Before and after the kitchen makeover

Kitchen Makeover on a Budget: How to Paint Kitchen Tiles

Problem

We were so excited when we bought our first house six months ago. We loved almost everything about our new home – with one exception. The kitchen. And in particular, those tiles! My preference for kitchen design is bright, clean, and calm…and clearly those tiles were just the opposite. While we didn’t want to do any major renovations straight after buying our house, I did want to make some small and inexpensive improvements to the kitchen.

My original plan was to remove the old tiles and replace them with classic white tiles. However, on closer inspection, I realised this would be challenging for two reasons:

  1. The existing tiles are very well-adhered to the wall. Removing them would almost certainly cause damage to the wall, which would add repair costs to the work.
  2. (Don’t ask me why, but…) the tiling actually goes partially behind the upper cabinets, meaning it would be impossible to remove the tiles without also removing the cabinets.

As this was intended to be a quick and inexpensive job, neither of these problems were ones I wanted to get into. Yet I still wanted to do something about those tiles. That’s when I started looking into the option of tile paint.

Research

I was skeptical when I first starting doing my research on tile paint. I know that getting paint to adhere to a glossy surface isn’t an easy task, and in a kitchen you have the added difficulty of it being a high-moisture area. Many of the tile paints I researched had mixed reviews – some saying that it worked fine, with others saying the paint was peeling off in days.

Eventually I came across the Zinsser line of products, which has a number of primers and paints specifically intended for adhesion to smooth surfaces in high-humidity areas. Many of their products are also waterproof and mould/mildew resistant. Looking at their website, I wasn’t sure what the best combination of products was, so I called their customer service who were really helpful. They recommended their Bulls Eye® 1-2-3 Plus Primer in combination with their Perma-White Interior Paint.

They also stressed the importance of avoiding cooking or boiling water for about a week before and after painting. This will lower the moisture level of the room, allowing the paint to better adhere to the surface.

Experiment

Before painting the actual kitchen tile, I decided to test the products. I wanted to see how many layers of primer and paint would give me the smoothest finish possible, yet still cover the dark tiles. I also wanted to see if sanding the tiles first would make any difference to the paint finish. Although you don’t have to sand with Zinsser paints, I’ve always sanded smooth surfaces prior to painting in the past. I was able to purchase a small box of the exact tiles that had been used in my kitchen, and I got to work on my experiment.

01-test-tile-paint

Tile 1: No sanding, one coat primer, two coats paint
Tile 2: No sanding, two coats primer, two coats paint
Tile 3: Sanding, one coat primer, two coats paint
Tile 4: Sanding, two coats primer, two coats paint

And then I forgot to take a picture of the final tiles, opps! But I concluded from this that the best combination was two coats of primer, followed by two coats of paint. Sanding the tile first didn’t seem to make any difference to the final look, so I decided it couldn’t hurt to give the kitchen tiles a quick sanding prior to applying the paint.

How-to

With my research and experiment complete, it was time to get to work on the kitchen. I was so eager to see those ugly colours disappear under that bright white paint. But not so quick!
Prior to painting, it’s extremely important to do proper preparation work. Investing the time upfront and doing proper preparation will make the actual painting a breeze.

Step 1: Lower the moisture level of the room

Products:

Dehumidifier, if you have one

About a week prior to painting, avoid doing any cooking or boiling water as this adds moisture to the room. It’s not necessary to get a dehumidifier, but if you do have one, it’s a good idea to use it here. The idea is to dry out the area as much as possible. This will provide the best possible surface for the paint to stick to.

02-dettol-mould-mildew-remover

Step 2: Remove any mould and mildew

Products:

Dettol Mould & Mildew Remover
Mask
Gloves
Sponge/cloth

It’s likely that you’ll have a bit of mould and mildew in your kitchen – particularly within your tile grout. There are many products available aimed at removing mould and mildew. Look for one with a bleaching agent in it, and it will almost instantly kill the mould, causing it to disappear without scrubbing. Warning: This stuff is extremely strong and fumey. Use in a well ventilated area, wear a mask and gloves, and rinse the treated area repeatedly with water when you’re done. Dispose of the sponge/cloth after you’re done – you won’t want to re-use it on anything else.

03-sugar-soap

Step 3: Remove dirt and grease from tiles

Products:

Sugar soap
Water
Gloves
Sponge/cloth

Tiles that have been in a kitchen for any period of time will need a thorough clean. Even if you can’t see it, there is likely to be greasy build-up from cooking. Sugar soap is a cleaning product that works particularly well for removing greasy build up, and is often used for preparing paint surfaces. It’s commonly found in the UK, where you can get it at most hardware stores, but it’s available on Amazon if you’re in the US. It’s a concentrated product that you dilute with water, however for areas of heavy build up, you can also use it undiluted. It was really impressed by how quickly it dissolved areas of grease in my kitchen. Remember to rinse thoroughly after cleaning – you don’t want any cleaning product to remain on the tiles. Allow to dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step.

