How to Redo Kitchen Tile Backsplash

Kitchen backsplashes not only protect the walls from water damage and stains but act as an expression of personal style. Over time, an old backsplash can start to show its age through cracked tiles, outdated colors, and accumulated grime stuck in grout lines. Redoing a kitchen tile backsplash provides the perfect opportunity to refresh your space with an attractive new look. With some planning, effort, and time, you can DIY a stunning backsplash makeover.

Assessing Your Current Backsplash

Before tearing into your existing backsplash, assess its condition to determine if a redo is worthwhile.

Consider the following:

  • Tile condition – Are tiles cracked, broken, or missing? Can new grout repair it or does the whole backsplash need replacement?
  • Grout condition – Is the grout dirty, discolored, or crumbling away? Re-grouting may suffice if the tiles themselves are in good shape.
  • Moisture damage – Check for dark or bubbling grout lines that indicate moisture issues behind the backsplash. Address leaks before installing new tiles.
  • Removal effort – Tile installed with mastic will be much harder to remove than backsplashes using dry-set mortar. This impacts the redo timeline.

If the backsplash requires extensive repairs and re-grouting cannot refresh the look, a full redo is likely the better, longer-lasting solution.

Choosing Your New Backsplash Design

With your old backsplash demolished, the fun part begins – selecting a new backsplash style. Consider the following design factors:

Tile Material

The material you choose impacts cost, durability, and aesthetics.

Popular backsplash tile materials:

  • Ceramic or porcelain – Cost-effective, durable, easy to clean. Porcelain is less prone to moisture damage. Glazed versions offer glossy finishes.
  • Natural stone – Marble, travertine, granite, and slate have beautiful natural patinas. However, they are expensive and can stain. Needs re-sealing over time.
  • Glass tile – Eye-catching, shiny, and modern. Drawback is low durability and costs. Use smaller accents vs whole backsplash.
  • Metal tile – Stainless steel, tin, copper etc. for an industrial vibe. Durable but expensive and prone to scratching. Needs re-sealing.

Consider the style of your kitchen, needs for durability, and budget when choosing materials. Porcelain or ceramic tiles are the most cost-effective options for whole backsplash redos.

Tile Size

Tile sizes range from 1-inch mosaics to large-format 12 x 24-inch tiles and everything in between.

Factors influencing tile size choice:

  • Style – Smaller tiles like mosaics create busy patterns. Large tiles have a more contemporary, seamless look.
  • Budget – Smaller tiles cost less per square foot but require more grout. Larger tiles have fewer grout lines but each tile costs more.
  • Installation effort – Large tiles are heavier, need a flat substrate, and strong mortar or adhesive. Small tiles allow more margin of error.

Consider the look you want and weigh installation considerations before deciding on tile sizes. Mixing tile shapes can increase visual interest too.

Tile Layout Pattern

Staggering tile layouts create appealing designs on the backsplash. Consider these patterns:

  • Brick pattern – Offset rows mimic bricklaying. Very traditional style.
  • Subway tile – Running stacks of 3 x 6-inch rectangular tiles. Classic and clean looking.
  • Herringbone – Angled tiles forming a V-shaped zigzag. Has visual movement and interest.
  • Penny tile – Tiles are randomly placed like scattered pennies. Creates eclectic, organic patterns.
  • Mosaic – Uniform small tiles form intricate patterns. Fussy for DIY but make high-impact accents.

There are endless possible patterns using combinations of tile shapes and layouts. Browse online galleries for inspiration before deciding on your own unique backsplash design.

Preparing Your Backsplash Area

With design decisions made, now prep the backsplash area for new tile installation. Proper prep prevents problems down the road:

Remove Old Backsplash

Carefully pry off tiles using a putty knife or oscillating rotary tool. Scrape away all old grout and adhesive down to the bare substrate. Use a chisel for stubborn spots.

Be extra gentle around drywall to avoid damage. Remove debris as you work and vacuum up dust.

Assess and Repair Substrate

The backsplash substrate must be smooth, dry and structurally sound for new tiles to adhere properly.

  • Use a level to check for flatness. Mark any dips, bumps or uneven areas.
  • Seal cracks or holes with caulk or drywall joint compound. Sand bumps flat.
  • Look for existing moisture damage or leaks. Repair and seal these areas before retiling.
  • Paint on concrete board if exposed during demo. This prevents moisture absorption.

Apply New Cement Board

Cement backerboard creates a stable, moisture-resistant surface for tiles.

  1. Cut boards to fit using a utility knife.
  2. Fasten with screws every 6-8 inches across studs.
  3. Tape seams with fiberglass mesh tape.
  4. Skim seam edges with thinset mortar to fully seal.

