What Paint to Use on Tile Backsplash

Selecting the right paint for your tile backsplash is an important decision that can dramatically impact the look and feel of your kitchen or bathroom. With so many paint options available, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the key factors to consider when choosing a paint for tile backsplash, from paint types and finishes to prep work and application. We’ll provide plenty of tips and recommendations so you can pick the perfect paint for your next tile painting project.


A tiled backsplash serves both form and function in a home. The eclectic mix of colors, shapes, and textures makes a backsplash a standout design element. Beyond aesthetics, a backsplash protects the wall from moisture, stains, and splatters while being easy to clean.

Painting a tile backsplash allows you to refresh the look without going through the hassle and expense of a complete teardown. The right backsplash paint can revive old, dated tile or create a whole new visual impact. With limitless color options, you can match your backsplash to your cabinets, countertops, or flooring. Or make it pop as the focal point of the room.

However, not all paints adhere well or hold up over time on tile. The surface is naturally slick and non-porous. Using the wrong type of paint will likely lead to cracking, chipping, or peeling down the road.

Preparation is also key prior to painting tile. The surface needs to be thoroughly cleaned and primed for the paint to properly bond. Rushing in without the proper prep work will compromise the paint job.

This guide will walk through the paint options, finishes, prep work, and application techniques recommended specifically for tile backsplashes. Follow our tips and you’ll achieve a smooth, durable painted tile backsplash that looks stunning for years to come.

Paint Options for Tile Backsplash

Choosing the right type of paint is the first critical step for success painting tile. Let’s compare the pros and cons of the most common paint options used on backsplashes:

Latex Paint

Latex or acrylic paints are water-based and cure through evaporation. They are a popular choice for painting tile due to:

  • Affordability – Latex paints are generally the most budget-friendly option.
  • Durability – Modern latex paints are formulated to be highly durable and scrubbable.
  • Ease of application – Latex paints apply easily with a brush or roller.
  • Low odor – Compared to other paint types, latex emits very low VOCs.

On the downside, plain latex paint does not bond well to slick non-porous surfaces like ceramic tile or glass tile. Some delamination or peeling can occur over time if the tile is not properly prepped and primed.

For a tile backsplash, we recommend using a latex specifically formulated for bathrooms/kitchens. The additional resins help the paint better adhere to tile surfaces. If choosing a standard latex paint, opt for an exterior-rated product, which will also provide stronger adhesion and protection.

Epoxy Paint

Epoxy paints are two-component products consisting of an epoxy resin and a polyamine hardener. When mixed, the components undergo a chemical reaction that results in a tough, durable plastic coating.

Key benefits of epoxy paint include:

  • Superior adhesion – Epoxy bonds incredibly well to tile, glass, and metals.
  • Extreme durability – Once cured, epoxy paint forms a highly scratch, chip, and stain resistant coating.
  • Chemical resistance – Epoxy stands up well to acids, greases, oils, and solvents.

The downsides to epoxy paint are that it tends to be more expensive than other paint choices. It also has a brief pot life once the resin and hardener are mixed together. Epoxy emits very strong VOCs so proper ventilation is a must.

For tile backsplashes, particularly in the kitchen, epoxy paint is an excellent choice for the utmost in adhesion and durability.

Enamel Paint

There are a few types of enamel paints. Most common are:

  • Alkyd enamel – Oil-based enamel that cures by oxidation and contains solvents for quick drying.
  • Acrylic enamel – Water-based but contains additional resins (similar to alkyd enamel) to improve adhesion and durability.
  • Polyurethane enamel – Oil-based enamel that cures via reaction with oxygen.

In general, enamel paints provide a smooth, durable, glossy finish. They are formulated to better adhere to slick, non-porous surfaces compared to regular latex paint. As a result, enamel paints work well for coating tile backsplashes. Oil-based enamel will adhere the strongest but contains VOCs. Water-based acrylic enamel is low odor yet can still chip over time.

For kitchen backsplashes, we recommend water-based acrylic enamel for great adhesion with low odor and easy cleanup.

Urethane Paint

Urethane paints utilize resins that cure through a chemical reaction unrelated to solvent evaporation. This is what gives urethane coatings their hardness and durability.

Types of urethane paint include:

  • Oil-based urethane – Cures via oxidation just like other oil-based paints but forms a tougher film.
  • Moisture-cured urethane – Cures through reaction with moisture in the air.
  • Two-component urethane – Polyurethane resin is combined with a catalyst/hardener prior to application.

Urethane paints are extremely durable, chemical resistant, and adhere well to tile. Moisture-cured and two-component urethane coatings offer superb adhesion and scratch resistance.

The downside is that urethane paints contain VOCs during application and can have strong odor during curing. They tend to be more expensive options compared to latex or enamel paints too.

Specialty Tile Paint

There are also specialty paint products marketed specifically for tile surfaces. These tile paints combine performance features to improve adhesion and durability on tile:

  • Modified acrylic resins – Help the paint better wet and bond to the non-porous tile surface.
  • Enamel-like durability – Formulated to better withstand cleaning, scrubbing, and moisture.
  • Silicone additives – Improve flow and leveling of the paint on slick tile.

