A tile backsplash can completely transform the look and feel of your kitchen. However, over time, your backsplash may start to show signs of wear and tear or simply feel outdated. Instead of undergoing a full tile replacement, many homeowners consider painting over existing tile as a budget-friendly facelift. Painting a backsplash can refresh the space, protect damaged areas, and allow you to achieve nearly any color or finish.
What to Consider Before Painting Over Tile
Painting over tile certainly has its benefits, but also some drawbacks to weigh before moving forward:
Type of Tile
The tile type plays a major role in determining if paint will properly adhere. Paint adheres best to smooth, non-porous tile like ceramic or porcelain. Highly textured or porous tiles like stone, travertine, and saltillo are not ideal candidates for painting. The grout lines and texture make it nearly impossible for paint to smoothly cover the surface.
Tile that is damaged, heavily stained, or showing signs of wear and tear will likely show through a fresh coat of paint. Repair any cracked or missing grout beforehand. Be prepared to apply multiple coats of primer and paint to mask any existing imperfections.
Desired Final Look
Consider both the color and finish you hope to achieve. Paint can mimic polished ceramic or add an aging effect, but may not withstand frequent cleaning or moisture as well as the original tile. Gloss and semi-gloss finishes are more wipeable but can accentuate any unevenness.
Large tile sizes, simple patterns, and minimal grout lines will provide the best backdrop for painted tile. Intricate mosaic patterns or heavily textured tiles have more grout and dimension to cover. Be prepared for a more intensive process on detailed backsplashes.
To fully paint the entire backsplash area, you’ll need to remove any hardware, light fixtures, upper cabinets and soffits that block access. Check that you can fully reach all areas before painting. Consider any items that may need re-installation afterwards.
How to Prep and Paint Tile
With proper prep and application, painting tile can refresh your backsplash. Follow these tips for best results:
Clean the Tile
Start by scrubbing the entire backsplash with an all-purpose cleaner or degreaser to remove any dirt, oil or soap scum. Rinse thoroughly and let dry fully before moving forward.
Sand Grout Lines
For the paint to adhere properly, the grout lines need to be sanded down and smoothed out. Use a rotary tool or small hand sander to remove any loose or deteriorating grout.
Priming the tile is a must before painting to help the new paint properly adhere. Use a tile-specific primer or a heavy duty primer meant for glass, metal or other slick surfaces. Apply an even coat and let fully dry.
Caulk Grout Lines
Once primed, go over all the grout lines with a siliconized acrylic caulk to fill any crevices or cracks. Tool the caulk smooth. Let dry fully before painting.
Using a small foam roller, apply two coats of 100% acrylic latex paint, letting the first coat fully dry before adding the second. Water-based paints are lower odor and easier to work with than oil-based.
Finish with a Clear Coat
For added durability and wipeability, finish off your painted tile with a clear acrylic sealer meant for ceramic tile. Avoid waxes, as they can cause yellowing over time.
Painting Mediums and Supplies
Having the right painting supplies and tools will make the process safer and smoother:
- Primers – Look for tile primers or heavy duty primers meant for metal and glass. Ensure any primer is acrylic-based.
- Paint – 100% acrylic latex paints provide good longevity and are easier to work with. Match sheen to your goals.
- Brushes – Angled trim brushes are great for grout lines and edges. Foam rollers apply paint smoothly.
- Caulk – A siliconized acrylic caulk fills grout lines without shrinking. Make sure it’s paintable.
- Drop cloths – Protect floors, countertops and appliances from drips and spills.
- Sandpaper – For grout lines, a rotary tool or 150 grit sandpaper works well.
- Paint tray – Use a paint tray to roll out the paint smoothly and prevent dripping.
- Clear sealer – An acrylic clear coat adds extra protection and wipeability.
Step-by-Step Painting Instructions
Now that you know what to use, follow these key steps:
- Clean and degrease the tile using a multipurpose cleaner or ammonia-based degreaser. Rinse well and let fully dry.
- Sand grout lines to smooth any deterioration and remove loose debris. Wipe away any dust.
- Apply a thin, even coat of tile primer over the entire surface. Let the primer fully dry.
- Use a paintable siliconized acrylic caulk to fill in all grout lines and any damaged areas. Tool smooth. Allow to fully cure.
- Use painter’s tape to mask off any adjacent surfaces you don’t want painted. Protect counters and floors.
- Using a small foam roller, apply the first coat of 100% acrylic latex paint in your desired color. Allow to fully dry.
- Apply a second coat of paint for full coverage. For dark colors, a third coat may be needed for opacity.
- Allow the final coat to thoroughly dry and cure for at least 24 hours before use.
- Once fully cured, apply a clear acrylic sealer meant for tile. Avoid any waxes. Let sealer dry.
- Re-install any hardware, fixtures or decorative items removed before painting. Caulk edges if needed.
