What’s Backsplash? A Complete Guide to Understanding and Choosing Backsplashes for Your Home

A backsplash is an interior design element that refers to the section of wall behind a countertop, most commonly behind sinks, stoves, and kitchen counters. Backsplashes serve both decorative and functional purposes, protecting walls from water damage, stains, and splatters while also adding visual interest to kitchens, bathrooms, and other spaces. With the wide variety of backsplash materials, colors, patterns, and designs available today, backsplashes can be an important component in creating your desired aesthetic. This guide will cover everything you need to know about backsplashes to help you determine what backsplash is best for your home.

What is a Backsplash?

A backsplash is a vertical surface made of tile, metal, glass, or other materials installed on the wall behind a sink, stove, kitchen counter, bathroom vanity, or other spaces prone to moisture and splatters.

Backsplashes serve two key purposes:

  • Protecting the Wall – Backsplashes act as a protective barrier for walls, shielding them from water, grease splatters, food stains, and other messes that can damage drywall, wallpaper, or paint. The water-resistant materials used for backsplashes make them easy to clean and maintain.
  • Decorative Accent – Backsplashes provide the opportunity to add style, color, texture, and visual interest to a space. They can tie together your cabinetry, countertops, appliances, and overall design aesthetic. Backsplashes are available in a vast array of colors, patterns, shapes, and materials to complement your decor.

Backsplashes typically extend 4-6 inches vertically from the counter or vanity top up the wall. They may run the entire length of the counter or be placed only behind certain sections like behind a stove. The area below the backsplash down to the countertop is called the apron.

Backsplash Materials and Design Options

Backsplashes today are available in a diverse range of materials, offering you endless design options:

Tile Backsplashes

Ceramic and porcelain tile are classic backsplash materials, available in a vast selection of sizes, colors, textures, and patterns. Popular options include:

  • Subway tile – rectangular glossy tiles laid in a brick pattern
  • Mosaic tile – small uniform square tiles forming patterns
  • Stamped or embossed tile – textured with patterns and designs
  • Handpainted tile – custom designs and glazes

Tile backsplashes are durable, water-resistant, and easy to clean. The grout lines between tiles may require occasional sealing.

Stone Backsplashes

Natural stone like granite, marble, and slate can make a striking upscale statement in bathrooms or kitchens. Stone has a timeless, elegant appeal. Stones come in a range of colors from bold to neutral. Stone backsplashes work best when installed properly and sealed to prevent staining.

Metal Backsplashes

From stainless steel to copper to tin, metal backsplashes bring beautiful brilliance and a modern, industrial vibe. Stainless steel is sleek and contemporary. Copper and tin backsplashes will patina over time for an antiqued look. Keep in mind that metal backsplashes show smudges and may require frequent polishing.

Glass Backsplashes

Glass tile, chic glass sheets, and mirrored glass backsplashes reflect light beautifully and have a clean, sleek aesthetic. Dense tempered glass tile is durable and easy to maintain. Larger glass panels can showcase unique colors and designs. The reflective surface also makes kitchens appear larger.

Wood Backsplashes

Wood brings natural warmth and texture to backsplashes. Use wood panels, reclaimed boards, shiplap boards, or wooden mosaic tiles. Consider water-resistant woods like teak or use a protective sealant. Wood backsplashes should be avoided behind stoves.

Concrete Backsplashes

Concrete backsplashes are trendy, with an urban edge. The look pairs well with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. Concrete resists heat, stains, and moisture and is nearly indestructible. Disadvantages are weight and susceptibility to cracks and scratches.

Fiber Cement Backsplashes

Fiber cement boards contain cement mixed with cellulose fibers, clay, and sand. This versatile product resists moisture, stains, and mold and comes textured or smooth. Fiber cement backsplashes are durable, yet allow flexibility for cutting clean lines and openings.

Laminate Backsplashes

Laminate panels are an affordable and user-friendly backsplash option that can realistically imitate pricier materials like ceramic tile, metal, and even wood. Easy to cut and install as a DIY project, laminate backsplashes are impact-resistant and protect against moisture.