Tile paints are ideal if you want a product designed specifically for the challenges of painting tile surfaces. They are easy to apply like latex paint but with enhanced adhesion and durability properties.

Paint Recommendations

For most tile backsplash projects, we recommend:

  • Kitchens – Epoxy or urethane paint
  • Bathrooms – Enamel or tile paint
  • All other backsplashes – Enamel, tile paint, or exterior latex

No matter which paint you select, always check the manufacturer’s recommendation to ensure it is approved for use on tile surfaces.

Now that we’ve covered the best paint options for tile, let’s discuss the different finishes you can choose from.

Paint Finishes for Tile Backsplash

Another important paint consideration is the finish, or how glossy you want the painted backsplash to appear. The options range from flat all the way to high gloss.

Flat Paint

A flat finish is entirely matte with no reflective quality. It helps hide imperfections well since light does not bounce off the surface. Flat paint has excellent hide and coverage on tile.

The downside is that flat paint is more prone to show scuffs and stains. It requires gentle cleaning to avoid marring the finish. In kitchens, grease splatters can also penetrate and discolor flat paint more readily.

Satin Paint

Satin paint has a soft glow of sheen. It reflects more light than flat but is not highly glossy. Satin finishes have a smooth, velvety appearance.

The luster helps hide imperfections, though not as fully as flat paint. Satin paint stands up better to cleaning and moisture compared to flat. It offers a good compromise between hide and durability on backsplashes.

Semi-Gloss Paint

Semi-gloss paint has medium reflectivity, imparting a sleek brightness to tile. It makes colors pop and adds dimension to the backsplash. The glow of a semi-gloss finish highlights the grout lines in an attractive manner.

Semi-gloss paint is quite durable and easy to clean. It resists staining, moisture, and grease splatters better than flat or satin paint. Areas like behind the stove benefit from a semi-gloss coat.

Gloss Paint

Gloss paints have a high-shine, light-reflective finish. They create a bright, bold look and make dark colors appear deeper. The visual brilliance of gloss paint also highlights the tile pattern.

The very slick surface resists marring, stains, and moisture extremely well. Gloss paint prevents penetration of oils, fats, and other kitchen or bath contaminants. It stands up to frequent cleaning and scrubbing without damage.

Recommended Finishes

We recommend:

  • Kitchens – Semi-gloss or gloss finish
  • Bathrooms – Satin or semi-gloss finish
  • Other backsplashes – Satin finish

Again, consider where the backsplash is located and how much use it will receive when deciding on a paint finish. Gloss or semi-gloss work best for high-traffic kitchen backsplashes. Bathrooms can utilize satin or semi-gloss. For protected backsplashes in dining rooms, bedrooms, etc. satin is ideal.

Prep Work Before Painting Tile Backsplash

Preparing the tile surface correctly before painting is vital for success. Taking time to properly clean and prime the tile will allow the paint to adhere tightly.

Here are the recommended steps when prepping a tile backsplash for paint:

Clean the Tile

It’s crucial to thoroughly clean the tile and grout lines prior to painting. Built-up grease, soap scum, minerals, and other residues will interfere with paint adhesion if not removed.

Follow this cleaning process:

  • Remove any dishes, décor, outlet covers, etc. from the backsplash area.
  • Use a general all-purpose cleaner and warm water to wash the entire backsplash surface. Apply with a soft sponge or nylon scrub brush.
  • Rinse well with clean water and let dry completely.
  • Apply a degreasing cleaner like TSP substitute to backsplash and grout. This helps cut through oily grime from cooking.
  • Scrub with a stiff nylon bristle brush and rinse thoroughly.
  • Allow the tile to fully dry before priming or painting.

Cleaning properly removes all contaminants that could negatively affect paint adhesion.

Sand Glossy Tile

If the tile has a glossy, slick surface, sanding provides “tooth” for the paint to grip. Lightly sand the tile using 220-400 grit sandpaper. Focus on sanding the glossy glazed surface while avoiding the porous grout.

Thoroughly wipe and rinse away all sanding dust afterward. Allow the tile to dry completely before continuing. The sanded tile should have a dull appearance.

Repair Grout Lines

Re-grouting or using grout paint to fill any cracks or missing spots in the existing grout lines prevents air pockets that make paint blister and bubble. Smooth, consistent grout helps the paint coat cleanly.

After repairing grout, wait the manufacturer’s recommended cure time before painting. Typically 24-48 hours.

Prime the Tile

Priming is a crucial step that helps bind the paint to the non-porous tile surface. Effective tile primers work by slightly etching into the glazed tile finish while providing a tacky base:

  • Etching primers contain phosphoric and tannic acids that micro-roughen and clean the tile for better adhesion.
  • Stain-blocking primers help prevent bleed-through from water deposits or other deep stains in the tile.
  • Bonding primers offer superior adhesion to slick non-porous surfaces using advanced synthetic resins.

