How to Pick Out a Backsplash

Choosing the right backsplash for your kitchen or bathroom can completely transform the look and feel of the space. With so many backsplash options to pick from – like tile, stone, metal, glass, and more – it can be overwhelming trying to select the perfect one. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process of picking out a backsplash, from initial planning to final installation. We’ll help you consider the function, aesthetics, and budget so you can make the best decision for your unique needs.

Plan Out Your Backsplash

Before looking at specific materials, there are some preliminary decisions to make that will guide your backsplash selection.

Define the Purpose

What do you want your backsplash to accomplish in the space?

  • Protect the walls from water damage and stains
  • Add visual interest and color
  • Coordinate with the countertops
  • Match the style of the room
  • Make a design statement

Once you define the purpose, you can narrow down backsplash materials and styles that will achieve your goals.

Measure the Space

Take detailed measurements of the entire backsplash area – length, height, depth, angles, windows, outlets, etc. This will allow you to purchase the right amount of backsplash material and accessories.

Consider the Style

What look are you going for? Some common backsplash styles include:

  • Rustic – natural stone like slate or travertine, brick, wood
  • Traditional – marble, subway tile, mosaic
  • Modern – glass, metal, porcelain
  • Farmhouse – shiplap, tin backsplash, subway tile
  • Contemporary – large format tile, stone slabs, patterned tile

The backsplash should coordinate with your overall room style.

Plan the Layout

Decide on the tile pattern and arrangement you want. Some options include:

  • Staggered brick
  • Stacked stone
  • Horizontal rows
  • Diagonal design
  • Herringbone
  • Geometric mosaic

Planning the layout will require some math to determine tile sizes, quantities, placement, and cutting.

Choose Where It Will Be Installed

Typical backsplash locations include:

  • Kitchen – behind stove and countertops
  • Bathroom – above vanity and around mirrors
  • Wet bars
  • Laundry rooms

Consider where the backsplash is most useful for your home.

Select a Backsplash Material

With an idea of your backsplash plans, it’s time to explore material options. The most common choices include:

Tile Backsplash

Tile is one of the most popular backsplash materials due to its versatility, durability, and easy maintenance. Types of tile include:

  • Ceramic: Budget-friendly option; water-resistant and scratch-resistant. Lots of shape, color, and pattern options.
  • Porcelain: Similar look as ceramic but denser and more durable. Withstands moisture and stains. Easy to clean.
  • Glass: Translucent sheen; typically used for mosaics or accents. Durable but requires gentle cleaning.
  • Metal: Comes in tin, copper, brass, nickel, steel. Provides an industrial, modern look. Prone to scratches.
  • Stone: Elegant option like marble, travertine, granite, and slate. Select sealed natural stone for moisture resistance.

Sheet Materials

Sheet backsplashes come in continuous panels without grout lines. Popular choices include:

  • Stainless steel: Sleek, modern look. Withstands high heat. Shows scratches.
  • Glass sheets: Available in wide range of colors. Durable and easy to clean. Illuminates the space.
  • Metal laminates: Waterproof and affordable, but limited color selection.
  • Fiber cement board: Comes prefinished or can be customized. Moisture and mold resistant.

Alternative Materials

For unique backsplash ideas, consider:

  • Wood planks
  • Reclaimed wood
  • Weathered barn boards
  • Tin ceiling tiles
  • Brick
  • Concrete
  • Recycled glass
  • Penny tiles
  • Peel-and-stick tiles

Get creative with your backsplash materials!

Choose the Right Backsplash for Your Space

Keep the following considerations in mind when selecting a backsplash for specific rooms:

Kitchen Backsplash

Since the kitchen backsplash endures heavy usage, moisture, grease, food stains, and heat, pick durable and easy-to-clean materials:

  • Ceramic or porcelain tile
  • Stainless steel
  • Glass tile
  • Metal laminates
  • Stone (sealed)

Avoid high-maintenance materials like wood, wallpaper, or painted drywall.

Coordinate the backsplash with the countertops and cabinets for a cohesive look. For example, marble countertops would match nicely with a marble subway tile backsplash.

Bathroom Backsplash

Bathroom backsplashes must withstand high humidity. Appropriate options include:

  • Ceramic tile
  • Glass tile
  • Stainless steel
  • Fiberglass
  • Vinyl
  • Mold-resistant painted drywall

Avoid wood or paper-based materials.

