Can You Paint Subway Tile Backsplash?

Subway tile is a classic backsplash choice for many kitchens and bathrooms. Its simple, rectangular shape and clean lines create a timeless look. While the standard white subway tile is most common, it also comes in a wide range of colors and finishes. This versatility is part of what makes subway tile so popular.

If you already have a subway tile backsplash installed but want to change up the look, you may be wondering if painting it is an option. Below, we’ll go over the pros and cons of painting existing subway tiles so you can decide if it’s the right choice for your space.

What Type of Paint Works on Subway Tile?

Not all paints adhere well to ceramic tile. Using the wrong type can result in peeling, cracking, or a patchy finish. The two best options are:

  • Epoxy paint – Epoxy is a two-part product that creates a hard, durable finish. It bonds tightly to non-porous surfaces like ceramic tile. Epoxy paint comes in many color options and finishes.
  • Specialty tile paint – These acrylic paints are formulated for use on ceramic tiles. They go on smoothly and resist cracking and chipping. Tile paint is available in fewer sheen options compared to epoxy.

For best results, choose a high-quality epoxy or tile paint made by a reputable brand. Avoid all-purpose paints and spray paints, which don’t have the adhesion power needed.

Prep Work for Painting Subway Tile

Careful prep work is crucial for getting great results painting subway tile. Here are the key steps:

  • Clean thoroughly – Use a degreasing cleaner or baking soda paste to remove all dirt, oil, soap residue, and grime from the tile. Rinse well and let dry.
  • Sand lightly – Sanding gives the paint a little texture to grip onto. Use fine 150-220 grit sandpaper and avoid scrubbing too hard.
  • Wipe and rinse – After sanding, wipe all the tile with a damp cloth to remove dust. Let the tile dry completely before painting.
  • Apply primer – Priming gives the paint maximum adhesion. Use a compatible tile primer recommended by the paint manufacturer. Allow primer to dry completely before painting.

Proper prep removes any barrier between the paint and tile so they bond tightly. It also ensures a smooth, even application.

How to Paint Subway Tile

The actual painting technique for subway tile isn’t difficult. Here are the steps:

  • Read product directions – Don’t skip this! Different types of paint require specific tools, dry times, and application methods.
  • Plan your approach – It’s best to paint one section at a time in a logical order. Work top to bottom and left to right.
  • Cut in edges first – Use a paintbrush to cut in around the tile perimeter and corners. This prevents drips.
  • Apply paint – Pour the paint into a paint tray and use a small foam roller to apply a thin, even coat. Work in 3×3-foot sections.
  • Let dry thoroughly – Allow at least 24 hours between coats. Some paints require 72 hours of curing time.
  • Apply second coat – For best coverage, opaque finishes require two coats. Repeat steps for second coat.
  • Remove splatters – Use a plastic scraper to gently remove any paint that got on the grout. Be careful not to scratch the tiles.

Painting subway tile does require some patience. But taking your time leads to great results!

Pros of Painting a Subway Tile Backsplash

Painting over existing subway tiles offers many benefits:

  • It’s affordable – Buying paint is much cheaper than retiling a whole backsplash.
  • Low commitment – Paint can easily be redone if you want to change the color again.
  • Quick update – Prepping and painting a backsplash takes just 2-3 days total.
  • Creative control – Painting allows you to choose any color palette for your kitchen or bath.
  • Maintains grout – Skipping tile removal means your existing grout stays intact.

For a short-term refresh or affordable revamp, painting subway tile is a great solution.

Cons to Consider

While it offers many perks, painting subway tile backsplash also has some downsides:

  • Limited finishes – You can’t easily achieve a natural stone, metal, or glass look by painting.
  • Grout discoloration – Painting the tile may make existing grout look dingy or uneven.
  • Permanent change – Removing painted tile requires breaking it out and replacing it.
  • Imperfections show – Any cracks, chips, or uneven tiles will still be visible.
  • Difficult corners – Paint may not adhere well in tight interior corners.

The limitations really depend on the condition of your current tile and your expectations for the finished look.

