How to Pick a Backsplash

A backsplash is an important design element in any kitchen that serves both form and function. Choosing the right backsplash requires careful consideration of your overall kitchen design, lifestyle, budget and personal taste. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the key factors to weigh when selecting a kitchen backsplash. From materials and patterns to installation and care, we share expert advice to help you make the best decision for your home.

Selecting Backsplash Materials

The material you choose for your backsplash is one of the most important decisions, as it has a big impact on the overall look, durability and maintenance required. Here are some of the most popular kitchen backsplash materials to consider:


Tile is a classic and versatile backsplash option suitable for both traditional and contemporary kitchen designs. It comes in a vast array of sizes, shapes, textures, colors and patterns. Tile pros include:

  • Durable and easily cleaned with just soap and water
  • Provides a high-end, polished look
  • Allows you to create custom patterns
  • Variety of price points to suit any budget

Keep in mind that tile requires a careful installation process and re-grouting over time. Porous tile can also stain. Choose a sealant for extra protection.


For a natural, timeless look, stone backsplashes create a sophisticated focal point. Types like granite, marble, travertine and slate have distinct veining and coloring. Stone highlights:

  • Withstands heat and is very durable
  • Natural material offers one-of-a-kind beauty
  • Can be honed or polished for different finishes
  • Provides a seamless, upscale appearance

Stone is on the higher end of cost and requires re-sealing. It can also stain or etch. Consider your lifestyle and opt for an appropriate resilient stone.


Glass tile delivers a brilliant, gleaming aesthetic for contemporary spaces. It has a luminous, liquid-like look. Benefits of glass backsplash tile include:

  • Reflective surface bounces light around the kitchen
  • Available in range of colors, shapes and textures
  • Durable and water-resistant
  • Easy to clean

Prices vary widely. While glass tile itself is stain-resistant, the grout may need occasional sealing. Select white grout to limit staining visibility.


For an ultra-modern, industrial vibe, metal backsplashes bring cool, sleek style. Stainless steel, copper, brass and aluminum are popular choices. Metallic backsplash perks:

  • Bold, cutting-edge look
  • Highly durable and heat-resistant
  • Easy to sanitize
  • Some metals are antimicrobial like copper
  • Adds warmth and shine

Metal can dent or scratch. It also shows fingerprints readily. Keep surfaces shiny with regular polishing.

Molded Materials

From eco-friendly recycled glass to acrylic, molded backsplash products offer accessible options. Key benefits include:

  • Budget-friendly prices
  • Low maintenance, easy to clean
  • Seamless appearance
    -mimic looks of pricier materials

While durable, molded materials lack the richness and depth of natural stone or glass. Expect a more uniform, less nuanced aesthetic.

Once you narrow down the backsplash materials you like, gather samples to view colors, patterns and textures in your space. This helps ensure it complements your cabinets, countertops, flooring and paint colors.

Factoring in Functionality

Beyond the visual appeal, keep in mind practical factors that impact durability and maintenance:

Water resistance – Backsplashes in the cooking zone need water-repelling surfaces that won’t easily stain, etch or absorb liquids. Tile, glass and metal are very resistant. Natural stone is prone to etching and requires re-sealing.

Heat tolerance – Materials like metal, glass and ceramic tile hold up well to heat exposure and won’t scorch. Molded surfaces and natural stone are sensitive to extreme temperatures.

Easy cleaning – Look for smooth, non-porous materials that won’t trap debris and grease. Glass, metal, ceramic, acrylic and some engineered quartz are breeze to wipe clean.

Budget – Prices run the gamut from $5 to over $50 per square foot installed. Know how much you can spend and find options in your range.

DIY skill level – If hiring a pro is not feasible, opt for large-format panels or mosaic sheets that are easy to self-install. Intricate patterns and natural stone require expertise.

Once you review functionality must-haves, you can narrow down suitable backsplash materials for your kitchen.

Choosing a Style

Beyond the practical factors, selecting a backsplash style aligns with your tastes and overall kitchen design. Consider these style options:

Color palette – From bold hues to neutral whites, backsplash colors tie your whole kitchen together. Choose tones that complement cabinetry and counters.

