Interior Design Decisions: Kitchen Countertop vs Backsplash

If you are to research kitchen furnishings, you may encounter very specific terms that can be confusing. These may include cabinets, toe kicks, dovetail joints, and hobs… the list never ends. 

Two of the most common parts you may hear could be countertops and backsplashes, which are essential to any modern kitchen setup. Before you start redesigning, do you know how a kitchen countertop vs backsplash is different from each other?

A countertop is a table-like surface, usually mounted on the top of the base cabinets. It is a working surface to prepare food. Backsplashes are not meant for work but as a protective surface. It is usually mounted on the wall between the wall and base cabinet and protects the wall from getting dirty.

This article explores kitchen countertops vs. backsplash and how they are different from each other. We also explore common questions about countertops or backsplash, such as installation.

What Is A Kitchen Backsplash?

Kitchen backsplashes are protective layers that are mounted between wall and base cabinets. They serve as a protective layer that protects the wall from spills, water, or soap during cooking or cleaning. Backsplashes could be made of tiles, wood, sheet metal, or natural stones.

A kitchen backsplash can be described as a protective layer that protects the wall behind cabinet countertops. It is commonly installed on the wall surface between the base and wall cabinets. 

A kitchen backsplash’s main role is to protect the wall from contaminants that could dirty it. These include soap water from the kitchen sink, splats of boiling sauces that escaped the pot, or food spills. 

More intricate kitchen cabinets also use backsplashes as a decorative element that enhances the kitchen workspace. Some designs even have backsplashes with lighting mounted for better aesthetics.

Kitchen backsplashes can be made from many types of materials. They may include tiles, stone, glass, or wood. Tiles are perhaps the most common, as they are seen as timeless, affordable, and easily replaceable if cracked or faded in color. They also come in various shapes, sizes, patterns, and designs. 

More intricate, premium designs may use more expensive materials like granite or marble. They are, however, harder to install and may need professional help. Commercial kitchens usually use food-grade stainless steel sheets as backsplashes, which can be cleaned easily, and are much safer for food. 

What Is A Kitchen Countertop?

Kitchen countertops are flat, table-like surfaces mounted on the top of the base cabinet. It primarily serves as a working surface to prepare food. Some countertops host kitchen essentials such as a sink or a hob, which may have holes cut into them.

Kitchen countertops are essential. As the name implies, it is a flat, table-like surface mounted on top of base cabinets to serve as a counter. 

In common kitchens, they serve as the primary workspace for you to prepare and cook food. You may also perform cleaning jobs on the countertop. In some cases, you may also eat using it, although this is less common.

Countertops also host a myriad of kitchen accessories, such as sinks and hobs. To first these in, holes are usually cut out in the countertop. Countertops can also vary in thickness and shape. The most common thickness is 1.5 to 2 inches (about 3.8 – 5.1 cm.)

Most of the time, they are put in as one large piece. However, larger kitchens with a more eccentric design may combine multiple pieces to make one smooth surface. For aesthetic purposes, countertops may come in all sorts of designs, colors, and materials. 

Countertops are usually made of granite, marble, quartz, wood, laminated plastic, or sheet metal. Some materials may be preferred in different kitchen settings. For example, commercial kitchens prefer food-grade stainless steel for ease of cleaning. At the same time, wood countertops may be more rustic and suitable for homes.

Kitchen Countertop vs Backsplash

Kitchen countertops differ from backsplash in many ways, such as purpose, installation, materials, durability, modification, thickness, and shape. However, they complement each other very well in the kitchen.

AspectsKitchen CountertopKitchen Backsplash
PurposeFlat, solid, working surface for food preparation and cleaningFlat, waterproof surface to protect the wall from splashes during kitchen work
InstallationUsually installed on top of base cabinetsUsually installed between the base and wall cabinets
MaterialsWood, plastic, aluminum, or stainless steelTiles, glass, sheet metal, granite, marble, wood
DurabilityNeeds to be durableDurability is less important
ModificationEdge chamfering, holes to host kitchen equipment such as sink, or hobLighting, hooks, or magnet strips may be added to enhance its functionality.
ThicknessThicker than backsplashes, about 1.5 to 2 inches (about 3.8 – 5.1 cm.)Thinner than countertops. May be as thin as 0.5mm if metal sheet backsplashes.
ShapeRectangle, L-shape, U-shape, Round, Oval.May be custom-shaped to suit the wall shape.


The main purpose of a kitchen countertop is to serve as a working surface. You will use the countertop to perform tasks such as cutting, cooking, and plating food and make drinks such as coffee or tea. 

You also may be spending more time cleaning the surface often, as it tends to catch spills. As a result, countertops are usually made to be durable and tough. 

Regarding backsplashes, their main purpose is to serve as a protector. It protects the wall behind the wall and base cabinets from catching splashes as you work in the kitchen. These splashes may cause your wall to be dirty, such as sauces, water, or soap.


