Can You Tile Over Formica Backsplash?

Installing a tile backsplash can transform the look of your kitchen by adding visual interest, color, and texture. But what if your existing backsplash is made of formica? Can you tile over an existing formica backsplash? The short answer is yes, you can tile over formica with the right preparation and materials. Here is a detailed guide on how to tile over a formica backsplash.

What is Formica?

Formica is a brand of thermoset plastic laminate that was invented in the early 1900s. It is made by layering paper infused with melamine resin and coating it with an acrylic or polyester overlay. Formica backsplashes were very popular in the 1960s through the 1980s.

The benefits of formica include:

  • Durable and long-lasting
  • Available in a wide range of colors and patterns
  • Resists stains, scratches, heat, and moisture
  • Easy to clean

However, formica can also yellow, crack, or delaminate over time. Tiling over an outdated formica backsplash is a great way to update the look without undergoing a full kitchen remodel.

Preparing the Formica Backsplash for Tiling

Proper preparation is key for a successful tile installation over formica. Here are the steps:

Clean and Sand the Surface

First, clean the entire backsplash surface with an all-purpose cleaner or degreaser to remove any dirt, oil, or residue. Once dry, lightly sand the formica using 100-150 grit sandpaper. This helps rough up the smooth surface for better tile adhesion. Be careful not to sand all the way through the plastic laminate.

Check for Damage

Inspect the formica for any cracks, holes, or areas that are lifting up. Use a multi-purpose filler compound to patch any problem areas. Allow the filler to dry completely according to the package directions.

Prime the Surface

Priming provides an extra bonding layer between the formica and tile. Use a high-adhesion acrylic primer made for plastic surfaces. Apply a thin, even coat with a paintbrush and allow to dry fully.

Install Backerboard

While not always mandatory, many tilers recommend adding a layer of cement backerboard over formica prior to tiling. This provides a more stable and uniform surface. Cut the backerboard to fit the backsplash area and attach with thinset mortar or construction adhesive. Offset the seams between backerboard sheets.

Choosing the Right Tile and Adhesive

Choosing tile: Avoid very heavy stone tiles for directly applying over formica. Opt for lighter porcelain, ceramic, or glass mosaic tiles instead.

Adhesive options:

  • Latex modified thinset: This is an excellent all-purpose adhesive for tiling over formica. It bonds well and absorbs movement.
  • Epoxy grout/mortar: Epoxy has extremely strong adhesion for difficult surfaces like plastic laminate. It comes as both grout and thinset.
  • Mastic adhesive: Water-based mastic works well for lightweight wall tiles. Look for mastics designed specifically for backsplashes.

Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the adhesive product selected. Applying an even layer of thinset to both the formica and tile backs creates maximum bonding power.

Step-by-Step Installation Process

Follow these steps for a successful tile installation:

  1. Gather all materials – tiles, spacers, adhesive, grout, grout sealer, sponges, buckets, trowel, mixing paddle, tile cutter, etc.
  2. Mix up a batch of thinset adhesive per product directions. Comb an even layer over a section of the backsplash using a notched trowel.
  3. Firmly press the first tile into the adhesive, using spacers to leave even gaps for grout lines.
  4. Continue setting tiles in the thinset, working in sections. Periodically remove and reapply fresh thinset.
  5. Allow the thinset to cure fully per manufacturer’s directions before grouting. Typically 24-48 hours.
  6. Mix up grout per package instructions and apply over the tiles to fill all joints.
  7. Wipe away excess grout with a damp sponge and allow grout to dry. Seal grout lines with a penetrating sealer.
  8. Step back and admire your newly tiled formica backsplash!

With proper prep and installation, tile can adhere strongly to formica for a long-lasting finish. Take care to thoroughly clean and scuff up the formica before starting. Test questionable areas for adhesion first. Following the above steps will lead to success tiling over that outdated formica backsplash.

Tips for Tiling over Formica

  • Always do a test patch first on an inconspicuous area.
  • Clean with denatured alcohol after sanding to remove debris.
  • Use a white thinset adhesive to prevent shadowing through glass or light tiles.
  • Consider applying primer and backerboard for extra stability and adhesion.
  • Let thinset fully cure before grouting for maximum bond strength.
  • Use a grout release or sealer if applying darker grout over white tiles.
  • Don’t walk on tiles or put heavy items against the backsplash for at least 48 hours.

Common Questions about Tiling over Formica

Is it okay to tile directly over formica?

Yes, it is possible to install tiles directly onto formica with proper preparation. Lightly sanding and priming the formica provides the right bonding surface for thinset mortar. Extra stability can be gained by adding cement backerboard first.

What’s the best way to prep formica for tiling?

Lightly sanding with 100-150 grit sandpaper, cleaning with denatured alcohol, and applying an acrylic primer specifically made for laminates are the best ways to prep formica for tiling. This roughens up the slick plastic surface and improves adhesion.

Can you use regular thinset to tile over formica?

Regular thinset mortar may be used, but a polymer-modified thinset, mastic adhesive, or epoxy provide stronger, longer-lasting adhesion to formica surfaces. Always check the adhesive label to ensure it is recommended for use over plastic laminates or existing backsplash materials.

Should backerboard be installed over formica before tiling?

Installing backerboard is an optional preparatory step but not 100% necessary. It does provide a more stable, seamless surface for tile bonding. Cement, fiber cement, or Durock backerboards all work well over formica. Some tilers recommend it while others find priming the formica sufficient.

How soon can I grout and use the backsplash after installing tile?

It’s crucial to let the tile thinset cure fully before grouting or using the backsplash – usually 24-48 hours. This allows the adhesive to reach maximum strength. Grouting or exposing the tiles to moisture too soon can compromise the bond over formica.


Upgrading dated or worn formica with a new tile backsplash can give your kitchen a fresh, updated look. With proper preparation like sanding and priming, formica provides an adequate surface for thinset and tile. Carefully following installation procedures leads to long-lasting results. Just take care to clean and scuff up the formica prior to applying tile adhesive. With some elbow grease and the right materials, you can achieve a beautiful new tiled backsplash over formica.