Patterns – Uniform, single-color backsplashes provide a clean, seamless look. Patterns add eye-catching visual interest. Weave in designs sparingly in small spaces.

Texture – Play with sleek glossy surfaces or go for rough, rustic textures. Match the backsplash finish to the overall kitchen style.

Shapes – Square and rectangular tiles keep it classic. Introduce unique shape variations like hexagons or curved mosaic tiles.

Materials – Mixing materials can elevate backsplashes. Pair metal and glass accents with ceramic subway tile. Or combine stone and tile.

Focal point – Use an oversized patterned tile or artful medallion as a backsplash focal feature behind the stove.

Continuity – For a cohesive look, carry backsplash products over to the walls or countertops. Waterfall edge counters complement a full-height backsplash.

Personalization – Add personal flair with monogram tiles, meaningful quotes or mementos like old silverware or plates.

Playing with style elements creates visual harmony and interest. For help envisioning options, browse backsplash photos online or in design magazines.

Measuring and Planning

Once you have an idea of your preferred backsplash materials and style, it’s time for the hands-on planning. Be sure to:

  • Measure your backsplash area length and height. For full wall of cabinets, measure to the underside.
  • Map out the sink, stove, outlets and any obstacles requiring cutouts.
  • Plan a layout of your tile pattern and arrange any decorative accents.
  • Determine the tile quantities needed based on square footage and pattern repeats.
  • Include a 10-15% overage for cuts and breakage.

For a focal area like behind the stove, opt for more intricate tile patterns. Use larger format tiles on surrounding walls for easier installation. Proper planning of the backsplash layout sets the stage for a flawless finished look.

Hiring a Pro vs. DIY

Depending on your skillset, installing a kitchen backsplash may be a viable DIY project. Key considerations include:

Complexity – Beginners can handle peel-and-stick tile panels or mosaic sheets. Stone or large-format tile requires expert craftsmanship.

Time commitment – Professionals complete projects much quicker. Factor in your available free time for a DIY tile job.

Physical demands – Cutting tile and grout work on your knees is physically taxing. Assess your comfort level.

Cost savings – DIY provides significant cost savings on labor but has material expenses. Gauge total spend.

Qualified helpers – Recruit skilled friends to assist if taking on an advanced backsplash yourself.

Satisfaction – DIY’ers gain immense satisfaction and bragging rights. But seeking pro help has advantages too.

Make an honest assessment before deciding. An intricate design or challenging room layout may call for hiring a backsplash contractor to get optimal results.

Installation Tips and Tricks

If installing your backsplash DIY-style, utilize these expert tips for success:

  • Carefully prepare the surface and address any moisture issues.
  • Pick quality tile mortar suited for the backsplash material to prevent bonding issues.
  • Maintain even tile spacing by using plastic tile spacers between pieces.
  • Use a tile leveling system for large format tile to keep perfectly flat rows.
  • Thoroughly mix grout and apply evenly, wiping excess diagonally across tiles.
  • For cutting, invest in quality snap tile cutters and wet saws to get precise cuts.
  • Drill holes with diamond-grit tile bits vs. hammering and risking tile cracks.
  • Follow all manufacturer instructions for prep, setting, cure times and sealing.
  • Work in small sections for easier handling and to prevent mortar from drying out.
  • Keep the workspace organized and group tiles by letter/number for accurate placement.
  • Prevent staining between tiles by taping off edges and wiping away excess grout right away.
  • Use shims to keep outlet and switch plates perfectly flush with new tile.

Patience and attention to detail ensures your DIY backsplash project looks professionally done.

Caring for Your Backsplash

Once your new backsplash is happily installed, maintain that pristine look with proper care:

  • Seal natural stone materials annually to prevent staining and etching.
  • Use gentle cleaners and avoid harsh chemical products on surfaces like marble.
  • Rinse backsplashes after cooking to keep walls grease-free.
  • Address spills right away as moisture undergrout causes staining.
  • Re-caulk as needed around edges to prevent moisture penetration.
  • Limit direct sunlight exposure on vulnerable materials like colored grout.
  • Polish metal backsplashes regularly and address scratches to prevent corrosion.
  • Replace any damaged tiles and re-grout as soon as possible to deter mold growth.
  • Clean accumulated kitchen grime with baking soda, vinegar or ammonia-free detergent and water.

