Adding a backsplash behind your kitchen sink is an easy way to protect your walls from water damage while also enhancing the beauty of your space. But is a backsplash absolutely necessary? Here’s what you need to consider when deciding if you need a backsplash behind your sink.
What is a Backsplash?
A backsplash is a protective surface installed on the wall behind a sink, stove, or other area where splashing is likely. Backsplashes are typically made from tile, metal, glass, or other water-resistant materials. Not only do they guard against moisture, but they also make it easy to wipe away messes and prevent stains on the wall.
Backsplashes usually stretch 4-6 inches vertically from the counter or sink rim and run the entire horizontal length of the sink or cooktop area. This protects the most vulnerable part of the wall from water exposure.
Benefits of Adding a Backsplash
There are several advantages to installing a backsplash behind your sink:
Protection from Water Damage
The number one reason to add a backsplash is to protect the wall from water splashes and spills. Even if you are careful, it’s easy for water to splash out of the sink basin when washing dishes. Over time, this moisture can soak into the drywall or plaster and cause peeling, discoloration, mold growth, and deterioration of the wall material.
A properly sealed backsplash forms a waterproof barrier between your sink and the wall. The surface is easy to wipe down and keeps the wall protected.
Backsplashes prevent staining, soap scum buildup, and grime on your walls. It’s much quicker and easier to wipe splatters off a smooth, non-porous backsplash than having to scrub the wall. The backsplash contains the mess to a surface that is meant to be cleaned.
While backsplashes serve a very practical purpose, they also contribute great visual appeal to a kitchen. Backsplashes allow you to add pops of color, interesting textures, and natural materials like stone and metal. They can complement your cabinetry, flooring, countertops, and overall design aesthetic.
Situations Where a Backsplash is Recommended
While a backsplash may not be an absolute necessity, there are certain sink situations where installing one is strongly advised:
If you have an undermount sink that is installed below the countertop, a backsplash is highly recommended. Since the sink rim is not resting on the counter, it leaves an exposed gap between the sink edge and wall. This leaves the wall extremely vulnerable to splashing. A backsplash will seamlessly bridge that gap.
Vessel or Bowl Sinks
Vessel and bowl sinks sit above the counter or vanity, which leaves plumbing and wall exposed. The raised sink basin also causes water to splash outward more freely. Backsplashes are useful for catching side splashes and runoff with these sink types.
Children or Messy Cooks
Backsplashes are smart for households with kids or messy cooks. Lower sink heights and unpredictable splashing make the wall around a child’s bathroom or kitchen sink prone to water exposure. Protect these accident-prone areas with a backsplash.
Splash-Prone Sink Positions
Backsplashes are most useful for sinks located on an outside wall or island. Without adjoining cabinetry and countertops to absorb some of the splash, a solitary sink on an exposed wall will clearly benefit from a backsplash.
Signs You Need a Backsplash
Here are some clear indicators that it may be time to add a backsplash:
- Visible water damage, stains, or discoloration on the wall around the sink. This shows splashing is already taking a toll.
- Peeling paint, warped wallpaper, or other deterioration of your wall finish. Moisture is seeping in.
- Spotting black mold or mildew around your sink. This signals excessive moisture.
- Having to frequently scrub the walls to remove grime, soap scum, and food splatters. A backsplash will reduce this maintenance.
- Wanting to change the style of your kitchen or bath. A new backsplash can update the look.
- Planning renovations. It’s smart to add a backsplash when you’re already updating your counters, faucet, sink, or walls.
When a Backsplash Isn’t Necessary
While backsplashes are highly useful in kitchens and baths, they aren’t an absolute requirement. Here are some instances when you may be fine without one:
Secondary or Infrequently Used Sinks
If you have a prep, bar, or utility sink that doesn’t get heavy daily use, splash protection may not be a priority. Focus backsplash installation on your main sinks.
Sinks With Deep Counter Overhangs
If your sink is tight to the wall and you have very deep countertops extending 6 inches or more past the sink rim, this may provide adequate drip protection.
Sinks Already Protected by Surrounding Materials
Sometimes a kitchen island provides backsplash-like protection when it wraps around a farmhouse sink. Or, a bathroom sink surrounded by granite or tile counter may already have a built-in splash guard.
DIY or Temporary Wall Protection
For apartment renters or temporary spaces, DIY peel-and-stick backsplash tiles or plastic wall liners can provide economical splash protection without heavy installation.
Backsplashes are worth the investment. But if the cost is prohibitive, you can postpone installation until your budget allows. Just take care to spot clean the wall until then.
Backsplash Installation Tips
When ready to add a backsplash, here are some tips:
- Choose a durable, water-resistant material like ceramic tile, stainless steel, glass tile, or granite.
- The backsplash should cover the wall from the counter to 4-6 inches above the faucet height to protect from standing water.
