How to Update Travertine Backsplash

A travertine backsplash can be a beautiful addition to any home’s kitchen or bathroom. Made from natural stone, travertine has an earthy, rustic look that brings warmth and texture to these spaces. However, like all natural stone, travertine requires proper care and maintenance to keep it looking its best. Over time, travertine can start to show signs of wear such as etching, pits, holes, and discoloration. The good news is that with the right approach, you can update and restore a travertine backsplash to give it a fresh, renewed look.

Cleaning and Prepping the Travertine

Before making any changes to your travertine backsplash, the first step is to thoroughly clean the stone. This will allow you to properly evaluate the condition of the current travertine so you can determine the best approach for updating it. Here are some tips for cleaning travertine:

Use a pH-neutral stone cleaner. Stay away from acidic or alkaline cleaners which can damage travertine. Instead, use a gentle pH-neutral stone cleaner specifically formulated for natural stone. Stone cleaners help lift away dirt, grime, and stains from the pores of the stone.

Clean with a soft cloth. Never use abrasive pads or brushes on travertine, as they can scratch the surface. Instead, use a soft cloth or sponge to gently wipe the surface of the stone. Microfiber cloths work well for a lint-free clean.

Rinse thoroughly. After cleaning, be sure to rinse the travertine thoroughly with clean water to remove any cleaner residue. Residual chemicals left on the surface can eventually cause etching or discoloration.

Let it fully dry. It’s important to let the backsplash dry completely before sealing, polishing or performing any other treatments. Travertine is porous, so excess moisture left in the stone can lead to damage.

Once the travertine is thoroughly clean, inspect it closely under lighting to identify any problem areas. Look for etching, pits, cracks, holes, roughness, discoloration or stains. This will help determine the best approach for restoration.

Filling Pits and Holes

One of the distinct characteristics of travertine is natural pits, holes and cracks throughout the stone. While some homeowners appreciate this rustic look, others prefer to fill the voids for a smoother finish. If your travertine has pits or holes that you want to fill in, here is the process:

Clean Out Holes

Before filling, clean out any dirt or debris trapped inside the holes and pits using a thin wire brush or dental pick. Compressed air can also help blow out any particles. This allows the filler to properly adhere.

Choose a Filler

There are a few options when it comes to travertine hole fillers:

  • Polyester resin – Easy to apply and economical, but can yellow over time.
  • Epoxy resin – More durable and stain-resistant than polyester. Provides a glass-like fill.
  • Cement-based grout – Matches the color of the travertine but can be prone to cracking.
  • Travertine dust – Created from travertine pieces to perfectly match the stone color.

Consider factors like color-match, durability, and ease of application when selecting a filler.

Tape Around Holes

For a neat finish, tape around the holes with painter’s tape before filling. This keeps excess filler from getting onto the surface.

Apply the Filler

Follow the product instructions for application. In general, use a putty knife to fill holes flush with the stone surface. Remove any excess. Polyester resins will require hardening with ultraviolet light.

Let Cure

Give the filler time to fully cure based on manufacturer guidelines. This is usually 24-48 hours.

Sand and Finish

Once cured, sand any uneven areas with 120-150 grit sandpaper. Buff with a soft cloth to blend the filled areas with the surrounding travertine. Seal the stone once finished.

Filling the voids provides a smoother, more polished look to travertine. But keep in mind it will still have natural variations in color and texture.

Polishing and Honing Travertine

If your travertine backsplash has become dull or scratched over time, polishing and honing can help restore its reflective surface. This process essentially sands down a thin top layer to reveal a fresh finish.

Polishing is the finest grit sanding, achieving a high-gloss shine. Honing uses coarser grits for a satin sheen. Here is how to polish or hone travertine:

Clean and fill holes – Start with clean stone free of debris in cracks or pits. Fill any holes and let cure fully before sanding.

Use a handheld sander – Work your way through the grits, starting with 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, then 3000. Rinse well between sanding.

Follow up with a diamond polishing pad – These pads, used after the finest sandpaper provide the ultimate polished shine.

