Can You Put a New Backsplash Over Tile?

Installing a new backsplash can instantly update the look of your kitchen or bathroom. If you already have tile that you want to cover up, putting new tile over the existing tile is possible, but it requires some special preparation and techniques. Here is what you need to know about installing a new backsplash over existing tile.

Should You Put a New Backsplash Over Existing Tile?

Putting new tile over existing tile is not always recommended, but it can be done successfully in certain circumstances. Here are some key factors to consider:

Condition of Existing Tile

  • Cracked, damaged, or loose tiles will need to be removed and replaced with new backing before installing the new tile. Grout also needs to be in good condition.
  • Heavily textured tile or tile with very deep grout lines will require extra work to create a smooth surface for the new tile.
  • Painted tiles must be well-adhered/bonded to the wall and won’t work with all installation methods.

Flatness of Surface

  • Existing tile needs to be sufficiently flat and level. High spots or uneven areas on the old tile can prevent the new tile from bonding properly.
  • Older ceramic tiles often have more unevenness than modern tile. This may be hard to overcome.

Type and Weight of New Tile

  • Smaller, lightweight mosaic sheets or tiles require less flatness than heavier stone, ceramic, or glass tiles.
  • Larger format tiles are more prone to cracking or debonding if the surface is uneven. Smaller tiles can conform better to imperfections.
  • Natural stone tiles are very rigid and vulnerable to cracking if the surface moves or flexes. Use caution when installing over existing tile.

Cost Savings

  • Leaving the original tile as a base can reduce labor costs for removing it. But additional materials and prep work will be required.
  • Assess whether the cost savings outweigh the extra installation work. Sometimes a complete replacement makes more sense.

How to Prepare Existing Tile for a New Backsplash

Proper preparation is crucial when tiling over existing tile. Follow these key steps:

Clean and Roughen the Surface

  • Clean off all grease, sealers, and waxes from the tile using degreasers and scraping.
  • Rough up the glazed tile surface with sandpaper or a grinder to help the new thinset adhesive adhere. Be careful not to crack the tile.

Check for Hollow Spots

  • Tap the existing tile and listen/feel for hollow areas indicating debonded tile. Remove and replace these tiles.

Fill Grout Lines and Texture

  • Spread thinset into the grout lines to create a flat surface. Allow it to fully cure before moving on.
  • Skim coat very textured tile with thinset to smooth out the surface.

Apply a Bonding Primer

  • Use a primer specifically made for bonding to existing surfaces without abrading them. This helps adhesion.

Install Cement Board Over the Tile

  • Screw cement board directly over the tile to create a reinforced surface for the new backsplash.
  • Use screw lengths 1/4″ longer than the total thickness of the old tile + cement board.
  • Be sure to offset the seams between cement board sheets.

How to Install the New Tile Over Existing Tile

Once your surface is prepped, use these tips for a successful installation:

Choose the Right Adhesive

  • Use a premium, polymer-modified thinset mortar designed for large format and heavy tile.
  • Make sure it bonds well to existing tile and follows any special manufacturer instructions.

Use the Proper Trowel and Technique

  • With heavy or large format tile, back-butter each tile in addition to troweling thinset on the wall.
  • Use a trowel sized for the new tile, not the existing tile, to ensure proper coverage.

Grout Carefully

  • When grouting, be extra diligent cleaning the grout off the tile surface to avoid hazing. Existing tile has more texture to trap grout.
  • Consider using a grout release or sealer prior to grouting to make cleanup easier.

Allow Proper Cure Time

  • Don’t rush installation. Existing tile extends the cure times needed for thinset and grout. Follow all manufacturer guidelines.
  • Allow a minimum of 48-72 hours before grouting large format tiles.

Tips for the Best Results with New Tile Over Old

Follow these tips and tricks to ensure your new backsplash looks and performs at its best:

  • Mix your initial batches of thinset a little loose to allow it to seep easily into grout lines. Then adjust consistency.
  • For heavy natural stone tiles, use a high quality latex fortified thinset and consider applying a membrane over the old tile first.
  • If existing tile is highly glossy or stained, apply an isolation/bonding membrane before installing new tile.
  • Take extra time double checking your lippage and tile alignment. The uneven old surface leaves less room for error.
  • Love the look of handmade artisan tile but concerned about the uneven substrate? Consider having it mounted on mesh sheets for easier installation.
  • Be prepared to discard a few cracked tiles during the job and have attic stock on hand. Careful prep reduces this waste but breakage can still occur.

Signs You Should Not Tile Over Existing Tile

In some cases, it is better to bite the bullet and remove existing tile instead. Consider a complete replacement if:

  • Old tile is on a flexible wall surface like vinyl wallpaper or drywall. Hard new tile could crack.
  • Existing tile is brittle, powdery, or debonded. Removal exposes hidden issues needing repair.
  • Multiple layers of old tile are present. Don’t tile over tile over tile!
  • Old tile has high lips at grout lines or is highly textured. Creating a flat surface is too labor intensive.
  • Moisture issues are suspected behind the tile. The new tile will eventually fail without resolving this first.
  • Old tile contains asbestos or other hazardous materials. Take proper safety precautions.

Professional Installation for Best Results

While an experienced DIYer can tile over existing tile with proper caution, there are a lot of steps where things can go wrong. For the most trouble-free installation and lasting results, consider hiring a professional tile installer. They have the skills to:

  • Properly evaluate whether your existing tile is suitable to tile over
  • Accurately identify and fix any problem areas with the tile substrate
  • Skilfully prep the surface and use specialized bonding agents if needed
  • Strategically lay out the new tile design to hide any imperfections or lippage
  • Use professional grade setting materials correctly
  • Have high quality tools for cutting tricky tiles and working around obstacles
  • Ensure proper grouting technique to reduce staining of new tile
  • Provide knowledgeable guidance on products and methods best suited for your scenario

This experience and expertise goes a long way to prevent headaches and give you a beautiful new backsplash you will enjoy for years to come!


Installing a new backsplash over existing tile is possible with careful planning and surface preparation. Assess the condition of your existing tile and be honest about whether it provides a sound base for new tile. With thorough cleaning, evening out the surface, proper adhesive selection, and cautious installation technique, you can give dated or damaged tile a fresh new look. But for best results without the worries, hiring a professional tile installer is highly recommended for this tricky project.