How to Whitewash Backsplash

Whitewashing a backsplash is a simple and inexpensive way to give your kitchen a fresh, clean look. With just a few supplies and a little elbow grease, you can transform your existing backsplash in a weekend. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to whitewash a backsplash in your kitchen.

Overview of Whitewashing a Backsplash

Whitewashing refers to the process of applying a thin coat of paint or whitewash onto a surface to give it a washed out, distressed appearance. Instead of completely obscuring the underlying material, a whitewashed finish allows some of the original color and texture to show through. This creates a more organic, vintage look compared to a bright solid coat of white paint.

Whitewashing is ideal for backsplashes made of natural materials like brick, wood, or stone. The whitewashed finish will tone down outdated or loud backsplash tiles without requiring a complete redo. It also covers up any existing stains or discolorations. You can whitewash over any color backsplash, even bold ones, to create a more subtle, muted effect.

The process involves mixing white paint or bleach with water to dilute it before applying a thin coat over the backsplash. Multiple thin layers are better than one thick coat when whitewashing. The irregular, translucent finish will allow hints of the original backsplash to peek through.

Whitewashing a backsplash is inexpensive, reversible, and a beginner DIY project. With minimal supplies and time, you can easily transform the entire look and feel of your kitchen.

Benefits of Whitewashing a Backsplash

There are many advantages to whitewashing an existing kitchen backsplash rather than replacing it entirely:

  • Cost-effective: Whitewashing is much more affordable than re-tiling or installing a brand new backsplash. The main supplies needed are white paint and brushes.
  • Quick project: It can be completed over a weekend compared to lengthy tile installation. No need to remove your existing backsplash either.
  • Reversible: If you don’t like the whitewashed look later, you can easily paint over it in another color.
  • Customizable finish: You can control the opacity and distressed appearance as desired.
  • Covers imperfections: Whitewash coats any stains, damage, or discoloration on your backsplash.
  • Brightens space: The white finish reflects more light for an airy, open look.
  • Trendy farmhouse style: Whitewashing lends a modern farmhouse vibe that is very on-trend right now.
  • Works with any material: Apply a whitewash coat to tile, brick, stone, concrete, wood, laminate, and more.

For a simple weekend upgrade that doesn’t require replacing the entire backsplash, whitewashing is a budget-friendly option that makes a big visual impact in your kitchen.

Whitewash vs. Paint vs. Refinishing

There are a few different options to change the look of an existing backsplash. Here’s how whitewashing compares:

  • Whitewashing: Diluted paint creates a transparent, mottled appearance, maintaining some of the underlying surface’s color and texture.
  • Painting: Opaque coat in a solid color obscures the existing backsplash entirely.
  • Refinishing: Chemical stripping completely removes color and sealants before resealing and protecting the surface.

Whitewash provides a light refresh while retaining some of the backsplash’s original character versus a complete opaque painted-over look. It is also much quicker and easier than refinishing a backsplash down to the bare surface.

The type of backsplash material determines which options are viable. For instance, whitewashing works best on porous materials like brick where the diluted paint can soak in for a wash effect. Shiny metal or glass mosaic tiles would need to be painted. Refinishing is ideal for stone or concrete to etch away stains. Evaluate your backsplash type when choosing the best renewal method.

Supplies Needed

Whitewashing a backsplash is easy to do yourself with minimal supplies. Here is what you need:

  • Paint brush: Disposable angled bristle brushes, 2-3 inch width.
  • Paint tray: To hold and pour the whitewash mixture.
  • Paint roller: Small 4-inch roller for smoother application on large backsplash areas.
  • Paint: White latex or chalk paint works best for whitewashing.
  • Water: To dilute the paint to a washable consistency.
  • Plastic sheeting or drop cloths: To cover countertops and flooring.
  • Painters tape: For crisp edges along countertops or ceilings.
  • Sandpaper (optional): To scuff slick surfaces like ceramic tile before whitewashing.
  • Rags, paint remover, or mineral spirits (optional): For cleanup of drips or mistakes.

For a standard kitchen backsplash refreshed with a whitewash coat, a quart of paint, angled brushes, and roller should suffice. Have some extra rags and paper towels on hand too.

How to Prepare a Backsplash for Whitewashing

Proper preparation ensures the whitewash adheres and looks its best. Follow these steps to get your backsplash ready for whitewashing:

  • Clear countertops and remove accessories like soap dispensers, utensil holders, and light fixtures. Push appliances out a few inches from the wall.
  • Clean the backsplash thoroughly by scrubbing with an all-purpose cleaner and warm water. Rinse well and let dry fully.
  • Use painter’s tape along the top, sides, bottom edges, and any adjoining surfaces you don’t want whitewashed.
  • If needed, lightly scuff very shiny, non-porous surfaces with fine sandpaper so the paint has something to grip.
  • Fix any cracked tiles, loose grout, holes, or missing caulking. Allow any fillers to dry completely before whitewashing.
  • Cover nearby surfaces like countertops, floors, and cabinets with plastic sheeting or drop cloths.
  • Apply painter’s tape around light switches, outlets, or any other areas tape won’t stick well to later.

Proper prep leads to better results. The backsplash needs to be clean, dry, and in sound condition before whitewashing can start. Remove any grime, sealants, or waxes that may cause poor paint adhesion.

How to Whitewash a Tile Backsplash

For tile backsplashes, follow this simple process:

Step 1: Mix the Whitewash

  • In a paint tray or mixing bucket, pour in a small amount of white latex or chalk paint. Approximately 1/4 to 1/2 cup is needed per square foot of backsplash area.
  • Add in an equal amount of water and stir thoroughly until smooth.
  • Adjust consistency as needed. The mixture should be thin, similar to milk. Add more paint for more opacity or water for more transparency.