Kitchen countertops are usually mounted on top of the base cabinets. Base cabinets are usually installed on the floor. This makes the countertops a table-like surface for you to work on. 

Some people use kitchen countertops as table tops for their workbench or computer desk, although this is less common. 

Kitchen backsplashes are usually installed in front of the wall, right behind the wall, or base cabinet. However, since backsplashes can be made of many materials and installation styles, you may see some kitchen backsplashes being used creatively. 

For example, backsplash tiles may be used in the bathrooms, or stainless steel sheet metal backsplashes could be used in the garage.


In general, kitchen countertops may be required to have a higher level of durability than backsplashes. This is because countertops are the working surface in the kitchen, meaning it takes a lot of abuse. 

For example, you may be cutting things on the countertop and may leave scratches on the countertop. You may also use pestle and mortar on it, hitting the countertop with blunt trauma. You may also dirty it frequently, spilling sauces and colored and acidic juices. 

As a result, countertops tend to be made of durable materials, such as natural stones or hardwood, such as oak.

Countertops do not suffer such abuse, meaning they do not require much durability. As a result, more fragile materials, such as softer plastic sheets or glass, could be used as backsplashes.


Kitchen backsplashes and countertops may share many common materials, such as wood, sheet metal, granite, or marble. However, different materials may be preferred due to the nature of backsplashes and countertops. 

For example, since countertops are used as a working surface, they may suffer more abuse and get dirty than backsplashes. As a result, tougher materials with easy-to-clean surfaces may be preferred, such as wood, granite, or marble. 

However, for backsplashes, since they are less abused and only serve as a protective barrier, they just need to be easily cleaned. As a result, some more fragile materials, such as glass or software wood, may be used.


Countertops and backsplashes may also be modified differently. This is because they are used differently in a kitchen. The modification allows them to perform a wider range of functions even better.

For countertops, the most common form of modification is to mount kitchen utensils, tools, or equipment on them. These may include kitchen sinks, cooking stoves or hobs, faucets, etc. This is commonly done by making a hole in the countertop before fitting the equipment in.

Another popular way to modify a kitchen countertop is to reduce the sharp angles of the countertop. This is usually done by rounding, or chamfering the edges, to create a different look to the countertop. 

For backsplashes, most interior designers try to introduce more functionalities to them than just to protect the wall. Things such as hooks may be added to the wall to allow you to hang things such as utensils, dishcloths, or a dish rack on the backsplash. 

You may also see backsplashes be given magnetic strips. These magnetic strips function as holders for your metallic kitchen tools, such as knives, or utensils, such as spoons. 

Some backsplashes have color-changing lighting installed behind them. When turned on, these lights may change color, reflecting the mood and providing more variety in the design of the kitchen space.


In general, countertops are much thicker than backsplashes. This is because countertops are generally much more durable than backsplashes.

Common kitchen countertops may have a thickness of around 1.5 to 2 inches (about 3.8 – 5.1 cm). This thickness allows it to handle knife cuts, occasional hard use, and more. 

As for backsplashes, they can be much thinner since they are not abused. Depending on the materials, tile backsplashes could be as thin as 0.23 inches (6mm). Sheet metal backsplashes could be thinner, at only 0.19 inches (0.5mm).


When it comes to shape, kitchen countertops tend to have a more permanent shape compared to backsplashes. This is because countertops are usually made to fit into cabinet layouts.

Common countertop shapes include rectangles, L-shape, or U-shapes. For some cabinet islands, you may see oval or round countertops. 

For backsplashes, however, the shapes may be more flexible. This is because, depending on materials, backsplashes may or may not be in a single piece. Tile or sheet metal backsplashes will be very flexible and can be used to form all sorts of shapes. Glass backsplashes may be harder, as they are not malleable.

Do You Install Backsplash Before Or After the Countertop?

Generally, countertops are installed before the backsplash. This is because countertops may require more room to adjust and install. On top of it, it may be easier to measure the backsplash once the countertop has been installed. 

In many cases, kitchen cabinetry installation tends to follow a set flow. This is to help make the work easier and allow it to be done more accurately. 

When installing a backsplash or countertop, the general work process is to first install the countertop before the backsplash. There are several reasons for the work order.

First, it allows the countertop more maneuvering and adjustment space. Countertops are heavy, large items that may be harder to install. Freeing up the wall allows the installation process to be easier.

Second, once the countertop has been installed, it is easier to measure and install the backsplash. Once you know the measurement between the countertop and the wall cabinet, you can easily cut or lay in the backsplash.

Final Thoughts

Countertops and backsplashes are two separate elements that play important roles in the kitchen.

Countertops are the primary work surface for food preparation and cleaning and are available in a range of materials, including natural stone, tile, and laminate.

Backsplashes can be made of a variety of materials and are used to protect walls from splashes, add aesthetic appeal, and tie the room together.

When considering countertop and backsplash options, it is important to consider the type of material, cost, and overall look you are hoping to achieve.