Similar to choosing tiles for the shower or hardwood for the floor, it’s important to take your time selecting a kitchen backsplash material because it will be a permanent part of your kitchen decor—at least for a few years. A rushed decision can leave you with an unattractive aesthetic that you have to look at every time you’re cooking, baking, cleaning up, or just heading to the kitchen to grab a snack.
In order to make the best decision about the backsplash material and design for the kitchen, you should try to gain a better understanding of the various backsplash tile options. Finding out about the benefits and drawbacks of each type, as well as the cost, style, installation difficulty, and other key factors, can help you choose a kitchen backsplash material that you won’t regret. Peruse this guide to learn how to choose the best kitchen backsplash material and where to look for new products.
A backsplash is a waterproof vertical surface intended to protect the wall behind the stove or countertop in the kitchen or bathroom. The tiles are typically arranged in an attractive pattern to accent or blend into the aesthetic of the home, while preventing oil, water, food, and soap from staining or damaging the walls.
There are seven types of backsplash material that are commonly used to create attractive aesthetic designs in the kitchen or bathroom, including countertop materials, ceramic and porcelain, glass, metal, natural stone, faux metal (thermoplastic), and manufactured stone veneer.
One of the most popular materials for kitchen or bathroom backsplashes is the countertop material itself. When solid surface or quartz countertops are fabricated, often a piece is sliced off and used on the back of the countertop as a backsplash.
This type of like-material backsplash quietly steps back and does its job with little fanfare. It blends into the countertop and can be thought of as being part of the countertop. It’s a sleek, integrated look that fits in well with contemporary kitchens.
Because this type of backsplash material is primarily bonded to the countertop, not the wall, the seam between the counter and backsplash is waterproof.
Some homeowners aren’t fond of countertop-material backsplashes because it’s more or less a permanent fixture. It’s also more expensive than other backsplash materials not only because the materials are more expensive but because it’s not a DIY project.
Ceramic or Porcelain Tile
Ceramic tiles are made with a clay mixture and fired in a kiln at a high temperature to create a wide variety of colors and patterns. This type of backsplash material is one of the most popular options due to the low cost, lasting durability, and high functionality, though it should be mentioned that ceramic tiles take more skill and experience to install than simple stick-on tiles.
Similar to ceramic tiles, porcelain backsplash tiles are made with a clay mixture and are fired in a kiln. The main difference between porcelain and ceramic tile is that porcelain uses a more refined clay, and it’s fired at a higher temperature, which increases the density and durability of the tiles.
With this in mind, porcelain tiles are an excellent option for a kitchen or bathroom backsplash due to the low level of maintenance required, as well as the lower cost and superior durability.
Opting for glass tile will cost more than installing porcelain or ceramic, but this backsplash material is even easier to keep clean. Additionally, glass tiles have a range of color options that won’t fade over time and the nonporous material helps to prevent stains or discoloration.
However, installing glass tiles isn’t an easy DIY task. If you lack the knowledge and experience to work with glass, then this material may not be the right choice for your kitchen or bathroom.
Traditionally, metal backsplash tiles only referred to large tin ceiling tiles that were repurposed for the wall. This style can still be found in some homes and businesses, but recently manufacturers have come out with small metal tiles that can be found in a variety of textures and finishes.
These tiles stick directly to the wall with an adhesive, making them easier to install than most other options, though the cost is still higher than porcelain or ceramic.
Another downside is that metal tiles are highly susceptible to scratches and other abrasive damage. Some metals may not react well to acidic foods. Copper tiles, beautiful at first, eventually will tarnish.
Natural Stone Tile
If the aesthetic vision you are trying to create has a more traditional appeal, then a natural stone like travertine tile is a good choice though an expensive one.
Travertine has a rough, natural style as a result of being manufactured using limestone, though this porous material is typically filled in and honed until it has a smooth surface. Beyond the unique aesthetic style, these tiles may not be an appealing choice because they require a high level of maintenance, including regular cleaning and periodic sealing, to prevent stains and discoloration.
