What Paint Finish Is Best for Bathroom Walls and Ceilings?


A bathroom’s high humidity and frequent exposure to water make choosing the right paint finish important for both aesthetic and functional reasons. So, what paint finish is best for bathroom walls and ceilings?

The ideal paint finish for bathrooms is high-gloss, semi-gloss, and satin. These glossy finishes are more resistant to humidity, making them great options for the moist environment of a bathroom. They also have excellent stain-resistant qualities, which help to keep your bathroom walls looking their best.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • The 6 factors to consider when choosing a paint finish
  • The 3 best paint finishes
  • Whether it’s possible to use low-sheen paint
  • How to prep your bathroom and choose the right color

6 Key Factors to Consider When Choosing a Paint Finish

Here’s a look at six of the most important things to remember when selecting a paint finish.

Cleanability

As the walls and ceilings in bathrooms are more exposed to water and dirt, it’s important to choose a paint finish that is easy to clean.

Glossy and semi-gloss finishes are the best option for bathrooms as they are more resistant to dirt accumulation, smudges, and stains. 

Humidity levels 

Bathrooms tend to have higher humidity levels than other rooms in the house due to all that warm steam from showers and baths.

It’s important to choose a paint finish that can stand up against moisture, so you should opt for water-resistant, glossy paints instead of eggshell or flat matte finishes.

Mold and mildew resistance

Due to the high moisture levels in bathrooms, it’s important to opt for a paint finish that is resistant to mold and mildew.

Many manufacturers offer paints specifically designed for bathrooms, which typically have added fungicides, mildewcides, or other anti-microbial agents built into the formulation.

Amount of natural lighting

The level of natural light in your bathroom can greatly impact the type of paint finish you select. Glossy finishes reflect more light, making the room appear brighter, while flatter finishes absorb light for a more subdued appearance.

When selecting paint colors for little bathrooms that don’t have any windows, make sure to factor in the amount of natural lighting available.

If natural light is scarce, consider adding artificial lighting. Moreover, think about how certain colors make you feel and use color psychology to find out which tone or shades would work best with that emotion.

VOC levels

Make sure to select a paint with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are chemicals that emit odors and can cause health problems, such as headaches and respiratory problems, particularly among those who have allergies or asthma.

Cost

Last but not least, the price point should also factor into your decision-making process when choosing a paint finish for bathroom walls and ceilings.

While some higher-quality paints may cost more upfront, they may also provide better coverage and longer-lasting protection than lower-quality alternatives in the long run. 

The 3 Best Paint Finishes for Bathroom Walls and Ceilings

Paint sheen is the amount of gloss or shine that is present in a paint finish. It can range from dull or flat to high gloss, and the most common sheens are eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and high gloss.

Paint sheen is typically shown as a percentage on paint cans. The percentages indicate how much light will be reflected off of a painted surface and how glossy it will appear to the eye.

Semi-gloss paint

Using semi-gloss paint in the bathroom is the best choice for both the walls and ceiling due to its unique combination of aesthetic appeal, durability, and low maintenance needs. 

With a semi-gloss finish, you get an attractive look that falls between satin and high-gloss paint finishes, with a reflectivity level of 40-50%.

It is also highly durable and resistant to moisture, making it ideal for wet environments like bathrooms. Plus, it wipes down easily and can be easily maintained with minimal effort. 

Semi-gloss paint provides a smooth, consistent finish upon application and requires much fewer coats than higher gloss finishes.

Though some preparation is necessary beforehand to achieve an even coat, such as priming the wall surface and sanding it slightly if needed.  

HGTV HOME by Sherwin-Williams ShowcaseOpens in a new tab. in semi-gloss delivers one-coat coverage that stands up to the test of time. Boasting advanced stain and scrub resistance, this 100% acrylic formula has anti-microbial protection against mold and mildew.

HGTV Home not only looks fantastic, but it’s also Greenguard Gold Certified for low emissions of chemicals into the environment.

Pros:

  • Highly durable
  • Resistant to moisture and dirt
  • Wipes down easily
  • Easy to maintain

Cons:

  • Requires more preparation before painting
  • May show some imperfections

High-gloss paint

Using high-gloss paint in the bathroom is another choice that is very popular among homeowners. It has a glass-like appearance that can visually brighten up a space, making it look spacious and inviting. This type of paint is also highly reflective, with a reflectivity level of 70-80%.

In terms of durability, high-gloss paints are tough and durable, surviving great amounts of scrubbing to keep walls looking pristine. They also have great stain resistance.

Above all, it has superior mold and mildew resistance, making them ideal in bathrooms. High-gloss paints are easy to clean and can be maintained with minimal effort. They don’t require any special preparation before painting, aside from a light sanding if needed.

