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Why is Paint Peeling Off on My Bathroom Walls and Ceiling?

Updated on May 8, 2017
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Januaris is a professional painter and author of painting guides. He has been painting houses and other structures for more than 13 years.

From my own experience, peeling paint is a highly unpleasant situation that can turn a home into a boring and uncomfortable structure. This problem is quite common, and every homeowner has to face it at some point in his or her life. According to my studies, the paint flaking or chipping problem can start a few months or years after applying a fresh coating.

peeling problem
peeling problem | Source

For my case, the problem happens in my shower rooms, but according to painters, it can affect any painted surface. It is common in old plaster ceilings, drywalls and washrooms. Other places you can expect this paint bubbling, blistering, alligatoring and cracking problem include: wooden decks, trims & sidings, window frames and even in vehicles.

The main cause of paint peeling is loss of adhesion between the paint and the coated surface, and there are many factors that contribute to the adhesion loss. I have done enough research on this matter, and in this article, I am going to discuss all the causes of the problem. So get to know the reasons why your coating is bulging and falling off and learn how to avoid it in your next painting.

In brief, causes of paint peeling in bathroom walls and ceilings

1. Water

2. High humidity & excessive condensation

3. Improper surface preparation

4. Dirty/contaminated surface

5. High temperatures & intense sunlight

6. Incompatible surface

7. Different coatings on the same surface

8. Too many layers

9. Low-quality paint brands

10. Incorrect colorant or primer

11. Expired colorant

12. Corrosive substances

13. Excess dryness

14. Poor application methods

15. When the coating lifetime has ended

1. Water- The Major Cause of Paint Peeling

When water penetrates through the coating, it causes the layers to separate and detach from the main surface. The result is bulging, cracking and peeling. The water menace is worse in bathroom walls and ceilings.

If you have a leaking roof, gutters, flashing or soffits, you are highly likely to get flaking paint on the main walls of your house. The problem usually starts at the top parts of the walls downwards if it is caused by a leaking roof.

Water from outside can also penetrate through the wall material and affect the interior coating. When it becomes wet, the wall material breaks the adhesion and the layers flakes off as a result.

2. High Humidity and Excessive Condensation

These factors are the major causes of the problem in poorly ventilated homes. High humidity causes a buildup of moisture on walls which leads to blistering & bulging of the colorant and finally cracking & chipping of the coating.

On the other hand, condensation causes dampness. The wet conditions are well known to trigger mold and mildew growth which make the layers to lift up and flake.

A rainstorm has been studied to negatively affect fresh coatings. Your oil colorant may fail if you apply it after a rainstorm. Walls attract a lot of moisture during a storm making them less efficient in holding paint or primer.

3. Improper Surface Preparation

This is another major reason why paints fail. Your colored surface may not last long before it peels off if it was coated without proper preparation. In the case of ceilings, incomplete joint compound and seam tapes can cause the coating to fail. Applying paint without priming can also limit the lifespan of the coating.

4. Dirty or Contaminated Surface

Paints do not stick properly to the substrate if the surface is dirty or has contaminants. According to my studies, grease and oil contaminants highly affect the adhesive ability of emulsions.

So if you apply a coating without cleaning your surface, it will not last long before you see it forming bubbles, bulges and blisters. This will later be followed by cracking and falling off of the layers.

 blisters & cracks
blisters & cracks | Source

5. High Temperatures and Intense Sunlight

Paint doesn’t adhere well to a hot surface. High temperatures cause faster drying which prevents layers from forming strong bonds. A coating made on a hot surface does not take long before it falls off.

Intense sunlight makes oil paints fragile and vulnerable to cracking. The latex ones expand when exposed to the sun's heat while the elastic ones weaken as they expand and contract due the solar heat.

6. Incompatible Surface

Some surfaces have substances that react with colorants, hindering compatibility. For example, new wood or one that is poorly-cured produces natural oils that prevent effective adhesion.

Oil-based colorants are specifically affected by concrete and galvanized steel. These materials have chemicals that react with the coating, breaking down the layers and adhesion bond.

If the surface is too smooth, the compatibility may not work well. Smooth or glossy surfaces are hard to form a mechanical adhesion, and any layers made on them flake off immediately.

Some synthetic polymer materials can hinder the coating from full adhesion. The incompatibility problem is worse if the polymers are chemically cured. Epoxy and polyurethane are good examples of these materials.

