Hot Topics: This Bathroom's Peeling Paint Isn't a Moisture Problem

Paint peeling off a bathroom wall.
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If you’re a self-described home improvement ignoramus you may be stumped as to why new paint won’t stick to old walls in the bathroom, even when ventilation is good. But moisture is only one way to ruin a paint job. Not only can the Forum peel back the layers to find the problem, but they can protect your health too.

Original Post: Windowless bathroom paint peeling problem

LorenzoStDuBois Member

We have lived in an apartment rental for four years. Our bathroom has no windows, though it does have a wall-fan operated by light-switch.

After about two years of living here, the paint in the bathroom slowly began to peel off, so we requested the building re-paint it. They re-painted it and within a few days it began to peel very fast. So a month later they did it again, but it still peels pretty quickly.

I wanted to find out what kind of paint they should be using, since the original paint-job, while not perfect, seemed to work much better than what they have been using recently.


We use the fan regularly.

It's a simple white paint-job.

Please let me know how to solve this! Thank you!

Highlights from the Thread

pointing to peeling green paint on a wall

marksr Forum Topic Moderator

How old is the building? Years ago it was common procedure to paint bathroom walls/ceiling with oil base enamel. When switching to latex enamel the oil base needs to be coated with a solvent based primer first. That insures the latex will adhere! The ideal paint for a bath is latex bathroom paint [has extra mildewcide] but many just use latex enamel.

What kind of prep is being done prior to painting? Figuring out why the paint is peeling is key! Generally peeling [if not from latex applied over oil enamel] is caused by contaminants on the wall. Hair spray is common contaminant on bathroom walls, soap residue is another. How long was the paint allowed to dry/cure before the 1st shower was taken?

LorenzoStDuBois Member

Thank you!

The building is pre-war NYC; it seems pretty old. I don't know how long we waited before we showered.

Based on your answer I did some research on paints, primers, oil-based, water-based, latex-based?, etc. and have a pretty good idea of what you mean, but I am still a home improvement ignoramus. I don't know exactly what you mean when you say enamel (primer or paint?) or "solvent-based" (I thought all paints were solvent based...) When you're talking about the latex do you mean the primer or the paint? I think I understand the oil vs. water dichotomy but don't really get where latex fits into the equation.

mitch17 Group Moderator

Enamel is a type of paint and can be oil based, latex or waterborne.

Generally speaking, if in doubt about the paint currently on the wall (and I think that's the case here), any loose paint should be removed and the remaining paint given a light scuff sanding (then remove the sanding dust). Next should be an oil based primer followed by your choice of paint. As Mark mentioned, a kitchen and bath paint is best with latex enamel being an OK choice. I used latex kitchen and bath paint in my bathroom as I wanted white and oil based paints tend to yellow with time.

marksr Forum Topic Moderator

applying paint to a wall with a roller

The age of the building means the bath was originally painted with oil base enamel, more than likely a lead based enamel. The odds are the top layer of oil paint isn't lead based but there is no way to know for sure without testing it. It's best not to sand lead based paints! Lead is mainly dangerous when it can be inhaled [dust] or when chips are ingested [kids]. Pigmented shellac like Zinsser's BIN is the ultimate stain hiding and adhesion primer and would adhere fine without sanding. Another option would be to wipe down the oil enamel with a liquid deglosser and then apply an oil base primer. There are a few latex primers that claim they will adhere long term directly over oil base enamel but I don't trust them.

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