Ask the Home Inspector: Peeling Bathroom Paint

This blog is dedicated to a lovely friend (who shall remain nameless, unless she chooses to reveal herself), and written at her request.  Last night we attended a wonderful farm to table dinner event in High Point. It was a great gathering in a group setting.  People often ask us home related questions, and last night was no exception.  Between meal courses, our fellow diner asked: “Can you explain why the paint is already peeling in our bathroom?  Our house isn’t even old!”


This is a common problem, especially in areas where there is a lot of moisture, such as the bathroom or kitchen.  We learned from the conversation with our friends, that many people don’t realize two things.

The first is that paint is not just decorative, it is protective. Peeling paint occurs when moisture gets between the paint layer and the surface underneath. As the paint peels, it becomes easier and easier for the moisture to get into the area, which results in more peeling, perpetuating the cycle. Peeling paint is unattractive, but more importantly, when paint peels away from the surface it sits on, the surface begins to decay. Overtime, moisture can destroy walls and ceilings, so it is important to address the problem as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

The second thing we learned from our friends is that people think bathroom fans are there to circulate air to remove unpleasant smells.  That may be an effective use of the fan, but it’s major purpose is to remove moisture from the room.

To prevent excess moisture accumulation, there are some steps you can take. First, if you do not have some sort of ventilation, consider installing some.  Windows work well in good weather, while ventilation fans work to remove moisture year-round. Whenever you shower or bathe, turn on the fan or open the window to give the moisture a way to escape, rather than build up inside the room. If neither is an option, consider leaving the door open whenever possible.

To stop paint from peeling, it is essential to remove any peeling paint so that moisture cannot work its way under the surface. Use a paint scraper and work under the peeling paint. Gently push the scraper back and forth to loosen the paint. Continue this until you meet a strong resistance. Pull the loose paint away or trim it with a utility knife. If the paint layer is thin, sand the edge with a fine-grit sandpaper to smooth the transition between the paint and the surface underneath. If the paint is as think or thicker than a single piece of paper, apply a thin coat of joint compound to level out the missing paint using a mud knife. Sand the compound after it has dried completely. Repeat applying compound and sanding until the surface looks smooth.  Then use a primer on the walls and allow it to dry before you apply the paint color of your choosing.

1 comment

  1. That’s good to know that ventilation can help prevent paint from peeling. I like the idea of making the house less humid as well. I’ll have to order getting some ventilation fans installed to see if that can help stop my paint from peeling.

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