The Best Kitchen Backsplash Materials

Backsplashes are a very personal matter.  You see them from the minute you wake and pour coffee, up to those late-night kitchen raids.  It has to look good.  It can't be too in-your-face or you'll quickly tire of it.  Yet if it's too bland, you'll wonder why you didn't have the courage to install something with more style.

How do you rate "best" materials for a backsplash?  On a 1 to 5 rating system (1 being worst, 5 being best), I evaluated the following factors:  cost; ease of self-installation; maintenance; and style (mainly, whether it's a style that will become outdated soon).  With backsplashes, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that they are functional elements, so I also rated backsplash materials by how well they do what they're supposed to do:  protect walls against splashes along primary counters and splatters behind stoves.  It's all a "one man's ceiling is another man's floor" type of rating system, especially when it comes to style and cost.

  • 01 of 06

    Ceramic or Porcelain Tile Backsplash

    ceramic backsplash
    Lived In Images / Getty Images

    Ceramic/porcelain tile is a shape-shifter:  it can be whatever you want it to be.  It can look "tile-like" by mixing and matching bold colors.  Or it can go the opposite direction and look natural, mimicking the look of stone.  

    Because it's such a popular backsplash option, most tile comes paired with plenty of edge treatments and accessories.  All porcelain tile stands up well against water.  As for cost, you can scale it up or down to whatever suits your budget, spending as little as 25 cents a square foot for bargain tile or sky's-the-limit for the fancy stuff.

    The main downside is that good tile-work does have a bit of a learning curve, and do you want that learning curve to be your kitchen wall?

    • Cost:  5
    • Installation:  3
    • Maintenance:  4
    • Style:  5
    • Functionality:  5

    Total:  4.4

  • 02 of 06

    Glass Tile Backsplash

    Glass backsplash
    nancynance / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Glass kitchen backsplashes have a cool, urbane look.  Glass' reflective surface returns light and brightens the kitchen.  Colors in glass tile tend to be especially strong, and they never fade.  

    After installation, you never had to seal the tile:  glass is naturally 100% non-porous.  Just wipe down with Windex and you're good to go.

    Downside to glass mosaic is that it's a material that has enjoyed trendiness for quite a number of years already.  While the trend hasn't exactly waned, I feel that it will before long.

    • Cost:  3
    • Installation:  3
    • Maintenance:  5
    • Style:  3
    • Functionality:  5

    Total:  3.8

  • 03 of 06

    Metal Tile Backsplash

    metal backsplash
    pbombaert / Getty Images

    Metal backsplash tile once meant only one thing:  large tin ceiling tiles re-purposed for the wall.  You'll still find this, though it's not as popular as it was in the past.  More recently, there has been an explosion of smaller metal tiles of all sorts of textures and finishes.  

    So, where you once had white ceramic subway tiles, now you can have brushed stainless steel subway tiles.  They stick easily to the wall with a mastic-like Loctite® PL Premium® or double-sided tape (though I don't recommend this option).  One downside is that being metal, they can scratch, with no options for sanding out the scratches.

    • Cost:  3
    • Installation:  4
    • Maintenance:  2
    • Style:  4
    • Functionality:  4

    Total:  3.4

  • 04 of 06

    Travertine Tile Backsplash

    Travertine Tile Backsplash
    LJM Photo / Getty Images

    If you're trying for an Old World look in your kitchen, look no further than travertine tile.  This is natural stone and it's lighter and easier to install than manufactured veneer.  It comes in rectified tiles from 4" x 4" up to 18" x 18", though twelve-inch squares are the largest tiles you'll want to use for backsplashes.  Even though travertine is a limestone--meaning that its surface is heavily pitted--these pits are typically filled in and honed to smoothness.

    Travertine isn't the bargain choice.  At $5/square foot and steeply rising, prepare to spend hundreds of dollars for your backsplash materials.  You'll also need to maintain your travertine by regularly sealing it with stone sealant.

    • Cost:  2
    • Installation:  2
    • Maintenance:  3
    • Style:  5
    • Functionality:  3

    Total:  3

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Thermoplastic (Faux Metal) Backsplash

    Thermoplastic Backsplash
    Courtesy of Home Depot

    Plastic backsplash is perhaps the easiest type of material to install.  What can be easier than cutting with kitchen scissors and sticking to the wall with double-sided tape?  Even though real metal tiles do not stick well to wall, these plastic panels are so light that tape is an option.  To aid in installation, faux metal panels are 24.5" wide and 18.5" high--the height being the distance between counters and cabinets.  

    But they are fake, and what turns me off the most are the J-trim and inside corner trim strips that reveal thermoplastic backsplash as fake.  Also, even though they are Class A fire retardant, they will deform if placed near heat 140 degrees F or greater.  Which means you can't install them behind stoves.

    • Cost:  4
    • Installation:  5
    • Maintenance:  3
    • Style:  1
    • Functionality:  1

    Total:  2.8

  • 06 of 06

    Manufactured Stone Veneer Backsplash

    Stone backsplash
    BanksPhotos / Getty Images

    Visually, stone backsplashes add great value to your kitchen.  They tend to be associated with higher end homes.  As such, these homes tend to have impressive resale values.  There's no need to deal with real stone, as real stone is too heavy and hard to cut.  Instead, most homes will use what is called manufactured stone veneer, a man-made product composed of Portland cement, aggregates, and iron oxides.

    The chief problem, though, with veneer stone backsplashes is that they are porous and thus they will absorb food splatter, especially oils, and will stain.  Once they have become stained, they are hard to clean.  Even if you do manage to seal the veneer (veneer maker El Dorado recommends CraftShield, a silane and siloxane-based penetrating sealer), by its very nature veneer stone is bumpy, uneven, and exceedingly difficult to wipe down.

    Even though veneer stone tiles come on 12" x 12" mesh sheets, they can be difficult to install.  While not as hard to cut as real stone, veneer stone pieces can still be hard for novices to cut, and adhering the stone to the wall is difficult due to the heaviness of the stone.  Good thing, though:  stone doesn't need to be grouted, saving you one step in the installation process.

    • Cost:  2
    • Installation:  2
    • Maintenance:  1
    • Style:  5
    • Functionality:  1

    Total:  2.4