Consider sealing – Sealing protects polished travertine from daily wear and tear and keeps the finish looking its best. Use a penetrating or enhancing sealer for polished stone.

Focus your polishing efforts on high-traffic areas first. Honing and polishing restores travertine’s naturally glossy finish, bringing back its radiant beauty.

Applying a Travertine Sealer

Sealing is an essential maintenance step for any travertine backsplash. Sealer fills the pores of the stone to help prevent staining, etching, and discoloration. For an updated backsplash, a fresh coat of sealer provides renewed protection.

Clean Before Sealing

Dirty, stained, or coated stone will prevent proper sealer penetration. Make sure to thoroughly clean and dry the travertine before applying a new coat.

Select a Sealer Type

Penetrating sealers soak into the stone for an invisible barrier that won’t change the stone’s appearance.

Enhancing sealers also repel stains but leave a wet look that intensifies the color.

Consider look, durability, and application method when choosing a sealer.

Carefully Apply Sealer

Roll or brush on an even coat according to product directions, making sure excess doesn’t puddle. Allow proper cure time before use, usually 24-72 hours.

Seal Yearly

Reapply sealer every year or two to maintain effectiveness. Harsher cleaning chemicals can break down sealers over time.

Sealing provides an added layer of stain, moisture, and bacteria resistance. Keep sealed travertine looking like new with periodic reapplication.

Repairing Etching and Discoloration

No matter how well-sealed, travertine can still become etched and stained over the years from exposure to acidic foods and harsh cleaners. For minor damage, the following remedies can effectively diminish discoloration:

Poultice – Mix a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda or talc powder. Apply to affected area, cover in plastic wrap, and allow to sit for 24 hours before rinsing clean.

Baking soda scrub – Make a paste with baking soda and water. Gently scrub with a soft cloth or sponge rinsing thoroughly.

Lemon juice – Squeeze fresh lemon juice onto discolored spots. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before rinsing. Lemon juice naturally bleaches and brightens travertine.

Oxygen bleach – Look for an oxygen bleach cleaner made specifically for natural stone. Rinse any cleaner thoroughly after use.

Sand and re-seal – For deeper etching that can’t be removed with cleaning, sand the top layer of travertine and re-seal. Focus on damaged areas only.

With the proper cleaning regimen, travertine etching can often be reversed. For severe staining in localized areas, a full restoration may be needed.

Partial Travertine Replacement

If sections of your travertine backsplash suffer from irreparable etching, cracks, or missing pieces, partial replacement can be an option. Here is an overview of the process:

  • First, clearly mark or outline the precise areas that need replacement.
  • Use an angle grinder or circular saw with a stone blade to cut out the damaged sections. Make straight cuts to make replacing the stone simpler. Wear safety goggles and a mask to protect from stone dust.
  • Clean up any dust or debris and prepare the area for the new stone. Marks on the wall and countertop will guide proper placement.
  • Cut the new travertine pieces to size allowing for a small gap. This gap allows for any expansion of the stone. It can be filled in later with caulk.
  • Drill shallow holes and secure new pieces with stone epoxy or travertine anchors. Use shims for support until the adhesive cures.
  • Reapply sealer to all the travertine to blend the look. Use caulk to fill any gaps between new and old stone sections.

The key to a seamless look is selecting replacement travertine of the same thickness, finish, and veining as the original. Take time to find the right stone pieces for a beautiful outcome.

Full Travertine Backsplash Replacement

For travertine backsplashes that are severely damaged beyond repair or are simply dated, a full replacement with new stone can give the space a complete transformation. Here are the steps for a new travertine backsplash:

Remove Old Backsplash

Carefully pry off existing travertine using a putty knife, chisel, or pry bar. Be attentive not to harm the underlying drywall or adhesive. Dispose of old tiles properly.

Prepare the Surface

Once the old travertine is removed, take time to make sure the area is prepped and ready for new tile. Fix any holes or flaws in the drywall and smooth the area so it is clean, dry and flat.

Lay Out New Tile

Dry fit the new travertine pieces on the countertop how they will be installed. Cut any edge pieces as needed with a wet saw. Plan out placement so tiles and patterns are even and consistent.

