Should Backsplash Go On Side Walls?

Backsplashes are an important design element in any kitchen. While backsplashes are most commonly installed on the wall behind the countertops, many homeowners wonder if they should also install backsplash tile on the adjoining side walls. There are pros and cons to extending backsplash tile to the side walls that are worth considering.

What is a Backsplash?

A backsplash is a protective surface installed on the wall behind a countertop, stove, or sink. Backsplashes are typically made from tile, metal, glass, or stone. The main purposes of a backsplash are to:

  • Protect the walls from splashes, spills, and stains
  • Provide an accent area to tie together the countertops and cabinets
  • Add visual interest and personality to the kitchen

Backsplashes most commonly extend 4-6 inches above the counter. They run along the wall behind the counters and up to the bottom of the upper cabinets.

Should You Install Backsplash on Side Walls?

The short answer is: it depends.

There are good reasons to extend backsplash tile to the adjoining side walls. But there are also some potential downsides to consider.

Pros of Installing Backsplash on Side Walls

Continuous design: Installing backsplash tile on the side walls can create a continuous backsplash surface. This provides a seamless, unified look. The backsplash flows smoothly from behind the main counter to the side walls.

Added protection: Expanding the backsplash to the side walls increases the surface area that is protected from splashes and stains. This can help keep the paint or wallpaper on the side walls looking newer for longer.

Accentuate design: Backsplash tile on the side walls can accentuate the backsplash design. It allows eye-catching backsplash tile patterns or textures to extend beyond just the small back wall space.

Modern look: Continuous backsplashes with tile on the side walls have become a popular modern kitchen design trend. Many contemporary kitchens feature backsplash tile covering multiple walls.

Hide messy edges: Backsplash on the side walls can conceal cut outs for outlets or a messy edge where the backsplash meets the wall. The tile can provide a cleaner finish.

Cons of Installing Backsplash on Side Walls

Higher cost: Expanding the backsplash tile to additional walls increases material and labor costs. Depending on the size of the kitchen, it can add a few hundred dollars or more to the total project cost.

Harder to clean: Angled walls and corners where the backsplash meets side walls can collect dirt and be harder to clean. Grout lines in those areas may be more prone to accumulating grime.

Disrupts wall decor: Existing wall paint, wallpaper, or other wall decor can be disrupted by only partially tiling the side walls. The decor may need to be removed or altered.

Busy look: More backsplash tile covering multiple walls can look visually busier. In a small kitchen, it could create a cluttered feel rather than an open concept.

Limits future changes: Tile on the side walls can limit future wall decor if you later want to change the wall color or wallpaper without a lot of tile work.

Key Factors to Consider

There are a few key factors to weigh when deciding if backsplash tile should extend to the side walls:

  • Current wall condition – If the side walls are already damaged, tiling may provide better protection. But if the walls are in good shape, tiling may be unnecessary.
  • Wall decor – Evaluate how backsplash tile will integrate with any existing wallpaper, paint, or accents. Remove and alter decor if needed.
  • Tile cost – Factor in the added material and labor expense of tiling multiple walls vs just the back wall.
  • Kitchen size – Continued backsplash tile may suit larger kitchens, while smaller spaces could feel too busy.
  • Messy edges – Check for messy cut outs or edges that could be covered up by extending tile to side walls.
  • Future plans – Consider if you may want to change the wall decor down the road without removing tile.

Installation Tips

If you decide to install backsplash tile on the side walls, here are some tips:

  • Select tile sizes, patterns, grout colors, and trim that complement the rest of the kitchen.
  • Wrap the tile around corners for a continuous look rather than just placing tiles flat on each wall.
  • Include bullnose tile trim or specialist corner trim pieces for a clean finish.
  • Carefully measure and lay out the tile design so there are no narrow sliver tiles on the side walls.
  • Adjust tile placement to account for outlets, switches, and other fixtures on the side walls.
  • Use caulk between the tile and wall edges for water resistance and clean lines.

Alternatives to Tiling Side Walls

If you want to protect the side walls but aren’t sold on extending the backsplash tile, consider these options:

  • Paint – Use high-quality kitchen & bathroom paint formulated to resist moisture and stains.
  • Wallpaper – Choose washable wallpaper designed for kitchens instead of standard wallpaper.
  • Paneled wainscoting – Install a backsplash panel and wainscoting panels on the lower side walls.
  • Removable wallpaper – Cover side walls with non-permanent wallpaper that can be easily changed out.
  • Wall decals – Use removable vinyl wall decals to accessorize the side walls as needed.


