Installing a tile backsplash is one of the most popular ways to upgrade a kitchen or bathroom. Not only does it add visual interest, but tile is also durable, easy to clean, and water-resistant. However, that existing backsplash may be dated, damaged, or just not your style anymore. So can you install a new tile backsplash right over the old one?
What to Consider Before Tiling Over an Existing Backsplash
There are a few factors to consider before deciding if you can tile over an existing backsplash:
Type of Existing Backsplash
- Ceramic or porcelain tile – These are excellent surfaces to tile over, as the new tile will adhere well to the old. Just be sure the existing tile is in good condition with no cracks or missing grout.
- Painted drywall – Tiling over painted drywall is not recommended. The tile will not bond properly, leading to failure over time. It’s best to remove painted drywall and install backerboard.
- Wallpaper – Wallpaper needs to be scraped off completely before tiling. Any remnants left behind will prevent proper tile bonding.
- Metal, glass, or marble backsplashes – Tiling over these materials is tricky. It’s better to remove them and start fresh with a clean surface.
Condition of Existing Backsplash
- Cracked or missing tiles – Any damaged tiles need to be removed and replaced with matching extras or backerboard before tiling over.
- Missing or failing grout – Regrout any areas as needed to provide a smooth surface.
- Dirt, grease, or soap scum – Degrease and thoroughly clean the existing tile before tiling.
- Peeling or bubbling areas – This indicates a bonding failure, so those areas need to be removed.
Flatness of the Existing Backsplash
- Any significant gaps, valleys, or protrusions on the existing backsplash can prevent proper tile bonding and lead to cracks. The new tiles need a smooth, flat surface.
- Level and fill any uneven areas with thinset before tiling.
Thickness of the New Tile
- Standard wall tiles are 1/4″ to 3/8″ thick. If the new tile is significantly thicker, your backsplash thickness may be too built out from the wall.
- Choose a tile similar in depth to the old one or remove the existing tile if a much thicker style is desired.
As long as your existing backsplash is tile, in good shape, well-bonded, cleaned, and smoothed out, tiling over it is certainly possible.
How to Tile Over an Existing Backsplash
Tiling over existing tile comes with some nuances compared to a fresh backerboard installation. Follow these tips for success:
- New tile and required mounting hardware
- Thinset adhesive designed for tile-on-tile application
- Notch trowel for spreading adhesive
- Grout and sealer
- Epoxy primer if warranted
Prepare the Surface
As discussed, the existing tile must be in excellent condition to support new tile. Ensure:
- Old grout is sound or re-grout as needed
- Surface is free of grease, soap film, and dirt
- Any loose tiles are re-adhered or replaced
- Cracks or uneven areas are filled and smoothed
Next, roughen up the glazed tile surface using sandpaper or a sander so the thinset can grip properly. Be sure to smooth any raised edges between existing tiles.
Wipe away all dust with a damp sponge after sanding.
Prime If Needed
Some tile-on-tile situations call for an epoxy primer coat before setting the new tile:
- If the existing tile is very glossy or was previously sealed
- If the old tile is prone to cracking or bonding issues
- If the original substrate under the tile is questionable
Consult the thinset manufacturer’s recommendations.
When priming, spread the epoxy evenly across the backsplash and let cure fully.
Apply Thinset and New Tiles
Using a notch trowel specifically made for tile-on-tile applications, spread a layer of thinset adhesive on the existing backsplash. Comb it evenly in one direction.
firmly press the new tiles into the thinset, using spacers for consistent grout line alignment. Don’t slide tiles through the adhesive or it can compromise bonding.
Allow the thinset to cure fully per manufacturer directions before continuing.
Finish With Grout and Sealant
Once the new tiles are firmly set, grout the joints and seal the grout once cured.
Use caution when applying grout release over freshly set tiles, as some products can interfere with curing or stain. Test in an inconspicuous spot first.
That’s it – your new backsplash installed right over the existing one! With proper prep and materials, tile-on-tile can give fantastic results.
Tiling Over Common Existing Backsplash Materials
Let’s look at the best practices for tiling over some specific backsplash materials:
Ceramic or Porcelain Tile Backsplashes
As long as your existing ceramic or porcelain backsplash is in good shape with no failing grout or underlying moisture issues, tiling over it is straightforward. These dense tiles provide an excellent base.
