How to Refinish Tile Backsplash

Refinishing a tile backsplash can completely transform the look of your kitchen or bathroom. Over time, backsplash tiles can become dull, scratched, chipped or just look dated. Refinishing offers a cost-effective way to update the backsplash without going through the hassle and expense of a full tile replacement. With some cleaning, sanding, painting and sealing, you can give new life to your existing tile.

What You’ll Need to Refinish Tile Backsplash

Refinishing tile backsplash is a relatively easy DIY project. However, you’ll need to gather the proper materials and tools ahead of time:

  • Cleaning solutions – All-purpose cleaner, grout cleaner, degreaser like ammonia
  • Sandpaper – Coarse grit like 60-80 and fine grit around 220
  • Paint – Tile paint designed for porcelain, ceramic, etc.
  • Paint brushes & rollers – Angled brush for grout, small trim brush, roller and tray
  • Painter’s tape – For covering edges and outlets
  • Drop cloths – To protect countertops and floors
  • Grout sealant – To seal grout after cleaning
  • Polyurethane sealer – For sealing painted tiles
  • Paint tray – For pouring and holding paint
  • Rags and towels – For cleaning and drying
  • Putty knife or scraper – For removing old caulk or grout

Make sure to use paint and sealer designed specifically for tile. Regular wall paint or sealer may not properly adhere to the slick tile surface. Having all materials gathered ahead of time will make the project go faster and easier.

Cleaning and Prepping the Tile

Thoroughly cleaning and prepping is crucial for refinishing tile backsplash. Built-up grime, oils and soap scum must be removed for proper paint adhesion. Follow these steps:

1. Remove items from backsplash area

Clear everything off the backsplash including dishes, appliances, knickknacks, etc. This allows full access for cleaning and prepping the tile.

2. Wash with all-purpose cleaner

Mix a general all-purpose cleaner in a bucket of warm water. Use a sponge or rag to wash the entire backsplash area. Let it sit for 5 minutes before rinsing.

3. Use a degreaser on any oily spots

If you have a greasy spot above the stove, use an ammonia-based degreaser and small brush to scrub it away. Rinse thoroughly.

4. Clean the grout

Use a specialized grout brush and grout cleaner to scrub the grout lines. Let it sit briefly before scrubbing and rinsing.

5. Rinse and dry the area

Rinse the backsplash several times with clean water to remove all traces of cleaning solutions. Wipe dry with a towel.

6. Seal the grout

Once fully dry, use a grout sealer and small brush to seal the grout lines. This provides a protective barrier.

7. Lightly sand tiles

Use 220 grit sandpaper to lightly scuff up the glazed tile surface. This helps the paint adhere properly.

The backsplash is now prepped and ready for painting!

Painting Techniques for Refinishing Tile

When refinishing tile backsplash, using proper painting techniques will ensure an even, smooth finish. Here are some key tips:

1. Tape off edges and outlets

Carefully apply painter’s tape around the outer edges of the backsplash area. Also tape off any electrical outlets or switch plates.

2. Apply primer if needed

Some tile paints require a primer coat first. Read the directions and apply a primer made for tile if required.

3. Use an angled brush for grout lines

Use a small angled brush to carefully paint the grout lines. Avoid getting paint on the tile surface.

4. Roll on paint in sections

Dip the paint roller in the tray and roll on the tile paint in 3×3 foot sections. Work from top to bottom.

5. Use a small trim brush for edges

Use a small trim brush to cut-in around the edges and get paint into any grooves or seams.

6. Apply 2-3 coats allowing drying time

Apply a second coat and allow 2-4 hours of drying time. A third coat can be applied for best coverage.

7. Remove painter’s tape

Once fully dry, carefully remove all the painter’s tape from the edges and outlets.

8. Seal with polyurethane sealer

Finally, apply 1-2 coats of polyurethane sealer designed for tile backsplash. This adds protection.

Proper prep work, painting techniques, and sealing will ensure your newly refinished tile backsplash will look amazing and last for years to come.

How to Refinish Ceramic Tile vs. Porcelain Tile

There are some differences when refinishing ceramic tile backsplash vs porcelain tile:

Ceramic tile:

  • More porous than porcelain so paint adheres easily
  • Requires less sanding/scuffing before painting
  • Absorbs paint readily for good coverage

Porcelain tile:

  • Has an extremely non-porous glazed surface
  • Needs thorough sanding with 80-100 grit sandpaper to rough up the surface before painting
  • May require extra coats of primer and paint to fully cover the slick surface

Make sure to read the directions on the tile paint carefully to see if a primer or added sanding is needed for porcelain. The extra effort helps the paint properly bond to the tile without chipping or peeling.

Ideas for Refinishing Tile Backsplash

Refinishing tile backsplash allows you to get creative with paint colors and finishes. Here are some popular ideas:

  • Solid color – Choose any bold, bright or subtle matte color that fits your decor.
  • Stenciled pattern – Use stencils and paint to add an intricate pattern.
  • Faux finish – Make tile look like natural stone, marble, wood grain etc.
  • Partial refinish – Just paint a decorative border or geometric shape.
  • Ombre – Paint tiles in a gradient from light to dark color.
  • Stick-on tiles – Apply vinyl stick-on tiles over existing tile for quick update.
  • Wallpaper – Adhere wallpaper directly onto tile surface.

Think about colors and designs that will coordinate with your cabinets, countertops, flooring and overall kitchen or bath decor. Refinishing opens up many creative possibilities!

