Installing a backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and protect your walls behind a sink or range. But what if you already have a backsplash and want to update it with new tile? The good news is that in many cases, you can install new tile right over your existing backsplash. Here’s what you need to know about retiling over an existing tile backsplash.
Assessing Your Existing Backsplash
Before deciding to retile over an existing backsplash, you need to assess its condition. Here are some key things to check:
- Tile condition – Are the existing tiles in good shape with no cracks, damage, or loose tiles? Cracked, broken, or missing tiles will need to be replaced before retiling.
- Grout condition – Is the grout in good shape? Cracked or missing grout will need to be repaired.
- Surface flatness – Is the surface flat and smooth? Bulges, uneven tiles, or texture differences can prevent new tile from lying flat.
- Tile type – Glazed ceramic, porcelain, or glass tiles are ideal. Avoid retiling over unstable surfaces like vinyl tiles.
If the existing backsplash is in good, flat condition with minimal repairs needed, retiling over it is likely feasible.
Prepping the Surface
Proper prep is crucial for a successful retiling project. Here are key steps:
- Deep clean – Scrub away all dirt, grease, and soap scum so the new tile will adhere properly. Use a degreaser if needed.
- Repair grout – Fill any missing or cracked grout lines with new grout for a smooth surface.
- Replace broken tiles – Remove and replace any damaged, cracked, or missing tiles.
- Roughen the surface – Use a sander or grinder to lightly scuff up the glazed tile surface. This helps the new thinset adhere properly.
- Apply bonding agent – Brush on a thin layer of bonding agent like Schluter Ditra-Set to help bond old and new tile.
Thorough prep provides the sound foundation needed to add new tile over the existing backsplash.
Selecting Appropriate Tile
Choosing the right tile is key when retiling over an existing backsplash:
- Thin tile – Thin tile under 5/16” thick is best to minimize thickness buildup. Large format 12”x24” thin tile works beautifully.
- Matching thickness – If possible, match the thickness of your existing tile to prevent unevenness.
- Lightweight tile – Lightweight natural stone, ceramic, or porcelain tile avoids overloading the substrate. Heavy natural stones like granite should be avoided.
- Coordinating styles – Choose tile that complements your existing style and overall kitchen décor.
Getting tile thickness and weight right will prevent problems down the road.
Using Proper Setting Materials
The adhesives and mortars used are important considerations when retiling:
- Thinset mortar – Use a polymer-modified thinset with lightweight tile to bond to the existing surface. Avoid heavy mortar.
- Mastics – Mastics don’t provide a strong bond on slick surfaces like glazed tile. Thinset is recommended.
- Epoxy – For natural stone, an epoxy or resin may be used, but thinset is often still required.
- Grout – Cement-based grout with latex additive provides flexibility and adhesion. Match grout color to your tile.
- Membranes – If re-waterproofing is needed, use a liquid-applied waterproofing membrane compatible with your mortar.
Using quality, appropriate setting materials suitable for your tile type will give a durable, long-lasting bond when retiling.
Step-by-Step Retiling Process
Once materials are selected, the process of retiling over an existing backsplash includes:
1. Prepare Your Tiles
- Select your tiles, adding 10-15% for cuts and waste.
- Dry lay the pattern to map out placement and cuts.
- Use wet saw to cut any border tiles or special shapes needed.
2. Apply Mortar
- Apply thinset adhesive using proper trowel size and mortar thickness.
- Only apply as much as can be tiled in 30 minutes.
3. Set New Tiles
- Following your layout, firmly press tiles into the mortar.
- Use spacers for consistent grout lines and check level often.
- Work in sections and avoid stepping on freshly set tiles.
4. Finish With Grout
- Let tiles set 24 hours then grout space between tiles.
- Use grout float to spread grout and fill joints completely.
- Wipe excess grout off tiles with sponge and water.
- Allow grout to dry completely, then polish with soft cloth.
Follow these tips carefully and your retiling project will turn out beautifully!
FAQs About Retiling Over Existing Backsplash Tile
Many homeowners have additional questions about retiling over an existing backsplash. Here are answers to some common concerns:
Can I just tile over existing tile or do I need to rip it out first?
