why is my bathroom paint peeling off in sheets

bathroom paint peeling off in sheets

It’s quite often we see a bathroom painting project that was not completed properly.  Sometimes these very small spaces take more time than any other room in your home.  Bathrooms have many different types of climates throughout the day, and thus need special attention to assure that mold, mildew, and paint failures don’t appear.  If you don’t have the proper ventilation in your bathroom you will need to be sure you have coated your walls with the right type of paint and primers.  Many times when paint is peeling off walls in sheets it’s due to the lack of prep prior to applying the last coat of paint.  By reading and following the steps we have outlined below you will be assured that you have done everything you need to have the longest lasting bathroom paint job possible.

Newer homes typically have a bathroom exhaust fan that can really suck the hot air out of the small space after your steamy shower.  Because of the sucking power of these ceiling fans the wall paint is not as big of an issue.  Older homes that have not been updated to the more powerful bathroom exhaust fan are the projects we get called in for most  often.  Although a bathroom exhaust fan is a large factor in the healthiness and longevity of your bathroom, the previous prep, paint, and primer that has been applied on your walls and ceilings will play the ultimate cause of your paint failures.

In homes built prior to 1978 the primer coat will either be an oil based primer or lead based primer.  These base coats stick to plaster walls very well.  Unfortunately, what sometimes doesn’t stick so well are the many coats of oil and latex paint that followed these primers.  If you think of the rings on a tree showing their age, you can apply the same visual inspection to the paint layers in your bathroom.   Your current painting project is only as good as the prep you do on the previous paint layers that have been applied.  Some common problems that are associated with improper previous prep are:

Paint bubbling off walls in bathroom:  bubble are commonly caused by either air or moisture underneath the coating.  You might have just painted your bathroom and took a hot shower shortly after.  Moisture was able to get behind the coating, it then dried and now that moisture is trying to escape.  Another, reason for paint bubbling off your walls is that you have many old layers of lead or oil paint underneath your amazingly stretchy latex paint.  Your old layers have stopped adhering to your wall and have “popped” off.  Because latex stretches like a balloon you now have a bubble.

Fresh paint peeling off walls:  This is typically caused again by lack of prep.  If you paint on to a glossy surface it will not adhere unless you follow the steps below.

Paint running down walls after painting:  We have seen this in very small unventilated bathrooms where a customer takes a hot steamy shower within hours of the paint job completion.  We recommend at least a 24 to 48 cure for small unventilated bathrooms after painting.


We have created a step by step guide for you to go through when planning to paint your bathroom.

If your home was built before 1978 you will want to purchase these items before starting your project to protect you and your family from the dangers of lead dust:

Now follow these steps to start your bathroom painting project.

  1. Step1: Cover all surfaces within the bathroom with painter plastic and floor paper.  Why not drop cloths?  Drop cloths are great for catching paint that has fallen off of your brush or roller.  It also does a great job of collecting dust and paint chips.  If your bathroom has lead paint present the dust will collect on the drop cloth and as you remove the “drop” from your home the lead dust will trail through your home leaving children and little ones exposed to dangerous lead paint exposure.  You should also remove towel bars, toilet paper holders, and any other items that are hanging or inside of your bathroom.  Place a sticky pad outside the door of the bathroom to assure that paint chips and other debris don’t leave the area your working in.
  2. Step 2:  Prepping the surfaces in your bathroom.  As our saying goes “It’s all in the Prep”, and there is no exception in the bathroom.  Scraping any peeling paint areas is the first step.   Abrading all surfaces before applying any more layers of paint or primer is a necessary step to prolong the life of your bathroom paint job.  At Painting Oregon we use Festool HEPA vacuum powered sanders to accomplish much of our lead paint prep.  If you have glossy walls you can always follow the steps here using a de-glosser solution to  remove the sheen to allow for your next primer layer to adhere better.  If there is any failing caulking you will want to remove it at this point in the prep.  Typically, around the top of a shower or bath inset or around the bathroom vanity is where you will find split caulking.
  3. Step 3:  Now that your walls and ceilings have been abraded, you will want to wipe all surfaces using a TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) and bleach solution to assure that all surfaces.  Use a wet rag to manually wipe all of your wall and ceiling surfaces.  Once the walls dry use a clean wet rag (water only) to re-wipe all surfaces.  You are now ready to move on to the next step.
  4. Step 4:  Prime all surfaces.  This step is critical to seal in all of those existing layers of paint and primer.  Use a quality oil primer like Zinnser® Cover Stain to prime all of your trims, walls, and ceilings.  Allow a the primer to dry and cure for a full 24 hours to allow for optimal stain blocking.
  5. Step 5:  Now, that all of your bathroom surfaces are primed bright white you should be able to see imperfections in the walls that need filling, texturing, or caulking.  This is the time to make these fixes.  If your floor paper and masking is getting pretty messy at this point you can carefully remove your masking and throw all items in a bag.
  6. Step 6:  Now that your wall prep is complete its time to paint your bathroom.  If you need help choosing a color use SwatchDeck mobile app and the “palette” function to discover colors from the paint store you will be choosing your paint from.   Choosing the correct bathroom paint is imperative.  You want to make sure that you choose a high quality paint that has mildewcide in the paint.
  7. Step 7:  Nice work, you just prepped and painted  your bathroom properly and are ready to move on to the next project.  We recommend that you let the paint cure for 48 to 72 hours before taking a hot steamy shower.  Using a fan to circulate the air in the room after painting will also help the paint to cure out much faster.

Dont forget to store your paint color in SwatchDeck to assure that if you have any touch-up or need more paint in the future that you don’t have to go searching for your paints.