Bathrooms have surpassed kitchens as the most frequently remodeled room in the house. Replacing the tile or fixtures calls for a professional but if you just want a new look, a coat of fresh paint can do the trick. Because bathrooms are exposed to moisture and high humidity, there are a few tricks to getting a good paint job, including using a paint that resists mildew. Here are some top contenders from Consumer Reports’ interior paint tests and some tips from our experts.
Depending on the size of your bathroom, you may want to paint it a lighter color to open it up or a darker color to add intimacy, according to the Paint Quality Institute. But whichever color you choose, make sure you pick the right paint and prep the room properly. Here’s how:
Pick the right finish. Interior paints come in flat/matte, satin/eggshell, and semi-gloss finishes. For a bathroom, satin or semi-gloss paints are a good choice. Semi-gloss paints, commonly used for trim, are generally the easiest to clean, and formulated to stand up to stains. But they reflect light, may highlight imperfections in the wall, and are more likely than satin to become dull when they’ve been scrubbed. If you’re painting an area that will be scrubbed a lot, or you’ve patched any cracks or have sheetrock seams you’d rather not accentuate, consider a satin finish.
Wash the walls. Whether you see it or not, mildew may be on your walls and can bleed through the new paint or prevent it from adhering properly, says our in-house paint expert Enrique de Paz. Before painting, clean the walls with a solution of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water and a regular sponge. Then rinse them with clean water and wait for them to dry completely before painting.
Use self-priming paint. With many of today’s paints, you can skip applying separate coats of primer and paint and use a one-coat self-priming paint. In our tests, many self-priming paints excelled in coverage in one coat. But don’t overspread the paint. If you use a roller, you should be able to cover about a 2-foot-square section of wall before dipping the roller again.
Protect areas you don’t want to paint. With all the nooks and crannies, small bathrooms can be a challenge to paint. Apply painter’s tape to the edges of areas you don’t want painted. In our tests, FrogTape’s Delicate Surface, $6 to $9 per roll, left a sharp line and was very easy to remove. Use a sash brush with a tapered tip. Unlike those on a flat brush, the bristles are cut at a diagonal, making the brush easier to control.
Apply, then let it dry. Regardless of some manufacturers’ claims, de Paz says you should give any newly painted bathroom a full 24 hours to dry before using the shower. Otherwise, the paint may become soft and run.
The results of our paint tests
In our tests of interior paints, we found several self-priming satin and semi-gloss paints that resist mildew and stand up well to scrubbing. Home Depot’s Behr Premium Plus Ultra Satin Enamel, $34, our top satin-finish paint, gets excellent scores for hiding and resisting finish changes from scrubbing. The Benjamin Moore Aura Satin did almost as well but costs twice as much—$68 a gallon.
Topping the semi-gloss finishes is Clark + Kensington Semi-Gloss Enamel, $33, sold at Ace Hardware, which got excellent scores for hiding and scrubbing. Next on the recommended list is Behr Premium Plus Ultra Semi-Gloss Enamel, $34, which did almost as well as its satin brandmate but didn’t go on quite as smoothly.
For more information about bathroom makeovers including the cost of different remodeling projects, see our guides to bathroom remodeling dos and don'ts and bathroom remodeling trends and costs.