- Cut tiles carefully for clean results and use caulk/grout to seal edges.
- For do-it-yourself projects, use backsplash panels which install similarly to wallpaper and require less tile cutting precision.
- Consider wipeable materials like glass tile or metal to make cleaning easier.
- Match or coordinate your backsplash design with other kitchen or bath finishes for a cohesive look.
- Incorporate design features like mosaic tiles, inlays, or decorative trim and accents.
- For tile backsplashes, use waterproof grout and caulk the edges and corners thoroughly.
- Take care sealing the areas around outlets, faucets, soap dispensers, and anything that punctures the backsplash. These are potential weak points for moisture to seep through.
Maintaining Your Backsplash
Once installed, be sure to care for your backsplash properly:
- Wipe up spills and splatters promptly to prevent soap scum buildup.
- Clean frequently with a non-abrasive cleaner and soft sponge or microfiber cloth. Avoid harsh chemicals.
- Use a squeegee after washing dishes to dry the surface and prevent mineral deposits.
- Re-caulk as needed to maintain watertight seals, particularly around the sink perimeter and any grout lines.
- Avoid using abrasive scrub pads or brushes which can dull the finish over time.
DIY vs Pro Installation
While it’s possible to install a backsplash yourself, consider hiring a professional if:
- You lack experience with tile cutting and installation.
- Your walls or substrate require patching/prep work to ensure proper adhesion.
- You want intricate design details like mosaic patterns or metal trim.
- Your countertop material like quartz requires a delicate touch for modifications.
- You want perfect grout lines and corner alignments—a pro’s artistic eye can make a difference!
- You simply don’t have the time for a DIY project. A pro can install quickly and efficiently.
Do You Really Need a Backsplash?
While a backsplash provides protection and makes cleaning easier, it may not be an absolute necessity in every home. Consider your unique situation:
What’s your sink installation type?
Undermount, vessel, or exposed sinks benefit the most from backsplash protection. Deck-mounted sinks have less exposure.
How prone is the area to splashing?
Look for factors like lower heights for kids, outside walls without adjoining countertops, multimedia faucets, etc. Splash-prone areas need more coverage.
What finish is already on your wall?
Porous surfaces like wallpaper or unfinished drywall are more susceptible to water damage over time. Existing tile or water-resistant paint may be adequate.
Does your wall already show signs of moisture damage?
Stains, deterioration, and mildew around the sink are clear indicators a backsplash should be added. Don’t wait for major damage.
What’s your décor style and overall budget?
If you want to update your space or renovate, a backsplash is a great way to refresh the look. Weight costs vs. benefits for your situation.
How much effort do you want to put into cleaning?
Backsplashes make wall maintenance much simpler. If scrubbing and spot cleaning your back wall is annoying, a backsplash helps.
Take these factors into account as you decide. While not always mandatory, a backsplash can be a worthwhile investment in both form and function for many kitchens and baths. Protect your space while also personalizing it!
Backsplash Styles to Consider
One of the best parts of adding a backsplash is choosing a style that expresses your personal taste. Here are some top options to consider:
Glazed ceramic tile is one of the most common backsplash materials because it is affordable, easy to clean, and comes in endless colors, shapes, and patterns. Choices range from basic white subway tile to colorful mosaics.
- Easy DIY installation
- Scratch-resistant surface
- Variety of styles, textures, and colors
- Can complement any décor
- Grout requires sealing
- Not as durable as stone or metal
- Tile edges need caulking to seal
For contemporary styling, stainless steel backsplashes offer an ultra-modern look. The industrial metal resists corrosion and stands up well to heavy use.
- Sleek, modern appearance
- Extremely durable
- Water-resistant and easy to disinfect
- Can coordinate with stainless appliances
- Can show fingerprints, splatters, and water spots if not wiped frequently
- Higher cost than some materials
- Uses special installation process
With their luminous, shiny finish, glass backsplash tiles impart eye-catching radiance. Their polished surface also wipes clean easily. Glass tile backsplashes can range from solid colors to intricate mosaics.
- Reflective, brilliant sheen
- Water-resistant and easy to clean
- Artistic, colorful patterns available
- Variety of prices from affordable to high-end
- Grout requires sealing
- Tile cutting can be tricky
- Gloss shows soap scum and spots if not cleaned frequently
Granite, marble, travertine and other natural stones make an elegant statement. Available in a range of prices, stone backsplashes provide timeless beauty and durability.
- Luxurious, upscale look
- Withstands heat and stains
- Each piece unique for one-of-a-kind beauty
- Adds value to the home
- Requires sealing to prevent staining
- Heavy weight makes DIY installation difficult
- Natural stone varies widely in cost and quality
For an industrial feel, metal backsplashes like galvanized tin, copper, or zinc make a bold impact. This is also a lightweight DIY-friendly option.