Apply Adhesive

Based on manufacturer guidelines, spread tile adhesive on the installation area and the back of each travertine tile using a notched trowel. Comb in straight lines at the same depth.

Set New Tiles

Working in small sections, press the travertine pieces into the adhesive firmly. Use spacers between tiles for consistent grout lines. Level and align as you go. Allow adhesive to cure fully before grouting.

Grout and Seal

Grout travertine with a smooth float, wiping away excess. Cleanup and seal once grout has cured. Enjoy your renewed space!

With proper prep and care, travertine can be installed to last for decades of beauty and enjoyment in the home.

Preventative Care for Travertine Backsplash

Once your travertine backsplash has been updated, be sure to care for it properly to prevent future damage. Here are some preventative care tips:

  • Seal travertine every 1-2 years with a penetrating or enhancing sealer. This is crucial for stain protection.
  • Immediately wipe up spills, splatters, or other moisture. Don’t let it sit on travertine to prevent absorption.
  • Use a gentle pH neutral stone cleaner for regular upkeep. Avoid harsh alkaline, acidic, or abrasive cleansers.
  • For drinking glasses and other containers, use coasters and trivets to prevent hot items from directly contacting the stone.
  • Don’t let cleaning solutions or liquids pool on the travertine. Rinse thoroughly after wiping the surface.
  • Monitor sealers and reapply sooner if moisture is absorbing more quickly than it should.
  • Avoid using metal pots, pans or utensils that can scratch travertine during cooking or cleaning.

By providing proper ongoing care, recently updated travertine backsplashes will maintain their renewed beauty for many years before needing further restoration. Be attentive and enjoy this gorgeous natural stone accent.

FAQ About Updating Travertine Backsplash

How can you make travertine shiny again?

Travertine can be polished to restore its shiny surface. Use a handheld sander with a progression of increasingly finer grit sandpaper, finishing with a 3000 grit pad. Follow up with a polishing compound on a buffing pad. Be sure to thoroughly clean and seal the stone when complete.

What is the best way to clean travertine backsplash?

For routine cleaning, wipe down travertine with a soft sponge or cloth using a gentle pH-neutral stone cleaner or mild soap and warm water. Rinse thoroughly and dry with a soft cloth. Avoid harsh, acidic or alkaline cleaners.

How do you deep clean travertine backsplash?

For a deep clean, use a pH-neutral stone cleaner made specifically for travertine. Apply to stone and let sit for 5-10 minutes before scrubbing with a soft brush or sponge. Use a non-metallic scraper to lift off any stubborn deposits. Rinse thoroughly until all cleaner residue is removed.

How do you remove hard water stains from travertine?

Mix lemon juice and baking soda into a paste and rub into hard water stains using a soft cloth. Let sit for 5 minutes before scrubbing and rinsing. This natural solution helps dissolve and lift stains from travertine. Repeat process if needed.

How do you remove rust stains from travertine?

For light rust stains, rub a lemon wedge over the affected area and let sit briefly before rinsing. For more stubborn stains, apply a poultice made of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and water. Cover with plastic wrap and allow poultice to work before rinsing thoroughly.

What is the most durable finish for travertine backsplash?

An enhancing sealer provides excellent protection for a travertine backsplash. Enhancers soak into the stone and seal out moisture while also intensifying the natural colors in the stone. Reapply enhancer every 1-2 years for optimal results.

How do you replace a few travertine tiles?

Mark the tiles needing replacement and use an angle grinder to cut them out. Clean up debris before setting new tiles with stone epoxy or travertine anchors drilled into the backerboard. Use shims to support new pieces until adhesive cures fully. Finish by regrouting and sealing the area.


Travertine inherently forms a timeless, elegant addition to any home decor. But over the years, this natural stone can lose its luster through etching, pits, stains and general wear and tear. Thankfully, there are many effective options to update and restore travertine backsplashes to their original beauty, or even improve their look. With a good cleaning, polish, sealant, and partial or full replacement when needed, homeowners can enjoy their renewed travertine backsplashes for many years to come. With some periodic maintenance and care, travertine will provide lasting style and sophistication in kitchens and baths.