Beaded Board Backsplashes

With rows of wooden beads, beaded board offers cottage-chic charm and texture for backsplashes. Use authentic wooden beaded board or molded synthetic versions. Keep surfaces well-sealed and caulked. Limit use to low-moisture areas.

HVAC Sheet Metal Backsplashes

For industrial edge, sheet metal used for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning ductwork can be fashioned into a backsplash. Often seen behind stoves, the commercial look contrasts well with wood countertops. Disadvantages include noise, scratches, and required protective coating.

Wallpaper Backsplashes

Some varietes of wallpaper today are intended for kitchen and bathroom use. Water-resistant wallpaper backsplashes allow for relatively easy application of creative prints and patterns not found in traditional backsplash materials. Keep areas well caulked.

Recycled/Found Object Backsplashes

For artistic appeal, backsplashes can be handcrafted from recycled or found items like old tiles, china, bottle caps, and barn wood. Components are adhered to a substrate, then sealed. This type of mosaic backsplash has an eco-friendly uniqueness but requires more maintenance.

Key Backsplash Considerations

Keep the following factors in mind when selecting your backsplash:

  • Purpose – Is your backsplash mostly decorative or does it need to withstand high heat and moisture? This will help guide smarter material selection.
  • Location – Backsplash needs and best materials differ for kitchens, bathroom vanities, laundry rooms, and other spaces.
  • Traffic – Higher traffic areas do best with durable, low-maintenance backsplash materials. Mosaic glass tile withstands heavy use.
  • Budget – Backsplash materials range dramatically in price. Set realistic expectations based on your budget. Labor will also impact the total installed cost.
  • Appliances/Fixtures – Coordinate backsplash colors and finishes with fixtures. For example, stainless steel appliances pair well with glass tile.
  • Countertops – The backsplash color and pattern should complement your countertop material and pattern. A chaotic combination can be jarring.
  • Cabinetry – Look at your cabinet finish and style to select a backsplash that blends or nicely contrasts.
  • Overall Design Style – Traditional, modern, cottage? Your backsplash should align with and enhance the room’s overall aesthetic.

How to Install a Backsplash

Installing a backsplash is a manageable DIY weekend project for many homeowners. Here are the basic steps:

Step 1: Remove the Old Backsplash

If there is an existing backsplash, take time to fully remove it and clean the wall surface. This provides a smooth, pristine foundation.

Step 2: Measure and Dry Fit

Measure the backsplash area and cut your tiles, panels, or boards to fit. Place items on the countertop in a dry run before permanently adhering them to the wall. Make sure the edges align cleanly.

Step 3: Prep the Surface

Thoroughly clean the wall surface. Apply primer if needed. This helps the backsplash adhere firmly long-term.

Step 4: Apply Adhesive

Cover the backsplash pieces and/or wall with a quality tile adhesive using a notched trowel. Work in manageable sections so the adhesive doesn’t dry before pieces are placed.

Step 5: Set the Backsplash

Starting at the bottom, press backsplash pieces into the adhesive and hold firmly for 30-60 seconds. Use spacers between tiles. Slide panels and boards into place.

Step 6: Grout and Seal

Once adhesive has cured, apply grout between tile or glass sections. When dry, apply a protective sealant to the entire surface.

Step 7: Finish the Edges

Caulk along countertop seams and install wall trim or edge pieces for a polished finish. Clean any adhesive residue. Enjoy your backsplash makeover!

Hiring a contractor experienced in backsplash installation is recommended if tiling intricate patterns or large areas. They have the right tools and skills. Cost averages $50 per sq. ft. but varies by material and regional labor rates.

Backsplash Ideas for Kitchens

Kitchen backsplashes see heavy usage and are a focal point, so take time exploring creative ideas that suit your style.

Mixing Materials

Blend two or more materials, like combining subway tile with a decorative glass mosaic stripe. This adds interest while keeping costs reasonable.

Contrasting Colors

Choose a crisp, contrasting backsplash color that really pops against your cabinetry and counters, like white backsplash tile with dark wood cabinets.

Extending to the Ceiling

Run your backsplash tile or panels up to the ceiling for a seamless, dramatic look that makes ceilings appear higher.

Pattern Play

Alternate colors or textures in mosaic tile patterns. Try herringbone layouts, basketweave, chevron, or Moroccan fish scale tile designs.

