Your Guide To Selecting The Best Backsplash Tile For Your Kitchen
The backsplash is an important but easily overlooked part of a kitchen remodel and folks generally don’t know what the best material for a kitchen backsplash is. Or where to start. After all, it’s supposed to compliment the countertop and coordinate with the floors, cabinets and is a focal point of the room.
Having done thousands of these over the years, I’ve put together this guide as well as an online buying chart below to point you in the right direction.
What Material Do I Use?
Ok first up…
When choosing your backsplash material, the very first thing you need to keep in mind is your lifestyle. This alone will dictate the most suitable material for your backsplash. Then from there, you can work out what look you like. That way, you get something that looks great and is functional. So for example if you don’t entertain/cook often, you can pretty much go with any material you like but if you cook daily, you will want to steer clear of certain materials like natural stone that require more maintenance over the years.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of the major materials used for backsplashes.
Now let’s go through each major one so you can see if it works for you:
1. Porcelain/Ceramic Tile
Ceramic (or porcelain) tile for a kitchen backsplash is the most popular and widely used option mainly because it’s very resilient, most economical out of other options and they often come in complimentary sizes with larger field tiles for the floor.
I’ve seen people put very large field tiles on the backsplash – I’d advise against it mainly for lack of creative design. I mean, if you just want a minimalist look with little grout lines, then do a larger field tile.
Otherwise, go for the smaller formats like 3 x 6, 3 x 8, 6 x 6, 6 x 13, 4 x 4 or any other similar sizes. This allows you to really get creative with your color and design selection and fully make use of the limited space your backsplash has.
If you want to go with a mesh mounted mosaic (pictured), then you have an array of amazing choices that mimic just about any look you like. Here is a backsplash mosaic that simulates the natural look of slate – without the maintenance and worrying about the tile chipping, peeling and cracking over time.
If you opt to go for this option, go with a glazed ceramic or porcelain tile. These are virtually impossible to stain as they barely absorb anything which means common household items found in the kitchen like sauces, cooking oils, wines, etc. wipe right off. They’re also very heat and fade resistant so nothing in your kitchen will be able to hurt it.
Go with this option if you’re looking for a bulletproof tile that will last forever and with very little upkeep.
2. Glass Tile
Glass tiles for a kitchen backsplash have fast become the “in” thing and with good reason: they come in a gazillion different sizes, colors and mesh mounted mosaics, super easy to clean and can really make a backsplash pop.
They first gained popularity in restaurants, home bars and bathroom backsplash areas where they bring out the smaller sinks, faucets and countertops even more.
Folks who go with glass tiles usually want something a little bit different than what porcelain or ceramic tile offer. Glass tile comes in so many different finishes like plain and shiny (pictured), “cracked”, frosted and infused.
It’s not anywhere near as tough as porcelain but how tough do you really need it to be on your kitchen wall? Unless you’re habitually throwing barbells at it, the tile will last and look great for many years. Since glass tile usually comes in a higher gloss finish than other backsplash options, just be aware it’s more likely to show imperfections like streaks, etc. if it’s not kept pristine.
So when you put it up against the wall, assess how any outside light hits it so you can decide if it’ll work for you. Go with this option if you’re looking to make a real impact and draw attention to the backsplash area.
3. Natural Stone (marble, slate, travertine, etc.)
There’s nothing more beautiful than natural stone on a backsplash to compliment countertops but you need to be aware of what to expect with natural products.
These are much softer than your porcelain or ceramic tile and are porous so they stain quite easily. That’s why natural stone backsplash tile must be well sealed before normal use.
If they are not, they will absorb stains like a sponge and the only way to remove the stain is to remove the tile. A good penetrating stone sealer like Aqua Mix will fill all the micro holes in the stone making it resistant to common kitchen products.
If you clean your backsplash regularly and cook often, you might want to reseal it every year. So the maintenance for this material is quite high if you entertain a lot which is something you really need to be aware of before getting natural stone products.
This is a great option however if you’re showcasing a home, don’t cook much and spend a lot of time away from home. Natural stone is timeless and never goes out of style so it’s always a safe choice if it’s suitable for your home. Expect to pay considerably more on natural stone backsplash tiles and mosaics than other materials. Some installers will also charge more to lay them so check with them beforehand.
