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jmclanon 01-06-2013 08:57 AM

Bathroom Ceiling Woes
Bit of a long story, I'll try to make it as short as possible. I moved into my house 3 years ago. The previous owner had re-painted the bathroom ceiling with who-knows-what. No idea what condition the ceiling was in before that.

A year or so later, the paint started to peel/chip in spots. Eventually (maybe a year later), I finally got around to re-painting. I scraped and sanded the spots that were chipping, spackled them, and primed and painted. I can't remember what I used now for some reason, but it wasn't necessarily low quality (not like behr or anything).

Anyway, after 6 months or so, there was more chipping/peeling. Not necessarily in the same spots as before, but similar (generally near the edges of the ceiling. I decided to do things "right" so read as many forum posts on the topic as I could and settled on using Zinsser Cover Stain oil-based primer and sherwin-williams bath paint.

It's been a couple months, and no peeling yet (though it's early). However, I still smell the paint, especially after showers or even if the heat is blowing for a while (forced hot air - there's a single floor register in the bathroom).

Just as a sample: I had my wife take a medium-length "warm" shower (her warm is my hot) a couple nights ago. During and after the shower, the fan was on (obviously) and we left the bathroom doors (there are 2, one on each end of the bathroom) cracked about 4". The theory was that would let more dry air into the room.

Maybe 10 minutes after her shower, we opened the bathroom doors up and it had a real distinguishable paint smell. I reached up to the ceiling (not even in the shower, but above the sink) and it felt soft-ish. Almost like a hard rubber. Before the shower, it was definitely hard. Obviously the ceiling also felt a little damp to the touch, too.

It seems like the ceiling has had plenty of time to cure. Right after painting, we went a couple days without using that shower just for that purpose. And since then, we've also taken shorter, cooler showers and even been out of town for a few days around Christmas so... I painted it about 6 weeks ago.

Any thoughts? Why is the paint behaving that way? I've never had any other type of paint do this. Is it a problem with the type of paint I used (Zinsser Cover Stain and Sherwin Williams Bath Paint)? Did I somehow apply it wrong? I can't help but think that paint combo makes a lot of sense in this situation.

And how can I fix it? Will I have to strip the paint at this point? Any chance of painting over it with something different? Seems unlikely that that would work. Arg.

As for the general problem of peeing paint, do people have alternative paint suggestions. I do have an exhaust fan that vents to the outside, and we always run it during showers. I'd hate to have to replace it with a fan that moves more air, I'd think the one I have is sufficient for the fairly small bathroom I have, but maybe not?

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

I forgot to mention... I did two coats each of primer and top coat. I waited the manufacturer-suggested time between coats of each, and waited overnight between prime and top coat. Also had fans blowing air around in there along with the vent fans. It might have been a little cooler in that room than usual during drying (e.g. 60 degrees F) because I had the window open with the box fan in it and it was late November in New England when I painted.

havasu 01-06-2013 02:42 PM

I'm going out on a limb here but I would guess the original paint was oil based, and everything you have added is water based. Oil and water will never mix.

jmclanon 01-06-2013 06:35 PM

Hmm, the primer I just used (Zinsser Cover Stain) is oil-based and the paint I just used (Sherwin Williams Bath Paint) is water based. In the limited reading I'd done, I was under the impression that wouldn't be a problem. Am I mistaken?

If that's the problem, any suggestions for how I could fix it?

havasu 01-06-2013 09:49 PM

You should call Zinsser customer service and ask for their advice. I myself would probably pull out a scraper and start over, which would be a big pain I.T.A.!

imported_Workaholic 01-06-2013 10:41 PM

You should double check the fan and make sure the vent is not plugged.

jmclanon 01-10-2013 04:45 AM

The fan is definitely moving (at least some) air. If hold a piece of heavy TP up to the vent, it'll hold it there (or sometimes, almost hold it there). I'll probably call the paint manufacturers and see what they say. This is a pain. Don't think I'm up for scraping myself.

destryjohnson 01-14-2013 12:26 AM

I think you should clean your extractor fans filter regular, and repaint the ceiling with a sheen bathroom paint. Also gloss or eggshell paint could be useful.
Bathroom Vanity Cabinets

Cdaniels 01-21-2013 04:31 PM


Originally Posted by jmclanon (Post 2466)
Hmm, the primer I just used (Zinsser Cover Stain) is oil-based and the paint I just used (Sherwin Williams Bath Paint) is water based. In the limited reading I'd done, I was under the impression that wouldn't be a problem. Am I mistaken?

If that's the problem, any suggestions for how I could fix it?

No problem there.

jmclanon 01-21-2013 05:08 PM

Just a quick update on this. I still have a smelly bathroom ceiling, but here's what I've found out since my last post...

I spoke to the manager of my local Sherwin-Williams store where I bought the bath paint. His best guess was that I didn't allow the paint enough time to cure before using the shower, but I'm pretty sure that's not true because I did a pretty good job of ventilating the bathroom after painting and didn't use the shower for at least a day or two (and even then was careful to do quick, cooler showers).

Regardless, the manager was pretty helpful. He took my paint can and did a check to make sure I didn't get a bad batch. He also had me bring in a sample from the ceiling (I took a utility knife and sliced out a chip of paint). He sent it to their lab, where they supposedly put it under a microscope and analyze what caused the failure. The response there was that the Sherwin Williams paint was fine, but something underneath it failed. Now of course, this is exactly the response you'd expect from SW, so who knows if it's true, but it's certainly possible that e.g. the Cover Stain coat was the problem.

Sherwin Williams is also offering to cover the costs for any repainting supplies, which is a plus. However, I'm not sure exactly what I need to do to repair it at this point. I'm beyond sick of trial and error at this point, so I want my next step to be the last. Not sure if I should sand/scrape all the existing paint and start from scratch (in which case I'm calling a professional -- I don't have the energy for all that), or if I can just put a new coat of the right paint (but what's the right paint???) and that'll get the job done.

havasu 01-21-2013 05:53 PM

It may be cheaper and easier to either hang new drywall on the ceiling or add a thin sheet of drywall to the existing ceiling drywall. I say this because scraping will only ruin the drywall up there now.

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