Covering an existing tile backsplash can be a great way to update the look of your kitchen without going through the hassle and expense of removing and replacing the tiles. While covering a tile backsplash is possible, it does require some special considerations to do it properly. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about covering a tile backsplash, including preparation, materials, installation tips, and potential alternatives.
An Introduction to Covering Tile Backsplashes
A backsplash serves both decorative and functional purposes in a kitchen. Located on the wall behind a countertop, stove, or sink, it protects the wall from splatters, spills and stains while also adding visual interest.
Many kitchens have backsplashes made of ceramic, porcelain or natural stone tile. While durable, these materials can become dated or damaged over time. Replacing the tiles requires a lot of work to remove the existing tiles and prep the surface.
Instead of replacing it, you may wish to simply cover up the existing tile. This allows you to achieve a new look without the headaches and costs of a full tile removal.
Covering a tile backsplash offers many benefits:
- It’s much faster and easier: Covering tiles saves the time and effort it takes to demo the old backsplash.
- No messy tile removal: Skipping tile removal means no dealing with broken shards or tile dust.
- More affordable: Covering existing tiles costs a fraction of what a tile replacement does.
- Less disruption: Your kitchen stays fully functional during the project.
However, covering an existing backsplash tile does have some important considerations you need to weigh. The keys are selecting the right covering materials and proper installation.
What to Consider Before Covering a Tile Backsplash
Here are a few key factors to keep in mind before deciding to cover your existing tile backsplash:
- Condition of existing tiles: Covering damaged, compromised, or loose tiles can cause problems. Repairs may be needed first.
- Smoothness of tiles: Textured or heavily grouted tile surfaces will show through the new covering.
- Planned covering material: The thickness and weight impact options. Adhesion is also a factor.
- Applicable building codes: Building codes may restrict covering certain surfaces with specific materials.
- Usage and moisture levels: High-use kitchens and areas around sinks/stoves need durable, water-resistant coverings.
- Removability: Will you want to easily remove/replace the covering someday? Not all materials make this simple.
- Hiring a contractor: Professional installation is recommended for some covering materials and situations.
Once you’ve considered these factors, you can determine the best route for covering your existing kitchen backsplash tiles.
Preparing to Cover a Tile Backsplash
Proper prep work is crucial for a successful tile covering project. Here are the key steps to prepare your backsplash for covering:
Start by giving the tiles a thorough cleaning using an abrasive scrubber or grout brush. This will remove any grime, oils or debris that could impede adhesion.
Use cleaners made specifically for tile and grout. Rinse well afterward and allow to fully dry.
Inspecting for Damage
Examine all existing tiles closely looking for any that are compromised, such as:
- Cracked, chipped or missing tiles
- Hollow or detached areas indicating moisture damage
- Crumbling grout joints
- Loose tiles or grout
Damaged, hollow or detached tiles will need to be replaced and repaired prior to covering for best results.
Filling Grout Lines
The grout lines between the tiles will be visible under thin coverings like paint. Filling them helps create a smoother, more uniform surface.
Use a sanded caulk or specialty grout filler, tooling it into joints carefully with a plastic applicator. Remove any excess. Allow thorough drying.
Creating a Smooth Surface
Textured tile surfaces will also show through thin coverings. If necessary, skim coat the entire surface with a thin layer of joint compound to smooth it out.
Allow to fully cure and sand any rough areas. Wipe away all dust.
Priming before covering helps the new material adhere properly. Use a high-quality primer suited for tile and the covering material. Apply an even coat and let dry fully.
Now you’re ready to cover those tiles!
Materials for Covering a Tile Backsplash
There are several excellent options for covering up tile backsplashes, each with their own considerations:
Tileboard panels, like those from Smart Tiles, are a lightweight and affordable covering choice. What is tileboard? It’s an ultra-thin durable plastic material made to look like classic white subway tile.
- Extremely lightweight. Just peel and stick.
- Can install over existing tiles without demo.
- Mimics the look of popular white subway tiles.
- Affordable at around $7 per square foot.
However, tileboard does have some downsides to consider:
- Won’t stand up to heavy wear and tear long-term.
- Joints may allow moisture seepage over time.
- Limited color/finish options.
PVC/vinyl tile sheets offer the look of real tile without the weight. Brands like Art3d make quality vinyl tiles and panels perfect for covering existing surfaces.
- Lightweight and very low profile.
- Install right over existing tiles.
- Withstands moisture well.
- Many color, pattern and finish options available.
- Affordable, starting around $5 per square foot.
- Seams may be visible.
- Not as durable as real tile for high-use areas.
- Can scratch or scuff over time.
For high-end modern designs, stainless steel is an attractive covering choice. Companies like Art3d offer stainless steel sheets and tiles for walls.
- Sleek, contemporary look.
- Extremely water resistant.
- Highly durable for high traffic areas.
- Easy to keep clean.
- Can install over existing tile.
- Very expensive, around $50+ per square foot.
- Challenging for DIY – professional installation recommended.
- Can dent if impacted.
- Conducts heat and cold.
One of the easiest and most affordable ways to cover a tile backsplash is with paint made specifically for tile surfaces. Brands like Rust-Oleum Tile Transformations offer complete tile paint kits.
- Extremely easy and quick makeover solution.
- Very affordable at around $50 per kit.
- Available in many colors and finishes.
- No need to remove existing tiles.
- Doesn’t work well on textured or porous tiles.
- Requires careful surface prep.
- Durability and stain resistance may be limited.
- Can peel or scratch off over time.
For a quick facelift, wallpaper offers a simple way to disguise existing tile. Use high quality pre-pasted papers meant for kitchens.
