How to Fix Peeling Paint in a Bathroom

Pay attention to where the paint is peeling in your bathroom. Chances are it's peeling on the ceiling and upper walls, especially above the tub or shower. That's because high humidity is enemy number one when it comes to interior paint, and the hot steam rises and attacks the paint film. To fix peeling paint in your bathroom permanently, you need to address the root cause by keeping it well ventilated with a fan or open windows. Other causes of peeling include painting over improperly prepared or dirty surfaces, and using poor-quality paint.

  • Paint scraper
  • Sandpaper or sanding sponge
  • Bleach
  • Detergent
  • Spray texture
  • Joint compound
  • Drywall knife
  • Primer
  • Paint
Clear out the bathroom. Take items off the countertop and remove window coverings and bathroom rugs.

Scrape the peeling paint away with a 1- or 2-inch scraper.

Run your hand over the exposed plaster or drywall where the paint was peeling. White, chalky residue indicates moisture in the walls. This could come from high humidity in the bathroom or from exterior leaks into the walls from the roof or around windows.

Check for mildew. Spray black and brown discoloration with a mixture of one part bleach to three parts cold water. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then rinse it off with clean water. Follow up by washing all surfaces you plan on repainting, using water and vinegar or mild detergent.

Sand the areas you scraped. If there are noticeable ridges where you removed the paint, you may have to apply one or two coats of drywall joint compound over it before sanding to make it smooth.

Texture the repaired areas to match existing texture, unless the walls and ceilings are smooth. Buy spray cans of texture from a paint or hardware store and follow the directions on the can.

Prime the walls with tinted shellac, oil-based primer or a high-quality latex bonding primer. Unless you are sure the previous paint was latex, use the shellac or oil-based primer so your new paint adheres.

Caulk around the tub, countertops, window and anywhere else you see a gap with paintable silicone caulking. Allow it to dry at least four hours before painting.

Paint your bathroom with one or two coats of latex paint. It won't do any harm to use a mildew-retardant paint designed for bathrooms; however, unless you address the cause of high humidity, the mildew and peeling paint will return eventually.

Tips and Warnings

  • If the paint is peeling away from the original plaster or drywall, the problem is humidity or moisture. If it peels away from a previous coat of paint, you have an adhesion problem due to cheap paint or improperly prepared surfaces from the previous paint job.
  • Find out if the existing paint is oil- or water-based by rubbing it with a rag soaked in rubbing alcohol. Water-based paint will soften and rub off, while oil-based paint will be unaffected.

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