- Modern, eye-catching look
- Provides soundproofing
- Budget-friendly metal options
- Quick and easy installation
- Susceptible to scratches and dents
- Develops patina over time
- Can be prone to condensation drips
Ideal Backsplash Height
Installing your backsplash at the proper height is key for ample splash protection. Here are some guidelines:
- For a kitchen sink, extend the backsplash from the counter to 4-6 inches above the sink rim or top of the faucet, whichever is higher. This covers the prime splashing zone.
- For a bathroom sink, carry the backsplash up at least 4 inches above the faucet spout. Whether it’s a vessel, pedestal, or vanity sink, this provides needed shielding.
- Measure carefully if combining backsplashes behind both a sink and stove. Make sure the stove backsplash is slightly taller, at minimum 6 inches above the cooktop.
- When installing a full-height backsplash behind sinks and appliances, take it all the way up to the underside of wall cabinets for a seamless, built-in look.
- For tile backsplashes, account for the thickness of grout lines in your measurements to ensure ample coverage.
- Look at the angle of your faucet sprayer and make sure you have at least 4 inches of coverage above its potential spray path.
- Extend backsplashes slightly beyond the width of the sink base or cooktop. This provides extra protection from side splashing.
Following these height guidelines helps ensure you have maximum coverage to guard against splatters, drips, and leaks. Don’t underestimate the value of those extra inches of protection!
DIY Installation Guide
Installing a backsplash yourself can save on labor costs. Here is an overview of how to install a tile backsplash:
- Gather your materials: tile, thinset mortar, grout, tools. Buy 10-15% extra tile.
- Measure your space and create a layout pattern.
- Clean the wall thoroughly and make any needed repairs. Fill any holes or cracks.
- Mark your tile layout on the wall with a level to guide installation.
- Mix thinset mortar adhesive according to package directions.
- Spread thinset on the wall using the flat side of a trowel to key it into the surface.
- Press tiles into thinset, using spacers for even grout line width.
- Cut edge tiles as needed using a tile cutter for clean edges.
- Let thinset dry completely according to manufacturer’s timeline.
- Mix grout and apply over the tiles, pushing it into joint spaces.
- Wipe away excess grout with a damp sponge in a circular motion.
- Seal grout once dry by applying sealer and wiping off excess.
- Caulk perimeter edges and corners where tile meets counter or cabinets.
- Seal around faucet, soap dispenser, outlet, or any penetrations.
- Allow caulk to dry fully, then remove any remaining haze with a soft cloth.
- Enjoy your finished, easy-to-clean backsplash!
Always refer to complete manufacturer instructions. While it takes some tile cutting precision, installing a backsplash yourself can save on labor costs.
Hiring a Pro
Here are some benefits of hiring a professional backsplash installer:
- Expertise with tricky materials – Professionals have experience with difficult tile like natural stone or glass which require special cutting tools. Their artistic eye also allows them to lay out intricate patterns.
- Faster completion – DIY backsplash projects often stretch over days or weeks. A pro can complete it in a matter of hours.
- Smooth covered edges – Pros can remove your existing backsplash and install the new one beneath countertops for minimal seams.
- Seamless finish – Their precision allows for perfectly spaced grout lines and crisp corner alignments.
- Modify countertops – They can expertly cut into surfaces like quartz to accommodate the new backsplash.
- Correct wall prep – Pros properly assess and prepare the wall surface for best adhesion.
- Proper waterproofing – They thoroughly caulk and seal the backsplash perimeter and plumbing fixtures.
While hiring a backsplash installer does add labor costs, their skills and efficiency bring value through quality installation and a headache-free process.
Backsplash Maintenance Tips
Follow these tips to keep your backsplash looking like new for years:
- Regularly wipe down – Frequently wipe with a microfiber cloth and mild soap and water to prevent built-up grime.
- Squeegee after use – Wipe residual water off the backsplash after use to minimize soap scum and mineral deposits.
- Avoid abrasives – Steer clear of harsh cleansers and scrubbing pads which can damage the finish.
- Re-seal grout and caulk – Check seals periodically and re-apply sealant if needed to prevent moisture seeping behind the backsplash.
- Repair damage promptly – If grout cracks or caulk peels away, re-apply immediately to prevent water intrusion.
- Clean splatters quickly – Rinse food splatters like tomatoes soon after cooking. Dried-on residue is harder to remove.
- Shine metal – For metal backsplashes, use a metal polish periodically to restore shine if the surface appears dull.
With proper care, a quality backsplash installation should maintain its beauty and retain optimal splash protection for 10-15 years or longer.
- Backsplashes provide essential protection from water damage behind sinks and cooktops.
- They also make the area much easier to clean and wipe free of grime.
- Backsplashes often enhance