All You Need to Know About Painting Tile Floors
Want the luxurious look of decorative tile at a fraction of the cost? We’re spilling the secret on an under-the-radar DIY tile treatment, and teaching you how to recreate it in your home from start to finish.
Decorative tile floors can add an element of elegance to a hum-drum living space, but often for a pretty penny. To avoid the hassle of ripping out existing flooring—not to mention the high cost of commercial, patterned tiles— some crafty homeowners choose to achieve a similar look by painting tile floors.
This savvy DIY solution can create a variety of different finishes, from a matte monochrome to playful pattern. Are you ready to transform your existing tile floor on a dime? Put on your painter’s hat, roll up your sleeves, and get the scoop on all you need to know about painting tile floors.
WHICH TILES CAN YOU PAINT?
Although paint can be applied to ceramic tile in any room of the house, it doesn’t hold up equally well under all conditions. Prolonged exposure to moisture, for example, will cause paint to peel away from the tile over time. For long-lasting results, only paint tiles in the drier areas of your house. If you do opt to paint tile floors in high-moisture spaces, such as the bathroom, opt for a section of the floor far from the mildew-prone splash zone of the shower or bathtub and/or choose a paint labeled as specially made for bathrooms.
PREPARING TILE FOR PAINTING
The key to achieving a pristine paint finish is starting with a canvas of smooth, undamaged tile. Sand and vacuum the tile you want to paint, then get rid of dirt, grime, and mold by scrubbing the tile and grout lines with a homemade solution of equal parts bleach and warm water. Alternatively, you could clean the tile with a commercial cleaner that removes mold. Then, donning protective gear and maintaining proper ventilation in the room, repair any visible chips or cracks in the tile with caulk or a two-part epoxy.
Once the floor is prepped, protect nearby baseboards from paint splatter by applying painter’s tape where the baseboards meet the tile floor. If you don’t want to paint the grout lines, cover them with acrylic masking tape.
CHOOSING A PAINT FOR TILE FLOORING
When painting a tile floor, the following three types of paint work best:
- Chalk paint can be applied without primer to lend a shabby-chic solid color to the tile, and it can also serve as a base coat for a patterned finish. If using chalk paint as a base coat, choose a shade that will visually contrast with the color of the pattern you intend to overlay.
- Latex paint works for both solid and patterned tile floors; select a semi- or high-gloss latex paint for solid tiles and a high-gloss latex paint for patterned tiles.
- Oil-based paint holds up better than latex paint since it’s less prone to chipping and damage. However, oil-based paint takes longer to dry, and it’s becoming increasingly harder to find because of environmental concerns. If using oil-based paint, choose a high-gloss or semi-gloss option.
Keep in mind that latex and oil-based paints adhere best to primed tile, so apply an epoxy or urethane bonding primer by brush or roller before painting tile with these options.
APPLYING PAINT TO TILE FLOORING
If you’re planning to paint an entire floor, use a brush or roller to apply paint over the exposed tile and grout in a continuous motion. But if you’re painting alternating or random tiles instead of the entire floor, start by cutting in with a brush along the edge of one tile with an angled brush. Then, either brush or roll paint over the rest of the tile in unidirectional strokes, repeating this painting process for every tile you intend to paint. Mix a little paint thinner with the paint if you have trouble spreading it.
If you want a solid-colored tile design, then you are completely finished painting. Give the paint at least two or three days to dry. Then seal the tile with two or three coats of a clear, water-based urethane sealer—not an oil-based sealer, which can yellow your colors—allowing the first coat to dry completely before applying the next. Remove any masking tape and spruce up the grout lines by painting over them with grout paint, if needed.
But wait! If you plan on painting tile floors with a pattern, don’t seal the tile just yet. Simply let the tile dry for two or three days before moving on, and seal after the pattern has dried.
APPLYING A PATTERN
The easiest way to apply a pattern to painted tile is with a stencil. Whether you opt for a quilt-like pattern similar to what’s in the Remington Avenue powder room, a sharper geometric pattern like the one found in the Brown Acres kitchen, or something altogether more whimsically Moroccan, be sure to start by buying or DIYing a stencil that fits the dimensions of your existing tile. The outer tips of the graphic inside the stencil should reach the outer edges of the tile.
Secure the stencil to the floor with painter’s tape, making sure not to cover any parts of the graphic with tape. Then, using a roller with a foam roller cover, apply latex or chalk paint directly over the stencil. Rolling over one section of the stencil at a time instead of painting across the entire stencil can help avoid the roller marks that often plague home painters. Move the stencil to another tile and repeat this process across the entire floor, taking care not to mar any freshly painted tiles with the stencil.
If you run into partial tiles at the edge of the floor, you can paint over partial sections of the stencil. Use an artist’s paintbrush to make any necessary touch-ups to the pattern, and allow the paint to dry completely before finishing it with a clear water-based sealant.
PAINTED TILE FLOOR CARE AND LONGEVITY
A high-quality sealant can protect your painted tile floor from grime, moisture, and mold, as well as scuff marks and scratches from foot traffic. Even so, regularly sweeping, vacuuming, and damp-mopping debris from the floor will help retain the sheen of your painted tile floor and keep the pattern (if applied) looking sharp and distinct. You can also provide your tile floor with an extra barrier of protection from everyday wear-and-tear by setting mats in high-traffic areas and floor pads directly below furnishings on the tile.
When you need to thoroughly clean painted tile, use neutral pH solvents and lightly rub them into the floor with a non-abrasive chamois mop. Steer clear of steel wool, scouring pads, or chemical cleaners, which can all discolor or erode the paint. Don’t let cleaners or plain water settle for too long on painted tile, as the excess moisture can make the paint more prone to peeling. A paste of baking soda and warm water makes for a gentle homemade cleaner that not only works wonders on grime-ridden tile, but can also render your grout lines pearly-white again. After using this homemade cleaner, wipe the clean tile dry with a lint-free cloth.
By mastering these tile maintenance dos and don’ts, you can maintain the unforgettable finish of your painted tile floor for many years.