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Best Paint for Bathroom Without Fan

Moisture and paint are obvious enemies, which leaves many homeowners feeling like they are backed into a wall when it comes to bathrooms. Not everyone has the money to fully tile their bathroom walls, so paint it is, but that’s just the first decision you have to make, particularly if you are dealing with a bathroom that doesn’t have a fan.

There are paints specifically designed for effective use in bathrooms. However, they are only truly effective in properly ventilated bathrooms. 

Bathroom-specific paints are the best to use in high-humidity rooms as they are typically both moisture- and mold- and mildew-resistant. High gloss paint is adequate but much higher maintenance. Avoid oil-based paint. Paint cannot be used in lieu of adequate ventilation; it only enhances ventilation.

Moisture- and Mold-Resistant Paint

For best results, it’s recommended that you use acrylic moisture-resistant and mold- and mildew-resistant paint.

Moisture-resistant paint is designed with a tighter molecular structure so that it will not absorb moisture as easily as regular paints. 

This means that the ceilings and walls are protected from blistering and staining because the moisture cannot compromise the outer barrier. Any water drops sitting on the surface of the walls and ceiling can be wiped off with a towel, or will eventually evaporate, particularly if the bathroom fan is run for the right amount of time.

Another benefit to being moisture-resistant and therefore protected against the accumulation of water is that the painted walls and ceiling can no longer become happy breeding grounds for mold and mildew.

Some paints are actually marketed primarily as mold- or mildew-resistant as they also contain herbicides that actively kill any spores attempting to grow.

Here are two high-quality bathroom paints you can use:

Rust-Oleum 02761 Perma-White Mold & Mildew Proof Interior Paint, SemiGloss Finish

High-Gloss Paint

Before the formulation of paints targeted at moisture-prone areas like bathrooms, it was common practice to use glossy paints for bathrooms to try and combat the occurrence of mold. Even though high gloss paints do not prevent mold growth, they are easy to wipe down and clean up moisture or dirt on the wall before they can lead to serious issues. 

If you cannot find bathroom-specific paints or if you feel that they are not worth it (you can read my argument of this point in Is Bathroom Paint Worth the Extra Cost), then you can use high gloss paint. You will still have the higher maintenance needs attached to a non-bathroom-specific paint, but gloss is much better than a matte finish.

RUST-OLEUM 02754 White Perma Interior Paint, 32 Fl Oz (Pack of 1)

Avoid Oil-Based Paints

Oil-based paints do not fare well when exposed to moisture. They can cause oily yellow spots to appear on your ceilings and walls, so it’s best to steer clear of them when choosing your bathroom paint.  

Is Bathroom Paint Worth the Extra Cost

It is important to always use bathroom paint for walls, ceilings, and trim when applying new paint in a bathroom. This specially formulated paint ensures excess moisture will not seep into the paint surface which can cause blistering, peeling, and allow mildew to form.

Why Do Bathrooms Require Special Paint?

Bathrooms are a unique environment in your home as they are constantly exposed to high levels of moisture. To combat this, most bathrooms have an exhaust fan installed that will vent the bad smells and moisture to the exterior of the home.

Working white bathroom fan.jpg

Oftentimes, these exhaust fans cannot keep up with the steam generated from constant shower use. In fact, they are not designed to immediately exhaust all of the steam. Instead, bathroom fans are designed to be kept running for at least 30 minutes after taking a shower. Most people, especially kids, don’t keep the exhaust fans on for long enough.

Here is a graph showing how long the moisture levels are elevated after taking a shower. Keep in mind that this is with the exhaust fan running the entire time.

Graph showing how long the moisture levels are elevated after taking a shower.jpg

As you can see, the moisture levels are elevated for more than 3 hours after taking a shower! This is why it is vital that everything in the bathroom is resistant to high levels of moisture.

You will often see moisture build-up on mirrors and countertops. When not properly managed, this moisture can cause irreparable damage to walls, window frames, cabinets, and any other porous surface in your bathroom. It is important for all materials in your bathroom to hold up to moisture—especially your paint.

What Makes Bathroom Paint Different From Other Paints?

Bathroom paint is formulated with a tighter structure. The paint molecules rest closer together than in a normal paint. This leaves fewer gaps for moisture to penetrate into the paint surface.

Using this type of paint significantly reduces the risk of peeling or blistering. Applying bathroom paint can increase the longevity of your bathroom walls, ceilings, and trim. As the moisture cannot build up over a long period of time, it also limits the growth of mildew.

How Much More Does Bathroom Paint Cost?