Tips for Achieving a Smooth Painted Tile Finish

Getting a smooth, even finish when painting over tile requires careful techniques:

  • Prepare the tile surface thoroughly by cleaning, sanding, and applying primer if needed so paint adheres properly.
  • When applying painter’s tape around edges, press firmly to prevent bleeding. Remove tape immediately after painting before the paint dries.
  • Use a high-quality mini roller made specifically for smooth surfaces. Roll in straight lines and maintain consistent pressure.
  • Paint grout lines first with a thin angled brush before rolling on paint to avoid touching up later.
  • Apply paint in small 3×3 sections and work from top to bottom to avoid drips.
  • Use a small trim brush to carefully cut-in around edges, corners, outlets and windows.
  • Apply paint in thin, even coats allowing 2-4 hours of drying time between coats. Two to three thin coats are better than one thick coat.
  • Finish with a clear polyurethane sealer use a small foam brush for smooth application around grout.
  • Work slowly and methodically for best results. Proper prep and painting techniques will deliver a beautifully smooth finish!

How Long Does Painted Tile Backsplash Last?

When properly prepped and sealed, a painted tile backsplash can last 3-5 years or longer. The durability depends on:

  • Surface Prep – Cleaning and sanding the tile ensures paint adhesion so it won’t chip or peel.
  • Paint Type – High quality 100% acrylic paints designed for tile offer maximum durability.
  • Coats Applied – Additional coats of paint and sealer lead to greater longevity.
  • Maintenance – Periodic cleaning with just water and mild soap helps maintain the finish.
  • Exposure – Tile behind a stove may need touched up more often due to grease and heat.
  • Traffic – Paint in high traffic areas like near a sink will wear faster than other spots.

Annual touch-ups can easily keep the painted tile backsplash looking fresh and new. The finish can last for many years with proper prep and care.

How to Repaint Existing Painted Tile

If you have a tile backsplash that was painted previously, you’ll need to take some extra steps for successful results repainting:

  • Remove any caulk or loose paint with a putty knife or scraper so the new paint adheres well.
  • Sand the existing paint lightly to rough up the surface. Wipe away all dust.
  • Apply a bonding primer to help the new paint bond tightly to the old painted surface.
  • Paint grout lines first before rolling on paint to avoid touching up later.
  • Apply 2-3 thin, even coats of new paint allowing several hours of drying time in between coats.
  • Make sure to use paint specially formulated for tile rather than regular wall paint.
  • Finish with a fresh coat of tile polyurethane sealer for protection and durability.

Properly preparing the existing surface will help the new paint job achieve maximum adhesion and longevity.

Cost to Refinish Tile Backsplash

Refinishing your backsplash tiles with paint is an inexpensive way to update the look of your kitchen or bathroom. Here are typical costs:

  • Paint – Tile paint costs $20-$50 per gallon. One gallon is usually enough for an average sized backsplash.
  • Supplies – Sandpaper, brushes, rollers, tape, sealer etc. range from $30-$50.
  • Hiring a pro – Refinishing tile professionally costs an average of $7-$15 per square foot including labor and materials.
  • DIY Cost – For a 50 square foot backsplash, a DIY makeover costs $100-$200 for supplies doing it yourself.

Compare that to costs of:

  • New tile: $15-$50 per square foot installed
  • Tiling over existing: $10-$20 per square foot
  • Backsplash panels: $200-$600 installed

Refinishing existing tile is very affordable. The small investment pays off with a dramatic updated look that transforms your space!

FAQs About Refinishing Tile Backsplash

Some common questions about refinishing tile backsplash include:

What kind of paint do you use on tile backsplash?

Use 100% acrylic paint formulated specifically for glazed surfaces like ceramic, porcelain or natural stone tile. Latex tile paint provides maximum adhesion and durability.

Can I use regular wall paint on tile?

No, regular wall paint will not properly adhere to the non-porous tile surface. It will eventually peel or chip. Be sure to use high quality paint designed for tile.

How do I get glossy painted tiles?

For a shiny gloss finish, seal the painted tiles with a gloss polyurethane designed for ceramic or porcelain tile. Apply 2-3 thin coats allowing drying in between.

Can I paint over ugly 70s backsplash tiles?

Yes! Painting is a great way to update outdated or vintage backsplash tiles. Just be sure to thoroughly prep and clean the surface so the paint adheres properly.

How long does it take to refinish a backsplash?

For a 50 square foot backsplash, you’ll need 2-3 days from cleaning through painting and sealing. Allow extra drying time between paint coats. Removing tile takes more time.

Will paint stick to glazed ceramic tile?

Paint with bond directly to the glazed surface as long as the tile is properly prepped. Lightly sanding provides the texture needed for paint to adhere. Using a primer also improves bonding.

Refinishing your backsplash tile offers an easy and affordable way to give your kitchen or bath a fresh new look!


Refinishing tile backsplash provides a budget-friendly update that transforms the whole look of your kitchen or bathroom. With some simple cleaning, sanding, painting and sealing, you can easily revitalize old tiles in just a weekend. Make sure to use specialized tile paint and take steps to properly prepare the surface so the new finish will be long-lasting. Get creative with paint colors, finishes and designs that complement your decor. In just a few days, you can gain a completely new backsplash with dramatic results at a fraction of the cost of full tile replacement or installation. With a little time and effort, you can gain a beautiful, refreshed space!