How to Use Emulsion Paint on Tiles

What You'll Need
Paint brush
Low nap paint roller
Clean up rags
Paint stir
Paint can opener
Scrub brush
Tile cleaner with a mild abrasive
Water-based urethane sealer
Emulsion paint
Oil based primer
Cleaning solvent for oil based primer
Painters tape
Grout cleaner
Orbital sander
220 grit sandpaper
Paintable caulk
Caulk backer rod
2-part epoxy

Using emulsion to paint ceramic tile is a low cost decorating option. Readers in the United States may not be familiar with emulsion but the term is commonly used in the United Kingdom to describe water-based latex paint. US readers think “latex” when you read the term “emulsion”.

A note of caution: Shower, tub or other areas that regularly get wet should not receive this treatment. Areas that see water such as bathroom and kitchen floors or counter tops will work fine if you do not allow the water to lay on the surface for long periods of time. 

Step 1 – Repair Tile Imperfections

Repair cracks in the tile and grout with a good quality and paintable caulk. The better the caulk quality the fewer the chances that you’ll see cracks develop but even the best will split if you attempt to fill too deep a gap. Generally caulk should be only as deep as the bead is wide. For deep cracks use a caulk backer rod (a rope looking foam) first.

A 2-part epoxy that will adhere to tile is a good candidate for chip repair. Follow the directions on the epoxy label.

Allow caulk and epoxy to thoroughly dry before the next step.

Step 2 – Lightly Sand

To allow for better paint adhesion, use an orbital sander or sand by hand with 220 grit sandpaper. Your goal is to only rough the surface but not to sand through the tile’s top layer. Deep scratches will telegraph through any paint that you apply so be gentle; you’re only knocking the sheen off the tile.

Step 3 – Clean the Tile

The most important step, give your ceramic tile and grout a good cleaning. Think of paint as an adhesive with color. Glue sticks better to surfaces free of dirt, dust and oils, as does paint.

Use a scrub brush and a tile cleaner with a mild abrasive then dry completely before the next step.

Step 4 – Apply Painter’s Tape

Painting the grout is the easiest but if you choose not to, use painter’s tape on your grout lines and other areas bordering your re-decorating job. Painter's tape renders crisp edges on your finished work.

Step 5 – Prime

Use a paint brush or roller to apply an oil-based primer. The cleanup is messy because you must use solvents to clean your brushes and roller but an oil-based primer offers superior adhesion and renders a better surface for your top coat.

Use straight, even strokes with your paint brush to apply the paint and to clean up drips or beads of paint your paint roller leaves behind. 

Step 6 – Paint

Allow your primer to thoroughly dry per its label instructions then apply the emulsion. Use straight, even brush strokes to apply the paint and to clean up drips or roller lines.

Step 7 – Urethane Top Coat

Allow your paint to dry at least 48 hours and then ensure it is oil and dust free. Next follow the urethane's directions and apply 2 coats of clear urethane to protect the paint from scuffs and scratches.

Step 8 – Remove the Painters Tape

Give the urethane 2 days to dry before removing the tape and using the tiled area. To protect the urethane top coat, use only non-abrasive cleaners.