Covering an existing backsplash can be a great way to update the look of your kitchen without undergoing a full remodel. Whether you want to cover up outdated tile, damaged areas, or are just ready for a new look, installing a new backsplash over your existing one is often possible with the right materials and techniques. Here is an in-depth guide on how to cover an existing backsplash.
Assessing Your Existing Backsplash
Before choosing materials and starting the installation process, you need to carefully assess your existing backsplash.
What Material is Your Current Backsplash?
Knowing the material of your current backsplash is key for choosing compatible overlay materials. Common existing backsplash materials include:
- Ceramic, porcelain or glass tile – Most common in backsplashes. Check for cracked or missing grout.
- Natural stone – Marble, granite, etc. Check for any damaged areas.
- Wood – Unfinished, stained, painted, etc. Look for gaps or peeling finish.
- Metal or tin backsplashes – Assess for dents, peeling finish, gaps.
- Drywall – May have textured finish. Watch for water damage or deteriorated areas.
Assess Overall Condition
Inspect your full backsplash area to determine needed repairs:
- Loose tiles or grout – Can you re-adhere or fill gaps?
- Missing grout – Matching grout color & fill all gaps.
- Cracked tiles – Consider replacing any cracked tiles.
- Peeling paint or finish – Scrape/sand to prepare for overlay.
- Water damage – May need new drywall if extensive.
Any damaged, missing, or detached areas will require repairs for best overlay results.
What is the Current Finish?
The finish of your existing backsplash impacts compatibility with new materials:
- Glossy tile or shiny metal – adhesive may not bond as well.
- Heavily textured surfaces – may show through thinner overlays
- Porous natural stone/grout – prone to absorption of adhesives
Consider if resurfacing or adding a primer coat is needed for a smooth finish.
Is the Surface Flat?
Your existing backsplash must have a relatively flat, even surface for the overlay to properly adhere in all areas.
- Tile grout lines – can read through thin materials like contact paper.
- 3D and hand-painted tiles – tough to cover with flat overlays.
- Bowed panels or protruding tiles – need flattened first.
Any protrusions, grout lines, or uneven areas may necessitate adding a plywood base layer first to create a flat, consistent surface.
Choosing the Right Overlay Material
With your existing backsplash fully assessed, you can determine the best overlay material that will adhere properly. Consider:
New tile installed over existing tile can give a fresh facade. Use a specific tile-over-tile adhesive. The new tile must be similar in size/shape to existing for even coverage. Grout lines may be visible.
Metal sheets provide modern appeal. Stainless steel or tin backsplashes cover well if your existing surface is flat and primed first. Cut to fit around outlets and fixtures.
Thin slices of natural stone (marble, travertine, etc.) or manufactured stone veneers create a elegant overlay. Adheres best to flat surfaces. Grout between pieces.
Brick backsplashes lend a classic vibe. Brick veneer panels are thin and light for easy application over an existing flat backsplash. Use panel adhesive.
For a reclaimed wood look, use thin planks of weathered barnwood or faux wood sheets. A coat of adhesive and finish is ideal for covering grout lines.
Easy to apply yourself, contact paper can cover simple flat tile, drywall, or laminate backsplashes. Use high quality, removable paper with primer. Grout lines may show through.
A fresh coat of paint is an affordable option for existing tiles, drywall, laminate, or metal backsplashes. Use a bonding primer and latex paint formulated for kitchens.
Whole mirrored sheets or mosaic mirror tiles offer light reflection. Must be applied to an extremely smooth, flat surface to avoid visible seams or bubbles.
Preparing the Surface
To ensure proper adhesion and the smoothest finish, your existing backsplash may need preparatory steps before overlaying.
Degrease and clean every inch of your existing backsplash thoroughly before applying any overlay. Use degreaser, then rinse well.
For glossy or heavily textured tile, sand or scrape to dull and flatten the surface. This improves adhesion.
Filling Grout Lines
To help create a flat surface, you can apply a thin layer of spackling paste or caulk over grout lines and allow to fully dry.
Priming helps overlays stick, while sealing reduces absorption into porous existing surfaces like natural stone.
Adding Backer Board
For extremely uneven tile or old drywall, adding a thin plywood or cement board layer can create the flush surface needed.
Proper prep leads to long-lasting overlay results. Don’t skip steps even if they take extra effort initially.
Installation Tips by Material
Follow specific techniques and best practices when installing your chosen backsplash overlay:
Tile Over Tile
- Use tile-specific thinset adhesive and a notched trowel to evenly apply.