Kitchen Collections

Some tile brands offer coordinating collections of countertops, backsplashes, sinks, faucets and cabinet hardware for a cohesive customized kitchen.

Focal Point Backsplashes

Frame the stove or sink area with an eye-catching backsplash feature, like marble subway tiles laid in a herringbone pattern bounded by wood trim.

Modern Metallics

Sleek stainless steel, aged copper, or embossed metal tile lend contemporary appeal, especially paired with dark cabinetry for contrast.

Natural Elements

Use natural stone slab backsplashes or ceramic tile resembling materials like travertine and fossilstone for organic texture.

Salvaged Character

Reclaim wood boards, old bricks, or chipped china to produce one-of-a-kind rustic or cottage backsplashes with vintage charm.

Green Scene

Sustainable glass, metal, and tile containing recycled content is available. Handmade recycled component backsplashes reduce waste.

Classic Subway Tile

Affordable white subway tiles never go out of style. They fit both modern and traditional kitchens. Lay in stacking patterns for visual interest.

Integrated Functionality

Design your backsplash around your appliances and accessories. For example, line up floating shelves with your upper backsplash edge.

Backsplash Ideas for Bathrooms

For bathrooms, consider water-resistant backsplash materials that will withstand high humidity and regular cleaning.

Spa Retreat

Mosaic tile in soothing blues, greens, and neutrals evoke a relaxing spa vibe in bathrooms. Accent with glass and stone.

Marble Marvel

Carrara, Calacatta, and Statuario marble backsplashes exude luxury. Use large-scale slabs or marble mosaic tiles. Seal regularly.

Moroccan Motif

Intricate patterned or handpainted ceramic tile gives a bathroom a worldly, exotic feel. Play with bold colors and prints.

Beach Chic

Use glass tile in ocean blues and greens. Add white tile trim and accessories for a breezy coastal vibe. Use water-resistant grout.

Urban Edge

Concrete, brick, or wood-look porcelain tile backsplashes paired with industrial-style faucets and light fixtures give off an urban loft aesthetic.


For contemporary simplicity, try a full-height porcelain or glass backsplash in a neutral color like white or light gray to bounce light around.

Eccentric Edge

Make a unique decor statement with an artsy handmade or cleverly repurposed backsplash. Frame with classic white tile edges.

Focal Feature

Use intricate tile or marble patterns solely behind the sink/vanity area or as a defined insert panel to create a focal point.

Go Geometric

Use geometric shapes – circles, zigzags, diamonds, or hexagons in boldly contrasting colors for mod pop. Pair with sleek fixtures.

Natural Wood

The warmth of wood backsplashes adds a pleasing natural element. Use moisture-resistant woods like teak or waterproof coatings.

Backsplash Design for Fireplace Surrounds

Another prime backsplash location is behind wood-burning fireplaces. Tile or stone backsplashes protect walls from smoke stains and heat. For fireplaces, consider:

  • Heat-resistant materials like metal or slate
  • Extending backsplash to ceiling to prevent stains
  • Colors/textures that coordinate with hearth and mantel
  • Mosaic sheets for ornate decorative accent
  • Flush install style for clean look

Backsplash Maintenance Tips

  • Seal grout and porous surfaces annually to prevent staining and mildew
  • Use manufacturer cleaning products formulated for your backsplash type
  • Avoid abrasive scrubbers and harsh chemicals that can damage surfaces
  • Rinse backsplashes frequently to prevent buildup of oils and mineral deposits
  • Address chips, missing grout, and caulk gaps quickly to limit moisture damage
  • Use a squeegee after cleaning to eliminate water pooling on ledges


The right backsplash brings together your overall kitchen or bath design while also protecting walls from inevitable splatters and messes. With the amazing range of stylish, functional backsplash products now available, you can find options to fit any project budget and design vision. Spend time considering how your family will use the space, what decorative statement you want to achieve, and what backsplash materials make the most sense before getting started. While professional installation is recommended for more intricate tile patterns, many backsplash projects can be DIY if you have strong attention to detail. With some planning and creativity, you can install a backsplash that will improve functionality and provide design inspiration.