5 Smart Ways to Update Your Bathroom Tile Without Replacing It

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated October 15, 2021
Bright bathroom with white tile
Photo: adamkaz / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

If your bathroom aesthetic hasn't been updated since the 1960s, it could be time for a few easy upgrades that don't require major renovations

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Do you have cracked tile, grody grouting, or a style that is so out of date you can barely look at the room without wincing? Installing new bathroom tiles can cost anywhere from $450 to $10,000, but ripping it all up and starting fresh is far from your only option. Learn how to update your bathroom tile without replacing it with these five creative ideas.

1. Clean Your Grouting

Hand scrubbing tile floor with brush
Photo: Wattanaphob Kappago / EyeEM / Getty Images

Replacing your grouting from scratch is a larger project than you may expect. For example, a pro will likely bring in a grouting saw to remove the current material and spend ample time finding the perfect match for your new design.

Cleaning your grouting is a quicker and more DIY-friendly approach to old tile that just needs some brightening up. Depending on the stains in your grouting, you may need anything from a simple warm water and vinegar solution to much tougher oxygen bleach from the store.

Follow these steps to clean your bathroom grout:

  • Use a hard-bristled brush to test out the stains on your grouting.

  • Start with warm water before moving to a water-and-vinegar solution or vinegar-and-baking soda solution.

  • If you switch to bleach, never allow it to mix with any other cleaning supply, even vinegar.

2. Replace Unsightly Grouting Spots

Replacing small sections of grouting in your bathroom—particularly if they do not point to larger structural or water damage problems—can be a DIY project if you're ready to pull out the power tools.

For this project, you'll need a grouting saw to remove the small area of cracked grouting. Be sure to color-match your new grout before applying it with a putty knife and letting it properly dry in a ventilated space.

3. Paint Over Your Tiles

One of the least expensive ways to update your bathroom tile without replacing it is with paint. Keep in mind that it may be harder to remove the tile in the future and that your tile and grouting will lose that signature contrasting look.

However, while the process does take some time and planning, the final result requires far less time, waste, and money than replacing the tiles completely. 

Always begin by speaking with your local paint store about purchasing the right paint for your tile material. Not all materials require the same paint, though most—such as ceramic and porcelain—respond well to epoxy paints.

Protect the rest of your bathroom from paint splatter with plastic covering—including your tub, sink, mirrors, toilet, and non-tiled walls. You will need to clean, sand, and prime the tile before adding the final coat of paint, so set aside enough time in your week to keep your bathroom out of commission.

Depending on the type of pre-mixed paint you choose, you may also need to add a coat of waterproof sealant to protect the layer from moisture.

4. Add a Wall Panel Cover

Bright bathroom with wall panels and bathtub
Photo: IPGGutenbergUKLtd / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Another smart way to update your bathroom tile without having to replace it is with a wall panel cover. This is why more and more bathroom designers are opting for non-tile solutions, such as wainscotting or other wall panels. Common materials for wall panels include PVC, MDF, and acrylic.

In some cases, you can add a series of wall panels yourself, especially if you're covering an easy-to-measure area like an open wall. The moment you have to remove fixtures, plumbing, or counters to add the panels, it's best to leave it to the pros.

You can adhere wall panels directly on top of properly cleaned and sealed bathroom tiles. Keep in mind that you must be comfortable measuring, sawing, and sanding the panel to the perfect size for your bathroom area. 

Also, steer clear of adding DIY flooring such as a laminate material to your bathroom floor. The laminate can warp over time and even require replacing in just a few years.

5. Consider a Temporary Decal

Need a quick, temporary, or renter-friendly fix to update your bathroom tile without replacing it? Many adhesive decals can cover up unsightly tiles and come off without leaving a residue. 

Decals come in sticker form but adhere to clean tile to add more color, cover a broken tile, or simply change up the style of the room. While they're not best for withstanding long-term bathroom use, they can help you bridge the gap before your upcoming renovations.

A note of warning, however—not all stick-on tiles remove cleanly from all materials, particularly if you're latching them right onto drywall. Be sure to test an area before covering the whole room, especially if you're renting.

You can take control of your bathroom design without tackling a major project, but always keep the longevity of your project in mind. In many cases, a professional tile floor cleaner in your area or tile upgrade will have the largest and most long-lasting effect on the look of your powder room. These DIY options, however, can make a large impact without revamping the whole space.

Should You DIY Your Bathroom Tile Upgrade or Hire a Pro?

Whether we're talking about the backsplash behind your sink or the tile that runs along the edge of the tub, all bathroom tile and grouting are susceptible to wear and tear. Mild, mildew, cracking, and fading are all too common, and it's no big surprise as to why. After years of cleaning chemicals, frequent moisture, and high traffic, tile can lose its sheen pretty quickly.

But which tile replacement alternative is right for you? Begin by asking yourself a few questions:

  • What is my budget for the project?

  • Do I want to bring in a professional?

  • Do I want to freshen up my tiles or cover them altogether?

The options above range from a simple cleaning to fully hiding those tiles from sight until you're ready for an upgrade. But if none of the solutions we’ve presented are what you’re looking for, it might be time for an actual renovation. 

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