Faux Metal (Thermoplastic)
If you’re considering a metal backsplash but don’t like the maintenance issues, faux metal tiles made of thermoplastic may be a solution.
Faux metal tiles are easy to cut with scissors. They install on the kitchen or bathroom wall with adhesive or with double-sided tape, though most homeowners tend to gravitate toward using adhesives.
It’s important to keep in mind that these tiles are made of plastic and they can bend, warp, and otherwise deform if they are installed near a source of heat that exceeds 140°F. This means that these backsplash tiles cannot be installed behind or around the stove.
Manufactured Stone Veneer
The appearance of the kitchen backsplash material is one of the main factors to consider when you invest in materials for a new project, which is why manufactured stone veneer is such an attractive material. Veneer stone has an incredibly appealing look, but it’s also a costly option that’s difficult to install and maintain.
Additionally, manufactured stone veneer is a porous material that absorbs food and oil spatter, quickly becoming discolored if the offending substance is not cleaned immediately. You can seal the veneer to try to prevent staining, but the naturally uneven veneer is still difficult to keep clean.
Before Buying New Backsplash Material
Whether you are replacing an old backsplash or installing a new backsplash for the kitchen, it’s necessary to select a backsplash material that suits your needs and your style.
While minor stains, scratches, and even slight fading can be largely ignored if you don’t mind the drop in aesthetic quality, more serious issues like loose grout or severely damaged tiles should be addressed as soon as possible to keep the wall properly protected.
If you are making repairs to an existing backsplash, keep in mind that it may be difficult to find matching colors because the tiles tend to fade over time. Also, make sure to double-check the backsplash material to ensure you find the right type to match the existing tiles.
Replacing the entire kitchen backsplash is always a good option if the damage to the tiles or grout is widespread. This also gives you the freedom to change up the look, style, and even the backsplash material, so you can find the best option for your kitchen or bathroom.
Buying Considerations for Backsplash Material
Before selecting an attractive backsplash option for your home, it’s a good idea to research the potential products you are interested in. Take some time to consider the installation difficulty, maintenance requirements, durability, and functionality of each product to ensure that you choose a suitable backsplash material for your installation project.
Ease of Installation
New and inexperienced DIYers should consider the installation difficulty of the various backsplash material types before deciding on a material. Most backsplash materials need to be secured to the wall with grout, similar to shower tiles. This process also involves cutting the tiles to fit the exact space and is typically handled with a wet tile saw. You can find peel-and-stick tiles to complete your kitchen backsplash, but these materials are usually lacking in quality and durability.
Experienced DIYers may not need to worry as much about whether they can complete a project when they are selecting the material because they have the knowledge and skill to be able to work with any of the most common types of backsplash material. However, the installation difficulty can still increase the length of time it takes to complete the project, so if you want to finish up quickly, it may be better to opt for a material that is easier to install, like thermoplastic tiles.
After installing the kitchen backsplash, you’ll need to work to maintain it. Some materials, like glass, ceramic, and porcelain tiles, require very little maintenance to keep the tiles in good condition. Simply clean the backsplash in the same way you would the stove or countertop.
However, other kitchen backsplash materials, like natural stone tile or manufactured stone veneer, require regular cleaning and they need to be periodically treated with a sealant to prevent food, oil, and other contaminants from seeping into the porous material. If these products are not sealed, it can result in permanent stains, discoloration, and fading.
The durability of the backsplash material is also a factor. Metal tiles have an attractive sheen and they are nonporous, so you won’t need to seal the backsplash. However, scratches and other abrasive damage can leave permanent marks on the tiles that can’t be fixed by buffing or sanding.
Similarly, thermoplastic tiles are inexpensive and easy to install, so they seem like a great idea for the kitchen. While they can be used to protect the wall above your counters, due to the plastic construction, they cannot withstand the heat produced by an oven, so installing these tiles behind the stove is a bad idea.
