A backsplash protects your walls from splashes, stains, and moisture while adding visual interest to your kitchen. Over time, your backsplash can become outdated, damaged, or just not suit your taste anymore. Replacing your backsplash is an excellent way to update the look and feel of your kitchen without a full remodel. With some planning, time, and effort, you can install a stunning new backsplash that transforms your cooking space. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to successfully replace your existing backsplash.
Choosing Your New Backsplash
When selecting a new backsplash, consider the overall style, color scheme, and functionality of your kitchen.
- Ceramic tile: A classic option, ceramic tile comes in endless colors, shapes, and sizes. It’s durable, easy to clean, and resistant to moisture.
- Glass tile: Adding a touch of glamour, glass tile has a shiny, sleek appearance. Opt for tempered glass, which is stronger than regular glass.
- Natural stone: Marble, granite, and travertine provide natural beauty. Ensure the stone you choose is suitable for kitchen use.
- Stainless steel: A modern look, stainless steel is hygienic, eye-catching, and low maintenance. It’s also prone to water spots and fingerprints.
- Peel-and-stick: Affordable and easy to install, peel-and-stick backsplash panels come in many materials like metal, glass, and acrylic. Most have a plastic feel.
- Paint: Inexpensive and simple, painted backsplashes work for casual spaces. Use high-gloss enamel paint for durability and easy cleaning.
Consider your cooking style and choose a material that will withstand heat, grease, and cleaning products. For high-traffic areas, select a durable, low-maintenance option like ceramic or glass tile.
Choose a backsplash style and design that aligns with your kitchen’s overall aesthetic.
- Subway tile: A rectangle-shaped classic tile laid in an offset brick pattern. Provides a clean, streamlined look.
- Mosaic tile: Tiny tiles form patterns and pictures when pieced together. Great for adding artistic flair.
- Metal tile: Tiles made of materials like stainless steel, tin, copper, and aluminum for an industrial vibe.
- Large format tile: Fewer grout lines create a sleek, seamless appearance. Can lack depth and dimension.
- Herringbone: Rectangular tiles set in zigzag rows evoke a chic, tailored style.
- Moroccan fish scale: Intricately shaped and patterned tiles inspired by Moroccan architecture and design.
Select tiles in your kitchen’s color scheme, or choose neutrals like white tiles to keep the space light and bright. Bold colors or patterns make the backsplash the focal point.
Consider how you use your kitchen when selecting materials. For avid cooks and bakers, avoid porous, delicate materials that stain easily. Active families may prioritize durability and easy cleaning. If you use dark cookware, lighter tiles prevent visible scratches and scuffs. Minimize grout if you prepare a lot of dough and batter that sticks.
Think about the size of your kitchen too. Small spaces benefit from light tiles that reflect light and make the room feel more expansive. Larger kitchens can handle bold, dark backsplashes without overwhelming the area.
Preparing for Installation
Installing a new backsplash requires careful planning and preparation. Avoid headaches by following these key steps before installation day.
Clean the Wall Surface
Thoroughly clean your existing backsplash and wall area before installing the new tiles. Use a degreasing cleanser to remove grease buildup and grime. Sugar soap helps eliminate existing adhesive, soap scum, and detergent residue. Rinse several times with clean water and allow the wall to fully dry. This prevents dirt and debris from interfering with proper tile adhesion.
Make Any Repairs
Inspect the wall surface closely and make any necessary repairs before tiling. Fill any holes, cracks, chips, or uneven spots with spackle or tile adhesive. Sand them smooth. Repair or replace damaged drywall or plaster. Providing a smooth, even base allows the tiles to properly adhere. Avoid applying tiles over damaged areas.
Remove the Old Backsplash
Carefully detach the existing backsplash using a putty knife or chisel. Take it slow to avoid damaging the wall behind the tiles. Scrape off any remaining tile pieces, mastic, mesh, mortar, or grout. Be sure the wall surface is completely clean and smooth with no bumps.
Pick Up Materials
Purchase all the tiles, tools, and supplies needed for installation. This includes the tiles, thinset mortar, trowels, grout, grout sealer, tile cutter, spacers, and safety equipment. Having everything you need on hand prevents delays and mistakes.
