How to Paint a Tile Backsplash

Painting a tile backsplash can completely transform the look and feel of your kitchen. With the right prep work, high-quality paint, and proper techniques, you can give your old, dated backsplash a fresh new look for a fraction of the cost of replacing the tiles. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps and considerations for successfully painting a tile backsplash in your kitchen.


Painting over existing tile has become an increasingly popular DIY project, allowing you to inexpensively update the look of your kitchen backsplash without undertaking a full tile removal and replacement. With the right painting products and proper prep, you can give tile a completely new look, whether you want to update the color, give it a more modern, sleek appearance, or cover up old stains and damage.

Painting a backsplash tile does require some upfront work, patience, and attention to detail. But the end results can give your kitchen an entirely new aesthetic at a price far below installing a brand new tile backsplash. If you have the time and motivation for a DIY makeover, painting your backsplash tiles can be a fun, rewarding, and budget-friendly project.

Below we’ve outlined all the steps, tools, and tips you need to successfully paint over an existing tile backsplash, including:

  • Cleaning and preparing the tiles
  • Choosing the right paint and primers
  • Painting techniques and application
  • Curing and protecting the new paint
  • Achieving different looks from sleek to textured

With the right approach and products, you can give your backsplash tile a stunning makeover in any color you choose. So read on to learn all you need to know about how to paint a tile backsplash in your kitchen!

Cleaning and Preparing the Tile

As with any painting project, properly preparing the surface is one of the most important steps for achieving great results. When painting over tile, you’ll need to thoroughly clean and lightly abrade the surface so the new paint adheres smoothly and permanently.

Here are the key steps for cleaning and prepping your backsplash tile before painting:

Clean the Grout Lines

Use a grout brush and concentrated grout cleaner to scrub out all dirt, grease, and grime from the existing grout lines between the tiles. Let the grout cleaner sit for 5 minutes before scrubbing to help loosen debris. Rinse thoroughly.

Clean the Tile Surface

Mix a cleaning solution of 2 parts water to 1 part ammonia and use a sponge or rag to wipe down all the tile surfaces. This will remove any cooking grease or residue. Rinse thoroughly and let dry completely.

Lightly Sand the Tile

Go over all the tile lightly with 220 grit sandpaper. This scuffs up the glossy tile surface for better paint adhesion. Be careful not to scrub too hard or you may scratch the tiles.

Remove any Caulking

Use a utility knife to scrape away any old caulking between the tiles and counter or edges. New caulk will be reapplied after painting.

Proper cleaning and light sanding of the tiles allows the new paint to grip the surface for maximum bonding and durability.

Choosing Paints and Primers

For the best results painting over tile, you’ll need to use a specifically formulated bonding primer followed by a top-coat of latex paint designed for high-adhesion and durability.

Here are the key products you’ll need:

Tile Bonding Primer

A bonding primer like Mapei Tile & Stone Primer or Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 is essential for getting the paint to properly adhere to the tile. Look for a primer specifically made for use on tile, metal, laminate, or other slick surfaces.

Enamel Paint

For your topcoat choose a quality interior enamel latex paint like Behr Premium Plus Enamel or Sherwin Williams ProClassic Waterbased Enamel. Enamel paints provide maximum bonding and a durable scrubbable finish.

Epoxy Paint (for irregular tile)

If painting over very textured tile like quarry tile or ceramic tile with deep grout lines, use a two-part epoxy paint like Rust-Oleum High Performance Epoxy. The thick consistency fills uneven surfaces better.

Always read the manufacturer instructions for recommended uses before selecting your paints and primers. Some products work better than others for tile surfaces.

Application and Painting Process

With your prep work and paint products ready, it’s time to start painting. Follow these key steps for applying the bonding primer and topcoat enamel paint:

1. Apply Bonding Primer

Pour the primer into a paint tray and use a small foam roller to apply a thin even coat across all the tile and grout lines. Follow drying times on the label before moving to the next step.

2. Apply First Coat of Enamel

Again using a small foam paint roller, apply the first coat of enamel paint in sections working from top to bottom. Use an angled trim brush for grout lines. Allow proper dry time before second coat.

3. Second Coat of Enamel

Apply a second finish coat of enamel paint using the same process. The second coat provides maximum durability and a rich even color. Allow a full 24 hours drying time before use.

4. Softened Transition Edge (optional)

You can taper or round the painted edges of the tile for a more integrated look using painters tape and drywall joint compound if desired. Let compound dry before final coat.

5. Seal with Polyurethane (optional)

For extra protection, you can apply 1-2 thin coats of water-based satin polyurethane with a small foam brush. Allow proper drying between coats.

Take your time with each coat, following the manufacturer’s instructions for dry times, and you’ll achieve professional quality results. The extra effort is well worth it for a beautifully updated kitchen!

