The Best Kitchen Backsplash Materials

close up of a classic kitchen

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Backsplashes are a very personal matter. You see them from the minute you wake up for your coffee and all the way through the day 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 choose something with more style.

To make the decision even more complex, the look is just one factor in choosing a backsplash. With that in mind, the following list rates several of the top backsplash materials in five different categories (1 is worst; 5 is best):

  • Cost
  • Ease of DIY installation
  • Maintenance
  • Style (in terms of timelessness, or how soon it will look outdated)
  • Functionality

The final category, Functionality, considers how well the materials do what they're supposed to do: protect walls against splashes along primary counters and splatters behind stoves.

  • 01 of 06

    Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

    ceramic backsplash

    Lived In Images/Getty Images

    Ceramic or 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 and glazed ceramic tile stand 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 the-sky's-the-limit for the fancy stuff.

    The main downside is that tile work involves 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

    Glass backsplash

    nancynance/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Glass tile kitchen backsplashes have a cool, sophisticated look. The reflective surface of glass returns light and brightens the kitchen. Colors in glass tile tend to be especially strong, and they never fade. Glass is naturally non-porous so it never needs to be sealed. However, the grout between tiles should be sealed for stain-resistance, just as with ceramic or porcelain tile.

    One potential drawback of glass tile is that it's a material that has enjoyed trendiness for quite a number of years already. While the trend hasn't exactly waned, it probably will before long.

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

    Total: 3.8

  • 03 of 06

    Metal Tile

    Installing Kitchen Back Splash

    GeorgePeters/Getty Images 

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

    So, for example, 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 (such as Loctite® PL Premium®) or even double-sided tape (which may not hold very well). One downside is that metal tiles can scratch, and the scratches cannot be sanded out.

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

    Total: 3.4

  • 04 of 06

    Travertine Tile

    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 stone veneer tile. It comes in rectified tiles from 4-by-4-inch up to 18-by-18-inch, though 12-inch squares are the largest tiles you'll want to use for backsplashes. Even though travertine is a form of limestone, which has a heavily pitted surface, the pits are typically filled in and honed smooth.

    Travertine isn't the bargain choice, starting at $5 per square foot and rising steeply from there. Also, because travertine is natural stone, it should be sealed periodically with a stone sealant to prevent staining.

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

    Total: 3

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Thermoplastic (Faux Metal)

    Thermoplastic Backsplash

    Home Depot

    Plastic backsplash is perhaps the easiest type of material to install. It can be cut with scissors and applied to the wall with double-sided tape. While real metal tile doesn't always stick well with tape, these plastic panels are so light that tape is a reliable option. To aid in installation, faux metal panels are 24.5 inches wide and 18.5 inches tall, the height being around the standard distance between counters and cabinets. 

    But these tiles are indeed plastic, and this can be most noticeable in the J-trim along the tiles' edges as well as the inside corner trim strips. Also, even though they are Class A fire retardant, they will deform if placed near heat 140 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

    Stone backsplash

    BanksPhotos/Getty Images

    Visually, stone backsplashes add great value to a kitchen, and they tend to be associated with higher-end homes. Better still, you can get this premium look without having to deal with real stone, which is heavy and hard to cut. Instead, most homes use what is called manufactured stone veneer, a man-made product composed of Portland cement, aggregates, and iron oxides.

    The chief problem with veneer stone backsplashes is that they are porous and 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 some veneer stone tiles come in 12-by-12-inch mesh sheets, they can be difficult to install. And while this material is not as hard to cut as real stone, veneer stone pieces can still be tricky for novices. Also, adhering the stone to the wall is difficult due to the weight of the material. One 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: 2.2