Giving Ceramic Tile Color That Will Last

You can paint a ceramic tile floor. Make sure to clean the tile first and, as on a basketball court, cover the paint with clear urethane.
You can paint a ceramic tile floor. Make sure to clean the tile first and, as on a basketball court, cover the paint with clear urethane. (By Tim Carter -- Tribune Media Services)
By Tim Carter
Saturday, May 10, 2008

Q: DEAR TIM: Can you instruct me on how to paint ceramic tile? Money is tight now, and painting the 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? -- Leslie S., Belleville, Ill.

A: DEAR LESLIE: You can really transform the look and feel of a room by painting ceramic tile. If you have painted walls and flooring, 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 clean.

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, a powder that you mix with water. You apply a generous amount of the solution and let it soak into the grout. After a 10-minute wait, scrub the grout with excess oxygen-bleach solution, and it looks like new. If you plan to also paint the grout, you must let it dry for at least 48 hours.

To ensure that the new paint will not peel, you need to use the right kind. I have had great success with oil-based paint. Pollution laws that address volatile organic compounds have made it harder to find oil-based paints. Many people also do not like the cleanup, 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 also good. Urethane is a very sticky glue -- and, after all, that is what paint really is, a liquid glue that contains color -- and you need a paint that can adhere to the glossy surface of ceramic tile.

Tile that gets wet regularly, such as inside a tub or shower area, should not be painted. You can, however, paint a ceramic tile backsplash that occasionally gets 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.

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 on 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 want a contrast in color, you will have to painstakingly tape off the grout lines with 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.

Tim Carter can be contacted via his Web site,

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