Follow manufacturer’s care instructions specific to your backsplash material. With proper maintenance, your kitchen backsplash will maintain its beauty and function for years of cooking and entertaining!

How high should a backsplash be?

The most common backsplash height is 4 inches, extending from the countertop to the bottom of the wall cabinets. A partial backsplash protects the wall from minor spattering and splashes. Full backsplashes extending to the ceiling make more of a style statement and prevent grease stains above a standard backsplash. The height you choose depends on your kitchen design, cooking style and personal taste. Keep in mind accessibility of cabinets and placement of windows when deciding on backsplash height.

What’s the best backsplash for a small kitchen?

In a small kitchen, opt for a backsplash with a lighter color and minimal pattern to prevent a cluttered, closed-in feeling. Soft hues of white, light gray and baby blue are ideal. Define the space with one distinctive focal point like an artsy glass tile design over the stove. Stick with smaller tiles to avoid overwhelming the compact area. Clean-lined subway tile and glass are great small kitchen backsplash ideas as they reflect light and create a sense of openness.

Can you use wallpaper as a backsplash?

While not as durable as tile, water-resistant wallpaper can serve as an affordable, DIY-friendly backsplash alternative. Choose pre-pasted vinyl wallpaper with a wipeable finish. Install it just during a remodeling phase or as a permanent solution. Add a gloss polyurethane coat for extra protection, especially around the stove. Remove grease splatters promptly before they stain. With proper prep and sealing, wallpaper can be a creative, budget-friendly backsplash solution.

How do you pick a backsplash color?

Select a backsplash color based on the overall kitchen color palette and adjacent cabinets and countertop hues. Contrasting colors can make the backsplash pop while matching tones create flow. Warm paint colors like reds, oranges and yellows pair well with darker backsplashes. Cool paint shades like blues, greens and grays complement light and white backsplashes. Ensure the undertones match as well, avoiding competing hues. Keep in mind the style and mood you want to achieve. Vintage styles suit poppy colors. Contemporary designs call for sleek grays or fresh whites.

Can you put tile over existing backsplash?

It is possible to install tile over an existing backsplash, but requires careful prep. Ensure the old backsplash is firmly attached. Scrape and sand glossy surfaces for proper adhesion. Apply an emulsion primer coat before setting the new tile. Use a quality modified thin-set mortar approved for the material. This method is best suited for ceramic tile over existing ceramic. Otherwise, removal is best for a smooth finish. Take time to prep subsurface thoroughly if tiling over an old backsplash.

How do you decorate around a backsplash?

To decorate around a bold backsplash:

  • Display coordinating dishes or glassware in open shelves against complementary tiles.
  • Hang artwork and accent pieces in similar hues to the backsplash tiles.
  • Choose area rugs, curtain panels or seating cushions that pull out backsplash colors.
  • Paint the walls and cabinets in a harmonious shade that ties the whole space together.
  • Use canisters, appliances and kitchen tools in finishes that coordinate with the backsplash.
  • Incorporate metal and wood accents that align with colors and textures in the backsplash design.

Decorating the surrounding space builds on the backsplash colors and textures for a cohesive look.

How do you work around outlets with a backsplash?

When an outlet falls within the boundaries of a backsplash:

  • Check if it is centered on the tile; if so, simply cut the tile around it.
  • If off-center, determine if moving the outlet location is possible based on wiring access.
  • Another option is splitting one tile into two pieces to place on each side.
  • Tile right over the outlet and then use a diamond grit hole saw sized to the cover plate to cut it out.
  • For a cleaner look, install the outlet on top of the tile using a flange-style outlet cover.

Careful planning for outlets ensures backsplashes have a seamless, built-in appearance.


Picking the perfect backsplash transforms the kitchen aesthetic while protecting walls from spills and stains. Consider the style and color scheme you want along with practical factors like durability, ease of cleaning and budget. Then select quality backsplash materials that both match your taste and fit your lifestyle. With proper planning and care, your kitchen backsplash becomes a timeless focal feature to enhance cooking and entertaining for years to come. Which style will you choose to bring your dream design to life? With this comprehensive guide’s insights, you can confidently tackle the decision and install an eye-catching, functional backsplash you’ll love.