In the Irish home improvement scene, there is a trend right now for painted bathrooms. Whether that means painting the floors, walls, and ceiling, painting only a feature wall, or painting over pre-existing tiles. Homeowners today tend to think that tiled bathrooms are outdated and limited in scope, and that any modern bathroom renovation should include painted walls instead.
Granted, there are some really beautiful, aesthetically-pleasing painted bathrooms out there, and we’ve no doubt that for the first couple years of use those homeowners feel they made the right choice when drawing up the plans for their bathroom renovation. Problem is though, there is a reason that the house or apartment you bought came with a tiled bathroom in the first place.
How many of us have had this experience? Having moved into a new flat, or perhaps bought our first home, we’ve found the modern decor of the living areas to our taste, but the old, 1970s-style tiling in the bathroom majorly old-fashioned and unsightly. The thing is, those tiles have probably been there since the 1970s, and for good reason: they simply last that long. Tiles are so low maintenance, sturdy, and effective at preventing the build up of damp and mould in a bathroom, that the previous homeowners would never have had cause to update them.
Naturally, of course, we at Tile Merchant appreciate the desire to renovate your bathroom, bringing it into the 21st century, and matching it with the style you’ve likely implemented throughout the rest of your home. We completely understand the desire to opt for the cheaper option, and paint your bathroom, rather than retile it. Heck, we know that it can look really good, too, and that painted bathrooms are for many people the ‘in thing’ right now.
Nevertheless, we urge you to reconsider painting your bathroom. Continue reading this article, and you will learn exactly why painting a bathroom is counter-intuitive in terms of finance, maintenance costs, and aesthetics.
Bathroom Tiles vs. Paint: Which is Best?
There’s no hiding the fact that painting is a much cheaper short-term alternative to tiling, especially if you’re happy to conduct the painting yourself (whilst tiling is something best left to the experts). And yet, in a room as consistently and frequently damp as the bathroom, that short-term cost-cutting is guaranteed to haunt you in later years.
It goes without saying that bathrooms need special attention in construction and design. Unlike any other room in the house, they are going to face near-constant exposure to humidity, heat, and moisture from your bath, shower, and sink.
If a room like this is not properly treated, then dampness and mould will very quickly take hold, not only ruining your carefully-curated new look, but also putting your health and the health of your loved-ones at risk.
According to the NHS and HSE, exposure to damp and mould spores increase your likelihood of having “respiratory problems, respiratory infections, allergies or asthma.”
Of course, most paints these days are water-based, and there is a wide range of paints designed specifically for use in humid and damp rooms, such as bathrooms. However, even these paints are still based on organic-binders, meaning that after a relatively short time they will naturally begin to deteriorate, attracting fungi and bacteria thanks to their exposure to moisture.
As such, a painted bathroom requires re-painting every few years in order to keep it watertight, and to stave-off flare ups of damp and mould. Moreover, in order to better prevent said build-ups, you’d have to have your bathroom windows open regularly, year-round, to keep the painted room ventilated and to stop your paint from streaking due to surfactant leaching. Not ideal during an Irish winter!
Suddenly, the money you saved opting to paint your bathroom is being consumed by perpetual maintenance.
In contrast, whilst more expensive during the initial renovation, bathroom tiles are infinitely more durable than bathroom paints (hence the fact that your new apartment or house is still sporting tiles from the ‘70s which, whilst ugly, are otherwise intact).
They are, by their very design, waterproof and watertight. Unlike bathroom paints, they’ll almost never require replacing, and will happily withstand all of the heat, humidity and moisture you can throw at them, without contributing to the spread of mould and damp. Provided you choose a tile style which you’re sure to be happy with, the short-term costs of tiling a bathroom, when spread across the lifetime of those tiles, is negligible when compared to the maintenance costs of painting and repainting.
