How to Replace Kitchen Backsplash

Replacing your outdated or damaged kitchen backsplash can completely transform the look and feel of your kitchen. With some planning, the right materials, and a bit of DIY know-how, you can install a new backsplash in your kitchen for a fraction of the cost of hiring a professional. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to successfully replace your kitchen backsplash.

Assessing Your Current Backsplash

Before tearing into your existing backsplash, take some time to assess its current condition. This will help you determine whether you can simply install the new backsplash over the old one or if the old backsplash needs to be removed entirely.

Look for Signs of Damage

  • Inspect the grout lines for cracks or missing grout. Cracks allow moisture to seep in and damage the backsplash over time.
  • Check for hollow or drummy sounding tiles. This indicates the tile is no longer properly bonded to the wall.
  • Identify any tiles that are cracked, chipped, or broken. Damaged tiles need to be removed and replaced.
  • Look for dark or moldy grout lines. Discolored grout may indicate moisture issues.

Check for a Moisture Barrier

  • Determine if the existing backsplash has a waterproof membrane or moisture barrier behind it.
  • This is especially important for backsplashes around sinks or other wet areas.
  • If there is no moisture barrier, you may want to consider adding one before installing the new backsplash.

Assess the Surface Flatness

  • Use a long straight edge like a level or piece of wood to check for flatness.
  • Place it vertically and horizontally across the surface.
  • Gaps beneath indicate imperfections that will need to be addressed before installing the new backsplash.

Once you’ve fully assessed the condition, you can decide whether you need to remove the old backsplash completely or if you can install right over it.

Choosing Your New Backsplash Materials

The options for kitchen backsplash materials range from classic subway tile to modern glass mosaics and everything in between. Consider the overall look you want to achieve, your budget, and how easy the material will be to DIY install.

Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

  • A very common choice for backsplashes.
  • Available in endless colors, sizes, shapes, and patterns.
  • Relatively affordable and easy for DIY installation.
  • Use a grout color that complements the tile color.

Natural Stone Tile

  • Elegant option like marble, travertine, or slate.
  • Generally more expensive than ceramic or porcelain.
  • Use caution because acid from foods can etch some natural stones.

Glass Tile

  • Creates a shiny, sleek contemporary look.
  • Can be opaque, transparent, or come in fused styles.
  • Difficult to cut, so purchase extras. Use plastic spacers.

Metal Tile

  • For an industrial, rustic, or modern style.
  • Choices like stainless steel, copper, tin, or aluminum.
  • Cut with tin snips and use plastic spacers during installation.

Mosaic Tile

  • Small tiles mounted to a mesh sheet for easy installation.
  • Good for accent strips or covering a large area.
  • Grout carefully to avoid scraping tiles off the mesh.

Be sure to purchase a few extra tiles to account for breakage during installation or for future repairs. Always check that your choice will be suitable for a backsplash around water.

Preparing the Work Area

Replacing a backsplash involves dust, debris, and some demolition. Protect your countertops, appliances, and floors when prepping the workspace.

Clean the Area

  • Remove everything from the counters and walls.
  • Clean thoroughly to prevent dust and dirt from complicating the project.

Protect Surfaces

  • Cover countertops with rosin paper or plastic drop cloths.
  • Tape plastic over the front edges of countertops.
  • Place drop cloths on the floor under the workspace.

Have Proper Tools Available

  • Safety gear like glasses, gloves, knee pads, and a mask.
  • Bucket, sponges, towels for cleaning up.
  • Putty knives, pry bar, hammer, chisel to remove old backsplash.
  • Tile cutter, nippers, grout float, trowel, spacers for new install.

Turn Off Electrical and Plumbing

  • Shut off power to any outlets in the backsplash area.
  • Turn off water supply valves to faucets or fixtures in the backsplash zone.

Removing the Existing Backsplash

If your old backsplash is in good shape, you may be able to install right over it. But if it is damaged or you want an entirely new look, removing it is the next step. Take care not to damage the wall surface.

Inspect Wall Behind Backsplash

  • Once backsplash tile is removed, check condition of drywall or plaster behind it.
  • Look for water damage, mold, or deteriorating sheetrock.
  • Repair any wall damage before installing new backsplash.