04-sanding-tiles

Step 4: Sand the tiles

Products:

80 grit sandpaper

Lightly roughening smooth surfaces will encourage paint to adhere. To get the job done quickly, I used a power sander with 80 grit sand paper, but you can do it manually as well. Be sure to thoroughly clean up the dust when you’re done.

05-methylated-spirit

Step 5: Final cleaning

Products:

Methylated spirit (also known as denatured alcohol in the US)
Paper towel
Mask
Gloves

For the final step of cleaning, wipe your tiles with Methylated Spirit. This will remove any remaining oil and residue. This is also extremely fumy, so use it in a well ventilated area, wearing gloves and a mask. Do not rinse the tiles after.

Step 6: Protect your surfaces

Products:

Adhesive plastic sheeting
Painter’s tape

I’ll be honest that when I’m painting, I’ve rarely taken the time to cover up surfaces or use painter’s tape. This is because I tend to think I’m quite precise with painting, and I can’t stand it when drop cloths are sliding around all over the place. But for this project, I did want to protect my countertops, and was able to find some plastic sheeting that came on a big roll and was adhesive. This stuff was great because it stayed in placed on my countertops until I was ready to take it off. I also used painter’s tape to protect the walls and trim along the edges of the tiles.

Tip for using painter’s tape:

Don’t just think that you can paint over top of painter’s tape, and when you take it off, you’ll be left when a nice clean edge. In my experience, paint tends to ‘bleed’ underneath the tape, so if you consistently paint over it, you’ll be left with a messy and uneven edge. Be as precise with painting as you would if the tape wasn’t there – it’s just there as a backup.

06-zinsser-bullseye-123-primer

07-after-primer

Step 7: Prime your tiles

Products:

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer/Sealer
2-inch width paintbrush
Small low-pile paint roller
Small roller handle
Small paint tray
Dish soap + water for cleaning

Now we’re getting to the fun part – it’s time to paint! For work like this, I like to use a 2-inch width paintbrush because it allows me to be more precise. Start with the paintbrush and do all your edges and corners. I also found I needed to do the grout lines with the paintbrush, as they’re slightly recessed from the tiles and the paint roller wasn’t able to get right down into them. With your edges and grout done, fill in the tile surfaces using your roller. A low-pile paint roller (not foam) is important here as it will give you the smoothest finish possible. Make sure you’ve washed and dried the roller prior to using as it will help prevent any fuzzy bits getting into your paint. Let the primer dry for a minimum of 1 hour and then repeat for the second coat.

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer review

The coverage of this primer was a little more transparent than I expected, but as long as it’s doing it’s job of giving the paint a good base to stick to, I’m not overly bothered by that. Just don’t expect it to completely cover your tiles. It was low odour and easy to clean with dish soap and some warm water.

Tip for keeping tidy:

If you’re taking a break and don’t want your paint brush or roller to dry out, wrap it up tightly in cellophane. I do however think it’s important to stop several times throughout your painting to thoroughly wash your paintbrush. I find that paint starts to build up and get goopy on a paintbrush you’ve been using for too long. Taking the time to clean it will keep your work neat and tidy.

08-zinsser-perma-white-paint

Step 8: Paint

Products:

Zinsser Perma-White Interior Paint
2-inch width paintbrush
Small low-pile paint roller
Small roller handle
Small paint tray
Dish soap + water for cleaning

Repeat exactly what you did with the primer. Two coats will probably be enough, but if not, go over the tiles again with the roller, omitting doing the edges with the paintbrush. Keep the room as dry as possible for at least a week following. Avoid doing any cooking and if you have a dehumidifier, put it on. Even if the paint feels dry to the touch, it still takes several days to fully cure.

09-kitchen-after

10-tiles-close-up

Two month update

It’s now been about two months since I painted the tile, and so far, there is no peeling, cracking, or chipping to report. Within about a week of painting, the paint had fully cured and now seems very hard and durable. It’s easy to wipe clean with some water and mild cleaning product. We do have an exterior facing wall on one side of our kitchen that is prone to mould and mildew, and so far this paint really seems to be keeping it from coming back.

Before starting this project, I had my doubts about tile paint, but now I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s truly transformed our kitchen at a fraction of the cost and effort of replacing the tiles. I’ve been able to achieve that bright and clean look I was longing for, and since finishing this project, I find I spend a lot more time in the kitchen.

I hope this has inspired you to give tile painting a try. If you have any questions I haven’t covered here, just leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer.

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