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What is a Kitchen Backsplash?

Stone kitchen backsplash

What is a Kitchen Backsplash?

A kitchen backsplash is a material that covers the wall above the countertop and often extends horizontally to the full countertop length. Its primary purpose is to protect walls from moisture, grease and food splatters, helping to prevent stains and promote cleanliness. Kitchen backsplashes are made from a variety of materials, giving homeowners a way to style their kitchen in aesthetically pleasing colors, patterns, and textures.

While it is unclear who invented the kitchen backsplash, this functional material was originally put behind kitchen sinks and stoves at a height of 4 inches to deflect water and protect the walls from damage during cooking. But backsplashes evolved beyond being primarily utilitarian into a design feature with an extended footprint (sometimes even reaching to the ceiling) and can be placed above any countertop.

Because aesthetics is a key aspect of kitchen backsplashes, they are often designed to appear as though they blend with the countertop material and cabinets. Functionally, backsplashes can also serve to cover gaps between the kitchen countertop and the wall.

Related: 75 Kitchen Backsplash Ideas (Tile, Glass, Metal, etc.) | 21 Different Types of Kitchen Backsplashes | 2 Incredible Guides to DIY Tile Kitchen Backsplashes

Types of Kitchen Backsplash

Scandinavian white tile kitchen backsplash.

Kitchen backsplashes are most often made of tile with a slick surface that is easy to wipe clean. In 2019, 55% of homeowners who installed kitchen backsplashes used ceramic or porcelain tile, and 23% used natural stone.

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are good choices for creating a colorful or textured design. They are also budget-friendly, although the grout does require maintenance and needs to be frequently cleaned and resealed.

Natural materials can create a stylish focal point in a kitchen yet tend to be more expensive options. Granite is a durable choice for a kitchen backsplash, but it needs to be sealed regularly (approximately every six months). Marble is another attractive option. However, it is porous and can absorb food and grease. For a layered look, natural stone materials can be mixed with ceramic or porcelain tiles.

Sheet glass is a new trend for kitchen backsplashes. The back of the glass, which faces the wall, can be painted, and it is protected by the glass. Therefore, the paint cannot be scratched or otherwise impaired.

Styles of Kitchen Backsplash

Contemporary mosaic tile kitchen backsplash.

Because backsplashes are used as a kitchen accent piece, a variety of styles have developed over the years.

Subway tile brings a classic look to kitchen backsplashes and features a simple design characterized by rectangular ceramic tiles that come in a variety of colors, although light-colored tiles are most often used. Subway tile backsplashes have a crisp, modern aesthetic and traditionally measure 3 x 6 inches.

Mosaic tile is another popular style for creating a colorful decorative look and can be made of glass, ceramic or stone. Because the tiles don’t need to be cut and can be laid out in a diverse pattern (rather than the straight alignment required by most other styles of tile), mosaic tile is easy to install and is often chosen as a do-it-yourself option.

DIY Kitchen Backsplash

For DIY kitchen backsplash projects, the challenge is ensuring that the layout of the tiles remains straight. Plastic removable spacers can be used to fit between the tiles to help keep the tiles straight during the application process and prevent the tiles from shifting while the thin-set dries.

Tile materials are widely available in home improvement stores. They can also be purchased online through retailers that specialize in tiles for kitchen backsplashes.