Unlike the living room or bedroom, the bathroom is one room in the house you can guarantee is going to get messy. Naturally, it’s the room in the house which requires a good deep clean most often. It’s where you wash the daily grime from you, where you brush your teeth, where your kids splash about in the bath, where you go to the toilet. Thus, keeping a bathroom clean is not just a matter of regular necessity, but also an important consideration to make during the planning phase of any bathroom renovation.
One of the major disadvantages to paint is just how difficult it is to clean, and keep clean. Regardless of colour, marks on paint show up quickly and easily. Whether they be splashback marks from proximity to the bathroom sink, scrapes and scratches from the clumsiness of children, or the ugly black sootiness of mould and damp, when paint accrues marks, it looks terrible.
And have you ever tried to clean a painted wall? Whilst possible, it is no easy feat, and the excess moisture used when attempting to clean marks from paint can be even more counterintuitive, as it may sow further moisture into the walls.
On the other hand, tiles are just about the easiest things in the world to clean. With a damp cloth you can clean almost any mark or stain from a tile, whilst their glossy, smooth texture (compared with the rough, dry texture of paint) usually allows for most splashes and spills to slip right off them in the first place.
When the weekly bathroom deep-clean already seems to take an age, why add to the burden by insisting on painted walls in the bathroom, all streaky and splotched with splash marks and dirt, when instead you could choose tiles, and save yourself the bother?
For the longest time, the tiles that were available to the general consumer market were drab, lifeless, and limited in style and colour. Again, think of those garish tiles from the 1970s that your landlord or previous owner left for you! This was the case for so long, in fact, that many homeowners now considering bathroom renovation simply have no idea of the multitudinous style, pattern, colour and size options available to them on the tile market.
In fact, when compared with the range of paints which are actually suitable for use in a bathroom, the incredible diversity of porcelain and ceramic tiles is far greater. Though the modern style trend may be toward painted, or half-painted bathrooms, often this is the case simply because the renovator was unaware of the tile options available to them. In fact, they could have quite easily found the perfect tiles to suit the aesthetic they were going for, and in doing so would have saved themselves all of the hassle associated with painted bathrooms.
Understandably, homeowners often express concern over the adaptability, or flexibility of a tiled bathroom. Because of the relatively high short-term expense, they feel they would be locked into a style or colour-combination, when with paint they could redecorate again in a year or two. But here’s the thing: you can absolutely still redecorate with a tiled bathroom!
Pick a high-quality, neutral tone tiling for your bathroom, and adapt your colour palette as and when you like with the accessories, instead. Think of shower curtains, bath mats, candle holders, posters, prints, and towels. There is an endless roulette of options open to the homeowner who carefully selects the right tile for their space.
Oh, and here’s a top tip: remember that brighter colours are the better option for space-limited bathrooms. Darker colours absorb light, and can make your bathroom feel more claustrophobic, whilst lighter coloured tiles will give the room space to breathe.
Renovating your living space should be a celebratory occasion, one which leaves you with a dream look to last you for years and years to come. Painting a bathroom is, we know, all too tempting; especially when you see the initial cost difference between paint and tiles, or if you’ve been inspired by the pictures of a neighbour’s painted bathroom posted on Facebook. However, it really isn’t worth the risk.
Painted bathrooms are infinitely more prone to damp, mould, and dirty streaks. They are harder to clean, and require perpetual repainting, driving the long-term costs up far higher than the initial cost of tiling could ever be. And, whilst it may once have been the case that paint offered a wider variety of colour and style options than tiles, those days are long gone. Today, ceramic and porcelain tiles are available in such abundance that you can almost always find the right ones to match your dream bathroom aesthetic.
If you are still intent on painting some parts of your bathroom, we highly recommend that you limit the painted areas to those which are least likely to come into contact with humidity and splashback.
To shop Tile Merchant’s wide range of bathroom tiles, click here.
Blog by Calum
Cal Bannerman is a freelance writer, editor, podcaster and voice actor from the Scottish Borders. They run the storytelling podcast “Stories from the Hearth”, and live in a wee Glasgow flat with their partner and cat.