Slice Caulk Beads

  • Use a utility knife to slice any caulk beads between backsplash and countertops or walls.
  • This helps separate the materials and prevents tearing the waterproof caulk joints.

Work in Sections

  • Using a putty knife, pry up one corner of a tile or section of backsplash.
  • Carefully pry and pop off tiles working in small sections.
  • Avoid damaging the walls by going slow and steady.

Scrape off Adhesive

  • Use a putty knife to gently scrape any remaining tile mastic or adhesive off the wall surface.
  • Be careful not to gouge the drywall or plaster.
  • Clean the wall surface fully in preparation for the new backsplash.

Fill Any Holes

  • Use drywall compound to patch holes or imperfections revealed after old backsplash removal.
  • Allow compound to dry fully before priming and painting wall.

Preparing and Priming the Wall Surface

To ensure the new backsplash adheres properly, start with a clean, smooth, dry wall surface. Take time to prep and prime the area fully.

Wash the Walls

  • Use a non-abrasive cleaner and water to fully wash the walls once clear of old backsplash.
  • Let the surface dry completely before continuing.

Sand Rough Areas

  • Use 100-150 grit sandpaper to smooth any wall imperfections.
  • Avoid damaging the facing around the edges.
  • Dust walls well after sanding.

Prime the Surface

  • Apply a heavy coat of tile primer using a paint roller and extension handle.
  • Let the primer dry fully before installing the backsplash.
  • Priming provides an excellent bond and waterproof surface.

Caulk Perimeters

  • Run a bead of silicone caulk along all joints and seams around the perimeter.
  • Tool the caulk smooth with a wet fingertip for a clean finish.
  • Caulking prevents moisture from getting behind the backsplash.

Plan Your Layout

  • Measure area and decide on tile layout pattern.
  • Account for focal points, outlets, fixtures.
  • Dry lay tiles on floor to test planned design first.

Installing the New Backsplash Tile

Once you have prepped the area, it’s time for the fun part – installing your gorgeous new backsplash! Follow these tips for proper installation success.

Mix Thinset Mortar

  • Mix thinset adhesive mortar following package directions.
  • Use a mortar suitable for wall installation and your tile type.
  • Let it slake for 10 minutes after mixing.

Apply Thinset to Wall

  • Use the flat edge of trowel to apply thinset in thin, even layers.
  • Spread only enough for one or two tiles initially.
  • Hold trowel at 45 degree angle for optimal adhesion.

Set the First Tile

  • Place the corner tile for your focal point first.
  • Twist tile slightly to collapse the mortar ridges.
  • Use spacers between tile and countertops or walls.

Continue Setting Tiles

  • Work in small sections applying thinset and setting tiles one by one.
  • Check for even spacing and alignment as you go using spacers.
  • Periodically remove a tile and check the back to ensure proper adhesion.

Cut Edge Tiles

  • Measure and mark tiles to fit around outlets, corners, or edges.
  • Score the mark with tile cutter then snap piece off using tile nippers.
  • Use a tile file to smooth any rough edges.

Let Tiles Set

  • Allow tiles to set undisturbed for at least 24 hours.
  • Avoid walking on or cleaning tiles during this time.
  • Keep area dry so thinset can fully cure.

Grouting the New Backsplash

Grout fills the joints between tiles, seals the installation, and pulls the whole design together. Use these tips for flawless grout application.

Choose the Right Grout

  • For narrow joints, use unsanded grout. For wider grouts, use sanded.
  • Match grout color to your tile. Contrasting or complementary colors work.
  • With natural stone, use grout closest to the tile color.

Prepare the Area

  • Remove all spacers from tile joints once tiles are firmly set.
  • Vacuum or blow out any thinset or debris between tile joints.

Mix the Grout

  • Mix grout per package directions and let slake for 10 minutes.
  • Mix it to a thick, creamy peanut butter consistency.
  • Only mix amount you can apply within 30 minutes.

Apply Grout

  • Use a rubber grout float to force grout into the tile joints.
  • Hold float at a 45° angle and scrape diagonally across tiles.
  • Completely pack joints leaving no gaps or pinholes.

