Originally published in STIR®
Ceramic tiles are installed to be permanent, but colors and styles do go out of fashion, leaving dated, unsightly tiles in their wake. Discover how to give old tiles a face-lift and revamp a space without overextending your client's budget.

A room lined with decorative tile can look tired, even tacky, if the tile is old or outdated. When you're working with clients who want to update a room without spending too much money, consider expanding the room's possibilities by working with them to paint the existing ceramic tile.

Removing existing tiles can be costly. If your customers decide to take on this challenge, they'll be dealing with broken ceramic pieces, the expense of repairing existing or applying new drywall, and a room that will be virtually useless for several days or more.

Before you or your clients begin a tile-painting project, there are a few things you should know.

“Don't refinish tile in high-traffic or high-moisture areas,” says Steve Revnew, director of marketing, product development at Sherwin-Williams. “Avoid kitchens and bathrooms and focus on areas like mudrooms or laundry rooms.”

Almost all ceramic tile can be painted, as long as it's not frequently subjected to water. For instance, you can paint tiles on the wall, floor and countertop, but avoid painting tile that lines a bathtub or shower. Frequent exposure to moisture could cause the newly applied paint to peel almost immediately.

Many experts have qualms about painting tile because the results can vary, depending on the type of tile, the products used to refinish them and the process followed.

“We recommend removing grease, grime, dirt and mold before beginning,” says Revnew. “Start by giving the tiles a quick scuffing with sandpaper, and follow up with a good household detergent to clean the surface.”

Repair chips, cracks and other surface damage before painting. If using caulk or epoxy to repair damage, give it several days to dry before painting. As with any paint job, use tape to protect areas adjacent to the tile and remember to use safety goggles and a dust mask.

“Once the tiles are prepped, begin with an epoxy or urethane bonding primer,” says Revnew. “Epoxy gives greater durability and can be topped with most any painting product after application.”

Choose a semigloss or high-gloss paint to refinish tile. Revnew recommends a good quality latex topcoat such as Duration Home® Interior, Harmony® or ProgreeTM 200. If your chosen paint is difficult to spread on the tile, add paint thinner to make the process easier. Refer to the directions on the paint container for recommendations.

After applying the paint, allow two to three days for it to dry. Once the paint has dried, seal the tiles with several coats of clear, water-based urethane. Urethane helps prevent damage from use, such as scrubbing, foot traffic and moisture exposure.

While some contractors and designers are wary of painting tile, others have found satisfying success with the process, when it's done properly. Results can vary depending on products used, geographic location, and the quality and composition of the tiles being altered. Consult a professional contractor if you're unsure about the process.

For more information:

If I Had a Hammer: More Than 100 Easy Fixes and Weekend Projects by Andrea Ridout. (Collins Living, 2008)

Ultimate Guide to Ceramic & Stone Tile: Select, Install, Maintain by Editors of Creative Homeowner. (Creative Homeowner, 2006)

Ask the Builder: Painting Ceramic Tile