Believe it or not, there is only a minimal cost difference between standard room paint and bathroom paint. You should expect about a $10 to $15 premium on a gallon of paint to upgrade to the formula needed in a bathroom. For lighter, lower grade paints the cost difference will be smaller than for a darker, higher quality paint.

Zinsser 2704 PERMA-WHITE Mold & Mildew Proof Interior Paint, Quart, Satin White

Since the cost difference is so insignificant, it is a no brainer to always use bathroom paint in a bathroom. If you do wish to save yourself that extra bit of money, why not paint the ceiling and walls the same color and avoid buying to full buckets of paint, when only one is necessary.

Is Applying Bathroom Paint the Same as Applying Standard Paint?

Applying bathroom paint requires the same procedures as painting any other room in your house. Make sure you protect your floors and bathroom fixtures before painting.

Clean your walls and ensure you have a flat surface to paint. Apply one coat of primer and allow it to fully dry. You will repeat this step with two coats of bathroom paint.

If applied correctly, bathroom paint should last 3-4 years before needing a fresh coat. While some people opt to use bathroom paint only on walls closest to water sources, such as those near a shower or next to the vanity, it is a good idea to use bathroom paint on every single wall in your bathroom.

You can also check out my post on Bathroom Door Paint Guide (DIY Painting Guide Included).

Of course, there may be some hidden work, particularly in old houses or bathrooms that have suffered water damage for a long time, so bear this in mind.

What if I Already Have Mildew Growth on My Bathroom Walls?

It is extremely important to not just paint over mildew growth if you are already dealing with it in your bathroom. You will need to scrub the entire affected area with a bleach-based cleaner or vinegar.

Mildew and molds on the tiles of bathroom.jpg

We have a helpful guide on how to remove mold from bathroom walls using nothing but natural vinegar.

Only do this in a well-ventilated area with the proper protective gear. Here are a couple of tips on how to ventilate rooms when working with any kind of chemicals. This will also be helpful when you start painting.

Allow the wall to completely dry after cleaning and wait a few days before painting to ensure the mold is completely gone.

What Other Add-Ons Are Available for Bathroom Paint?

While bathroom paints do limit the intrusion of moisture and therefore limit the growth of mildew, there are other add-ons available for addressing mildew.

Bathroom paints that contain antimicrobial agents are able to slow the growth of mildew and mold. You could also consider a paint that is tougher with a washable finish for your bathroom walls.

This is a great option for drop ceiling installed in bathrooms.

To properly clean your bathroom, you will want to scrub down the walls with vinegar or bleach every so often and a durable, washable surface will allow that.

Does Bathroom Paint Come in Every Color and Finish?

All of the top brands of paint offer their version of mold-inhibiting, premium paints which can be mixed to color shade at your local home improvement store.

Mixing green paint in the can using a wood stick.jpg

The paint finish you choose for a bathroom can also affect how moisture is absorbed. To maximize the effectiveness of your bathroom paint, you should consider using a glossy finish that repels water as opposed to a matte or flat finish that is a little more porous. If you do not love the look of glossy paint, you can find a happy medium by using a semi-gloss.

Paint Is Not the Solution

Bathroom paint serves a two-fold purpose: it protects the underlying wall from the effects of moisture and it reduces the chance of the paint itself blistering and staining and looking ugly.

However, while bathroom paint is worthwhile purchasing and using in a bathroom, it is designed to augment good ventilation, not replace it.

Inspecting a Home Air Vent for Maintenance

The average lifespan of bathroom paint is 3-4 years. Excess humidity can quickly overwhelm the formula and greatly reduce this expectancy. Thus, there is very little long-term effectiveness of such paints in a bathroom with poor ventilation.

High gloss paints will be an immediate disappointment to you if your bathroom does not have adequate ventilation. You will be almost constantly wiping down the walls to make any kind of difference in this scenario.

Extend Paint Effectiveness With Dehumidifier

If you are not able to install a proper ventilation system at this point, then you can extend the effectiveness of a good bathroom-specific paint with a dehumidifier. However, this is still only a short-term solution; it is also not a substitute for ventilation. Moreover, it will only work with a dehumidifier that has been adapted for use in bathrooms.

Regular dehumidifiers are not designed to handle the moisture levels that will be encountered in the bathroom. Unless you install a unit with a drainage system (into the bathroom basin or outside), then you will waste a great deal of time emptying the dehumidifier. Furthermore, the motor can become overwhelmed and give out.

types of dehumidifier used in a bathroom

Achieving Adequate Bathroom Ventilation

If you have windows, you can let humidity and stream out by opening the windows and door after having your shower. This creates natural ventilation, which is perfectly acceptable when adequate and used correctly. In other words, if you have a window in your bathroom, but you only open it during your shower if the weather is good, then it cannot count as ventilation.