Consider waterproof grout and caulk. Lay out the tile to complement the vanity, flooring, and shower/tub areas.

Laundry Room Backsplash

For laundry room backsplashes, prioritize moisture-resistance:

  • Ceramic tile
  • Plastic laminates
  • Stainless steel
  • Vinyl tiles
  • Mold/mildew resistant painted drywall

The material must be able to endure splashes from the washer, detergent stains, high humidity, and heat from the dryer.

Wet Bar Backsplash

For backsplashes behind wet bars where drinks may splash, use:

  • Glass tile
  • Metal tile
  • Acrylic
  • Stainless steel
  • Ceramic tile
  • Laminate
  • Painted glass

Factor in heat and moisture resistance and easy cleaning.

Calculate How Much Tile You Need

Once you’ve selected the backsplash material, determine how much you need to purchase.

Measure the total square footage of your backsplash area based on height x width.

Then account for extra tile in case of breakage or the need to cut pieces. Add at least 10% more for irregular layouts and 15% more for diagonal layouts.

Some other tips:

  • Discuss spacing with the tile seller to calculate tiles needed for your planned layout.
  • Buy all your tile at once for consistent dye lots.
  • For accent tiles like borders or mosaics, purchase a few extra pieces.

Carefully measure and calculate so you don’t end up with too little or too much tile.

Choose Coordinating Finishes

The tile color, grout, caulk, and accent details should all coordinate for a cohesive finished look:

Grout Considerations

  • Grout provides a finished look by filling in seams between tiles.
  • It typically matches the tile color, but can contrast for effect.
  • Opt for epoxy grout for waterproofing in bathrooms.
  • Grout color impacts the overall look, so choose carefully.

Caulk Considerations

  • Caulk fills gaps between the backsplash and countertops/walls.
  • It prevents water intrusion and damage.
  • White or clear caulk provides a cleaner look. But match the grout color for a seamless appearance.

Accent Ideas

  • Borders or geometric designs at top of backsplash
  • Contrasting grout color for tile outlines
  • Ornate tiles for focal points
  • Mosaic tiles as insets
  • Decorative listello, trim, or battens
  • Matching soap dispensers, shelves, or light fixtures

Estimate Your Backsplash Installation Costs

Installing a backsplash is a big project that requires time and money. Be prepared with an installation budget:

Material Costs

  • Tile or backsplash panels
  • Adhesives, thinset, grout
  • Trim, accent tiles
  • Sealer

Labor Costs

  • Approximately $50 per hour for professional installation
  • Tiling requires multiple days of work

Additional Expenses

  • New tools like a tile cutter
  • Protective gear – glasses, knee pads
  • Removal of old backsplash
  • Countertop or drywall repairs behind old backsplash
  • Electrical work for outlets or under-cabinet lighting

While a DIY backsplash can save on labor fees, the project requires expertise. Consider both options and get quotes to compare.

Prep Your Backsplash Area

Once you have the backsplash materials, proper prep work ensures it will install smoothly.

Clean Surfaces

  • Clean old backsplash area thoroughly – no debris, grime, or soap scum
  • Use denatured alcohol to remove residue without damaging walls
  • Fill any holes or cracks in the walls
  • Paint if needed so walls look fresh for new backsplash

Gather Supplies

  • Tile saw with blade for your tile material
  • Trowel, grout float, spacers, tape, adhesive, buckets
  • Mixing paddle, grout sealer, sponges, towels
  • Safety – glasses, gloves, knee pads

Set Up Work Area

  • Clear countertops and cover cabinets/appliances
  • Have tiles arranged in order of use
  • Layout helpers – chalk line, ruler, level, pencil, laser level
  • Adequate lighting to see all areas clearly

Proper prep leads to efficient installation.

Install Your New Backsplash

Once prepped, it’s time for the fun part – installing the backsplash! Follow these tips for success:

Step 1: Apply Adhesive

  • Spread thinset adhesive evenly across the area using a notched trowel.
  • Only cover sections where tiles will soon be placed.

Step 2: Set the Tiles

  • Working in rows, press tiles into the adhesive firmly.
  • Use spacers between tiles for even spacing and straight lines.
  • Be extra careful with fragile materials like glass or stone.