7. Different Coatings on the Same Surface

Some paints do not mix or bond well. If they are applied together on the same surface, the peeling problem occurs. For example, the oil-based ones do not work properly when applied over the latex-based ones. Also, the alkyd ones do not work well when used over the latex ones.

bubbling,bulging & flaking
bubbling,bulging & flaking | Source

8. Too Many Layers

If you continue to add layers to a surface (especially on the ceiling), the coating will become heavier, alligator and fall off in a short period of time. This is as a result of the surface not being able to support the weight of the layers.

9. Low-quality Paint Brands

Some brands in the market are really poor in terms of flexibility and adhesion. Low-quality colorants do not dry or stick properly and start to peel after a short period of time. Calcimine is a good example of a poor-quality emulsion.

10. Incorrect Paint or Primer

Different paints are designed for different surfaces. Some are designed for wooden, metal, concrete and plastic surfaces while others are made to color interior and exterior surfaces.

In addition to surfaces, primers are designed for materials and paints. Some are made for concrete and metal while others are crafted for plastic and wood. Using a wrong primer can cause the peeling problem.

For the 14 years that I have been painting, I have came across many primers, and the most amazing thing is that most of these products were of poor quality. They couldn't prepare surfaces accordingly and the peeling problem would occur immediately after painting. But I have come across a few high quality primers that made me love my job.

One specific primer that I found quite useful is the Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye Sealer which is suitable for all kinds of surfaces, including concrete, metal, wood and plastic. It is great for both interior and exterior applications, and is quite reliable in resisting blistering, peeling, rust and mildew growth. You don't have to sand your surface when applying it: it sticks excellently. When it comes to washing your hands and tools after you done with applying, you just need soap and water. I would advise you to use this primer in your next painting if you are serious with avoiding problems like peeling and mildew growth.

11. Expired Paint

Like most products, paints expire after a period of time. Some can become too thin after expiry date while others can freeze. You should expect bad results if you use a colorant that has gone bad.

12. Corrosive Substances

There are many substances that can corrode your colored surface. If a corrosive substance comes into contact with your surface, you can have it blistering up, cracking and finally peeling off. The substances could be strong acids or bases.

13. Excess Dryness

Surprisingly, dryness can also be a reason for the emulsion-peeling problem. According to my researches, the dryness should be very high for it to fail the paint. Your colorant may not stick properly if your surface is too dry. So do not blame only water or moisture for your problem.

14. Poor Application Methods- Great Reason for Peeling Paint

The way you apply the paint could also be the reason for the flaking problem. Applying very thin layers can make your tint vulnerable to chipping. Using a wrong brush can also cause the stripping problem.

Many brushes have been manufactured, but most of them are not reliable - they break or the bristles detach in a short time. If you are looking for a durable brush, I would recommend that you go for the Shur-Line Premium Brush. I have been using this tool for more than 2 years, and it has never shown any signs of breaking or wearing out.

The super-strong brush comes with a high quality solid wood sash handle (offers durability & comfort), copper ferrule between the handle and bristles, nylon/poly blend bristles (provide excellent coverage), chemically angled & tapered filament tips (provide excellent cut-in & ultra smooth finish) and shur-flow technology (provide optimal paint release & easy cleanup). It is great for DIY painting and works with all kinds of paints and primers.

15. When the Coating Lifetime Has Ended

Paint loses bond strength and becomes brittle with age. When the cohesive bonds become stronger than the adhesive ones (which happens at an advanced age), the layers detach from the surface.

In Conclusion…

If you have the paint-peeling problem in your home or office, it should be due to one or more of the factors discussed above. Knowing the cause of the problem can help you prevent it. You don’t need an expert to help you avoid the chipping problem. You can do it yourself. Carefully analyze your bathroom, walls & ceiling situation and know the big issue then prevent it in your next painting.


  • Bayer G.T., Zamanzadeh M. "Failure Analysis of Paints and Coatings.". Plant Maintenance Resource. (PDF). (2004).
  • Cassens D.L. "Paint Failure Problems and Their Cure.". Forest Products Laboratory. (PDF). (2005).
  • Paquette E., Poulin P., Drettakis G. "The Simulation of Paint Cracking and Peeling.". Ecole E Technologie Superieure. (PDF). (2002).
  • Bowron G. "Common Paint Problems.". Guthrie Bowron. (PDF). (2014).
  • Heffer P., Lee B. "Braving the Elements: Analyzing the Weathering Performance of Chromate-Free Coating Systems.". Science Direct. (PDF). (2005).

With the help of this article, do you think you can know the cause(s) of your paint-peeling problem?

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If you get to know the problem, do you think you can solve it on your own?

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© 2015 Januaris Saint Fores


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