For the best results, you’d need to install a bathroom exhaust fan to help you get rid of excess moisture.

Leaving the exhaust fan on for 30 minutes after having a shower is effective in eliminating humidity and moisture. This ultimately saves the surfaces in your bathroom from moisture damage. 

List of Poor Bathroom Ventilation Problems

Peeling paint is one of the lower items on the list of effects linked to poor ventilation. There are many more and some far worse consequences of a humid bathroom.

1. Structural Damage

If moisture is left on surfaces for a prolonged period, it can cause damage to the bathroom fixtures and also compromise the structural integrity of the bathroom.

Most walls and ceilings are constructed with porous materials. Thus, if you allow moisture to rest on them without a means of drying out or eliminating the humidity, the surfaces eventually absorb the moisture and if this continues for an extended period, it can weaken structural materials.  

2. Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew can only thrive in damp or moist environments. So, if the surfaces in your bathroom are moist, it makes for a perfect habitation for these unsightly organisms. 

mold in bathroom walls, tiles and ceiling

The presence of mold in your bathroom not only affects its appearance but can also lead to health-related issues like eye irritation, breathing complications (particularly in those who are predisposed), skin irritation, throat irritation, and nasal stuffiness. 

3. Warped Furniture

Moisture can cause damage to your bathroom furniture. This is more likely if structures and fixtures are constructed with moisture-sensitive materials like wood. 

Badly ventilated bathrooms with wooden frames and cabinets tend to suffer from furniture shrinkage, warp, and rot. If your bathroom floor is constructed with hardwood or engineered wood, your floor might start to sink or expand. 

4. Damp Towels, Curtains, Bathmats, Etc

If humidity stays trapped in the bathroom, the air in the room would constantly be damp. This wouldn’t affect your bathroom surfaces alone; it would also make fabrics that you leave in the bathroom damp. This ultimately translates to your towels, curtains, and bathmats breeding organisms like bacteria and fungi.

100% Cotton Bath Towels Set - Grey 22"x44" Pack of 6 Ultra Soft Bath Towel 100% Cotton Bath Towel Set Highly Absorbent Daily Usage Bath Towel Ideal for Pool Home Gym Spa Hotel Bath Towel Set

It doesn’t end there. The perpetual dampness of the fabrics would give them a musty smell which could cause your bathroom to smell funky.  

5. Bacterial Growth

Like mold, bacteria thrive in damp environments. But unlike mildew and mold, which are visible to the naked eyes, bacteria are microscopic.

Bacteria are present even in properly ventilated bathrooms, however, they’re more prominent in damp spaces. Once bacteria are present in a space, they release spores that can cause health challenges like:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Itching
  • Allergies
  • Asthma attacks

6. Peeling or Discolored Paint

When moisture continually settles on a painted surface, it could affect its appearance

Most families take hot showers and that comes with its own set of problems in bathrooms without adequate ventilation. If the steam isn’t expelled from the room, it would condense and eventually evaporate, leaving your paint discolored. 

Peeling bathroom ceiling paint

If moisture gets absorbed into the wall or ceiling, it can leave damp patches, and when a painted surface continuously absorbs moisture, it might start peeling.

7. Insect Problems

Insects love humid environments, and if you don’t have a system of getting rid of the humidity in your bathroom, you’re indirectly inviting insects like silverfish, drain flies, cockroaches, and house centipedes into your home. Cleaning your bathroom in this situation wouldn’t be enough to get rid of them. You’d also have to deal with the moisture issue. 

The presence of moisture and mold in a bathroom can also attract termites to the space. And termites can cause damage to your wooden bathroom furniture and flooring

8. HVAC System Works Harder (Bills Higher)

Humid bathrooms put a strain on your HVAC system. High humidity levels in your bathroom cause the system to work extra hard to control the overall temperature in your home. The system uses up more energy to attain desired temperature conditions, and this ultimately results in increased energy expenses. 

HVAC Worker with Natural Gas Detector Looking For a Leak

9. Higher Risk of Slipping

A badly ventilated bathroom would suffer from perpetually damp surfaces, including the floor.

Even if you are in the habit of drying the floor when you get out of the shower, the lack of ventilation means that steam remains in the bathroom. After a certain amount of time, this steam will condense and cover bathroom in a fresh layer of moisture.

Wet floors are always a slipping hazard, even if you are aware of them.

You can read Reasons Why Having No Ventilation in a Bathroom is Terrible for more details.


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