- Take care aligning grout lines between existing and new tiles.
- Add tile spacers between each new tile for consistent spacing.
- Seal grout once dried for water resistance and easier cleaning.
- Have sheets cut to size and drill any needed holes (fixtures, outlets) first.
- Use liquid nails or silicone adhesive to attach sheets. Apply an even coat.
- Try overlapping edges slightly or add trim pieces to hide any seams.
- Use primer and paint designed for metal if adding color.
- Spread veneer-specific mortar or adhesive on the backsplash surface first.
- Press panels or individual pieces into place with some pressure.
- Use shims or spacers to keep even gaps for grout between pieces.
- Let mortar fully cure before grouting (typically 24-48 hours).
- Option to stain or finish wood prior for desired look.
- Apply adhesive to back of each plank (liquid nails, construction adhesive, etc).
- Press and hold planks firmly in place. Add nails for extra support if needed.
- Use wood filler to patch any gaps prior to adding final coat of finish.
- Ensure surface is free of gaps, grout lines, or texture that could show through paper.
- Use primer/sealer designed for contact paper projects.
- Remove paper backing and use straight edge to smooth out any bubbles as you affix.
- Fill any cracks or grooves with caulk for a flat surface.
- Use 2-3 coats of bonding primer formulated for kitchen surfaces. Allow to fully dry between coats.
- Finish with at least 2 coats of kitchen-grade satin latex paint.
- Only install mirrors over completely smooth, flat existing backsplash surfaces.
- Use mirror adhesive applied in a grid pattern across the back.
- Carefully press and hold mirror in place. Use shims if needed to keep level.
- Use gentle cleaners designed for your overlay material. Avoid abrasive scrubbing.
- Re-seal grout and wood finishes annually to protect from moisture damage.
- Limit use of hanging magnets, hooks, clipboards to protect overlay surfaces.
- Contact paper may need re-adhering edges or patching small tears over time.
- Check for any cracks, bubbles or loosening over time and address quickly to avoid moisture issues.
What if my existing backsplash has damaged or missing tiles?
Repair any damaged, cracked, or missing tiles for the most seamless overlay installation. Use grout repair kits and replacement tiles that match old ones closely.
Can I install a backsplash overlay myself?
Yes, with the right materials and preparation, installing a peel-and-stick, tile, or wood overlay is often a DIY-friendly project. Seek help for heavy mirrors or stone.
Do I need to take out my old backsplash first?
Typically no, the entire purpose is to cover over the existing backsplash. Removing it takes more time and work. As long as your existing backsplash is cleaned, primed, and in decent shape, covering over it is fine.
What about the area around my sink or fixtures?
Take care overlaying the often curved or uneven areas surrounding sinks, faucets, and fixtures. Build out edges with thin wood if needed to create flush surface. Cut overlay materials carefully for tight fit.
Should I update my countertops too?
If your countertops are dated or damaged, a new countertop along with backsplash overlay provides a complete kitchen facelift. But if countertops are in good shape, you can likely just overlay the backsplash area to create a fresh look.
How do I prep glossy porcelain tile for an overlay?
Glossy tile must be scuffed up to remove the shiny finish so adhesives adhere properly. Use a sander or scraper to dull and lightly etch the finish. Wipe with mineral spirits afterwards before applying primer/sealer.
Can I cover over wallpaper?
It is not recommended to install tile, stone, or other rigid backsplash materials over wallpaper. Remove wallpaper first. If covering with paint or contact paper, ensure all seams are adhered flat.
Is it okay to install a backsplash overlay over drywall?
Yes, as long as the drywall is in smooth condition. Prime first, then apply your overlay. Extra adhesion may be needed, so use drywall-specific adhesive if available with your chosen material.
How do I cover up grout lines and texture?
To help minimize the appearance of grout lines or heavy texture showing through overlays, apply a coat of thinset, spackle, or caulk to fill as needed. Allow to fully dry before installing overlay.
Updating your backsplash is one of the simplest ways to give your kitchen a fresh new look. Covering over your existing backsplash with tile, metal, contact paper, or other materials allows you to change up the style easily without removing the original. Assess the current state, address any repairs needed, properly prep, and clean the surface for the best overlay adhesion. With the right materials and careful installation, you can install a beautiful new backsplash overlay in a weekend. Just take care to follow the specific techniques needed for your chosen material. Maintain your new backsplash overlay properly and it can provide many years of renewed kitchen style.