Maintaining a Painted Subway Tile Backsplash

Once your backsplash is painted, you’ll need to take steps to maintain it properly:

  • Avoid using harsh cleaners or abrasive tools like steel wool. They can damage the paint.
  • Use a soft cloth or sponge with gentle tile cleanser. Avoid excessive moisture buildup.
  • Immediately wipe up any food, grease, or soap splatters. Don’t let stains set in.
  • Consider applying a sealer to protect the finish and make cleaning easier.
  • Watch for chips or scratches over time. Spot paint repairs keep the backsplash looking fresh.

Hiring a Professional for Best Results

While DIY painting is possible, hiring a professional tile painting contractor yields top-quality results. Experts have the right tools and experience to:

  • Properly prep and clean tile for maximum paint adhesion
  • Match existing grout color and finish evenly across the entire backsplash
  • Apply a smooth, consistent coat of durable epoxy paint
  • Accurately cut-in edges around receptacles, lighting, and fixtures
  • Avoid mistakes that lead to spotting, streaking, or dripping

The cost of a professional tile painting job ranges from $4-$8 per square foot on average. This is still far less than a full tile replacement. For busy homeowners or perfectionists, hiring a pro is worthwhile for excellent results painting a subway tile backsplash.

Frequently Asked Questions About Painting Subway Tile

Here are answers to some common questions about painting existing subway tile backsplashes:

Can you use spray paint on subway tiles?
Spray paint adhesion is not reliable on ceramic tile. Stick to a high-quality epoxy or tile paint that can be rolled or brushed on.

Does tile paint hold up to water and moisture?
Yes, when applied properly over primed and cleaned tiles, epoxy and tile paints create a watertight seal.

What about painting just part of the backsplash?
Painting a partial backsplash is possible but requires expert cutting-in skills to blend the painted and unpainted sections seamlessly.

Can the grout be painted too?
For the most cohesive look, you can paint existing sanded grout the same color as the tile. Use a grout paint formulated for smooth application and bonding.

How long does painted subway tile last?
With careful cleaning and maintenance, painted tiles should last 3-5 years before needing touch ups. Proper prep and application greatly extends the lifespan.

Final Thoughts on Painting Subway Tile Backsplashes

Painting over existing subway tile allows you to refresh your backsplash on a budget and with minimal commitment. The key is proper surface prep and using high-quality epoxy or tile paints designed specifically for bonding to ceramic and grout. While hiring a professional ensures optimal results, DIYers can also get good outcomes with some patience and care. If your subway tile is in overall good shape but just needs a new color, painting it is an easy weekend upgrade.

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How to Install a Ceramic Tile Backsplash in Your Kitchen

A ceramic tile backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and protect your kitchen walls. With the right preparations and tools, installing a tile backsplash is a DIY project many homeowners can tackle. Follow this step-by-step guide for how to install a ceramic tile backsplash in your kitchen.

Choose Your Tile

Ceramic tiles for backsplashes come in a huge range of sizes, shapes, colors, finishes, and patterns. Consider factors like your kitchen’s style, countertop material, cabinetry, and more. Some top options include:

  • Subway tile – Classic 3×6-inch rectangular tiles in glossy or matte finish
  • Mosaic tile – Small 1-inch tiles on mesh sheets for easy installation
  • Handmade tile – Unique shaped or patterned tiles for a cottage look
  • Large format tile – 12×12-inch tiles make a bold statement

Gather samples and layout a design plan before purchasing your tile. Leave a 10% overage for cuts and waste.

Assemble Essential Tools and Materials

Installing tile requires some specific equipment and supplies. Be sure to have these on hand:

  • Tile wet saw – Makes precise cuts through ceramic tile
  • Notched trowel – Spreads tile adhesive onto the wall
  • Grout float – Helps work grout into tile joints
  • Sponge and bucket – For smoothing and cleaning grout
  • Tile spacers – Keeps consistent spacing between tiles
  • Tile adhesive – Mortar that bonds tile to the wall
  • Grout – Fills in joints between tiles
  • Caulk – Seals gaps at corners and edges

Having the right tools makes tiling much easier. Invest in quality equipment.