In most cases, you can tile directly over existing backsplash tile as long as it is in good condition, properly prepped, and appropriate tile and setting materials are used. This prevents the dust and mess of demolishing the old tile.
What about adding another layer – is there a maximum number of times I can retile?
It’s best to limit it to retiling once over the original backsplash. More than two layers can result in weight and thickness issues that may compromise adhesion.
Should I use a tile remover/stripper before retiling over existing tile?
No, tile strippers are caustic and can do more harm than good. Proper prep like cleaning, light sanding, and using a bonding agent provides suitable adhesion for new thin tile.
Can I install a backsplash directly over existing painted drywall?
Painted drywall alone does not provide enough of a bonding surface for new tile. The paint should be lightly sanded and a proper backer board installed before tiling over a painted wall.
Is it okay to retile a tub/shower surround?
Yes, the same techniques can be used to retile over existing tub and shower surround tiles, provided the surfaces are sound and properly prepped. Extra care should be taken around plumbing fixtures.
How long does a tile over tile backsplash project take?
Most DIYers can retile a standard 4×4 foot backsplash area in 2-3 days. Prepping the surface takes 1-2 days, setting tile takes 1 day, and grouting/finishing is about 1 day.
Tips for a Successful Retiling Project
Here are some additional pointers to ensure your retiling over existing tile backsplash project goes smoothly:
- Take time to properly prep the surface – this is the key to good adhesion.
- Carefully follow mortar instructions, including proper trowel size, thickness, and set times.
- Make sure the substrate can support the weight of new tile to prevent future sagging.
- Allow adequate drying time for mortar and grout – don’t rush the curing process.
- Keep tile spacers in place for 2 days after setting tile for optimal grout line consistency.
- Be extra diligent cleaning grout haze off textured tiles like handmade glass tile.
- Consider hiring a pro if you need electrical or plumbing changes to accommodate new tile.
With careful planning and preparation, installing new tile over your existing backsplash can refresh the space with beautiful results. Take your time, use quality materials, and you’ll have a “new” backsplash in no time!
Retiling a Backsplash Yourself vs Hiring a Professional
Installing tile over an existing backsplash is a DIY-friendly project for many homeowners. However, there are some cases where you may want to bring in a professional tiler:
Consider DIY retiling if:
- Your backsplash is in good condition and requires minimal prep
- You are using smaller format lightweight porcelain or ceramic tiles
- The area is straightforward without electrical or plumbing interference
- You have tiling experience and can devote several days to the project
Professional help is recommended if:
- The existing backsplash has extensive damage or uneven areas
- Natural stone, large format tile, or intricate patterns are desired
- Electrical or plumbing changes/additions are needed
- Time is very limited and the project needs to be completed quickly
- You want a warranty on the work provided by an experienced contractor
Carefully evaluate your skills, budget, and backsplash’s condition. For extensive repairs or complex projects, a professional tiler can ensure it’s done right. But for many DIYers, retiling their existing backsplash themselves is an enjoyable and cost-effective option when done properly.
Maintaining a Retiled Backsplash
Once your backsplash retiling project is complete, be sure to care for it properly to keep it looking fresh. Here are some backsplash maintenance tips:
- Use a gentle cleaner designed for tile instead of harsh chemicals
- Re-seal grout periodically with a water-based grout sealer to prevent stains
- Immediately clean up spills to avoid discoloring grout lines
- Apply caulk around perimeter and seams annually to prevent moisture getting behind tiles
- Check for loose or cracked grout and repair as needed to avoid damage
- Replace any cracked or broken tiles right away to maintain water resistance
- Consider using a natural stone cleaner or glass tile cleaner for those specific tile types
With proper care, your newly retiled backsplash should maintain its beauty while providing many more years of service protecting your kitchen walls. Enjoy the renewed look!
Retiling over an existing tile backsplash allows you to refresh the look of your kitchen without undergoing a complete tear-out. With careful planning, surface preparation, proper tile selection, and quality setting materials, you can achieve beautiful results installing new tile over existing backsplash tile. Pay close attention to prep work, take your time, and you can complete this project yourself in most cases. Just be sure to maintain your retiled backsplash properly once finished so you can enjoy the updated look for years to come.