Kitchen and Bathroom Backsplashes: A Comprehensive Guide

Bathroom tile backsplash


Art Wager / Getty Images

Backsplashes have a high work-to-enjoyment ratio. For simple projects, you can be done in only a few hours, with minimal tile cutting. It is not very messy, as it uses little thinset. And it can be completely dry if you use a dry adhesive tile mat.

Backsplashes are an ideal canvas for making your dreams come alive with materials ranging from tiny glass mosaic tile to traditional subway tile. In contrast to kitchen projects that require technical expertise, this is one that can truly be called a do it yourself project.

  • 01 of 07

    Backsplash Basics

    4x4 Tile Backsplash Behind Stove

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    A backsplash is a vertical extension to a counter—typically kitchen or bathroom counter—which protects the wall from unintended splashes of water. it can extend a few inches high or go as high as the ceiling.

    • Location: Backsplashes are found in kitchens and bathrooms, directly behind sinks and usually stretching the entire length of the counter.
    • Purpose: Their purpose is primarily functional: to protect the wall behind the sink against water damage from inadvertent splashing. Since, in the kitchen, backsplashes cover other parts of the countertop beside the sink area, they also help protect the wall against grease splatter when cooking or food splatter during meal preparation. Backsplashes are more than just functional, though. Built with care and an eye toward the aesthetics, backsplashes can be a beautiful addition to your kitchen or bathroom—almost like a permanent picture on the wall.
    • Best materials: Most backsplashes are constructed out of tile. Glass mosaic is the most popular form of tile backsplash. Other materials, such as granite, Corian, Silestone, stainless steel can be used. Often, the same material used to make the counter is also used to make the backsplash. It is often considered an optional element, so confirm with your installer that they will be giving you a backsplash. One of the newer, trendier materials is sheet glass. A great advantage of sheet glass backsplashes is that the backside of the glass can be painted—the side facing the wall. This paint layer is protected against wear and tear and is virtually impossible to scrape or scratch.
  • 02 of 07

    Get Inspired

    Modern black and white backsplash

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    They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that is true, then you cannot flatter these examples of backsplashes more. Most images are provided by the tile manufacturers and showcase stunning examples of the power of vitreous ceramic or glass.

  • 03 of 07


    Bathroom sink backsplash


    NickyLloyd / Getty Images

    Due to the amount of water and abuse that kitchens get, it is unthinkable not to have a backsplash along the back of the countertop.

    Even if you can control the water, your walls will quickly get damaged from items being accidentally pushed up against them: knives, cutting boards, food, and more.

    In bathrooms, you get by without a backsplash in some situations. If you have a sink counter that does not butt up against the wall (a pedestal sink, for example), your need for a backsplash is only aesthetic.

  • 04 of 07


    Couple talking with employee about backsplash tile

     Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

    The default material offered by some countertop installers is the countertop material itself. So, if you have a solid surface countertop, installers may run a 4" high backsplash of the same material along the length of the counter.

    This helps to mask any gaps between the counter and the wall.

    Ceramic tile and stone are more common backsplash materials. Vitreous (slick surfaced) ceramic tile or glass offer good wipe-down ability, no small thing when we are dealing with behind-stove grease splatter.

    Natural stone is slightly thicker and offers poorer cleaning properties.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07


    Man installing backsplash

     GeorgePeters/Getty Images

    It is the most basic of all backsplashes: ceramic tile.

    At its heart, it is little more than applying thinset mortar to the wall and then pressing the tile into the wet mortar. But the trick is in getting the layout straight and staying straight as the compound dries.

    Because it is too much to expect tile applied on a vertical surface to not move, special inexpensive plastic spacers in the form of a "T" can be fitted between the tiles. After the thinset has dried, the spacers are removed.

    Pressing grout into the seams with a rubber float further strengthens the tile's overall structure.

  • 06 of 07

    Glass Tile

    Glass tile backsplash with fruit bowl

    Nancy Rose/Getty Images 

    Glass tile conveys a look of sleek urbanity. If a modern style kitchen is what you have in mind, you may want to consider this material.

    One drawback of glass is that it is trickier to cut than ceramic or porcelain tile. Glass never goes out of style, but certain sizes and colors of glass do. For example, one-inch square mosaic glass tile in earthen colors tend to evoke a feeling of the mid-2000's. Since the design is cyclical, no doubt this style will make its way back around again.

  • 07 of 07


    Travertine tile backsplash with medallion

     fallbrook/Getty Images

    Travertine makes for an ideal backsplash if you are interested in a Tuscan-style kitchen or any kind of kitchen with a classic, Old World look.

    One great thing about travertine is that it can be dry-installed, meaning that it does not need grout between the tiles.

    One downside is that, unlike vitreous ceramic, travertine is porous and does need to be sealed.

    If you find travertine too expensive to install for an entire counter's worth of backsplash, consider installing as a medallion, like the one shown here behind the stove.