However, high-gloss paints aren’t as easy to apply as flatter paint. Touch-ups can be quite difficult because it doesn’t blend well with surrounding areas, and it often leaves visible brushstrokes.

The gloss finish also highlights any imperfections on the wall or ceiling surface which must be prepared properly prior to painting if a flawless finish is desired.

Despite these drawbacks, the application process for high-gloss paint is manageable with some patience and skill.

Transform your space with BEHR Premium Plus Hi-Gloss Enamel Interior/ExteriorOpens in a new tab. paint for a glass-like, enduring finish. With this exceptional, hard-wearing paint, you can enjoy outstanding moisture protection and full coverage for a sensational look that won’t fade.

Plus, the 100% acrylic base provides mildew resistance and vibrant reflectivity. Plus, when you purchase BEHR paint, it’s backed by their lifetime warranty guarantee for your peace of mind.

Pros:

  • Highly durable and washable
  • Low maintenance
  • Superior protection against mold and mildew

Cons:

  • More expensive than other paints
  • Time-consuming to apply
  • Difficult touchups

Satin paint

The final choice among homeowners is to use satin paint to decorate the bathroom. Satin paint is a popular choice for decorating interior walls and ceilings, especially in wet areas such as bathrooms.

Satin paint adds a hint of luster to the color, making it look more sophisticated than an eggshell finish but not as shiny as semi-gloss. Its subtle sheen provides just enough visual interest without becoming overpowering.

Some of the main benefits of using satin paint in a bathroom are its low reflective surface which helps keep the space looking bright and airy, as well as its durability against moisture damage.

The water-resistant properties of this type of paint make it especially suited for use on walls and ceilings in the bathroom, where water splashes onto surfaces frequently.

In addition, if there are any scratches or scuff marks made over time from regular use, these will be much less visible than if you were using higher glossier finishes.

The Zinsser Satin Perma-White White Tintable InteriorOpens in a new tab. paint is the perfect solution for bathrooms that require a durable and low-maintenance finish. It provides a mold, mildew, and stain-resistant washable finish that requires no sanding to adhere.

Additionally, it has been formulated with fade resistance in mind, so you can trust it will look great after years of use. In addition, this water-based paint has very little smell and is tintable, allowing you to easily customize your colors.

Pros:

  • Adds subtle visual interest
  • Easy to clean and maintain
  • Low-reflective surface
  • Mold, mildew, and stain-resistant

Cons:

  • Can be difficult to apply
  • Not as durable as a higher gloss finish
  • Less durable than semi and high-gloss

Can Low-Sheen Paints Be Used in Bathrooms?

Traditional low-sheen paints are not usually suitable for bathroom walls and ceilings as they are not moisture-resistant. However, thanks to modern technology, a special type of low-sheen paint is now available for use in bathrooms.

One example is Benjamin Moore AuraOpens in a new tab. paint. It comes in a variety of specially formulated low-sheen finishes that are perfect for a humid environment.

Its superior hide and washability properties make it ideal for high-traffic areas, providing a durable finish that stands up to everyday use. 

The low-sheen of Aura Interior is designed to resist mildew growth in moist conditions, making it the ideal choice for bathrooms.

Its advanced resin technology provides superior durability and resistance to moisture, allowing the paint to better adhere to surfaces even in the dampest environments.

The paint also resists color rub-off, even in bolder shades like deep reds, so you don’t have to worry about color fading over time.

Oil-Based vs Water-Based (Latex) vs Acrylic Paints

When selecting paint for walls and ceilings in a bathroom, there are three types of paints to consider: oil-based, water-based (latex), and acrylic.  Here’s how they differ from one another:

Oil-based paint

Oil-based paint is a type of paint composed of solids suspended in natural oil or synthetic alkyd. It has been used for centuries and is popularly known for its durability, stain-blocking properties, and resistance to fingerprints and scratches.

Oil-based paints are typically more expensive than their water-based counterparts. One of the most notable advantages of oil-based paint is its durability. Oil-based paints create a hard film on surfaces that is highly resistant to wear and tear.

This makes it an excellent choice for applications where there will be frequent foot traffic such as doors or trim work.

Despite these benefits, there are some cons associated with using oil-based paint that must be considered before deciding whether it is right for your project.

Firstly, oil-based paint contained higher levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which can cause health issues if inhaled over prolonged periods of time without proper ventilation in the area where you’re working.

Instead, modern latex paints offer a more robust level of water resistance and durability than their oil counterparts, making them the perfect selection for use in moist areas like bathrooms.

Another issue is that because oil-based paint contains solvents, it takes longer to dry than latex paint. This means the time between coats must be significantly longer.

Finally, it takes more time to clean up after using oil-based paint because you will need to use paint thinner or mineral spirits as opposed to just soap and water with latex.

