How to Choose the Best Neutral Paint Color for Bathrooms

One of the cheapest ways to get an instant room makeover is with paint.

Cost compared to wow factor? Always worth it. All it takes is one or two gallons and wahla!

Instant transformation.

Of course it can take confidence to get color right. Picking the perfect paint color, especially for a bathroom; can be tricky.

Hundreds of walls later, I think I have the formula for getting it right the first time!

This cool wall color doesn’t really work with the warm undertones of the wall tile and floor.

What to Know Before Picking Out Your Bathroom Paint Color

  • Reflections from tile and fixtures bounce light around. Depending on the time of day, your wall color could look a different shade in the morning to another at night.
  • Wall color can be notoriously difficult to match to your floor and wall tile.
  • Tile grout can throw off your wall color if the tones don’t match
  • No natural light? You’ll be trying to match a color based on the type of light bulb you use.
  • Undertones in tile and porcelain – like your sink and toilet – can make a neutral paint color look muddy.

Now you’re hip to what to look out for, how do you pick a paint color with no regrets?

Why Choose a Neutral Paint?

Unless your bathroom fixtures (tub, shower and sink) and flooring are pure white, picking a neutral color for the walls will be your best bet. You can get away with a bold color with all white fixtures, but isn’t your bathroom where you go to chill out?

You can brighten a room that gets little to no daylight using a pretty neutral shade that has a warm or yellow undertone. No need to go bright neon yellow.

A neutral wall color will give you lots of flexibility to add color in your accessories like towels, mats and shower curtains.

Neutral doesn’t mean beige or white, but it can. Grays and blue can also be neutral depending on the shade.

If the color of the tile behind the tub was as warm toned as the floor tile, this warm green gray would work better.

What Not to Do When Buying Paint

Don’t pick your paint color while you’re at the store.
– Instead take your swatches home to compare each one in the natural light

Don’t pick a paint color until you’ve picked out your tile
– You want to look at your swatches and tile side by side in natural light

Don’t decide on your paint color until you’ve chosen your new flooring
– You know what I’m going to say! Lay those paint samples next to your floor and tile in natural light

What You Should Do When Buying Paint

  • Ready to Rehab Your Entire Bathroom?

My advice is wait until you have your tile, grout, fixtures and new flooring picked out before deciding on a paint color.

Then bring your paint samples home and look at them in daylight.

  • Just Updating Your Wall Color?

When you’re matching existing fixtures and tile you’ll need to pick a new wall color while inside your bathroom. Pick a time of day with the most natural light. If you don’t have a window, turn on all lights.

Bring home your paint samples and look at them next to your tile and fixtures.

  • Want to Make Your Bathroom Feel Warmer?

If you don’t get a lot of natural light and want you bathroom to feel warmer, choose a color with a warm undertone.

  • Want to Make Your Bathroom Feel Cooler?

Perhaps you get a ton of sunlight or you live in a hot climate, then choose a color with a cool undertone.

Warm up the bathroom or cool it down with color.

neutral paint colors
This bright blue tile needs a cool or neutral wall color. Windy Blue is too yellow.

How to Choose the Best Neutral Paint Colors for Bathrooms

Know your undertones.

Undertones are the secret sauce to picking the right shade of white, beige, gray etc.

Except for true primary colors – like red, blue, yellow – all colors have an undertone.

Our skin has undertones of pink, yellow and blue, as do most colors.

The undertone is what makes red “warm” (yellow or pink undertone) or “cool” (blue undertone).

Whites and creams are notoriously difficult to match because their undertone isn’t always apparent.

To choose the best neutral paint color for your bathroom, pick a paint color with the same undertone as your tile, flooring and fixtures.

If your tile has a warm pink undertone but you choose a cool wall color, the room will feel “off”. See what I mean with this granite tile.

granite tile with wall paint colors
This gorgeous granite needs a paint with a cool or pink undertone. Useful Gray is too yellow and muddy looking next to it.

How to Find a Color’s Undertone

LIGHT:

  • Start by looking at your colors in natural daylight, to make it easier to pick out the undertones. Natural daylight doesn’t have an undertone.
  • Natural daylight is ideal for color matching. A slightly overcast day is perfect. Bright sunlight may cause glare and shadows. Choose a spot just out of direct sunlight to compare colors.
  • Artificial light creates warm or cool light depending on the light bulb or source of light. Fluorescent bulbs are usually cool white while incandescent bulbs are warm.
  • If you look at your paint sample in the bathroom, any artificial light will warm up or cool down all surfaces which is OK.

TILES:

  • Natural tiles such as limestone, travertine or granite usually have warm undertones, so make sure your paint also has a warm undertone.
  • White marble usually has a cool undertone but each slab is different and rose or colored marble will have undertones.
  • Ceramic, glass and porcelain tile will have either cool or warm undertones.
pink marble tile with matching paint colors
This pink marble tile works well with a pink or yellow undertone paint. Drift of Mist is too cool.

UNDERTONE EXAMPLES for 5 NEUTRAL PAINT COLORS:

In this chart you’ve got 5 neutral color families from top to bottom

For each color family I show 3 undertones from left to right.

Any of these neutral colors would look amazing in a bathroom. Use your tile and your lighting to tell you which shade is right for yours. Or now that you know what to look for, pick your own neutral shade from the thousands out there.

MY FORMULA TO PICK BATHROOM PAINT COLORS
  1. Take paint samples home to check

  2. Use natural lighting when possible

  3. Check paint samples against tile and fixtures

  4. Be aware of undertones in tile, fixtures and paint

white marble bathroom tile with matching neutral paint
This blue gray marble works well with a paint that has pink or cool undertones. Honied White is too yellow.

When picking a color for your bathroom, you can’t go wrong with white or a shade of white.

One exception?

When all of your fixtures are white. In that case, choose a color that’s far enough away from the white of the fixtures. Like a blue or gray.

Don’t choose a color that is only one or two shades darker than your fixtures or tile. Your walls or fixtures will look muddy.

Go several shades darker. Picking the right shade of blue or gray can make the fixtures look crisp, clean and white.

What Paint Finish is Right for Bathrooms?

Last but definitely not least is what kind of paint finish should you use in the bathroom. My recommendation is use an Eggshell or preferably Satin finish on walls. Choose a Satin or Semi Gloss finish for moldings, doors and cabinets.

Do not use Matte or flat paint in the bathroom. It will be impossible to keep clean.

Got a question about how to match and pick color? Ask me in the comments!

Here’s the Sherwin Williams colors I’m using as my examples.

  • White
    SW7005 Pure White
    SW6385 Honied White
    SW7104 Cotton White
  • Cream
    SW7012 Creamy
    SW6379 Jersey Cream
    SW6357 Choice Cream
  • Gray
    SW7071 Gray Screen
    SW7050 Useful Gray
    SW6275 Fashionable Gray
  • Beige
    SW9166 Drift of Mist
    SW7573 Eaglet Beige
    SW6043 Unfussy Beige
  • Blue
    SW6808 Celestial
    SW6240 Windy Blue
    SW6813 Wishful Blue

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