How to Redo an Old Brick Backsplash (Without Tearing It Out)

When we first looked at buying our current house, one of the biggest concerns was updating the kitchen…especially on a budget. It was a hot mess of modern and outdated, but as they say–location, location, location! Our quaint, 1960 abode is right in the hub of Tennessee’s Oldest Town, and it is the perfect starter home for our family of two (plus Oakley *wink*). So, we started planning how we could best update our kitchen without breaking the bank or totally ruining its midcentury charm.

We tackled updating the kitchen cabinets for under $100 first, but the bright red, brick backsplash really threw us for a loop.

Kitchen before cabinet + backsplash revamp.

While researching the era of our home, and why in the world it had a bright red, brick backsplash…I found out brick backsplashes were apparently quite the rage back in the day. It was especially trendy with midcentury-style ranch homes, like ours (read more about kitchen trends of the 60s and 70s here).

So, if you have a brick backsplash and feeling a little stumped on how to update this old trend, you’re not alone *wink*

One of our many “Lowe’s dates” after we first bought our house.

Our first idea was to simply tile over it, but that could get pricey and take away from the midcentury modern character. So, that was a no-go.

Next, plan B. Let’s paint it….brick by boring brick *cue Paramore*

In general, our home is filled with LOTS of bright, retro colors, so an all-white kitchen didn’t really fit the vibe. I took more of an artsy approach with tonal blues, purples and deep greens (specific colors noted below)…BUT if you’re more into neutrals, earth tones or soft hues, you can easily pick variants to create a similar look that matches your personal style or home décor. See some of my initial inspiration + other ideas on Pinterest.

Okay–let’s get down to brass tacks. Here’s everything you need to know about how to paint a brick backsplash in your kitchen!

Specific Valspar Colors Used:

Skyler is much better at taping straight lines *wink* Thankful he loves crazy, home-revamp projects as much as me!

Step 1: Clean & Prep

Cleaning: Before getting into the fun stuff (painting), it’s important to start with a clean and taped area. I cleaned the bricks with a Dawn soap and warm water mixture and let them fully dry overnight. A cheap sponge gets the job done, but if there’s a lot of dirt/grease/grime build-up, I suggest doing do two or three cleaning cycles before priming. Avoid using a Mr. Clean sponge–while this is my usual go-to for household messes, it leaves a white, dusty residue on the bricks!

Prepping: I am definitely not an expert painter, so painter’s tape and drop cloths are always a good idea *wink* Skyler taped around the wall where the bricks go past the corner cabinet to avoid getting paint on the kitchen walls (see above). We also taped around window sills and draped plastic on the countertops. While these things aren’t totally needed to revamp your brick backsplash, I definitely recommend: Frog Painter’s Tape (my favorite at Lowe’s) and plastic drop cloths (my favorite at Lowe’s). Note: We did a single prep for the backsplash and cabinet painting project.

Step 2: Prime

DO NOT SKIP THE PRIMER! Priming the bricks with the KILZ 2 not only gives you a fresh canvas, but also helps the interior paint stick or adhere better to the brick. The KILZ 2 is my favorite primer because it specifically states you can use it to prime masonry/brick. It also helps block stains (water, rust, grease, ink, pencil and felt marker), and it creates a protective layer to fight mildew. I prefer using KILZ 2 because it’s water-based, so you don’t have to worry about it smelling to high-heaven, which was a big plus in our small kitchen *wink*

Step 3: Swatch Colors (if alternating)

Putting this much color in your kitchen can be a bit nerve racking, so swatching helps give perspective of the end result. It also makes it easier to enlist your fiancé’s help in painting lots and lots of bricks *wink*

Since this project was a bit different than anything I had found online, I took my time and tried to take steps to make sure it was exactly what I had envisioned. I avoided a particular pattern and kept the colors more sporadic to play on the contrast of dark and light hues. Unless you’re painting the entire backsplash a solid color (like white or blue), I recommend swatching and not following a certain pattern–it gives a bit more of a high-fashion and artistic look.

If you’re nervous about swatching, you can start by painting bricks you wouldn’t see anyway. I painted few bricks behind the oven to see if I were going to like the colors I picked out before swatching the entire kitchen.

Step 4: Paint First Coat + Let Fully Dry

At this point, the vision is starting to come together. While it is time consuming (note the nighttime/daytime in the above photos😅), you start to see how truly amazing your new backsplash is going to be! Also, Krispy Kreme donuts (Skyler’s favorite) are a great incentive for helpers *wink*

I recommend taking it color-by-color…brick-by-brick because it saves you from having to rinse your brush each time. I took one color and followed my swatches until I was done with that color, rinsed out my brush, and then started on the next color.

Overall, the first coat will feel like forever, but remember to not get sloppy! It’s important to keep this first coat light; otherwise, you’ll have drips and runs which will only cause more headaches later. When you’re done with the first coat, take a break and walk away. Let the bricks dry at least 8 hours or overnight for best results for the second coat.

Step 5: Paint Second Coat + Let Cure Overnight (8+ hours)

Basically…repeat step 4 *wink* BUT pay close attention to how the color absorbed into the brick during the first coat. Sometimes, you may need to follow the same brush strokes to get an even surface. I tried to vary the directions I painted on the first and second coats to ensure a full coverage overall–this is a method a lot of artists use when applying gesso to a canvas.

Once you’ve completed the second coat on all of the bricks, it is very important to let them dry or “cure” overnight. Because interior paint can stay tacky for a few hours (even if it “feels” dry), I suggest walking away for at least 8 hours, ideally 12 hours.

If you see a brick or two that needs a third coat or touch up, wait until the curing period is over to make sure your brush doesn’t peel up any drying paint.

cleaning tip:

Never scrape or scrub hard! I used a wet Mr. Clean sponge to wipe down bricks behind the oven and sink. I did not use any harsh chemicals or solvents, but where there was grease/grime, I used a little bit of Dawn on the sponge and followed with Windex (sprayed on a paper towel, not directly on the brick).

Read more: How to Redo an Old Brick Backsplash (Without Tearing It Out)

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