How can I paint my bathroom once and for all?
March 18, 2010 8:57 PM   Subscribe

How can I paint my bathroom once and for all? My steamy showers seem to obliterate paint.

My current bathroom had huge flakes of paint coming off. I want to paint it the right way so that it won't need another painting for a good many years.

What's on there now is two layers of paint over plaster or wood. I've gone at a bit of it with a scraper and it doesn't look like there's any mold anywhere. Many places on the plaster both layers of paint came off pretty easily and got straight down to bare plaster. The plaster has a couple cracks that need to be filled, and a few places that look like they got wet, but not seriously. On the wood the top layer is pretty flaky but the bottom layer is in tact.

So what's the best process to seal prime and paint? Recommended brands of paint? How many coats of what and what should I do to prep the surfaces to make sure I don't have to do this again soon.

(Extra difficulty: I love long hot showers and there is no exhaust fan, and one will not be installed. There is however a big window that's always open and the door is always open when not in service.)
posted by Ookseer to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
i am no expert, just your average DIY homeowner. but here is my method. first: scrape off the old flaky paint. it doesn't need to be bare perfect pristine plaster, but at least there are no large swaths of old paint. i don't usually go about removing previous paint--i just go right over it. but if it's loose and flaking then it needs to come off. your top coat is only as strong as the base. sand the walls lightly with low grit sandpaper. if there is grease or gunk, clean the walls with a strong cleaning agent. i use TSP but make no guarantee that it's environmentally responsible. it does obliterate grease though! then patch any cracks or chips with joint compound. let it dry, then sand, then repeat if necessary. and then! you are ready to begin. first coat should be primer. i like the brand kilz--supposed to be moisture/mold resistant. let dry. then two to three coats of paint--at least a semi-gloss finish, which will be less likely to absorb moisture. sand lightly between coats to get the paint to adhere well. and then voila, you are done.

you say it's not an option to put in an exhaust fan, but you really ought to reconsider that. the extreme amount of flaking suggests that moisture is a serious issue. my method will fix the walls but not the source problem. if the reason is that it's not your house, i.e. you're renting, i would discuss it with your landlord. if s/he is still unwilling, well, screw it, it's not your house. if it is your house, definitely look into it.

another thing to consider-slash-worry about is that the moisture may not be coming from the bathroom facilities. is this happening on all the walls, or just the ones that face the outside? if the latter, it could be that the water is coming from somewhere else. there could be dampness trapped in the walls from a failure in the roof/windows/siding. that's a whole other issue.
posted by apostrophe at 10:09 PM on March 18, 2010

If an exhaust fan cannot be installed can a dehumidifier be just wheeled in after the showers to suck some of the moisture out of the air?

Getting rid of the moisture is super duper key to success.
posted by bz at 10:13 PM on March 18, 2010

Or just put a box fan in the doorway. Circulating air clears out moisture pretty quick. Or, if possible, open a window at the other end of the house to create a draft.
posted by alexei at 10:15 PM on March 18, 2010

exhaust fan is much preferred, but... put that box fan int he window blowing out. They make mildew resistant paint for damp areas such as bathrooms, ask at the hardware store, perhaps also a paint that is scrubable, but nothing is going to work as well as simply removing the moisture from the room as fast as possible.
posted by edgeways at 10:23 PM on March 18, 2010

I'm also not an expert, but I had this problem before, in an older house with plaster walls and adding an exhaust fan didn't solve the problem (but may have slowed it down some.).

The remolded bathrooms which were used more (and which had no fans, but might have had better ventilation through the ducts), I had no problems at all.

This led me to think it was all the plasters fault, and sheet rock just worked better. I had plans to put a layer of sheet rock over the walls but had to move before I got to it. Just an idea, maybe others with more actual experience can tell both of us if this makes sense.
posted by Some1 at 10:42 PM on March 18, 2010

Exhaust fan isn't going to happen. The outside walls and are concrete and I can't go up. Putting a fan in the window is very difficult since it's a tall narrow awning window. (It's hinged at the top.) I've tried putting a fan in the doorway, but the bathroom is small and the hallway outside is narrow so there's really no place to keep it that I someone doesn't brutally trip over it at least once a day.