Step 3: Let Adhesive Cure

  • Allow thinset to fully cure for at least 24-48 hours.
  • Keep area dry during this time.
  • Replace any loose tiles.

Step 4: Grout the Tiles

  • Push grout between the tile seams with a float. Remove excess.
  • Once grout dries, polish the tiles to a uniform finish using a damp sponge.
  • Cure grout for 72 hours, keeping the area dry.

Step 5: Seal and Finish

  • Apply grout sealer according to manufacturer instructions.
  • Caulk edges with waterproof silicone caulk.
  • Celebrate your newly installed backsplash!

Take your time and don’t rush the installation process for best results.

Design and Installation Tips

Follow these backsplash design tips for a professional look:

  • Match the tile size to the space – larger tiles for expansive areas, smaller mosaic tiles for tight spaces.
  • Minimize cuts by laying out the tile with the room size and shape in mind.
  • Use trim like listello or battens to finish edges for a clean look.
  • Incorporate design accents like borders, geometric shapes, or medallions.
  • Include an accent row of decorative tile to make the backsplash a focal point.
  • Vary the tile orientation for visual interest – horizontal, vertical, or diagonal.
  • Consider special cutting tile pieces around outlets or protrusions for a streamlined look.

And these installation tips to avoid issues:

  • Maintain even tile spacing with careful measurements and spacers.
  • Keep extra tiles in case you need replacements after cutting or breakage.
  • Work in small sections so thinset doesn’t dry out before tile is set.
  • Use a level and chalk lines to keep tile straight and properly aligned.
  • Before grouting, clean up excess adhesive and re-align tiles as needed.
  • Apply grout sealer to avoid staining and discoloration.

Backsplash Maintenance Tips

Once your backsplash is professionally installed, maintaining it properly will keep it looking like new:

  • Use mild cleaners without acids, bleaches, or abrasives. Avoid harsh scrubbing.
  • Re-seal grout annually. Look for cracks or missing grout that need repair.
  • For heavy stains, consult a tile cleaning service to avoid damage.
  • Limit moisture contact, especially around sinks or appliances.
  • Repair chipped tiles with adhesive filler or contact a tile pro.
  • Protect delicate materials like glass or marble from hard objects that can scratch.
  • Check for loose tiles or grout issues and address immediately to avoid further damage.
  • Clean spills quickly to prevent staining of grout or tile.

Regular backsplash maintenance protects your investment and keeps the space looking pristine.


What is the most popular backsplash tile size?

The most popular size for backsplash tiles is 4×4 inches or 3×6 inches. The small scale allows for easy handling and lots of design options. But larger format tiles are also common, like 12×12 inch ceramic or porcelain.

What tile is best for kitchen backsplash?

Ceramic, porcelain, or glass tile are best for kitchen backsplashes. The materials are affordable, easy to clean, durable, and come in endless colors and designs.

How much does a kitchen backsplash cost?

The cost to install a kitchen backsplash ranges from $600 to $1200 or more depending on the tile type and labor involved. Higher end stone tiles can raise costs. Professional installation averages $50 per hour.

Should you seal tile backsplash?

It is highly recommended to seal any natural stone tile backsplash like marble, granite, travertine or slate. Sealing prevents staining and damage from moisture. Porcelain and ceramic may not require sealing but it can still be beneficial for added protection.

How do you decorate around a backsplash?

Popular ways to decorate around a backsplash include adding a contrasting grout color, accent tiles for the edges or focal points, coordinated soap dispensers and shelves, under-cabinet lighting, pendant lights centered on the backsplash, and accent colors from the tile pulled throughout the kitchen.

What is cheaper than tile for a backsplash?

Some budget-friendly alternatives to tile are metal laminates, plastic wall panels, beadboard, tin ceiling tiles, faux brick panels, wallpaper, shiplap boards, chalkboard paint, or a colorful painted accent wall.


The entire process of selecting, planning, prepping, installing, and maintaining your backsplash may seem daunting. But armed with this guides’ step-by-step advice, you can feel confident to install a beautiful, high-quality backsplash that both protects your space and acts as a stunning focal point.

With so many backsplash products, colors, materials, and cutting edge designs to choose from, you’re bound to find the ideal option to suit your unique taste and budget. A properly executed backsplash can breathe new life into your kitchen or bathroom for years to come.