Finally, you will need a different grout when putting in natural stone so you want to go with an unsanded grout instead of a sanded.
4. Hybrid (natural & synthetic blend)
Hybrid mosaic tile is a combination of different materials like glass and natural stone, or porcelain and glass or even a mixture of all three. Relatively new, these backsplash tiles are designed to get the best of both worlds.
So for example if you have one that is mixed with natural stone and glass, you get the timeless beauty of the stone but with the impact of the glass pieces. These are getting increasingly popular because they are so flexible.
They almost always come on a mesh so installation is very straightforward. Now a common question I receive with this tile type is “is it necessary to seal the natural stone portions of the mosaic?”
The short answer is it’s probably a good idea to do so only if your kitchen is used heavily daily and your backsplash would get a lot of attention as a result. Otherwise, the presence of the glass helps offset sealing the natural stone portions.
Plus, it would be very tedious doing so across an entire backsplash as you would need to ensure the sealer doesn’t stay on the glass for too long. In my experience with this material, folks don’t seal it for normal use and it holds up very well! Go with this option if you want a middle ground between the plain ceramic/porcelain look and the more eye catching glass.
Metallic backsplash tile includes those that come in all colors and finishes like stainless steel, oil rubbed bronze, brushed nickel, etc. They can come in coated forms or solid but this type of tile needs a little explanation because if you use it wrong, it can be a nightmare!
These tiles are best suited as inserts/accent pieces rather than blanketing the entire area. That way, you can still bring in the silvers, chromes and steel colors without worrying about keeping it streak free.
If you are going to do the entire section with this material, just be aware it does reflect sunlight strongly. This may not seem to be a big issue for a lot of people but some just can’t stand feeling a magnifying glass on them during certain times of the day!
You often see this type of backsplash tile in glitzy restaurants, bachelor pads and display homes. They also work perfectly with kitchens that have stainless steel appliances and fixtures.
From experience, you need to be extra careful when installing these types of tiles as they can scratch and ruin the face of the material. During grouting, ensure it’s wiped off promptly so it doesn’t stick and subsequently damage the tile when removing it.
Go with this material if you’re going for a masculine, Bladerunner look 🙂
Money Saving Tips & Best Places To Buy
Having worked in retail flooring for almost 20 years, I can tell you it’s going to be significantly cheaper and quicker for you to buy your own backsplash material and have a competent installer put it in.
I usually buy backsplash materials for my own clients from either of these two online retailers below. They’re particularly good at shipping things quickly and cover all of the US; just like a Home Depot or Lowe’s, but with better selection and pricing.
Quick Tip: Both stores have an overwhelming number of options/products to look at so use their very handy sorting tool which allows you to narrow down your options super quickly!
If you go through retail, not only will you pay between 20%-50% more for the same materials, but you usually have to wait a lot longer to get it installed because a good portion of these backsplash materials are special order and take between 1-6 weeks to arrive. If you’d like it sooner than that, just order them online and you’ll usually receive them within a few days.
Depending on your installer, you may be able to negotiate with them to include the thinset, grout and other required materials into their quote. Most are happy to provide this anyway as they have their go-to brands so just keep this in mind.
Unless there is a compelling reason to use a different material for your backsplash, stick with one of the five reviewed in this guide and you can’t go wrong.
Figure out how often your cooking area will be used and then go with a material that both suits your lifestyle and looks great. Keep in mind that backsplashes are seen as a transition between the countertops and cabinets so the more you can pull from both; the better flow you will have.
The other option is to use a completely different color as a contrast. Both are beautiful so it’s going to get down to your individual taste.
Finally, don’t shy away from a particular material because of price. Remember, most backsplashes range between 30-50 square feet so you’re not looking at a lot of area like if you were doing your floors. So for example; a sheet may cost $13 per square foot but for a typical backsplash, that’s less than $400.00 in materials as opposed to many thousands for flooring or slab countertops.
I hope this overview has been of help selecting the best backsplash tile for your kitchen!
Please reach out should you have any questions.