So... Paint. Lets hear it. They paint boats to last, we can certainly do it for bathrooms.
posted by Ookseer at 11:10 PM on March 18, 2010

Wander down to your local family-owned paint or hardware store and engage the owner in a conversation about the relative merits of Zinsser vs. Kilz primers, and which one you need to really prime the walls, and if you need a clear coat of some sort to prevent the peeling. Bring pictures if you're worried about getting the problem across.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:21 PM on March 18, 2010

I've seen small fans that go in the door frame. They get bad reviews on Amazon because they don't move a lot of air, and can get loud, but if it just leads into a long, narrow hall, the noise may not be a factor, and it will probably move enough air to get the job done.
posted by MesoFilter at 11:36 PM on March 18, 2010

In the (12' ceiling) bathroom at my parents' house, the main thing that keeps the bathroom mirror fog-free is having the radiator, which is mounted about 7' up on the wall facing the shower recess, turned on during showers. The exhaust fan certainly helps, but nowhere near as much as the radiator. Simply warming up the room during showers, and opening the door and window afterward, is enough.

They chose to do all the non-tiled parts of that room's walls with a vinyl-surfaced wallpaper, and that has looked good for almost twenty years; it's only recently started to show some signs of coming up at some of the seams. The ceiling is gloss white over anti-mold undercoat and primer over lath and plaster, and shows no sign of mold or flaking. Knowing my Dad, it would have been sanded back almost to the point of destruction before the primer went on.
posted by flabdablet at 3:39 AM on March 19, 2010

Also make sure your getting bathroom paint. Their is paitn made specifically for bathrooms that doesn't let the water penetrate it.
posted by majortom1981 at 5:17 AM on March 19, 2010

Regarding the fan, we got a very small ceiling fan (the blades are maybe seven inches long?) that makes a huge difference in helping disperse the humidity.
posted by desuetude at 6:39 AM on March 19, 2010

I wonder if pool paint would give you good results?
posted by snowjoe at 6:47 AM on March 19, 2010

I will only use Duron or Sherwin Williams paints now. Yes, they are expensive but they are of better quality than what you'll find at a home improvement store. You get good advice from these guys, too, and I have never been dissatisfied with the outcome of my projects using Duron or Sherwin Williams brands. Let the clerk know what type of project you are doing and ask about the type of paint and primer needed.

We had your exact problem with paint cracking, peeling, bubbling and flaking off after I'd painted it. Apostrophe has the process down right. There's a lot of prep involved, but you need to do it correctly in order to abate the problem.
posted by FergieBelle at 6:51 AM on March 19, 2010

If you're sanding between coats of primer or paint, make sure you wipe up the dust between layers, or you'll have problems. I like these tack cloths, and Home Depot has a reusable one (though I can't vouch for those, as I haven't tried them.)
posted by runningwithscissors at 8:38 AM on March 19, 2010

I've had good luck with 1-2-3 primer (a stain-blocking primer like Kilz, but water-based and much easier for the DIYer to work with and clean up) and bathroom-specific paint.

And like any painting job, surface prep is key.
posted by zombiedance at 9:32 AM on March 19, 2010

We have a tiny bathroom that drips from the ceiling anytime some one takes a shower. I have asthma so mold is a real problem for me. Since our bathroom is tiny and has the same problem with space we got a small dehumidifier on wheels. Best thing we ever bought. In 10-20 min. the walls are bone dry. we can program it to do things but are to lazy to mess with it. I have also seen table top models that would fit on the back of a toilet if your really worried about tripage.

Also I find the mid range price paint is better then the cheap stuff and the expensive stuff is worth it if your covering bright or dark colors.

If your going to be masking (tape) over semi gloss or gloss paint its worth getting the right tape. I think its green rather than the blue stuff, its sometimes called frog tape.

If you see any mold growth denatured alcohol kills all.
posted by ljesse at 9:41 AM on March 19, 2010

(Added benefit of a dehumidifier is that you can use it anytime there is a spill where liquids roll into inaccessible areas or a water heater or plumbing breaks or it's hot and humid inside or... it's just really useful to have around.)

"Petit" dehumidifier on amazon, cheap. Read the reviews.
posted by bz at 5:37 PM on March 19, 2010

Benjamin Moore Aura Bath and Spa. Costs more, but it is all you need.

You should be able to source it locally. If you can't, MeMail me and I can help you. I sell it, but I'm really not here for self promotion :)
posted by Salient at 1:48 PM on March 21, 2010

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