While the backsplash material should match, accentuate, or stand out from your kitchen aesthetic according to your personal style, a more important factor to consider is functionality. Backsplash tiles are generally made to protect the wall behind the stove, behind a sink, or above your countertops, so if they cannot perform this function, they are not a suitable option for your home.
Thermoplastic tiles are a great choice for the bathroom or even for the wall above the counters in the kitchen, but the plastic begins to warp and deform when it’s exposed to temperatures above 140°F. so this material should not be used to make a backsplash behind the stove. Ceramic, porcelain, glass, and metal tiles are the best options for superior functionality because they are nonporous materials that are resistant to stains, fading, discoloration, heat, and moisture.
Installing a new backsplash for the kitchen doesn’t cost as much as putting in shower tiles or replacing floor tiles because a backsplash typically has a smaller area than similar projects. However, it’s still important to factor in the cost of the material when you are planning the installation project. The cost can increase significantly depending on the type of kitchen backsplash material that you choose to install.
Porcelain, ceramic, and thermoplastic tiles are the least expensive options, while travertine and manufactured stone veneer are premium design choices that come with a high price for the unique aesthetic appeal. While the cost for glass and metal tiles tends to occupy the mid-point. On average, you can expect to pay about $600 to $1,300 to install a kitchen backsplash.
Where to Shop
Some products can be purchased in-store or online with little difference to the consumer, but when you are shopping for backsplash materials, there are distinct advantages to buying your products in-store and online. Consider these benefits and drawbacks before deciding where to shop for your kitchen backsplash tiles.
Looking for new backsplash material in a physical home improvement store is a good choice if you are concerned about the specific color, pattern, or texture because you have the opportunity to see physical product samples and speak to a salesperson about your options. The store will generally have a range of materials available to consider before buying or placing an order. One drawback to in-person shopping is that a physical location may not have the range of options available as an online store, simply due to stocking, transportation, and storage issues.
If you are looking for a specific type of tile or a backsplash material with a certain design, then shopping online may be the best option. You get access to a wide variety of products and can arrange for direct delivery. Some online stores may even ship out samples, allowing you to see and feel the material before placing a larger order. However, it’s important to ask about the return policy, warranty, and delivery process because if the material is damaged in transit or during delivery, you will want to know how to address the problem and get a refund.
Where to Buy Backsplash Materials
You can find backsplash materials at a variety of physical and online locations, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. Opt for in-store shopping if you prefer to see a range of samples and speak directly to a knowledgeable sales expert. If your goal is to find a unique style or you simply prefer shopping with your computer or mobile device, then scrolling through an online catalogue is the better choice. Regardless of where you choose to buy backsplash materials, just make sure you settle on a top-quality option that stands out with bold colors and patterns or go with a product that can blend seamlessly with your existing kitchen aesthetic.
- What is the easiest backsplash material to keep clean?The best backsplash materials for easy cleaning are nonporous, preventing stains from penetrating deep into the tiles. Consider using porcelain, ceramic, metal, or glass if cleanliness is your goal.
- What is the most durable backsplash material?Metal tiles may seem like the obvious choice, but these products are actually quite vulnerable to scratches and abrasive damage. If you are looking for a backsplash that can hold up for years without warping or fading, then it’s recommended to invest in high-quality porcelain, glass, or ceramic backsplash tiles.
- What is the difference between porcelain and ceramic tiles?There isn’t a significant difference between porcelain tiles and ceramic tiles, though due to the manufacturing process, porcelain tiles are typically denser and more durable than ceramic tiles. Both materials are made with a clay mixture that is then fired in a kiln, but porcelain uses a more refined clay and it’s fired at a higher temperature, giving porcelain tiles a slight boost in durability. Porcelain tiles are certified as porcelain by the Tile Council of North America.
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By: Timothy Dale, Updated 8/23/22