Tips for Achieving an Ideal Painted Tile Finish
Follow these pointers for the most flawless painted tile result:
- Take your time prepping and applying primer for the best paint adhesion.
- When caulking grout lines, tool them completely smooth before painting.
- Paint in thin, even coats using a small foam roller, avoiding drips or pooling.
- Allow each coat to fully cure 24-48 hours before adding the next coat.
- Gloss and semi-gloss finishes are most wipeable but show imperfections more.
- Higher sheen paints show grout lines and unevenness more than flat finishes.
- Darker colors may require an extra coat for full opacity and coverage.
- Work top to bottom and left to right, overlapping your painting path slightly.
- Finish off with a clear acrylic sealer meant for ceramic tile for added protection.
Many homeowners have additional questions about painting a tile backsplash. Here are some frequently asked questions:
Can you paint over a tile backsplash?
Yes, you can paint over existing backsplash tile with proper preparation and paint products. The tile type and condition impact results. Smooth, non-porous tiles like ceramic and porcelain work best. Heavily textured tile is harder to get an even painted finish on.
Does paint stick well to tile?
Paint can adhere well to tile if the surface is properly prepped and primed first. Smooth ceramic, porcelain or glass tiles take paint the best. Using a tile primer helps the paint grab on and last longer than painting directly onto the tile.
What kind of paint adheres to tiles?
100% acrylic latex paint is the best type of paint for tile. Avoid alkyd enamel or oil-based paints, as they dry slowly and the fumes are strong. Acrylic latex paints adhere well when applied over a primer and are easy to work with. Match the sheen to your goals.
What’s the best primer for tile?
Look for a high quality primer specifically made for tile. These contain additional compounds to help the primer penetrate and bond tightly to non-porous surfaces. If unavailable, a heavy duty primer designed for metals, glass or glossy surfaces will also work.
How do you prep tile for painting?
Proper prep is crucial for painted tile success. Clean and degrease the tile fully. Sand grout lines smooth. Apply a thin, even coat of tile primer and let fully dry before painting. Fill all grout lines with paintable siliconized acrylic caulk and tool smooth.
Should you caulk before painting tile?
Yes, caulking all grout lines after priming but before painting helps create a smoother finish. The caulk fills any cracks or deterioration in the existing grout so those imperfections don’t show through the new paint.
Can grout be painted without painting the tile?
Painting just the grout lines is possible but will likely appear splotchy and uneven. For most even results, paint the grout and tile together after proper prep. Use a primer, caulk grout lines, and apply thin coats of paint over all.
How do you paint behind a tile backsplash?
To paint fully behind the backsplash, adjoining fixtures and upper cabinets usually need removed temporarily. Use drop cloths to protect countertops and floors. Paint top to bottom behind the backsplash area. Re-install fixtures after painting.
Can you paint over crackled subway tile?
Painting over crackled tile is generally not advised. The dimensional cracks and crazing will likely still show through the new paint, even with multiple coats. Filling each crack before painting would be extremely difficult and time consuming. Full tile replacement is recommended.
How long does painted tile last?
When properly prepped and finished with a protective sealer, painted tile can last 3-5 years or longer before needing touch ups. Gloss and semi-gloss finishes last longer than flat. The tile’s condition and amount of use, scrubs and moisture impact longevity.
Painting Tile Backsplash Ideas
Painting opens up endless possibilities for updating your backsplash on a budget. Here are some gorgeous styles you can achieve by painting tile:
Choose any color to transform the entire backsplash into one fresh, cohesive hue. Grey, blue, green, black and white are popular.
[Example photo of solid grey painted backsplash]
Faux Subway Tile
Paint perpendicular “grout lines” over the tile to mimic classic white subway tiles. Use painters tape for clean lines.
[Example photo of backsplash painted to look like white subway tile]
Use a stencil and two paint colors to create a trendy moroccan tile, geometric or abstract backsplash design.
[Example photo of stenciled backsplash paint design]
Faux Travertine or Limestone
Play up the grout lines and add sponge effects to make ceramic or porcelain resemble natural travertine.
[Example photo of faux travertine painted backsplash]
After painting, immediately wipe some areas with water to create an aged, washed look. Seal for protection.
[Example photo of distressed painted backsplash]
Paint the background a neutral tone, then use metallic paint pens to draw on stylish gold, silver or copper designs.
[Example photo of backsplash painted with silver metallic accents]
Paint the tile a deeper shade near the stove, and gradually lighten to the ceiling for a striking ombre look.
[Example photo of backsplash painted in an ombre effect]
Painting over tile backsplashes is an accessible and budget-friendly option to revive your kitchen’s style. With proper preparation, high quality primer and paint, plus finishing with a clear top-coat, painted tile can have a like-new appearance for years before needing a refresh. Carefully consider the state of your existing tile and the results you hope to achieve. With limitless color options, you can totally transform the heart of your home!