We recommend using a bonding-type primer formulated specifically for tile and glass. Apply a thin, even, continuous coat according to the manufacturer’s directions with a short nap or foam roller.

Once the primer has fully cured, the tile is ready for painting.

How to Paint a Tile Backsplash

Follow these steps for expert results:

1. Prepare Your Paint

Check that you have all necessary painting supplies before starting. For oil-based paints, you may need mineral spirits for thinning and cleanup. Latex or acrylic paints will require water.

Stir the paint thoroughly until uniform. If using an epoxy paint, make sure to properly mix the resin and hardener according to instructions.

Box or mix multiple cans of the same color together to prevent variances in color tone as you paint.

Pour the amount needed into a roller pan or paint tray.

2. Cut In the Perimeter

Use an angled paintbrush to carefully “cut in” around the outer edges where the backsplash meets countertops, cabinets, and walls. Applying paint to these borders first ensures no bleeding when rolling.

Work in small 3-4” sections and keep a wet edge to prevent lap marks. Cut in the borders along the top, sides, and bottom of the entire backsplash area.

3. Roll On Paint

Next, use a short nap or foam paint roller to apply the first coat. Roll slowly and gently to avoid dragging across the surface. Maintain a wet edge as you work.

Work methodically section by section. Apply the paint vertically first with downward strokes, then roll horizontally side-to-side. The multiple directions provide an even coat.

Continue rolling paint until the entire backsplash surface area is coated.

4. Inspect and Recoat

Examine the first coat carefully and touch up any thin spots or drips as needed. Allow the paint to dry completely according to manufacturer specs.

Apply the second coat in the same methodical fashion using vertical then horizontal strokes. Two full coats provide adequate film build for the rich opaque coverage and protection needed.

5. Finishing Touches

Once the final coat has dried fully, you can reinstall removed items like outlet covers, décor, etc. Use painter’s tape and paper to protect countertops and cabinets from splatters if touching up paint around the cut-in edges.

Finally step back and enjoy your freshly painted tile backsplash!

How Long to Let Paint Dry on Backsplash

Drying times vary by paint type:

  • Latex/acrylic paint – 1-2 hours between coats; 24 hours for full cure
  • Epoxy paint – 6-12 hours between coats; full cure in 7 days
  • Enamel paint – 8-24 hours between coats; full cure in 2-3 days
  • Urethane paint – 12-24 hours between coats; full cure in 5-7 days

Environmental factors like humidity also affect cure rates. Provide ample airflow to assist drying and curing. The tile itself helps retain moisture, so full curing takes longer than with drywall.

Avoid cleaning, scrubbing, or placing items on the backsplash until fully cured. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for recoat and cure times.

How to Distress Painted Backsplash Tile

For a vintage, timeworn look consider distressing the painted tile backsplash. Here’s how:

  • Allow paint to fully dry then lightly sand to create worn edges and expose some of the original tile color beneath. Focus on the grout lines.
  • Use fine grit sandpaper or sanding sponge for controlled distressing.
  • Wipe away all dust then apply a matte clear polyurethane sealer. This seals the distressed effect.
  • For more intense distressing, use a paint scraping tool. Remove paint to create a multi-layered timeworn look.
  • Apply varying distressing effects across the backsplash for natural appearance.
  • Can also use a damp rag to rub away some of the fresh paint and expose underlying paint for a worn look.

Distressing creates an aged, worn appearance as the original tile color peeks through the new paint. The clear top coat protects the finish.

How to Stencil or Freehand Paint a Backsplash

For more decorative flair, you can stencil or freehand paint patterns over the backsplash paint:

Stenciling a Backsplash

  • Select a stencil pattern and secure it firmly to the backsplash area with painter’s tape.
  • Use a small foam roller or stencil brush to apply contrasting paint just over the open areas of the stencil pattern.
  • Carefully remove the stencil. Reapply to add repeating patterns across the backsplash surface as desired.
  • Allow paint to dry fully before optional clear sealer application.

Stenciling creates stylish geometric, floral, or other ornate designs over the tile paint. Build up layered patterns for a couture look.

Freehand Painting a Backsplash

If you have artistic skills, try hand painting original designs. Some fun options include:

  • Sketch flowers, fruit, herbs, vines, or other freehand patterns loosely across the backsplash.
  • Outline tile grout lines or corners with contrasting paint colors for a bold graphic look.
  • Paint curved vertical stripes in varying widths and colors.
  • Use a sponge or crumpled plastic bag to dab on shadows or dimension.
  • Create ombre effect by blending or shading paint colors from dark to light.

Let your creativity shine by turning the backsplash into a colorful hand-painted canvas!

FAQs About Painting Tile Backsplashes

Still have some questions? Here we answer some frequently asked queries about painting tile backsplashes:

What kind of paint adheres best to ceramic tile?

Epoxy paint offers extremely superior adhesion to tile and prevents chipping or peeling. Urethane paints also bond incredibly well. Certain specialty tile paints use modified resins