Take detailed measurements of the backsplash area including width, height, and depth. Calculate the precise tile quantities needed based on your layout. Having excess tiles on hand is ideal in case you make cutting errors or damage tiles during installation. Account for an extra 10-15% over the measurements.
Plan Your Layout
Map out the tile layout based on your backsplash dimensions. Account for any outlets, switches, fixtures, or asymmetrical areas. Decide the placement of accent tiles and trim pieces. Sketching a detailed layout helps visualize the final design and identify potential issues ahead of time.
Thorough planning and preparation leads to a smooth, seamless installation. Avoid rushing this critical stage.
Removing the Old Backsplash
Once you’ve prepped the area, it’s time to remove the existing backsplash. Take a careful, methodical approach to prevent damaging the wall underneath.
- Safety glasses
- Work gloves
- Pry bar or putty knives
- Dust mask
- Knee pads
- Drop cloths
- Cover nearby surfaces with drop cloths to protect from debris. Don clear safety glasses, gloves, and a dust mask to protect yourself. Knee pads cushion your knees.
- Using a pry bar, insert the flat end between the edges of tiles to gently pry them off the wall. Apply force gradually.
- For stubborn tiles attached with mastic, use a hammer and putty knife to carefully chisel behind the tile to dislodge it.
- Slowly work your way across the backsplash, removing all tiles and adhesive. Use putty knives to scrape off any remaining material.
- Properly dispose of all debris. Make sure the wall area is smooth with no remaining bumps. Fill any uneven spots with spackle.
- Carefully detach any accessories like soap dispensers and replace when the new backsplash is installed.
- Thoroughly clean the bare wall area to remove all dust, grease, and adhesive residue. Allow it to fully dry.
Work slowly and cautiously when prying off tiles to avoid damaging the wall behind them. Take your time and do not rush this critical step. Thoroughly cleaning the surface prepares an ideal base for the new tiles.
Success starts with purchasing the right backsplash materials. Keep the following tips in mind when buying supplies:
Measure the backsplash area and purchase 10-15% extra to account for unusable cuts and breakages. Round up to full boxes. Having surplus tiles allows for mistakes and provides future replacements if repairs are needed.
Mortar and Grout
Choose unmodified thinset mortar suited for the tile material and wall surface. Purchase grout in a color that complements the tiles. White and gray are versatile neutrals. Include grout sealant.
Invest in quality tiling tools. This includes trowels, tile cutter, spacers, grout float, sponges, and mixing buckets. Purchase knee pads to protect your knees during installation.
Self-adhesive fiberglass mesh backing provides extra adhesion for tile installed over drywall. It also reinforces corners and edges.
Use a penetrating sealant formulated for natural stone if installing a porous material like travertine. The sealant prevents staining and damage.
Do Not Buy
Avoid adhesives not specifically made for tiling like construction adhesive or adhesive caulk. Steer clear of premixed thinset mortar, which has additives that inhibit bonding.
Take time to carefully calculate quantities and purchase high quality, tile-appropriate materials. Investing in the proper supplies leads to a successful installation that lasts.
Preparing the Wall Surface
Prepping the wall surface is crucial for proper tile adhesion and preventing moisture damage. Follow these steps:
- Tiling primer
- Caulk gun
- Denatured alcohol
- Fill any holes or uneven spots with spackle or tile adhesive. Let dry completely, then sand smooth.
- Clean the entire surface with denatured alcohol to remove grease, soap residue, and dirt. Rinse thoroughly.
- Allow the wall to fully dry. Test moisture levels with painter’s tape. Tape won’t stick to damp drywall.
- Apply tiling primer using a paintbrush and allow to dry fully. This provides extra adhesion.
- Use silicone caulk and caulking gun to seal all corners, edges, and joints. Smooth with a wet finger.
- Carefully press the fiberglass mesh backing tightly against the wall and adhere with thinset mortar. Smooth it flat.
- Allow mesh backing to cure overnight. The wall is now ready for tiling!
Proper prep prevents backsplash tiles from eventually sinking, cracking, or detaching from the wall. Do not rush this important step.
Achieving a professional looking finish requires cleanly and accurately cutting tiles for a precise fit.