Stir the whitewash very well before starting. Test it on an inconspicuous area first to ensure proper coverage and appearance.

Step 2: Apply the Whitewash

  • Use an angled paintbrush to cut along all the corners and edges first. Avoid dripping down the sides.
  • Dip the roller or brush into the thinned paint mixture and apply it evenly over the backsplash surface. Work in 3×3 foot sections.
  • Apply thin coats and build it up gradually. Let it dry fully before adding more coats.
  • Two to three diluted coats are ideal for a translucent whitewashed look.
  • For full coverage over darker tiles, additional coats may be needed.

Step 3: Distress and Highlight

  • Use a rag or paper towel to gently rub and remove paint from any raised surfaces or details you want to show through.
  • To create intentional drips or streaks, use a wet rag and gently wipe vertically down the backsplash.
  • If desired, come back with full-strength white paint and highlight grout lines, corners, or edges for a more dimensional effect.

Add character to the whitewash by letting some of the original tile show through. The distressing step makes the finish more mottled and organic versus a flat white coat of paint.

Step 4: Seal and Protect Finish

  • Allow whitewash to dry fully overnight before use. Test that it’s water-resistant.
  • Seal with a clear polyurethane sealer for washable and moisture-resistant finish.
  • Avoid using harsh cleaners and excessive moisture on a whitewashed backsplash. Use gentle dish soap and water only to clean.

Sealing is an optional final step but recommended for high use kitchen backsplash areas. The sealer prevents stains and makes the finish more durable. Handle with care though as the whitewash is susceptible to chipping or peeling.

How to Whitewash Brick, Wood, or Stone Backsplash

Brick, wood plank, and natural stone backsplashes involve a slightly different whitewashing technique:

Step 1: Mix Whitewash and Test

  • Thin white paint with water at a 1:1 ratio and stir well.
  • On a small inconspicuous area of brick or wood, test coverage and confirm the look is as desired.
  • Adjust the whitewash consistency by adding more paint for an opaque brighter white or more water for a sheer effect.

Step 2: Apply Whitewash

  • Use a chip brush to cut in along all edges and mortar lines first. Avoid drips.
  • Apply a thin coat of whitewash using a paintbrush, sponge, or rag. Work in small sections.
  • Allow to dry fully, then continue building up layers until the desired tone is achieved.

Step 3: Distressing Techniques

  • On wood, use fine sandpaper to rub off whitewash from any ridges or details, exposing wood underneath.
  • For brick, chip away at mortar lines with a butter knife or screwdriver to accentuate edges.
  • Try rag rolling, sponging, or splattering more watered down whitewash for a mottled look.

Step 4: Seal and Protect

  • Always seal natural stone, brick, and wood after whitewashing to protect from moisture damage.
  • Use a clear water-based polyurethane or acrylic sealant formulated for the specific surface type.

Test first on a small area to determine the number of coats needed. More diluted applications of whitewash build up to the right distressed finish. Sealing is a must for longevity and preventing stains.

Common Questions About Whitewashing Backsplash

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about whitewashing an existing backsplash:

Does a backsplash need to be primed before whitewashing?

Primer is not mandatory before whitewashing. The thinned paint adheres well directly to most backsplash surfaces. Prime very glossy or sealed tiles if the whitewash is not soaking in or bonding properly.

Can I use other colors instead of white?

Yes, you can make colored washes rather than just white to match your kitchen decor. Use the same technique diluting regular wall paint in light tones with water for a wash effect.

How long does whitewash last?

Sealed and cared for properly, a whitewashed backsplash will last for many years before needing a touch up. Avoid excessive moisture and abrasive cleaners which can damage the finish over time.

Does the grout need to be re-sealed after whitewashing?

If the grout lines were sealed prior to whitewashing, it is a good idea to re-seal them afterwards. The diluted paint can break down existing sealants. Use a penetrating grout sealer compatible with the grout type.

Can the whitewash come off onto dishes?

The diluted paint fully cures and bonds to become water-resistant. Seal the finish for added protection against liquid damage or staining if it may get splashed frequently. Take care not to scrub the surface aggressively.

Transforming a Kitchen with Whitewashed Backsplash

With a simple whitewash makeover, you can give your kitchen backsplash and entire room a fresh new look:

  • A dated 1980s golden oak wood panel backsplash is now light and airy chalk white, still retaining beautiful wood grain under the wash.
  • Tiles with loud paisley designs from the ’70s become muted and neutral for a timeless white ceramic tile appearance.
  • Outdated green and orange ceramic tiles paired with almond appliances look cohesive and clean with just a few coats of whitewash.
  • The orange terra cotta backsplash clashing with new stainless appliances is softened to a light bisque hue that complements instead of competes.
  • Dark natural stone slate transforms from a cave-like feel to a bright coastal vibe with a beachy whitewashed finish.

Almost any kitchen backsplash material can be refreshed, revived, and transformed with the magic of whitewash. It instantly provides a lighter, brighter, and more cohesive look. So for a quick, budget-friendly kitchen makeover, grab a brush and realize just how easy and effective backsplash whitewashing can be.


Whitewashing a dated or damaged backsplash is an easy and affordable way to give your kitchen an updated look. With the right supplies and techniques, you can apply a fresh whitewashed finish in a weekend. Adapt the opacity and layers for personalized control over the finish. Distressing adds character while sealing helps maintain the backsplash protection and water-resistance. With minimal effort, whitewashing can transform your existing backsplash to give the entire kitchen a lighter, brighter new look. So grab a brush and start renewing your space with this simple, custom DIY makeover project.