Prepare the Surface

Proper prep is crucial for good tile adhesion. To get the surface ready:

  • Clean thoroughly – Remove all grease, dirt, and debris from the area. Degrease if needed.
  • Repair flaws – Fix any holes, cracks, or uneven areas on the wall. Use spackle or joint compound.
  • Prime – Apply a tile primer to boost adhesion. Let it dry completely.

Take time to address any imperfections and clean the surface so the tile bonds tightly.

Plan Your Layout

A layout plan helps you visualize the spacing and placement of tiles. It should show:

  • Where the tile will start and end
  • The height and width of the tiled area
  • Where partial or cut tiles are needed
  • The grout line spacing

Sketch your layout on paper first. Measure to find the center point and level from there.

Apply the Tile Adhesive

With your layout as a guide, you’re ready to start tiling. Follow these steps:

  • Apply a thin layer of adhesive using a notched trowel held at a 45-degree angle.
  • Spread only a small section at one time, about 3-4 square feet.
  • Press tiles into the adhesive firmly, using spacers to maintain even grout lines.
  • Work in rows, starting at the bottom. Check tiles regularly for proper bonding.

Apply enough pressure when setting tiles to ensure the adhesive fully transfers.

Cut Any Partial Tiles

Use a wet saw fitted with a tile blade to accurately cut any tiles needed to fit edges and corners. Here are a few tips:

  • Measure and mark tiles where cuts are needed.
  • Make precise cuts with several passes through the saw. Rushing can crack tiles.
  • Adjust the tile blade height for different tile thicknesses.
  • Allow newly cut tiles to dry before installing with adhesive.

Take care when handling and cutting ceramic tile. Wear protective eyewear for safety.

Let Adhesive Dry

Allow the tile adhesive to fully cure before grouting. Drying times vary:

  • Standard thinset mortar takes 24-48 hours to cure.
  • Rapid-set adhesives may dry in just a few hours.
  • Check the adhesive package directions for recommended drying times.

Don’t grout or disturb the tiles prematurely. Let them set undisturbed as the mortar hardens.

Mix and Apply Grout

Once adhesive has cured, it’s time to grout. Be sure to:

  • Dampen the tiles slightly with a sponge before grouting. This prevents fast drying.
  • Follow package instructions to mix grout powder with water to a thick, creamy consistency.
  • Hold the grout float at a 45-degree angle and work grout deeply into joints.
  • Wipe away excess grout with a damp sponge in diagonal motions. Rinse sponge frequently.
  • Allow grout to dry for 72 hours before sealing or using the backsplash.

Taking time to grout carefully creates strong, finished joints between tiles.

Caulk Perimeters

Once grouting is complete, use silicone caulk to fill any gaps between the tile edges and walls, countertops, or cabinets.

Apply caulk smoothly and wipe away any excess. Caulking finishes the job and waterproofs the edges.

Seal and Finish

The final step is applying a penetrating sealer:

  • Read sealer product instructions and prepare tiles as needed.
  • Liberally apply 1-2 coats of sealer using a paintbrush or sponge.
  • Let sealer fully absorb for the recommended time before use.

Sealing helps protect the grout from stains and moisture damage.

With patience and proper technique, you can achieve a professional-looking finished tile backsplash. Maintain it by using gentle cleaners and resealing grout every 1-2 years. Your stylish new backsplash will bring eye-catching flair to your kitchen!

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of tile backer board should I use?

Cement backer board provides the best base for ceramic tiles. It resists moisture and prevents sagging. Install per manufacturer instructions.

How are subway tiles different from other ceramic tiles?

Subway tiles are square or rectangular small format tiles between 3-6 inches. Their shape installs in a bricklike staggered pattern.

What can I use instead of a wet saw to cut tiles?

A manual tile cutter, angle grinder, or rotary tool can substitute, but likely with less accuracy. Rent a wet saw for best results.

Do tiles need to be sealed before grouting?

Sealing before grouting is not necessary. Apply grout release or lubricant to freshly cut tile edges to prevent staining.

How long does a ceramic tile backsplash last?

With proper installation and maintenance, a ceramic backsplash should last 20-30 years or longer before needing replacement.


Installing a ceramic tile backsplash boosts your kitchen’s style and protects the walls. By following the right steps for preparation, layout, cutting, adhering, grouting, and sealing, you can achieve professional-looking results. The project takes time and