- Tile cutter
- Tile nippers
- Wet saw
- Safety gear
Using a Tile Cutter
- Measure and mark the tile where you need to make the cut. Include the width of the tile spacer.
- Position the tile face up in the tile cutter with the mark aligned under the scoring wheel.
- Use firm, even pressure as you press the scoring wheel across the tile. Make several passes.
- Hold the tile firmly on both sides of the score line. Push down to snap the tile along the scored line.
- Use tile nippers to nibble off any ragged edges for a straight edge.
Using a Wet Saw
- Mark the tile where you want to make the cut.
- Adjust the wet saw blade to slightly wider than the tile thickness.
- Align the mark with the wet saw blade and turn on water to keep the blade cool.
- Slowly feed the tile through the spinning blade while keeping it firmly flat.
- Tile edges will be smooth. Use nail files to smooth further.
Patience and practice create professional results. Always use proper safety gear like goggles, gloves, and a dust mask.
Installing the New Tiles
Follow these steps for proper tile installation:
- Notched trowel
- Tile spacers
- Grout float
- Grout sponge
- Mix thinset mortar to a pasty consistency in a bucket using a grout float or paddle.
- Apply a layer of thinset to the wall using a notched trowel held at a 45 degree angle.
- Firmly press tiles into the thinset beginning at the bottom. Use spacers for even grout lines.
- Gently wiggle tiles to ensure they are fully set in the thinset. Check they are level.
- Allow thinset to cure 24 hours before grouting. Do not walk on freshly tiled surface.
- Mix grout to a smooth, thick consistency and apply using a grout float.
- Let it sit for 10 minutes, then wipe away excess grout with a damp sponge.
- Once grout dries fully, apply grout sealant.
Check your layout periodically to ensure tiles remain aligned and evenly spaced as you work. Your new backsplash is complete! Enjoy this gorgeous upgrade.
Grout Care and Maintenance
Grout keeps tiles locked together and resistant to moisture. Follow proper grout maintenance:
- Seal grout annually with a penetrating sealant. This prevents staining and damage.
- Immediately wipe spills and splashes to avoid stubborn stains.
- Clean grout routinely with a soft brush and mild cleaner. Avoid harsh cleansers and scrubbing.
- Do not use acidic cleaners like vinegar or lemon juice as these break down grout.
- Re-grout any areas that become cracked or powdery to keep backsplash water resistant.
- Use caution with dark grout, which shows dirt and is harder to keep clean.
Well-cared for grout keeps your backsplash looking fresh and new for years of beauty and protection. Act quickly when spills occur and clean grout gently.
How do I match existing grout color when replacing only a few damaged tiles?
Take a grout sample to a home improvement store. They can scan it to identify the exact color and match new grout accordingly.
What causes pitting and crumbling of grout lines?
Moisture damage from spills or improper sealing leads to breakdown of grout. Ensure proper sealing and promptly clean spills to prevent damage.
Why are my glass tile edges cloudy after installation?
It is caused by grout haze. Use a buffing pad or very fine sandpaper to gently buff small areas until clear. Avoid scratching the tile surface.
What is the easiest backsplash to install as a DIY novice?
Peel-and-stick vinyl backsplash panels are beginner-friendly. Simply cut panels to size, peel off adhesive backing, and press onto the wall.
How do I cut holes in my new backsplash for outlets and switches?
Trace the outlet or switch shape onto the tile where it will be located. Drill a hole in each corner, then use a grinder or jigsaw to carefully cut out the outline.
Installing a backsplash requires planning, precision, and care. Follow these best practices for stunning results:
- Select durable, moisture-resistant materials that match your kitchen’s style
- Thoroughly clean and prepare the wall surface before installing anything
- Take detailed measurements and calculations to purchase sufficient quantities
- Invest in quality tiling tools and materials made specifically for the job
- Carefully remove existing backsplash without damaging the wall
- Use proper technique when cutting tiles to achieve clean edges
- Apply thinset and tiles correctly for maximum longevity
- Properly apply, seal and maintain grout to prevent damage
- Immediately clean spills on backsplash surface
With patience and proper methods, you can successfully install a backsplash that transforms the look of your kitchen. Enjoy this gorgeous new focal point that protects your walls while adding visual appeal.