- Wide range of colors, patterns and textures available.
- Affordable material costs starting around $5 per roll.
- Professional installation often fastest method.
- Moisture resistance may be limited near sinks or stoves.
- Bubbles or peeling issues can occur over time.
- Grout lines and tile texture may show through.
- May stain or tear with heavy wear.
Beadboard panels present a timeless way to cover a backsplash. Many styles mimic vintage tongue-and-groove wood looks. DIY-friendly plastic and PVC beadboard sheets make installation easy.
- Classic style works in many kitchen designs.
- Materials very moisture and stain resistant.
- Affordable, starting around $1 per square foot.
- Grout lines and tile texture won’t show through.
- Somewhat heavy material requires careful installation.
- Limited color options – mostly white or wood tones.
- Plastic materials lack richness of real wood.
For a warm, natural look, wood planks offer a great tile covering option. Use moisture-resistant woods like teak or bamboo.
- Real wood adds rich, upscale look.
- Natural material fits many kitchen aesthetics.
- Can cut planks to custom sizes.
- Teak resists moisture and stains well.
- More expensive than composite woods.
- Heavy material requires careful installation.
- Moisture can warp planks over time.
- Needs regular sealing to maintain appearance.
How to Install Materials Over Tile Backsplash
Proper installation techniques ensure your new backsplash covering adheres securely and looks seamless. Follow material-specific directions, and these general guidelines:
Ensure a Smooth, Clean Surface
Eliminate any gaps, textures or debris that could impede adhesion. Follow preparation steps previously discussed.
Use Adhesive Suited for Tile
The adhesive needs to bond the new material to the ceramic tile surface. Check manufacturer instructions.
Plan the Layout
Measure carefully and map out your material layout. Cut panels and sheets to fit your design.
Cut Outlets Carefully
Allow clearance for outlets by tracing and cutting openings before installation.
Use Spacers for Consistent Seams
Spacers help set consistent grout width between panels. Remove them before adhesive sets.
Roll Panels and Sheets to Adhere
Use a hand roller over the entire surface to fully adhere the material. Work out any air bubbles.
Seal Edges Carefully
Caulk along all joints, seams, edges and around outlets with a waterproof sealant designed for kitchens.
Consider Hiring a Pro
For challenging installations like metal tiles or wood planks, professional installers have the tools and experience needed to do the job right.
With good prep work, high quality materials and proper installation techniques, you can achieve beautiful, seamless results covering up existing backsplash tiles.
Tile Backsplash Covering Alternatives
If you decide covering the existing tiles just won’t work well for your situation, what are your options? Here are a few backsplash makeover alternatives to consider:
Paint the Exposed Wall Above
If your heart is set on a painted backsplash, consider painting just the drywall portion of the wall instead. Use high quality kitchen paint formulated to withstand moisture and stains. Tape off the untiled upper wall carefully before painting.
Add Open Shelving
Minimize the visibility of the tile by removing upper cabinets and installing open shelves. Then accessorize the shelves to become the main focal point, drawing the eye upward.
Install a New Backsplash Over It
In some cases, you can install a new backsplash material like marble mosaic tile or metal sheets right over the existing tile. This adds thickness but saves demo work.
Replace Part of It
For a compromise, you could remove and replace tiles just in key areas. Refresh just the portion around the stove, or between upper cabinets for instance.
Do a Full Tile Removal
Of course, if covering options just won’t cut it, do a complete tile removal. This allows you to address any underlying surface issues before installing fresh new backsplash tiles.
FAQs About Covering a Tile Backsplash
Does a tile backsplash have to be removed before installing a new backsplash?
Removing the tile is ideal, but not absolutely necessary. Many thin materials like metal, vinyl or tileboard can be installed right over existing tile. However, covering tiles is not always successful long-term.
Can you paint over existing kitchen backsplash tile?
Yes, it is possible to paint ceramic, porcelain or natural stone backsplash tiles. But the paint may not adhere well or be durable. Special tile paints like Rust-Oleum Transformations work better than regular paint. Filling grout lines and priming helps paint stick. Textured tiles are harder to cover evenly.
What is the easiest way to change a backsplash?
Wallpaper offers the fastest and often easiest upgrade. Pre-pasted, peel-and-stick papers allow for DIY installation. Just ensure the wallpaper you choose is suitable for kitchen backsplash use near moisture and grease. Professional installation is quickest.
Can you put beadboard over existing tile backsplash?
Yes, plastic or PVC beadboard can be installed right over existing backsplash tiles, provided the tiles are sound, stable and smooth. The grout lines won’t show through the beadboard panels. Use adhesive made for plastic tiles and carefully caulk edges. Real wood beadboard is very heavy and often requires tile removal first.
What is the cheapest way to update a backsplash?
The most affordable backsplash upgrade is paint. Tile paint kits from brands like Rust-Oleum can refresh tiles for around $50. Peel-and-stick tileboard or contact paper also provide cheap and easy new looks under $10 per square foot. Just don’t expect cheap materials to last as long as pricier ceramic, metal or stone tiles.
Updating dated or damaged tile backsplashes doesn’t have to mean a labor-intensive, costly tile removal project. In many cases, you can cover existing tile successfully with materials like metal, vinyl, wood, beadboard, wallpaper or paint.
When considering covering a tile backsplash, weigh factors like surface condition, planned materials, kitchen usage levels and your budget. Proper prep and installation techniques ensure your new backsplash covering adheres smoothly and lasts beautifully.
With the right research and materials, you can give your kitchen backsplash a fresh new look without the mess and headaches of a total tile demolition. Cover up that outdated tile and enjoy your kitchen’s beautiful transformation.