Can You Paint Tiles with Emulsion Paint?

Painting over tiles in your home can be a quick and affordable way to update the look of your walls and floors. However, not all paints are suitable for painting directly onto tiles. Using regular interior emulsion paint on tiles is not usually recommended.

Paint Tiles with Emulsion Paint

Key Takeaways

  • Regular emulsion paints are not formulated for painting directly onto tiles and often don’t adhere well or last over time when used on tiles.
  • Specialist tile paints are designed specifically to bond to tiles and withstand moisture, cleaning and scrubbing. Brands like Rust-Oleum Tile Transform, Ronseal Tile Paint or Dulux Once Tile Paint provide reliable results.
  • Before painting tiles, proper preparation is crucial – thoroughly clean and degrease, lightly sand glazed tiles, apply suitable primer if needed.
  • While painting tiles with emulsion is possible with extensive prep, a tile paint is more foolproof and provides longer-lasting results.
  • Hiring a professional painter experienced with tile painting ensures a high quality, lasting finish and removes the guesswork and effort for DIYers.
  • Maintain painted tiles by using only mild, non-abrasive cleaners, promptly spot cleaning stains and reapplying fresh paint coats periodically.
  • Painting over existing emulsion paint on tiles rarely adheres well or lasts. Fully removing the old paint first provides the best results.

What is Emulsion Paint?

Emulsion paint, also known as latex or acrylic paint, is the standard type of interior wall paint. It is water-based, easy to apply and clean up, and dries to a matte or satin finish.

Emulsion paints are designed to be applied to drywall, plaster, wood, concrete and other porous surfaces in homes. They soak into the tiny holes and textures of these surfaces, binding to them as they dry. This gives emulsion paints their adhesion and durability on standard wall materials.

However, tiles have an entirely different surface structure. Tiles are non-porous with a sealed glazed surface. This causes issues for emulsion paints in terms of adhesion and durability.

Problems Using Emulsion Paint on Tiles

There are a few reasons why regular emulsion paint is not well-suited for painting directly onto tile surfaces:

Poor adhesion – Emulsion paint cannot properly soak into and grip onto the glossy non-porous tile surface. Without proper adhesion, the paint is at high risk of peeling, chipping, or scratching off.

Uneven finish – The smooth tile surface can cause the paint to dry with an uneven, patchy and splotchy appearance. It does not hold the paint evenly.

Low durability – Tiles require frequent cleaning with scrubbing, scouring and even harsh chemicals in kitchens and bathrooms. Emulsion paint is not formulated to withstand this type of frequent abrasion and chemical exposure over time.

Visible tile grout lines – Applying a thin layer of emulsion paint may not fully hide the existing tile grout lines, leaving an unsightly finish. Multiple coats are needed to try and conceal grout lines.

Not scrubbable – Emulsion paints cannot be vigorously scrubbed without risk of the paint wearing away. On tiles that need scrubbing, the paint can start peeling in as little as a few weeks.

Prone to staining/discoloration – The thin layer of emulsion paint over tile does not provide a fully washable surface. Grease, dirt, soap and other contaminants can seep through and stain the paint over time with regular cleaning.

Can You Successfully Paint Tiles with Emulsion?

While it’s not impossible to apply emulsion paint to tiles, doing so directly without any preparation risks a poor quality paint job. At best, the paint may start peeling or scratching off after a few months or years. At worst, the paint may start flaking within weeks of application.

To successfully paint tiles with emulsion, extensive preparation is required:

  • Clean and degrease the tiles thoroughly to remove any waxes, sealants or other surface contaminants
  • Lightly sand or abrade the glazed tile surface to roughen it up and improve paint adhesion
  • Apply a specialized primer, sealant or undercoat designed for glazed tiles
  • Apply multiple thin coats of emulsion paint, allowing proper drying time between coats

However, even with this level of preparation, results and durability may still be sub-par compared to using a tile-specific paint. The surface remains non-porous and the paint adhesion can still degrade over time.

Heavy traffic areas or wet rooms will quickly show signs of paint wear. Visible grout lines and uneven patches may still be noticeable. And extensive preparation makes painting tiles with emulsion paint much more difficult and time consuming compared to using a dedicated tile paint.

Best Option: Use a Specialist Tile Paint

For painting over tiles, the best option is to use a paint specifically formulated for tiles and bathrooms. These tile paints are designed with adhesion and durability in mind.

Look for paints labelled as appropriate for tiles, ceramics, bathrooms, kitchens or showers. Popular brands include:

  • Rust-Oleum Tile Transform
  • Ronseal Tile Paint
  • Dulux Once Tile Paint
  • Johnstone’s Tile Paint

The key advantages of using a specialist tile paint include:

  • Strong adhesion – Specially designed to bond securely onto non-porous ceramic, porcelain and natural stone tiles.
  • Smooth finish – Goes on evenly for professional looking results free of grout lines and inconsistencies.
  • Scrubbable & washable – Can withstand repeated cleaning, scrubbing, mopping and exposure to moisture.
  • Mold & mildew resistant – Formulated for high humidity areas like bathrooms and kitchens.
  • Long-lasting durability – Provides a super durable finish built to last for years of heavy use and cleaning.
  • No sanding or priming – Specially formulated to adhere to tiles without labor-intensive surface prep.

Always check the individual paint for suitability on your specific tile type, and carefully follow the manufacturer’s application instructions.

But quality tile paint provides a much more reliable solution for painting over tiles than trying to use regular emulsion paint.