Deciding whether or not to install backsplash tile on the kitchen side walls depends on your design taste, goals, and budget. Evaluate the pros and cons and key considerations before making a decision. For many contemporary kitchens, continuous backsplash tile provides a sleek, cohesive look. But it also comes with potential drawbacks to weigh. Carefully laying out the tile design is essential for a professional, finished look if you extend backsplash to side walls. With the right prep work, side wall backsplash tile can beautifully accentuate your kitchen.

FAQ About Backsplash on Side Walls

Should backsplash go all the way up the wall?

The typical backsplash height is 4-6 inches above the countertop. Going all the way to the underside of the upper cabinets is also an option, but uses more tile. For a modern look, consider extending backsplash tile across multiple walls instead.

How far should backsplash stick out from the wall?

Standard backsplash depth is anywhere from 1/4 to 3/4 inches from the wall. Thickertile requires a greater offset. Mosaics can be installed flush to the wall.

Can you put backsplash on painted walls?

Backsplash can be installed over painted drywall. Use moisture-resistant primer and paint. Alternatively, install cement backerboard first for greater durability.

Should backsplash match cabinet color?

Matching or coordinating the backsplash and cabinet colors can create a cohesive look. Contrasting colors add vibrancy. Neutral backsplash tile also works with any cabinet shade. Consider the overall kitchen design.

Should backsplash color match floor?

Matching the backsplash to the kitchen flooring is one option for a pulled together design. However, it’s also fine to pick entirely different backsplash and flooring colors and patterns.

Is ceramic or porcelain tile better for kitchen backsplash?

Porcelain and ceramic are both good backsplash options. Porcelain has lower water absorption, so it resists staining. Ceramic can be more prone to chipping. Porcelain tile has a slight edge, but ceramic works well too.

What is the most popular backsplash tile size?

4×4, 3×6, and 4×8 inch tile sizes are common choices. Standard subway tile is 3×6. Mosaics are 1×1 inches. Larger tiles like 8×8 can also be used. The size should fit the scale of the kitchen.

How to Design a Stunning Kitchen Backsplash

Kitchen backsplashes are a key design element that can add visual flair and personality to your culinary space. With so many backsplash tile sizes, colors, patterns, and materials to choose from, designing a stunning backsplash may seem daunting. Follow this step-by-step guide for expert tips on planning and installing a beautiful, functional backsplash.

Choose Backsplash Materials

Tile, metal, glass, and stone are popular backsplash materials, each with their own aesthetics and benefits. Consider:

  • Ceramic or porcelain tile for an affordable, durable option available in endless colors and designs.
  • Glass tile for shiny, sleek visual flair.
  • Natural stone like marble, travertine, or granite for elegant, timeless beauty.
  • Metal like stainless steel or tin for an industrial, rustic vibe.
  • Mosaics for artsy, eclectic patterns.

Decide on Overall Design Style

Think about the mood you want to achieve with the backsplash and whether you want it to blend with or pop against cabinetry:

  • Matching colors for a streamlined, uniform look
  • Contrasting colors for a striking, bold style
  • Neutral palette to keep the focus on decorative tile shape and pattern
  • Textural combo like pairing sleek glass and rough stone

Choose Backsplash Tile Shapes

From traditional squares and subway tiles to unique scalloped or hexagon designs, backsplash tile comes in many shapes. Consider:

  • Grid-layouts for clean, symmetrical lines
  • Subway tile for timeless simplicity
  • Mosaics for artsy irregularity
  • Penny tiles for eclectic old-world charm
  • Large statement tiles for contemporary drama

Select a Layout Pattern

Layout patterns add visual interest and dimension.Layout basics include:

  • Stack bond: tiles stacked vertically in straight columns
  • Brick pattern: tiles offset by half for a staggered effect
  • Herringbone: tiles placed in an angled zigzag pattern
  • Diamond pattern: tiles orientated in diamond shapes
  • Picture frame: decorative border surrounding random tile

Incorporate Accent Elements

Take the backsplash to the next level with these accent tile ideas:

  • Border tiles: Outline the backsplash with trim or decorative tiles
  • Accent strip: Add a bold strip of contrasting tiles
  • Niche: Frame out a section for displaying decor items
  • Mosaic medallion: A round or square focal point mosaic design
  • Decorative inlay: Fancy tile shape like a star or flower

Carefully Measure the Backsplash Area

Precisely measure the backsplash area including outlets, windows, corners and edges. Leave room for grout lines and trim. Expert planning is crucial for a properly executed design and to minimize tile cutting.

Purchase Extra Tiles

Order 10-15% more tile than you need to account for breakage, improper cuts and future repairs. Store extras in a safe place to avoid wasting your investment.

With thoughtful planning, high-quality materials, and proper installation, you can achieve a showstopping backsplash that both protects your walls and provides a personalized touch of style.