Can You Stain Tile Backsplash?

Whether you’re updating an existing backsplash or installing a brand new one, choosing the right tile color and finish is an important decision. Natural stone, ceramic, glass, and porcelain tiles come in a huge range of colors and textures, but sometimes finding that perfect shade can be tricky. If you can’t locate tiles in the exact hue you’re looking for, staining or painting them is an option worth considering. Here’s what you need to know about staining a tile backsplash.

What Type of Tile Can Be Stained?

Not all tiles are suitable for staining. Porous, unglazed tiles like natural stone, cement, quarry, and saltillo tiles readily absorb stains, making them the best candidates. Ceramic and porcelain tiles have very dense surfaces that resist stains, but unglazed varieties may absorb enough tint to alter their appearance.

Glazed ceramic and porcelain tiles have an impervious glass-like coating, preventing stains from penetrating the surface. Any staining applied to glazed tiles will likely scratch or peel off. The exception is quarry tiles that have been treated to accept stains despite their glazed finish.

Prep Work for Staining Tiles

Proper prep work is crucial for achieving an even, consistent stain application. Begin by cleaning the tiles thoroughly with an alkaline tile cleaner to remove any dirt, oils, or waxes. Use a scrub brush or scouring pad to remove any remaining grime or residue.

It’s also important to test the stain on a spare tile (or inconspicuous section) first. This will allow you to check the color and make adjustments before committing to staining the entire installation. Applying sealer to the test area before staining gives the truest sense of the final look.

For grout, choose a grout release product to prevent the grout from absorbing any of the stain. Alternatively, you can wait until after staining the tiles to grout the installation. Removing stain that accidentally spreads to the grout can be very difficult.

How to Apply Stain to Tiles

Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and follow their recommendations for application methods and drying times. In general, mineral spirit-based stains can be applied with a paintbrush, sponge, or rag. For a smooth, even finish, wipe the stain on and off quickly using a circular motion.

Work in small sections so the stain doesn’t dry before you’ve wiped off the excess. Applying an even coat takes some finesse. If your first attempt leaves dark streaks or splotches, remove the excess stain immediately with mineral spirits. Let the stain dry fully before evaluating the color. Multiple thin layers generally provide the best results.

For large tile installations, consider using a paint sprayer or airless spray system. This allows you to work quickly and evenly before the stain dries. Back-rolling or back-brushing after spraying helps prevent drips and uneven absorption.

Tips for Staining Tiles Successfully

  • Always do a test patch first on spare tiles or in an inconspicuous spot.
  • Apply thin coats and build up the color gradually for best results.
  • Keep a stain-soaked rag handy to remove excess stain before it dries.
  • Don’t forget to prep and protect any nearby surfaces from drips.
  • Make sure tiles are completely dry before applying a sealant.
  • Consider using a tile sealer before and after staining for added protection.

Sealing Stained Tile Backsplashes

Once the stain has fully dried on the tiles, applying a sealer is highly recommended. The sealer penetrates the surface and creates a protective barrier. This prevents moisture from seeping below the stain layer and altering the color. Sealers also add durability and make stained tiles easier to clean and maintain over time.

Most tile suppliers carry compatible sealers made specifically for stone, ceramic, or porcelain tiles. You’ll want to choose a penetrating sealer for stained tiles, not a surface coating that could wear away over time. Follow the product directions closely, applying thin coats of sealer using either a paintbrush, paint roller, or sponge.

Re-apply sealer once a year, or as directed by the manufacturer. This ensures your stained backsplash retains its vibrant color and lasts for years to come. With the right prep work, application technique, and follow-up maintenance, staining is a great way to customize backsplash tiles and achieve any bold, vivid hue you can dream up.

Frequently Asked Questions About Staining Tile Backsplashes

Staining a tile backsplash to achieve a custom color is an attractive option, but it also raises lots of questions. Here are answers to some of the most common FAQs about backsplash staining projects.

Can you stain ceramic tile?

Unglazed ceramic tile can be stained, but the surface is less porous than natural stone so the color may turn out faint. Stains don’t penetrate glazed ceramic tile. Refinishing kits are better for applying color to glazed ceramic.

What kind of paint do you use to paint backsplash tiles?

Specialized tile paints like Giani Granite Paint are formulated to bond to slick tile surfaces. Epoxy tile paint provides the most durable finish. Latex or acrylic paints may scratch or peel. Always test paint on a spare tile first.

Should you seal tile before or after grouting?

It’s best to apply grout release and seal tiles before staining to prevent the grout from absorbing any of the colorant. Alternatively, you can stain tiles first and then grout, but sealing before grouting provides added protection.

How long does it take stained tiles to dry?

Most tile stains are dry to the touch within 1-2 hours. But the curing process that fully hardens and seals in the color may take 24-48 hours. Always check the product directions for recommended drying times before sealing or using the area.

Should stained tiles be sealed?

Yes, sealing is highly recommended for stained backsplashes. The sealer penetrates below the surface to prevent moisture from altering the stain over time. Choose a penetrating sealer made for your specific tile material. Re-apply sealer yearly.

Can stained tile be cleaned with bleach?

Avoid cleaners containing bleach or acid on stained tiles, as these chemicals can react with the stain and cause discoloration. Mild, pH-neutral cleaners are recommended. Test any new cleaners on an inconspicuous area first.

Staining a Tile Backsplash to Get the Perfect Color

Stained backsplashes provide endless options for achieving unique, custom tile colors to match your dream design vision. Done properly, staining can transform ordinary tiles into a stunning showpiece that becomes the focal point of your kitchen. Pay close attention to prep work, application techniques, and sealing stained tiles for maximum results. With some practice and patience, you can use stains to color-match any backsplash tile to the perfect creative hue.


Staining tile backsplashes offers an affordable way to customize the color of natural stone, ceramic, or porcelain tiles. To ensure success, it’s important to assess which tile materials readily accept stains. Proper preparation like cleaning tiles thoroughly and using a grout release is also key. Applying multiple thin layers of mineral-spirit stains provides the most control. Always test stains first to achieve the desired hue before staining the entire backsplash. Lastly, make sure to seal stained tiles with a compatible penetrating sealer to protect the finish. With careful planning and application, staining enables DIYers to achieve backsplash designs in any vivid custom color imaginable.