How To Cover Tile Countertops Inexpensively
by Reader Contributors
If replacing old tile countertops is not an affordable option, find out how to cover tile countertops inexpensively – and for less than replacing them.
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
We just purchased a home in CA that has old tile countertops, the type with grout. They are cracked in places and chipped in others, and they basically look old and outdated. We cannot afford to replace them. I searched but cannot find any ideas on how to improve the look of this type of countertop. Do any of your readers have suggestions for how to cover tile countertops inexpensively?
Robin Y. in West Hills, CA
Is there a Way to Cover Old Tile Countertops Inexpensively?
We asked our frugal readers for suggestions on how to cover tile counter tops on the cheap and they had several helpful ideas. Read on to see if any of these ideas can help you update your old countertops without replacing them and without overspending.
Replace Tiles One by One
One of the big advantages of ceramic tile is its repairability. Chip out the broken tiles and surrounding grout, and then replace them with accent or contrasting tiles. It’s possible the tile can be matched. If the color is slightly off, it may blend in if you have to replace more tiles.
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How to Cover Tile Countertop with a Slip Cover
I’ve seen some home improvement shows, where the renovation crews built a cover for the outdated counters, sort of like a slip cover for the counter tops.
On another show, the interior designer purchased enough butcher block cutting boards to sit on the old counter; she measured from the back of the counter, where it attaches to the wall, to the front of the counter, and then looked for cutting boards to fit that dimension.
You can also paint tile. Start with primer. Follow with latex paint and then polyurethane. The downside is that the counters cannot be used for food prep, but using cutting boards or a portable counter would resolve that health issue.
You can cut a heavy duty piece of linoleum or vinyl flooring to the size of the counter tops and glue down. Use cutting boards, trivets, etc. to protect the surface.
I used wooden deck tiles (I purchased from the large blue and yellow store from Scandinavia), which I loop/hook taped and glued together (once I ran out of Velcro) and just placed on top of my counters. Each 20 inch by 20 inch wooden deck tile was about $5 and I bought a few each weekend. I started with the smallest counter to see how the fit and look was. When I’m ready to have my kitchen re-done, I can sell or donate the wooden deck tiles.
Fix Both the Tile and the Grout
At your local hardware store, they sell Enamel Repair Paint in small jars. They are usually used to fix chips and cracks on your washing machine, dryer, stove, refrigerator, bathtubs or sinks. While they do come in other colors, the biggest seller is “white.”
If your tile is white, just use it as it is. However, if your tile is a different color, you will need to look around to see if you can match the color. If your tile is an off color, go to your local paint store. There you can buy samples of a large variety of different colors of paint. Purchase the paint in “enamel.” Slowly mix the sample paint with the repair paint until you get the right shade. Using a toothpick, fill in the crack on the tile, and then using the brush, paint a thin layer of paint over the top of the tile.
If your grout is dingy, purchase “Clorox Bleach in a Tube.” Following the directions on the tube, apply the Clorox on the grout. If the grout is still dingy, re-apply the Clorox on the grout and leave it sit for awhile until it whitens.
Look for Ways to Save when Covering Tile Countertops
You could try to do the replacement, but look for ways to save. Try using flooring tiles instead of those specifically for countertops. Use wood trim instead of special edging tiles, and do the work yourself.
I got a book from the library on how to do the work, and got floor tiles, grout and wood trim for the counters in a medium size kitchen for a little over $150. I used 12×12 tiles for the main part of the counter and 4×4 for the edges. I special-ordered my tiles from a flooring store, but you could look for tiles on sale at a home-improvement store for even bigger savings.
Go for a Fun, Confetti Look
For years, I dealt with the same type of old, chipped countertops. My suggestion would be to watch at your local home center for inexpensive close-out tiles, and then replace them with colorful ones one by one. It’s easy to replace one tile, and if you do a few here and there, you could do it with colors that would give it a fun, “confetti” kind of look. You could also just find closeout white field tile, which is pennies per tile, and replace them individually as needed.
I would also strongly suggest that you regrout, if possible, and seal the grout with a good sealant. My solution in the end was just to buy a bleach pen and go over the grout regularly.
Use Paint on Tile Countertops for a New Look
Tile counter tops can be professionally painted by the same folks who come out to refinish your bathtubs. I know this because I had our tub, commode, sink and tiles all painted. It turned out very well and had like-new look.
Another relatively inexpensive alternative is to replace the counters with high-definition laminate. They have many stone styles that look and feel quite real (but don’t require sealing). Lastly, perhaps you can just scrape out and re-grout the counters?
JR in Houston
Achieving the Look of Granite Countertops for Less
If you can’t afford to replace the counters, could you afford to replace just the tile? A DIY tile job is significantly cheaper than new counters. See if you can borrow the tools from a friend or relative. If not, rent them. You will probably need a notched trowel or two, a grout float, and drill to stir the grout and a tile saw (can easily be rented).
You could also look for discount marble or granite tiles. These are usually larger, so they go down faster. If you use a color-matched grout, and leave very thin grout lines (easier cleaning), you will have the look of granite countertops for a lot less.
A Quick Fix for Covering Tile Countertops
We had the same problem you have. We bought a 1977 house and it had some crazy bright-colored fruit on the tile backsplash. We were going to replace it, but we found that the tile was glued to the sheet rock behind it.
So, here’s what we did. We went to the home improvement store and asked for primer for slick surfaces. We followed the instructions to the letter. You really have to make sure the tile and grout are very, very clean. We had to primer the colored tiles several times in order to get it to cover, but it was worth it. We then chose good quality semi-gloss kitchen paint and finished with that. We’ve lived there a year and a half. Our friends still remark how good it looks and that they are surprised it turned out so nice!
The total price was $30. We were proud of ourselves for only spending this when it could have cost us hundreds of dollars for new tiles and all the prep that goes along with that project.
I know you are dealing with countertops, but this could be a quick fix for your problem until you can save the money required to replace it all.
Reviewed January 2023
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