How to Paint a Bathroom

A bathroom might be the smallest room in your home, but painting those small walls can take longer than you might expect. A trick to cutting down on the painting process is planning ahead: decluttering, cleaning and caulking the bathroom before you put that first layer of paint on the walls.

Step One: Declutter
Because of all the angles and corners, bathrooms can be tricky and time-consuming. Brushing and cutting in takes more time than rolling paint. To cut down on painting time, remove everything that could get in the way of your painting.

Start with the vanity and move on to the shower stall and tub. Remove anything that sits on those small shelves. Not only will it cut down on accidental paint blotches, it will prevent those items from being accidentally knocked over.

Next, move onto the switchplates. Towel bars, hooks and toilet paper holders are easy to remove. They are usually attached to a mounting bracket with very small set screws. If you don't have a tiny screwdriver, the tip of a sharp steak knife works just as well.

If possible, take the mirror down. Lights above the sink are sometimes a curlicue mess of multiple shades and decorative hardware. If you are comfortable with working with electrical things, shut the fuse off and take the whole light fixture down. If this isn't feasible, at least remove the shades.

Take the top of the toilet tank off. If you have fan grates or vents, remove those too. They can be left white or painted, but it is easiest to paint them off the wall to get to all of the detailed parts of the pieces.

If you have a shower rod spring-fitted to the walls, take that down as well.

The little shields around where the toilet tank pipe and shower head plumbing meet the wall can usually be gently pried away.

Now you have a blank slate.

Step Two: Clean
In your home, there are generally few reasons to clean walls prior to painting unless those walls are visibly very dirty. But a bathroom is different: iIt is a space where people often spray things such as deodorant, hair spray or cologne. The residue of those spray products can interfere with the painting process, so it should be wiped off the walls to allow for splotch-free painting. Any mild ammonia cleaner, even window cleaner, works just fine.

Step Three: Caulk
Think of caulking as the hidden jewel of the painting process. Many people don't do it before they apply paint to the walls, but it is necessary for the clean, professional results that you seek. Look where your countertop and cabinets meet the wall. Check along the edges of tub and shower enclosure. Chances are there are some unsightly gaps you can fill. Use good quality, paintable silicone caulking.

If you have ceramic tile that looks like it's missing some of the grout along the wall, there is special grout-colored caulk you can buy. It's easy to use, and if tiles are left uncaulked, the moist bathroom air will start making them come loose from the wall.

Step Four: Paint
Some special tips for painting bathrooms:

  • Dramatic, dark colors can look stunning in a bathroom. However, if you use a very deep-colored paint, wait two or three days before using the shower or getting the room steamy. It takes up to a month for latex paint to fully cure. The colorant in deep-toned paint may run a little, giving a patchy appearance, if the paint is softened by steam while it's still very fresh.
  • Consider at least a satin finish. Don't skimp on paint quality. Bathroom paint is subjected to changes in humidity and temperature and exposed to harsh chemicals from hair spray. It needs to be very durable.
  • You might need an artist brush to get paint into some of those tight bathroom spaces.
  • There is usually no need to paint the entire wall behind the toilet tank. If you paint in as far as you can, once the tank top is replaced, no one will be able to notice. Alternately, there are little skinny rollers sold at all paint stores that will fit between the tank and wall.
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