Best Paint for Bathroom Walls

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Confused about which paint to use in your home's dampest environment? We asked an expert about how to choose the best paint for bathrooms.

Bathrooms are, by definition, dripping wet places that can be a breeding ground for musty mold and mildew. Damp painted surfaces can also be susceptible to peeling and chipping — especially if walls aren’t properly prepped and maintained.

When deciding which bathroom paint to buy, there are several factors to consider:

  • Ventilation: Whether or not the bath or shower room is well-ventilated (has a bathroom fan and/or windows that open); and
  • Mold and Mildew: If the bathroom has (or has had) problems with mold or mildew in the past.
  • Health and the environment: Low-odor, non-VOC latex paints are not only durable, but they’re also safer to inhale when wet.

Expert tip: If your bathroom doesn’t already have one, install an exhaust fan right away. It’s the first step in alleviating mold and mildew problems.

What Type of Paint Is Best for Bathrooms?

Bathrooms have their own unique set of challenges when it comes to keeping condensation and fungus growth under control. And, that’s why choosing the right paint may require a few extra steps.

When prep work is warranted, doing it right can be the difference between a mediocre and stellar bathroom paint project that will stand the test of time. Your efforts on the front end will pay off in the long haul.

“For properly, well-vented bathrooms that have not exhibited any type of mold issues in the past,” says Vince Christofora, Engineer and hardware store owner. “painting a bathroom is no different than any other room.”

There is a host of different bathroom paint and coatings — in a range of qualities and price points — formulated specifically for use in very humid environments.

bathroom being remodeledMortonPhotographic/Getty Images

Bathroom Primers

For a majority of paint jobs, priming is the first and most important step. Pros recommend cleaning and lightly sanding walls to de-gloss the surface before priming.

A good bathroom primer performs several important functions:

  • Seals porous surfaces from moisture;
  • Provides a uniform undercoat for the paint to stick to;
  • Blocks stains from bleeding through;
  • Covers dark colors.

Expert Tip: In recent years, the paint industry has introduced “paint and primers in one.” A brilliant idea in theory, in practice the results can be iffy. That’s why many manufacturers and professional painters recommend priming surfaces separately — especially if working with bare walls or when going from a dark to a light color. Christofora likes PPG Gripper. A proven brand of acrylic primer-sealer, this all-purpose product works great and dries in 30 minutes.

Mold- and Mildew-Resistant Paint

Applying a paint that contains an antimicrobial additive will create a bacterial barrier to inhibit nasty, odor-causing fungus. A mildew-resistant standout is Perma-White Mold and Mildew Proof Interior Paint by Zinsser. A high-performing water-based formula, Perma-White protects moisture-prone areas and also prevents mold and mildew growth for up to five years. And, it’s tintable, so you can choose a custom color that matches your style and decor.

Moisture-Repellent Paint

Protect bathroom walls and ceilings from the inevitable splish and splash with quality moisture-resistant paint, such as Benjamin Moore Aura Bath and Spa Paint. Aura’s high moisture-tolerant matte finish beautifully and effectively repels water droplets and is highly scrubbable, so if any mold does appear, you can wipe it away before it takes hold.

Waterproof Paint Over Tile

Christofora points out that many of his customers opt to paint over tile. Considered a short-term solution rather than a long-term fix, the right primer is absolutely critical in this situation. The primer needs to be a high-bonding primer to adhere to the tile. He recommends using Zinsser BONDZ Maximum Adhesion Primer. It sticks to surfaces that are typically resistant to coatings, creating a strong bond for any topcoat (even solvent-based paint and epoxies).

Perfect for DIYers, water-based epoxy paint, like Rust-Oleum Specialty Tub and Tile Spray Paint, is a heavy-duty water-resistant product for use on shower stalls and bath surrounds. Each can of Tub and Tile covers 15-square feet in one step, leaving behind a shiny, durable and hard finish.

A Word About Semi-Gloss Paint for Bathrooms

In years gone by, it was common to paint bathrooms with a semi-gloss sheen. This was because semi-gloss paints were thought to be more moisture resistant and could be cleaned/scrubbed easier than flat (matte) surfaces. Today, however, flat, eggshell and satin sheen paints perform just as well against moisture.

Expert Tip: Once properly cleaned, prepared, and primed, Christofora suggests a top-quality interior paint such as PPG’s Interior Manor Hall Paint.

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Toni DeBella
Toni DeBella is a freelance travel, lifestyle and digital content writer based in a medieval hill town in central Italy. Her work has been featured in such publications as Fodor's, The Telegraph, Walks of Italy, Italy Magazine, Frommers.com, Touring Bird (via [email protected]) and more. Most recently she authored the 2020 edition of DK Eyewitness Sicily travel guide. When Toni is not roaming around Europe, you'll find her tending her alley-side container garden or honing her clay-court tennis game.