How To: Remove Paint from Tile
Longing to uncover an original surface or get rid of unsightly drips? Apply one of the three tried-and-true methods here.
It’s entirely possible to remove paint from tile, whether you’re simply hoping to banish some accidental splatters or you’ve discovered a wealth of vintage tile beauty beneath a prior paint job.
The right technique for removal depends on the extent and tenacity of the paint you want to be rid of—just bear in mind that if the tiles’ glaze has cracks, flakes, or webbing, any attempt may very well worsen the damage.
No matter which of the following methods you choose to pursue, you can likely restore your tile to its original, paint-free state—and it may be easier than you think!
Note: If your tile has seen better days, skip ahead to Method 3 (and consider replacing the damaged tiles).
Method 1: Scrape It Off
If you’ve been a bit careless during a paint job and need to get rid of splatters, try this method first. Should dried-on paint prove stubborn, however, move on to Method 2. Of course, if attempting to scrape spots in place for decades, wear a dust mask—don’t take chances with potentially hazardous lead-based paint.
Starting in an inconspicuous test area first, hold a utility knife at a 45-degree angle and carefully scrape paint off the tile using a short, firm but gentle stroke. If paint comes up without harming glaze, proceed with confidence. But if you feel or notice any glaze cracking or flaking off, skip to Method 3 in order to best preserve the tile beneath.
Dampen a clean rag with water and wipe the tiles clean. Scrape and wipe till all splatters are gone. If some splatters don’t come off, tackle them with Method 2.
Method 2: Heat and Scrape
A heat gun can help loosen dried, cured paint. Again, with any paint that could pre-date 1978, wear a dust mask for safe breathing as you work.
Work in a small area of about a square foot at a time. Heat the tiles while constantly moving the gun in order to avoid scorching a spot, and continue until the paint feels soft and tacky.
Holding a plastic scraper at a 45-degree angle, remove paint from tile, starting from an outside edge and working your way in. Often, it will lift off quickly in satisfying strips! Be patient when in tricky areas like corners.
Periodically wipe the surface clean with a water-dampened clean rag. Repeat the heat-scrape-wipe procedure until all paint is removed.
METHOD 3: Paint Remover
Use paint remover on stubborn paint or damaged tiles. To purchase the most effective product, tell your hardware store professional the type of tiles and glaze you have; if you’re unsure (or don’t have a sample to show), a citrus-based paint remover, such as Citristrip (available on Amazon) is the least likely to damage glazing while still removing paint from tile. For tiles more than 20 years old, ask your retailer for a conservation-rated paint remover for glazed surfaces. Whatever paint remover you use, ensure that your working area is well-ventilated by opening windows and operating fans.
Clean painted tiles with household cleaner or a 50-50 solution of white vinegar and water. Then wipe with a water-dampened cloth to neutralize the surface. Don your goggles and gloves before you proceed.
In an inconspicuous area, test the tile’s ability to handle the paint remover. Using a clean rag, liberally apply paint remover as recommended by the packaging and let sit for the recommended dwell time.
Scrape off paint with a plastic scraper held at a 45-degree angle. Wipe clean with remover after scraping. If there’s no damage to the glaze, proceed for the remainder of the tile. If there is glaze damage, you can continue but will need to refinish the tiles.
When the paint has been removed to your satisfaction, clean the tiles with warm soapy water and dry with a clean rag.
A Note on Grout
If grouting was never properly sealed, it may be a challenge to remove paint between tiles. Try scrubbing grout with a citrus-based paint remover and a toothbrush, then wipe clean per product recommendation. Repeat several times until you achieve the desired result, but if you’re stymied, you have two options: painting the grout with a specialized paint, or re-grouting. If you successfully remove all the paint stain from the grout, consider re-sealing to protect the lines from future damage.