Just be sure to roughen the surface before applying thinset so the new tile can grip. An epoxy primer can also help form a tenacious bond.
Use a tile-on-tile thinset like Laticrete 253 Gold. Allow proper cure times per the manufacturer.
Painted Drywall Backsplashes
While painting a drywall backsplash used to be popular, it provides no water protection and paint prevents proper adhesion for new tile.
To install tile over painted drywall:
- Sand the surface thoroughly to remove all gloss and roughen the paint.
- Wipe away dust then apply an oil-based primer to seal the paint.
- Skim coat the wall with drywall joint compound to smooth and fill any imperfections.
- Once dry, prime again with an epoxy primer designed for tile bonding.
- Apply tile thinset and new tiles as normal. Use an adhesive approved for drywall application.
Even with these preparation steps, tiling directly over painted drywall has risks. Removing it and installing cement board is a better investment.
Glass, Metal, or Marble Tile Backsplashes
Tile with very smooth, glossy surfaces can make installing new tile tricky:
- Roughening the surface may damage delicate materials like glass.
- Epoxy primers don’t always bond well to glossy surfaces.
- Metals like tin or copper can interact negatively with some thinset adhesives.
It’s safest to remove these existing backsplash materials before retiling if possible. This allows you to prepare the wall properly and ensure the best bond.
Removing Old Backsplash Tile
If your existing backsplash tile needs to be removed before installing the new, follow these steps:
- Protect nearby surfaces from damage – tape off countertops and floors.
- Score grout lines with a utility knife. Break tiles away using a hammer and chisel working top to bottom.
- Thoroughly scrape off any remaining thinset from the wall using a putty knife.
- Wash the wall to remove debris and dust. Let dry fully.
- If drywall is exposed after tile removal, install cement board before the new backsplash.
- If existing substrate is intact, prime the surface and then tile as normal.
Sometimes it’s worth the extra work of removing old backsplash tile to start fresh. This allows proper surface preparation and ideal adhesion for the new tiles.
FAQs About Tiling Over Existing Backsplashes
Some common questions about installing tile over an old backsplash:
Should I use a specific thinset?
Yes, thinset made for tile-on-tile application is recommended. These adhesives are formulated to bond to smooth, non-porous surfaces. Popular brands include Laticrete 253 Gold and Mapei Granirapid.
Can I just use construction adhesive?
No, adhesives like Liquid Nails are not suitable for bonding tile long-term. Always use an appropriate tile thinset.
How should I prep glossy wall tile?
Degrease then scuff up the shiny tile surface using sandpaper or a sanding sponge so the new thinset can grip.
Can I tile over cracked tiles?
No, any cracked, damaged, or loose tiles must be removed and replaced before tiling over an existing backsplash.
What about old grout – do I need to regrout first?
Re-grouting worn or failing grout before tiling is ideal. But it’s also fine to just tile over sound grout, as long as you prepare the surface.
Should I use a primer?
Priming first is a smart idea for any glossy or sealed tiles, questionable substrates, or tile prone to bonding issues. Check thinset manufacturer recommendations.
- Tiling over existing ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone backsplash tile can work well, if the tile is sound and properly prepped.
- Remove any wallpaper, damaged tiles, or questionable surfaces first.
- Thoroughly clean and roughen the old tile so the new thinset can adhere.
- Use a tile-on-tile thinset adhesive and follow all cure times.
- Prime first if warranted based on tile type or original substrate.
- Removing old backsplash completely allows ideal surface prep but is more labor intensive.
- With proper prep and materials, tiling over existing backsplash tile can be a successful, time-saving renovation strategy.
Upgrading a tired backsplash by tiling over the existing one is an effective shortcut in many situations. With ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone, a tile-on-tile installation can perform beautifully. Just be sure to address any surface problems with the old tile and thoroughly prep so the new tile bonds tenaciously. An epoxy primer and the right adhesive also go a long way. While tiling over other materials like painted drywall or glass tile is riskier, the extra steps to ensure adhesion can pay off. With smart prep and the proper products, tiling over an existing backsplash is a solid, convenient way to refresh your space.