Clean Excess Grout

  • Wipe diagonally across tiles with a damp sponge to remove excess grout.
  • Rinse sponge frequently and change water often.
  • Avoid pulling grout out of filled joints.

Finish and Seal Grout

  • Once grout haze is removed, dry tiles completely with a towel.
  • Apply grout sealer following package directions to protect finish.
  • Avoid walking on tiles for full sealer cure time.

Caulking the Perimeters

Once your grout has fully cured, finish off your backsplash with a clean caulk perimeter. This seals the installation and provides a sanitary finish.

Prepare the Joints

  • Remove any old caulk from between backsplash and countertops or walls.
  • Clean joints fully and let dry before recaulking.

Apply High Quality Silicone Caulk

  • Use a silicone caulk designed for kitchen and bath.
  • Load caulk tube in caulk gun and cut tip at 45° angle.
  • Run a smooth consistent bead along the edge seams and joints.

Tool the Caulk

  • Use a caulk tool, wet fingertip or plastic spoon to smooth caulk.
  • Shape into a smooth cove with a consistent depth for a clean finish.
  • Immediately remove any excess caulk with a damp cloth or sponge.

Allow Caulk to Cure

  • Do not wet or disturb the caulk joints for 24 hours after application.
  • The caulk will fully cure and adhere within several days.
  • Avoid cleaning or scrubbing the caulk joints while curing.

Top Tips for DIY Backsplash Success

Installing a kitchen backsplash may seem daunting, but don’t be intimidated. With the right preparation and by following best practices, you can achieve stunning results. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Carefully read all manufacturer instructions for your materials and tools.
  • Take your time and don’t rush or skip steps. Pay attention to setting and curing times.
  • Wear safety gear like gloves and eye protection whenever cutting tiles.
  • Thoroughly mix thinset and grout to avoid issues with bonding and cracked grout later.
  • Keep your tools and sponges clean while working to avoid dragging debris across tiles.
  • Only prep small sections at a time to prevent thinset or grout from drying out.
  • Clean up spills or messes immediately to prevent materials from drying on surfaces.
  • Start your design in a hidden area to get comfortable with the techniques before moving to the focal wall.
  • Ask for help lifting heavy materials and use help such as tile spacers and grout edge guards.

With careful prep work, high quality materials, and good DIY skills, you can achieve a stunning new backsplash that will bring your kitchen to life.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to replace a backsplash?

Plan on replacing a standard sized backsplash taking 2-3 days: Day 1 for prep work and removing old backsplash, Day 2 for installing new tiles, and Day 3 for grouting and sealing. Larger or more intricate backsplash projects will require additional time.

What tools do I need to replace a backsplash?

Common tools needed are putty knives, pry bar, hammer and chisel, caulk gun, tile cutter, tile nippers, grout float, grout sponge, buckets, safety gear, and various trowels and adhesive appropriate for your tiles.

Should I hire a professional?

While replacing a backsplash can definitely be done as a DIY project, for inexperienced tilers or complex designs, hiring a professional tiler is advisable for best results.

How do I cut tile around outlets and switches?

Carefully measure and mark tiles to fit around any outlets, switches, or obstructions in the backsplash area. Use a tile cutter to score and a tile nipper to snap tiles neatly to fit around these items.

What type of thinset should I use?

Choose a polymer-modified thinset mortar suitable for wall installations. Consult the tile manufacturer’s recommendations and use a trowel size they advise to achieve proper thinset thickness.

How soon can I use the kitchen after replacing the backsplash?

Avoid using the kitchen until grout and caulk have fully cured, generally about 48 hours. Prevent water from contacting the backsplash and place temporary barriers in front of it when cooking or cleaning during the curing period.


Upgrading kitchen backsplashes provides big rewards when it comes to modernizing your home and adding visual appeal to the culinary space. With smart planning and preparation, tackling a backsplash replacement project as a DIY endeavor is totally feasible. While requiring some dedication and elbow grease, you can save thousands of dollars doing it yourself compared to contracting the work. Just take it slow and follow sound installation methods and practices for top quality results. With its new backsplash gleaming, your renewed kitchen will be a source of pride and entertain for years to come.