Can You Put Backsplash Over Painted Drywall?

Installing a backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and protect the walls behind a kitchen countertop or bathroom vanity. But is it possible to install a backsplash over existing painted drywall? The short answer is yes, you can install tile or other backsplash materials over painted drywall under the right conditions. Here is a detailed overview of how to approach adding a backsplash over painted drywall.

Assessing the Existing Drywall and Paint

The first step is to assess the condition of the existing drywall and the quality of the paint job. Here are some key things to consider:

  • Drywall condition – The drywall surface needs to be in good shape for the backsplash installation. Look for cracks, holes, warped areas or moisture damage. Any issues will need to be repaired prior to installing the backsplash.
  • Paint adhesion – The existing paint needs to be well-adhered to the drywall. Check for areas where the paint is flaking or peeling away from the surface. Poorly adhering paint will need to be removed.
  • Paint coatings – Many older kitchens may have layers of paint buildup. Excessive layers of paint or spackle can prevent proper adhesion of the backsplash. Stripping paint layers may be required in some cases.
  • Paint sheen – The ideal sheen for the painted drywall is a matte or eggshell finish. Semi-gloss or high-gloss finishes can cause adhesion problems with backsplash mortars.
  • Paint composition – Latex or acrylic interior paints are ideal. Avoid backsplashes over oil-based paints or special finishes like lacquers without proper prep.

Cleaning and Prepping the Painted Drywall

Once you have assessed the condition of the existing drywall and paint, proper cleaning and prep work is crucial:

  • Clean the surface thoroughly with a degreasing cleaner to remove dirt, oil and soap residue. Rinse well.
  • Lightly sand and degloss the painted drywall to improve adhesion, being careful not to remove paint down to the drywall paper.
  • Repair any cracks, holes or imperfections with spackle and sand smooth. Allow repairs to fully dry before priming.
  • Apply an appropriate tile-bonding primer to the painted surface to help create a bonding layer. Let primer fully dry.

Adding Backerboard Over Painted Drywall

For best results, it is advisable to install a layer of cement backerboard over the primed painted drywall before adding the tile. Here are some tips:

  • Use 1/4 or 1/2 inch backerboard designed for wall applications.
  • Cut boards to size and make necessary cutouts for outlets, etc.
  • Attach backerboard with proper screws and adhesives per manufacturer instructions.
  • Tape seams with alkali-resistant mesh tape and finish with thinset mortar.
  • Allow backerboard layer to dry completely before tiling.

Applying the Backsplash

Once prepped and optionally reinforced with backerboard, go ahead and install the backsplash as you normally would:

  • Select the tiles and desired pattern for the backsplash design.
  • Mix thinset mortar adhesive and use a notched trowel to spread it evenly over the surface.
  • Press tiles into the mortar and use spacers to ensure even grout lines.
  • Allow thinset mortar to cure fully (24-48 hours) before grouting.
  • Apply grout between the tiles, wiping off excess. Allow grout to dry.
  • Seal grout lines with grout sealer for water protection.

Using proper prep methods and materials, you can achieve a successful backsplash installation over an existing painted drywall surface. The key is taking the time to ensure proper adhesion so the backsplash lasts. With careful attention to detail, you can end up with a beautiful and functional backsplash renovation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Adding a Backsplash Over Painted Drywall

Can you put tile backsplash directly over painted drywall?

It is not recommended to install tile directly over painted drywall. For best adhesion and water resistance, a layer of cement backerboard should be installed over the painted drywall before tiling.

What kind of paint works best under a backsplash?

A matte or eggshell latex interior paint is ideal under a backsplash. Stay away from glossy paints or finishes, or oil-based paints without proper prep.

Should I sand the painted drywall before installing the backsplash?

Lightly sanding and deglossing the painted surface can improve adhesion. Just don’t sand deep enough to remove paint down to the drywall paper.

What primer should I use on the painted drywall?

A quality tile-bonding primer designed for use under backsplashes is recommended. It creates a strong bonding layer on glossy or semi-gloss paints.

Can I use spackle to repair drywall imperfections before adding a backsplash?

Yes, you can use spackle to fill small cracks, holes and imperfections, just make sure repairs are sanded smooth and fully dry before priming and tiling.

How is backerboard attached over painted drywall?

Backerboard is installed using special backerboard screws and thinset mortar adhesive designed to adhere to painted drywall. Follow manufacturer instructions.

How long should I wait to apply grout after installing the backsplash tiles?

It is important to allow the thinset mortar to fully cure (usually 24-48 hours) before applying grout between tiles.

Should I seal the grout after I install the backsplash?

Sealing grout with a penetrating grout sealer is highly recommended. It adds water-resistance and makes grout much easier to keep clean.


Installing a backsplash over an existing painted drywall surface adds function and style to any kitchen or bath. With proper assessment and prep of the painted finish, reinforcement with backerboard, and careful tile installation, a painted drywall surface can support a durable and beautiful new backsplash. While a bit more labor-intensive, you can avoid removing existing drywall paint and still end up with fantastic results by following the right process.