How to Paint Old Ceramic Tile

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Say you've got an old ceramic tile wall or floor that's still in good shape structurally, but is so dated and ugly that you want it gone. Ripping up and replacing ceramic is a major chore--but painting it is relatively easy. The trick to painting ceramic is using the right paints (oil paints stick better and dry harder than water-based) and sealing it all in polyurethane gloss. Don't paint shower tiles or other areas that will be subjected frequently to direct water, as the paint will come off.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Bleach-based tile cleanser
  • Stiff scrub brush
  • Hand-held power sander (belt or pad)
  • 100-grit sandpaper
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Oil-based primer
  • Paint brushes
  • Oil-based topcoat paint
  • Oil-based clear polyurethane gloss

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Thoroughly clean the tiles and grout with a bleach-based cleanser and stiff scrub brush. If there's any damaged grout, re-grout it and let it set. Load your sander with 100-grit sandpaper and sand the whole tile surface, pressing hard enough to scuff the glazed surface of the tiles and take off some of the shine. Thoroughly clean up the dust with paint thinner. Get the surface completely dry.

  2. 2

    Apply the primer with a brush in a thin, even coat, starting at one corner of the tiled area and working your way across. Paint over the tile face and the grout all at once. Let the primer dry according to the instructions, then very lightly sand it with 220-grit sandpaper by hand (not with your power sander). Vacuum up the dust.

  3. 3

    Apply the topcoat of paint in the same manner as the primer, starting in one corner and working your way across the area. Paint over the grout and tile face all at once. After it dries, buff it lightly by hand with 220-grit sandpaper, vacuum up the dust and apply a second coat. If you're painting a floor, buff the paint again and apply a third coat.

  4. 4

    Once the topcoat of paint dries, open your polyurethane gloss and gently stir it. (Don't shake it, as this will cause bubbles.) Brush the gloss onto the tiles in a thin, even layer, taking care not to form bubbles or ridges. When it dries, gently buff the surface with 220-grit sandpaper, vacuum up the dust, then apply a second layer in the same manner. If the surface is a floor, apply two to three more layers, sand-buffing between each one, to get a solid, hard layer of gloss over the tiles.

Tips and warnings

  • If you want to paint designs or murals into the surface, paint a solid background first, paint your designs over that, then gloss over the whole thing.
  • Ventilate the room when applying the oil paints and gloss.

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