Achieving Different Painted Looks

One of the great benefits of painting over tile is you can choose whatever finished look you love, from bold and colorful to clean and modern. Here are some popular options:

Solid Color

Choose any solid latex paint color for an updated clean, sleek look. This works great for a more modern style. Stick with matte or satin finish.

Faux Subway Tile

Use painters tape to mask off “subway tile” sections and paint contrasting colors for the effect of new subway tile without replacing.

Marble or Stone Look

Specialty faux finish enamel paints can create realistic looks of natural marble or other stone. Use paint additives to create veins.

Metallic or Shimmer

For a glamorous look try metallic finish paints in copper, gold, silver or bold iridescent colors.

Distressed or Weathered

Use a layered dry brush technique with contrasting paints to make tile look antique and distressed. Seal with a matte polyurethane.

No matter what style you’re going for, painted tile offers endless possibilities for affordable backsplash makeovers!

Curing and Protecting the New Paint

To ensure your newly painted backsplash lasts for many years, it’s important to let the paint fully cure and add protective top coats. Here are some key tips:

  • Allow enamel paint to cure for 1 full week before use
  • Avoid cleaning with abrasive scrub brushes or pads
  • Use only soft cloths and gentle cleaners on painted tile
  • Re-apply grout sealer every 1-2 years
  • Apply 1-2 coats of polyurethane for added protection
  • Immediately wipe up any liquids or spills to avoid stains

Taking these simple precautions will maintain your painted tile backsplash in the most optimal condition.

Tools and Materials Needed

Painting over tile backsplashes is an affordable DIY project with minimal tools required. Here is a summary list of what you’ll need:

  • Grout brush and grout cleaner
  • Ammonia and water cleaning solution
  • 220 grit sandpaper
  • Small foam paint rollers and angled trim brush
  • Paint trays, rags, masking tape
  • Bonding primer like Zinsser Bulls Eye
  • Enamel paints like Behr Premium Plus or Sherwin Williams ProClassic
  • Epoxy paint like Rust-Oleum 2 part (for textured tile)
  • Polyurethane sealer (optional)

With these basic tools and painting supplies, you can tackle a tile backsplash makeover on nearly any budget.

Hiring a Professional Painter

While a DIY backsplash paint job can save money, you can also achieve excellent results by hiring a professional painter. An experienced pro can:

  • Properly prep and clean the tile
  • Have the right tools and spraying equipment
  • Match special faux finish techniques
  • Correct any problem areas
  • Completely paint the job much faster

The cost to hire a professional painter is estimated between $4-$8 per square foot on average. For a full professional kitchen backsplash paint job expect to invest $300-$700 depending on the size. This still costs significantly less than full tile replacement.

FAQs About Painting a Tile Backsplash

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about painting over existing kitchen backsplash tile:

Does the tile need to be sanded before painting?

Lightly sanding the tile is recommended so the paint can properly adhere. Use 220 grit sandpaper and avoid scrubbing too hard.

What kind of paint works best on tile?

A bonding primer followed by a durable interior enamel latex paint specially formulated for painting tile or laminate.

How do you paint grout when painting tile?

Use an angled trim brush to carefully paint down into the grout lines after rolling the tile surface with primer and paint.

Can you paint over cracked tile?

Yes, but any existing cracks or chips will likely still show through the new paint. Filling cracks with caulk first helps minimize the appearance.

How long does it take to paint a tile backsplash?

A typical 4×4 foot backsplash can be prepped and completely painted in about 2-3 days, allowing for proper drying times between coats.

Does painted tile scratch easily?

Top-coating with polyurethane protects the surface from scratches. Take care not to scrub too hard. Touch up paint can fix any nicks.

Painting existing backsplash tile is an easy, low-cost way to give your kitchen an updated, fresh new look. With the right prep work and painting technique, you can achieve beautiful, durable results. Consider hiring a professional painter for flawless results with less hassle. No matter which approach you choose, painted tile offers an affordable path to transforming the heart of your home.


Revitalizing your kitchen backsplash no longer means incurring the high cost and disruption of full tile replacement. With proper preparation, high quality specialty painting products, and some elbow grease, you can paint over existing tile for a completely fresh, updated look at a fraction of the price.

While careful cleaning, light sanding, and multiple coats of primer and paint do require an investment in effort, the savings over new tile are well worth it. In a weekend or less, you can give your out of date, damaged backsplash a makeover in any color or style you choose.

Approach the project step-by-step, follow the manufacturer’s application instructions, and take your time applying multiple thin coats of primer and enamel paint. The result will be a revamped kitchen backsplash that looks crisp, fresh, and new at a very reasonable cost. Painting tile yourself or hiring a pro may be one of the easiest and most rewarding kitchen upgrades you can make.