Water-based (latex) paint

Water-based (latex) paint is one of the most popular options for painting interior walls and other surfaces. It’s an affordable, low-odor, durable option that can be easily cleaned with soap and water.

Latex paint is made from a water-soluble resin which makes it easier to apply over existing paint than oil-based paints.

It is also known for its quick drying time, usually setting within 30 minutes of application. Latex paint has a much lower level of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) than oil-based paints, making it a more environmentally friendly option.

Unlike oil-based paints, latex paints are better at resisting the growth of mold and mildew due to their denser formula and increased waterproofing capabilities.

And because latex paint dries faster than oil paint, there is less chance of staining or discoloration. As a bonus, latex paint emits fewer chemical fumes while being applied.

Latex paint is the ideal option for painting walls and ceilings in a bathroom due to its mold and mildew resistance, rapid drying time, convenient application, and durability against rigorous scrubbing.

Acrylic paint

Acrylic paint is a popular choice among DIY painters, but it’s not ideal to use in bathrooms because of its chemical-based composition and tendency to create scuffs in high-traffic areas.

While acrylic paint has some benefits when compared to other types of paint, such as a quick dry time and strong adhesive properties, its drawbacks when used in bathrooms make it less than ideal.

First off, acrylic paint contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be hazardous if inhaled for extended periods of time. The VOCs are released into the atmosphere as the paint dries and these can cause problems with indoor air quality.

Because bathrooms are typically small enclosed spaces with little ventilation, this can be especially problematic when using acrylic paints. 

In addition to releasing VOCs into the air, acrylic paint also tends to require multiple coats for complete coverage and full-color saturation.

This means that painting a bathroom can take significantly more time and effort than with other types of paint like latex.

And since acrylic paint dries quickly, it doesn’t provide much time between coats for any necessary sanding or touch-ups which could lead to mistakes or an uneven finish. 

How to Choose the Right Paint Color for Your Bathroom

Get inspired

Look around for inspiration when it comes to choosing a color for your bathroom. You can look at paint samples, online images of bathrooms, or other design ideas to get an idea of what you like and don’t like.

Look at your bathroom’s natural light 

The natural light in your bathroom can impact how certain colors appear once they are painted on the walls.

To avoid any surprises when it comes to how the color looks after painting, test out swatches in different lighting conditions before committing to one hue. 

Think about your fixtures 

Your fixtures can also influence which paint colors work best in the space. If you have white fixtures, for example, consider choosing a color that will complement them.

If your fixtures are more of a statement piece, then choose paint colors that will enhance them rather than compete with them. 

Consider the size of the bathroom 

The size of the bathroom can also determine which color works best in it. Smaller bathrooms can benefit from light and bright colors, while larger bathrooms can handle darker hues.

With both, don’t be afraid to experiment with different shades—just remember that the lighter the color, the more spacious the room will appear.

6 Preparations to Consider Before Painting Your Bathroom

Before you dive into painting your bathroom, there are some important preparations that you should consider first. Let’s take a look.

Remove everything from the room 

Before you can paint any space, you first have to clear it out. This means removing all furniture or items that may be in the way or exposed to potential drips of paint. You should also take down any curtains, wall art, or fixtures.

Cover everything

Once you have the room cleared of items, the next step is to cover up things that cannot be moved. This includes laying down plastic sheeting on the floor and covering any furniture with drop cloths. You should also use painter’s tape to cover up any areas that you don’t want to be painted (i.e., trim, fixtures). 

Gather supplies 

Painting is not just about slapping some color on the walls. It involves having all of the necessary supplies on hand prior to starting the project.

This includes things like painter’s tape, drop cloths, stirrers, and a ladder. And of course, you will need the actual paint and primer. 

Clean and prep the walls 

Once the room is cleared out, it’s time to clean and repair any imperfections on the walls or ceilings that may be visible once the new coat of paint has been applied.

This could be anything from filling in cracks to removing old wallpaper or even just giving the walls a good scrubbing with a sponge and mild detergent.

Sand, prime, and caulk

Sanding down the walls and ceilings is a good idea to help create an even surface for painting. This also helps to remove any dust particles that may be left behind from sanding or cleaning.

Then you should apply a primer before painting, as it provides an extra layer of protection against mildew and dirt build-up. Finally, if needed, caulk any gaps or seams to avoid moisture seepage.

Ventilation

Once you have everything prepped, the last step is to make sure your bathroom is properly ventilated. Open windows and turn on fans to help circulate air throughout the room and prevent paint fumes from lingering too long.

Graham Walsh

I want to share everything I know about home improvement in order to help you. Whether you're a home enthusiast or an industry professional, I have the information that you need.

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