Prep the Work Area

Lay drop cloths in the kitchen to catch fallen tiles and grout during installation. Cover counters, appliances, and floors near the backsplash area. Set up all tools, materials, buckets, and tile within easy reach.

Meticulous prep protects your kitchen and eliminates hassles during backsplash installation.

Installing the New Tile Backsplash

Once prepped, it’s time for the fun part – installing the new tiles. Follow these steps:

Step 1: Plan Tile Layout

Dry lay a few rows of tiles on the backsplash area before final installation. This lets you map out the tile pattern, test fit partial tiles, and ensure your grout lines will align across the backsplash.

Make any adjustments before wetting the tiles. Use spacers to set consistent grout line widths.

Step 2: Mix Mortar and Apply

Prepare the mortar using unmodified thinset. Check the product instructions for exact water ratios and mixing directions. Only mix what you can use in 30-45 minutes before it sets.

Apply a thin layer of mortar to the backsplash area using a notched trowel. Comb in straight lines across a small workable area.

Step 3: Set Tiles in Place

Following your dry layout, press tiles firmly into the wet mortar. Push them in a circular motion to collapse the mortar ridges and flatten. Use spacers to maintain even grout line spacing.

Work in small sections so the mortar does not dry before tiles are set. Wipe away excess squeeze-out promptly with a damp sponge.

Step 4: Allow Mortar to Cure

Let the mortar cure fully – usually 24 hours. Avoid moving or repositioning tiles during this time. Once cured, joint lines are ready for grouting.

Step 5: Mix and Apply Grout

Spackle grout floats easily into the crevices between tiles. Follow mixing directions and work small batches into joints. Hold the float at a 45-degree angle pressing in firmly.

Wipe excess grout off the tile surface with a damp sponge. Clean any haze once grout dries.

Sealing and Protecting the New Backsplash

A finished backsplash needs regular sealing and maintenance to stay beautiful long-term:

  • Caulk gaps between backsplash and countertops or appliances with flexible silicone caulk.
  • Seal natural stone tiles with a penetrating grout sealer 1-2 times per year.
  • Re-apply grout sealer on cement grout every 2-3 years to protect from stains.
  • Avoid harsh, acidic cleaners which can etch or damage tiles. Use pH-neutral products.
  • Deal with stains quickly before they soak into porous tiles or grout.
  • Re-caulk as needed when old caulk dries out or cracks develop.

With proper care, your newly redesigned backsplash will withstand daily use and continue looking like new for years of enjoyment.

FAQs About Redoing a Tile Backsplash

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about redoing kitchen backsplashes:

How much does it cost to redo a tile backsplash?

Costs vary based on the size of your backsplash, tile choices, and any repairs needed but expect to spend $25-$50 per sq. ft. for materials and tools. Hiring a pro costs $50-$100 per sq. ft. including installation labor and materials.

Can I install a new backsplash right over the old one?

It’s best to remove the old backsplash completely before installing new tiles. Putting tiles over the existing ones often leads to poor adhesion and a wavy appearance over time as old grout lines telegraph through.

What tools do I need to redo a backsplash?

Handy tools include a pry bar, putty knives, rotary tool, caulk gun, sponges, buckets, notched trowel, grout float, tile cutter, mixing paddle, spacers, grout sealer, and silicone caulk. You may also need a circular saw with a concrete blade.

How do I cut the tiles for fitting?

Use a wet saw with an adjustable guide to accurately cut tiles to size. Wear protective goggles as the water spray can create a messy slurry. For small cuts like narrowing tiles near outlets, a manual tile cutter works well.

Can I accent my backsplash with glass mosaic tiles?

Yes, glass mosaic tiles make beautiful accents. Often installed in a strip, they add shimmer and visual interest behind sinks or ranges. Use care when cutting the thin mosaic sheets. Installing over entire backsplash can risk cracks and chips over time.

Is redoing a backsplash a good DIY for beginners?

It’s an intermediate DIY project better suited to those with some tiling experience. Novices can certainly learn as they go but should expect to invest time in watching tutorials and practicing cuts before tackling the full backsplash. Having patience with the process is key.


Redoing your outdated or damaged kitchen backsplash brings fast visual impact and style to your home. With strategic planning and preparation, the project can be completed successfully as a DIY weekend project for intermediate DIYers. Even novice tile setters can see great results with careful planning, patience, and persistence through the learning curve.

In a single weekend, you can transform your kitchen from dull and dated to showstopping. Focus your efforts on proper planning, precision cuts, meticulous mortar work, perfectly spaced tiles, and flawless grout lines. Don’t forget the final step of sealing and protecting your finished backsplash. With its renewed beauty and life, you are sure to enjoy your lovely backsplash makeover for years of meal-making memories.