How To Whitewash Your Ceramic Tile Backsplash: 5 Quick Steps


Tile is a sturdy, long-lasting finish for your kitchen backsplash. Durability is great, but it also means it can be difficult to replace if you don’t like the look anymore.

Luckily, retiling isn’t your only option; you can also update your backsplash with paint, even on ceramic tile. A fashionable look is whitewash, which can give your kitchen a homey, country feel.

With some prep-work and aftercare, you can give a whitewash look to your ceramic tile backsplash with just five steps:

  • Clean your counter and backsplash
  • Sand and tape the tile
  • Add primer
  • Paint with whitewash
  • Add a sealant

What Is Whitewash?

Before you begin your backsplash refresh, you should know that there’s a difference between traditional whitewash and whitewash style paint.

True whitewash is a thin, paint-like solution that can be made of two different mixtures. The first is water and lime (which is actually crushed limestone). The second solution is whiting (ground-up chalk), size (a thin adhesive) and water.

True whitewash is difficult to find in stores, but there are plenty of paints available that mimic its effect. They tend to be thin paints that give a matte, chalk-like finish to surfaces.

You can also make your own whitewash-style paint by adding water to any white paint. When painting your backsplash, be sure to use a base paint that works well with tile.

5-Step Guide To Whitewashing A Ceramic Tile Backsplash

It’s extremely important to prepare your tile properly before applying a whitewash look. Tile is still tricky to paint, even without contact with water. The smooth, often glossy surface doesn’t adhere well to paint.

Use this guide to ensure your ceramic tile backsplash will keep its whitewash for as long as possible.

What You’ll Need:

  • Cleaning cloths
  • Water
  • All-purpose cleaner (optional)
  • Drop cloths
  • Sandpaper (for matte tiles)
  • Orbital palm sander (for glossy tiles)
  • Safety goggles
  • Protective face mask
  • Painter’s tape
  • High-adhesion primer
  • White latex or epoxy paint
  • Paint brush or roller
  • Paint sealer

1. Clean The Area

Remove all objects from around the backsplash. If you want to make cleanup easier, place drop cloths over your counters.

Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe away any dirt and grease from your tiles. If they’re particularly dirty, you can use an all-purpose cleaner that’s safe for tiles.

Dry your tiles with a clean, dry cloth before continuing.

2. Sand and Tape Your Tiles

Sanding is extremely important for applying whitewash to your tiles. Whether they’re high-gloss or more matte, you still have to create a rougher surface to which the paint can stick.

This is even more important if your tiles are covered in sealant, which can be very difficult to paint over.

If your tiles have a flat, less shiny look, you can use sandpaper to roughen up the surface by hand. If your tiles are extremely glossy, or you just want to make sanding easier, use an orbital palm sander.

Always use protective goggles and a face mask when sanding tile. Most tiles, including ceramic, contain silica, which can cause long-term health issues when inhaled. Sanding tile creates dust which you could breathe in or get into your eyes, causing irritation.

Once you’ve finished sanding, carefully shake the dust out of your drop cloths into the garbage. If you didn’t use any drop cloths, wipe down your workspace again before continuing.

Cleaning up at this stage will keep the tile dust from sticking to your primer, paint, and sealant. You can always replace the drop cloths on your counters to protect them from any drips or splashes.

Use painter’s tape to mark off the edges of your backsplash and keep your paint lines clean and straight.

3. Prime Your Backsplash

Applying primer to your backsplash is a key step to having long lasting whitewash tiles. You should look for primers that are high-bonding or extra-adhesive. Use either a large paintbrush or a roller to apply the primer in an even coat.

Allow the primer to dry completely before adding your whitewash. You should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for any product, but drying typically takes at least a few hours.

4. Apply Your Whitewash

In general, epoxy paint is the best choice for high-maintenance areas like the backsplash. However, you can also use latex paint if you want.

Like the primer, you can apply your whitewash with a paintbrush or a roller. Allow the paint to dry thoroughly between each coat.

The more layers you apply, the more opaque the finish will look. Add as many layers as you need to achieve the perfect whitewash look to your backsplash.

5. Seal Your Whitewash And Enjoy Your New Backsplash

Part of the appeal of a whitewash is its matte finish. You may be tempted to avoid sealing your backsplash to preserve that chalky look, but this is a mistake. If you don’t make your tiles waterproof or water-resistant, your finish will chip and fade much sooner.

The good news is that there are low-gloss sealants on the market you can use. Using your brush or roller, apply the sealant in thin layers, allowing each to dry completely before applying the next.

Remove your painter’s tape and there you have it: a fresh, whitewash look for your kitchen backsplash.

How To Mix Your Own Whitewash-Style Paint

If you’ve bought paint that’s already in a whitewash style, you can begin applying right after you finish sanding. But what if you want to make your own whitewash-style paint instead of using store-bought?

Making your own whitewash gives you more control over your final look, and it can be a little cheaper, too. You can use white paint you already have lying around (although you should make sure it’s effective on ceramic tile).

Start with just a little paint in a bowl or container, then slowly add water and stir. You want your whitewash to be thinner than regular paint, but not so thin it doesn’t stick to the tile.

Try to mix as much as you’ll need for the job in one sitting. This way your color and consistency will be the same over your entire backsplash.

Where Can You Use Whitewash?

Any kind of painted tile will not last very long in high-moisture areas. While ceramic tile is ideal for bathroom floors and showers, the direct water contact means you shouldn’t apply paint there.

A backsplash is an ideal location for whitewash ceramic tile because it should only encounter occasional splashes of water.

To Recap

“Whitewash” and “whitewash-style” are two different things that people often use interchangeably. That’s because as true whitewash became harder to come by, whitewash-style paint became much more common.

Their final appearance is about the same, too, so whitewash-style is just the modern evolution of traditional whitewash. Most people don’t really make the distinction anymore.

The important question is whether you can apply either kind of whitewash to ceramic tile. In fact, you can, provided it doesn’t come into contact with too much water.

A ceramic tile backsplash is perfect for whitewash, although you still need to prepare the surface properly. Cleaning your workspace and sanding down the tile surface are key first steps to achieve the look you want.

Once you prep your surface, you can apply whichever style of whitewash you choose. Remember to seal your tiles after you paint to keep them looking fresh for longer.

Now you can update your backsplash with the beautiful, soft look of whitewash.

Katherine Ann

Katherine is a freelance writer who enjoys DIY home décor and refurbishing tired furniture. In addition to writing for PlumbJoe, she blogs about books and movies and writes creatively in her spare time.

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