What to Know Before Installing a Wallpaper Backsplash

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A kitchen backsplash is primarily decorative and is one of the main focal points in the kitchen, but it also serves the important purpose of providing an easily cleanable surface on which the various fluids that fly around the cooking and washing areas can land. Of all the kitchen backsplash materials out there, you might think that a wallpaper backsplash would seem the least capable of serving this purpose, but that's because you haven't checked out the possibilities. The material you use to make a wallpaper backsplash isn't the same that you use to paper your bedroom walls — or at least it shouldn't be unless you plan to waterproof it.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of choosing wallpaper for your backsplash and hanging it, it's a good idea to look at some of the reasons for choosing this material over a more robust one, such as tile, wood or stone. Sure, it's easy to install, but that isn't the only benefit.

Why Choose a Wallpaper Backsplash?

Returning to the primary function of a backsplash, which is to provide an attractive feature wall, it's clear that wallpaper provides more design options than any other material. You can choose subtle or bold patterns in colors that highlight the countertop, cabinets, floor and walls or tie together incongruities that are otherwise beyond your control.

Do you want a wood, tile or stone backsplash but don't have the time or resources to install one? You can purchase backsplash wallpaper with an embossed design that looks like the real thing and install it in an afternoon. On the other hand, you may be looking for something monochrome and featureless to complement an already-too-busy home décor scheme, and wallpaper can do that too.

Peel-and-stick wallpaper is removable, and removable wallpaper offers an easy way for renters to spruce up the dingy backsplash walls bequeathed to them by previous tenants. It comes off easily, leaving no residue behind, so when you move out, you can remove it and leave the wall in the same dingy state in which you found it, thus incurring no penalties from the landlord. Of course, the landlord may actually appreciate your design acumen and ask you to leave the wallpaper in place.

Shopping for Wallpaper Backsplash Materials

Quality wallpaper tends to be expensive, and though prices generally range from $25 to $50 per roll, some types of tile wallpaper designed to mimic a tile backsplash can set you back $250 per roll, according to CostHelper. The good news is that you don't need much for a backsplash, and you might find what you need in the remnants section of the store.

Most top-grade vinyl wallpaper, which can be embossed to mimic brick, stone and shiplap paneling, are generally the most expensive. The hardiest vinyl wallpaper can be difficult to cut and handle, but unlike traditional paper, it doesn't tear easily, which gives you lots of leeway for mistakes. On the budget side of things, you can choose traditional paper (the thicker the better) and either coat it with varnish or do as DigsDigs recommends and cover it with glass or acrylic sheets.

The wallpaper in your great-grandmother's house was probably installed the traditional way by first applying paste, but more and more, contemporary homeowners use peel-and-stick wallpaper. Besides being easier and less messy to install, the fact that self-adhesive wallpaper is removable allows you to change your backsplash design and give your kitchen a new look at will. It's more expensive, but again, considering the small wall area, the extra costs aren't extreme.

A Wallpaper Backsplash Is a DIY Project

Of all DIY projects around the house, hanging wallpaper is one of the most accessible, especially if you use peel-and-stick wallpaper. There's no reason you can't do it yourself, but remember, you can't install it over textured material, so if you have an existing rough-sawn wood or brick backsplash, you either need to remove it or think of another way to renovate it. You can sometimes install vinyl wallpaper over tile provided the grout lines aren't too deep, but the tile pattern will probably show through.

The ideal wall for wallpaper is flat and smooth. If your wall has a texture, you may want to use drywall joint compound and a drywall knife to apply two or more skim coats to cover the texture. This is less important for heavy-duty vinyl wallpaper than it is for thin paper, which will do a poor job of hiding the texture.

Installation Tips and Tricks

Every backsplash area is different, and some have many obstructions that make measuring and cutting difficult. To avoid wasting expensive wallpaper, it's a good idea to make a template from pieces of kraft paper or newspaper taped together. Trim the template with scissors so it fits just right. Then, use the template to mark the wallpaper and cut the wallpaper to fit.

The usual way to apply wallpaper is vertically from top to bottom, but in the confined space of a backsplash, you may want to apply it horizontally. If so, make sure you purchase paper with a pattern that allows this. A wallpaper design with upright images of birds or faux bricks probably won't work, but a geometric pattern might.

Your old outlet and switch cover plates will probably look out of place on the new wallpaper. One way to blend them is to spray paint them, and another is to cover them individually with wallpaper. If you choose the wallpaper method, be sure the pattern on the cover plate coincides with the one on the wall, or the cover plate will look even more incongruous than it would if you didn't do anything.

Caring for a Wallpaper Backsplash

Many types of wallpaper are washable. If you remember to protect your nonwashable wallpaper with one or two coats of clear varnish or, as an alternative, you cover the most vulnerable parts of the backsplash with clear acrylic plastic or glass, it also becomes washable. Washability is important, especially in areas around the stove where grease and oils are abundant, but be aware that wallpaper is flammable, so it shouldn't be closer than 18 inches to the stove's back burners.

You can use virtually any cleaning solution on washable vinyl wallpaper, but you probably won't need anything stronger than a few drops of dish soap in warm tap water. To remove stubborn grease stains, you may need a 50/50 solution of vinegar and warm water with a few drops of dish soap. If you need to scrub, sprinkle some baking soda on your sponge and have at it, or you can do as wallpaper retailer Graham & Brown recommends and remove stains with wallpaper dough, which comes in gallon buckets that cost about $20.

Limit the use of vinegar on wallpaper that has been coated with varnish because vinegar can degrade varnish and make it turn dull. An ammonia-based cleaner will cut through the grease without damaging the sheen, and an ammonia-based window cleaner may be all you need. If not, you can also clean the backsplash with the same spray cleaner you use to clean your countertops.

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Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.

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