Step-by-Step Guide to Painting Tiles

When using a specialist tile paint, the process for painting tiles is straightforward:

1. Clean and Prepare the Tiles

  • Remove any existing paints or coatings completely.
  • Clean the tiles thoroughly with a degreasing cleaner and rinse.
  • Lightly sand glazed tiles to help the paint adherence.
  • Clean again and allow to fully dry before painting.

2. Apply Any Recommended Primers

  • Use a primer or undercoat if advised by the paint manufacturer.
  • Primers help the topcoat paint better adhere to tiles.

3. Paint a Small Test Patch

  • Paint a small hidden area to test adhesion and look for any reactions.
  • Allow the test patch to dry fully before inspecting.

4. Apply the Tile Paint

  • Stir the paint well and apply as directed, using a brush, roller or spray.
  • Work in sections, cutting along edges neatly and applying even coats.
  • Allow proper drying time between coats.
  • Apply two to three coats for best coverage and durability.

5. Optional Decorative Effects

  • Once the paint is fully dry, you can add optional decorative effects like sponging, rag rolling, stripes, patterns, stencils or accent colors.
  • Seal paint with a recommended varnish or sealer for added protection.

And that’s it! With the right tile paint and some careful application, you can give your tiled walls or floors an affordable new look while protecting the surface.

Hiring a Professional Painter for Best Results

For large tile painting projects or highly visible areas, it is often worth hiring a professional painter. They have the skills, tools and experience for a high quality painted finish on tiles.

Benefits of hiring a pro painter include:

  • Knowledge of all suitable paints and preparations needed
  • Proper cleaning, sanding, priming and application
  • Neat application into corners, along edges and cutting in
  • Consistent coatings and even coverage
  • Advanced spray painting skills for a smooth professional finish
  • Creative decorative effects like rag rolling, sponging, stripes and patterns
  • Efficient completion of large tile painting projects

While a quality tile paint allows DIY painting onto tiles, professional painters have the expertise to ensure long-lasting results. Their skills make a painted tile renovation simpler and provides peace of mind that the finish will look great for years.

Maintaining Painted Tiles

Once tiles are successfully painted, maintaining the finish well comes down to good cleaning practices:

  • Allow painted tiles to fully cure for 1-2 weeks before cleaning
  • Use only mild, non-abrasive cleaners and scrub pads
  • Rinse off any cleaner residues thoroughly
  • Spot clean stains quickly to prevent setting in
  • Reapply fresh coats of tile paint periodically as needed

Avoid harsh chemicals, strong abrasives or excessive scrubbing which can wear down the painted surface prematurely. With careful maintenance and prompt touch ups, painted tiles can continue looking fresh for many years before needing repainting.

Can You simply Paint over Existing Emulsion Paint on Tiles?

In some cases, tiles may already be covered with existing emulsion paint from a previous DIY attempt. Can you simply paint over the old emulsion with more emulsion paint?

This is risky and unlikely to work well. The existing paint has poor adhesion underneath and painting over it exacerbates the problems.

For the longest lasting results:

  • Completely remove the existing paint from tiles
  • Clean and sand tiles to create a fresh surface
  • Apply a proper tile paint following all instructions

This provides the strongest adhesion and hardwearing finish.

Quickly painting more emulsion straight over another layer of already flaking or peeling emulsion rarely lasts long before failing. Taking the time to fully remove the old paint first helps ensure a durable, quality finish.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best tile paint brands?

Some top-rated tile paint brands include Rust-Oleum Tile Transform, Ronseal Tile Paint, Dulux Once Tile Paint, Johnstone’s Tile Paint and V33 Tile Paint. Be sure to check the individual paint’s suitability for your particular tile type.

Do I need to prime tiles before painting?

Most quality tile paints are formulated to adhere to tiles without a separate primer. But some may require or recommend applying a primer, undercoat or sealant first – always check the manufacturer’s instructions. Priming helps improve adhesion.

How long does it take to paint tiles?

The time needed depends on the tile size and layout. Allow 30-60 minutes per coat, with 2-3 coats recommended. Drying time between coats is 1-2 hours. Small tile sizes take longer as more cutting in around each tile is needed.

Should tiles be sealed after painting?

Sealing painted tiles with a compatible varnish or sealer adds an extra protective layer and makes the surface wipeable. However, check the tile paint instructions, as some specialized tile paints already include sealants.

Can you paint ceramic, porcelain or natural stone tiles?

Quality tile paints are designed to adhere to ceramic, porcelain, granite, slate, marble and travertine tiles. Always do a test patch, as performance can vary across different tile types. Glossy tiles usually require sanding first.

How do you paint a tile backsplash?

Painting a tile backsplash involves thorough cleaning, light sanding, applying painter’s tape along the edges, painting with a brush and small roller, and using a steady hand to cut in around each tile. Backsplashes require detail work for the best finish.

Can you paint over cracked or damaged tiles?

Yes, tile paints can hide cracks, chips, discoloration and other damage in tiles. The paint fills in and covers flaws for a renewed appearance. Badly damaged tiles may still need replacing for the most seamless look.

With the right prep and painting technique, tile paints provide an affordable and effective way to refresh the look of your tiled walls, floors, kitchens, bathrooms and more without the cost and mess of full tile replacement.

Final Thought

Painting tiles can update the look of any space. With the right tile paint and proper application, you can change the color and appearance of your backsplash, bathroom walls, kitchen tiles, floors and more. But steering clear of regular emulsion paints means your tiled surfaces will keep looking freshly painted for years of cleaning and scrubbing to come.

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