceiling is usually more beneficial in the long term. Use a solution of either three parts water to one part bleach, or dilute TSP (trisodium phosphate) as recommended to clean grease or mold off walls and ceiling. Rinse with clean water. When dry, scrape off any loose paint and give all surfaces a light rub with 120/150 grit sandpaper to provide a key for the new paint. Remember to wear gloves throughout this process to protect your hands.