How to prepare tiles, textures, bricks and problem surfaces before painting

Adding a lick of paint to tiles is a quick and cost effective way of freshening up the home. For the best finish, follow these tips

Imitation tiling

These tiles can be hard to remove as it is often put up with strong adhesive.

  • Pull the top layer from its backing.
  • Soak off the backing and old adhesive with hot water, scraping it away as it softens.
  • Try using a steam wallpaper stripper.
  • If the adhesive is very stubborn, use a hot-air gun to soften it.


Textured coatings

Thick coatings applied by brush or roller on ceilings and walls are difficult to remove.

Modern products are based on emulsion paint and may be removed with a proprietary textured-paint remover, which works like a chemical paint stripper.
You could try using a steam wallpaper stripper.

Textures applied before the 1970s may contain asbestos. It is safe to remove them using a steam stripper but never smooth a textured coating by sanding as this may release asbestos fibres into the air.

If you simply want to repaint the textured surface, lightly scrub it with a mild solution of sugar soap and water and allow to dry.


Polystyrene tiles

Expanded polystyrene ceiling tiles can only be painted with emulsion paint. To remove tiles, lever each one from the surface and scrape off the glue.


Ceramic tiles

If tiles are to be painted, make sure they are clean and dry, then use a specialist tile paint. You cannot hang wallpaper over tiles so you may wish to remove them. This is hard work, and may necessitate replastering the wall.


Cork tiles

Cork tiles cannot be painted over, though you may be able to cover them with lining paper and wallpaper.

  • Prise each tile away from the wall with a wide stripping knife or a bolster chisel.
  • To remove hard lumps of glue, follow the instructions for taking down expanded polystyrene tiles.


Exposed brick

  • Brush the bricks to remove dust.
  • Paint interior bricks with emulsion or leave unpainted.


Problem surfaces

Difficulties can arise when painting over the following problem surfaces.


Damp can cause chemicals in mortar or plaster to come to the surface and form a whitish fluff called efflorescence. Brush this off the wall, then apply an alkali-resisting primer or a stabilising solution.


Cover stains made by tar deposits in a flue or rust marks on a wall, for instance, with an aluminium primer-sealer. This stops the stain from bleeding through the new paint.


Do not isolate damp by applying an impervious coating—this will cause it to move elsewhere, creating fresh problems. Find and cure the cause.

Holes and cracks

Brush away any loose or crumbling plaster from small holes and cracks, and repair the area with an appropriate filler.

Larger holes, gaps and cracks require more extensive treatment.

Uneven plaster

Level out slight irregularities with a skimming coat of surface plaster.


Removing tiles from walls and ceilings

Leaving tiles in place and painting or tiling over them is often the easiest option, but if you want a flat finish for painting or wallpapering the tiles will need to be removed.


Ceramic tiles

Tiles in older houses may be stuck to the wall with cement mortar—sometimes 15mm thick. If you remove them you will probably need to have the wall plastered before you can decorate.

Tiles stuck with adhesive are easier to get off, but they may pull plaster with them. In this case, the surface will need to be made good.


Heavy duty gloves; safety goggles; dust mask; wide steel masonry chisel (bolster); club hammer; paint scraper. Possibly also: power sander.

Before you start Put on protective clothing—splinters of glass from the glaze will fly in all directions as you chip away at the tiles. Close doors to prevent dust escaping from the room.

1. Prise the tiles away from the wall one at a time with a bolster chisel and a club hammer. Some will come away in one piece, others may crack and break.

There is no easy technique—continue to chisel until you have removed all of the tiles.

2. Use a sharp paint or wallpaper scraper to remove any adhesive left on the wall. If the tiles were stuck with cement mortar you will need to continue chipping with the bolster chisel.


Polystyrene tiles and cork tiles

Tools Wide stripping knife or bolster chisel; safety goggles; possibly a hot-air gun.

1. Lever tiles away from the surface using a wide stripping knife or bolster chisel. They are more likely to break into pieces than come off as one complete tile.

Although the tiles will come away relatively easily, some adhesive—which is difficult to remove—is likely to remain on the walls after that.

2. Use a hot-air gun to apply heat direct to the remaining glue and then scrape it off with a stripping knife.

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