What Type of Paint to Use for Bathrooms

At first, you may feel overwhelmed when you're trying to choose paint for your bathroom: satin or eggshell; gloss, flat, or somewhere in between. To make matters more confusing, you may choose one type of paint for the walls and another for the trim around doorways and windows. Choosing the ideal bathroom paint becomes a simple process by remembering that the glossier the paint, the more durable, washable and water-resistant it is. In other words, bathroom paint with at least some amount of gloss to it holds up to the humid bathroom environment.

Bathroom interior
credit: Baltskars/iStock/Getty Images
The interior of a remodeled classic bathroom with vanity, clawfoot tub, and tile flooring.

Glossing Over

Before settling in on one paint, it's important to know the different terms or levels of gloss available. Flat paint has, at maximum, a 5 percent gloss level; in other words, it isn't shiny when light shines upon it. Matte paint, sometimes called velvet, is slightly glossier, with 5 to 10 percent gloss level. Both flat and matte hide flaws well thanks to their low reflectivity. Eggshell paint has 10 to 25 percent gloss level, followed by satin or pearl at 25 to 35 percent gloss. Semi-gloss is a middle-of-the-road paint at 35 to 70 percent gloss level, followed by gloss paint at 70 to 85 percent gloss level. The top of the list, high-gloss paint, has more than 85 percent gloss -- it will look extremely shiny under a light source. The more glossy the paint, the more durable it is -- but the more it shows flaws.

Bathroom Walls

Since the bathroom is subject to quite a bit of moisture, it requires a paint that holds up well in humid conditions. Flat paint is the least resistant to moisture and isn't washable, so a paint with at least moderate gloss level is best. Satin and semi-gloss paints are both durable enough to endure bathroom conditions, and they are washable -- paints with less gloss to their sheen may be damaged by washing. A gloss paint is also an option, but keep in mind that the shininess may be a bit much, and will show every flaw on the wall due to high reflectivity of the paint. Washable and durable without highlighting dents and dings on the painted surface, mid-range gloss levels offer the best of both.

Door and Window Trim

Door and window trim as well as moldings require durability, as these areas -- especially near doors -- are most prone to scratches, scuffs and dirty fingerprints. A semi-gloss or gloss paint is best for these surfaces, as they can handle plenty of scrubbing. If you use semi-gloss on the walls, you may wish to use gloss on the trim, as it will also add a bit of decorative variation that embellishes the look of the walls a bit, no matter what colors are used.

Ceiling Concerns

While flat paint is normally well-suited to ceilings, in a bathroom with a shower or tub, it may not be the best choice. Steam turns into condensation, which collects on surfaces, including the ceiling, so a bit of moisture resistance will help that ceiling finish last. An eggshell or satin paint adds durability to the ceiling finish without being overly shiny.