10 Tips for Tile Backsplashes

Meta description: Get expert tips on choosing, designing, and installing tile backsplashes in your kitchen or bathroom. Learn about tile types, patterns, grout, and more for a stylish and functional backsplash.


Tile backsplashes are a great way to add visual interest, protect your walls, and increase the value of your home. Whether you’re doing a kitchen or bathroom remodel, upgrading a backsplash is one of the most affordable and impactful design changes you can make. With so many tile options to choose from, it can be overwhelming to pick the perfect style. Follow this guide for 10 expert tips when planning your new backsplash installation.

Pick Tile Type Based on Location

The first decision to make is what type of tile to use. Choosing the right material requires considering the location, exposure to moisture, and your personal style.

For kitchen backsplashes, glazed ceramic and porcelain tiles are popular choices. Glass tiles can also add amazing sparkle and color. Natural stone like marble, travertine, or slate bring an elegant, timeless look. Any of these tiles stand up well to heat, grease, and the typical wear and tear of a kitchen.

In bathrooms, moisture resistance is key. Porcelain, ceramic, and natural stone tiles hold up better to humidity than real wood or laminates. Glass mosaic tiles make stunning shower surrounds but aren’t practical for countertops or heavy use areas.

Think about the overall look you want to achieve as well. Large format subway tiles create a classic, clean look. Mosaic pennies or hexagons make a bold statement. Tiles with handpainted designs, customized shapes, or decorative borders help craft a one-of-a-kind backsplash.

Choose Appropriate Tile Size and Layout

Once you select the type of tile, the fun really begins in designing the layout. Backsplashes make a big visual impact even in a small space, so take time planning the look. Here are some tile size and pattern ideas to consider:

  • Subway tile: The quintessential and versatile rectangular 3×6 inch subway tile arranges in a classic brick layout. Offset rows by half a tile for interest. Use all white for a crisp, clean look or add contrasting grout.
  • Large format tile: 12×24 inch rectangular tiles create a sleek, contemporary look. Lay in a straight or offset grid pattern. Oversized tiles like 16×32 work well in expansive kitchens.
  • Mosaic: Tiny 1×1 mosaics let you create intricate patterns and designs. Opt for uniform penny rounds, irregular stones, or glass mixes. Start with mesh-backed sheets for easier installation.
  • Hexagon: Interlocking hexagon tiles make unique geometric shapes. Mix colors in a honeycomb layout or do monochrome stacked rows. Smaller mosaic hexes work in intricate patterns.
  • Decorative: Tile shape options are endless – circles, diamonds, asymmetric, listello borders. Combine different sizes and shapes to design a one-of-a-kind backsplash.

Pick Grout Color

Don’t overlook the importance of grout in finishing the look. Matching grout color to tiles creates a monochromatic look. Choose a contrasting grout color to really make the tile pattern pop. Dark grout paired with light tile and light grout with dark tile both create bold definition.

With natural stone, matching grout helps blend any veining or color variations. Contrasting grout shows off the stone character. White and light gray are common grout colors that work with almost any tile. Consider a darker epoxy grout for heavy use areas like kitchens.

Test grout color options on a tile sample board before deciding. The color when wet will be darker than when dry. Grout joints in small mosaics should be narrow to avoid a too busy look. Wider joints suit larger format tiles.

Select Durable, Water-Resistant Materials

Backsplashes get heavy use and need tiles that can take the wear and tear. Check the PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) rating to determine durability and appropriate use.

  • PEI 1 & 2: Best for walls only in low traffic bathrooms. Avoid the floor or kitchen.
  • PEI 3: Works for some light kitchen walls or bathroom floors with low traffic.
  • PEI 4 & 5: Can withstand heavy residential use in kitchens and bathrooms. Recommended for backsplashes.

Additionally, tiles need to have low water absorption (less than 3%) to resist moisture damage. Porcelain, ceramic, and natural stone tiles are better than vinyl or laminate. Ask your tile retailer for properties to ensure it meets kitchen or bath requirements.

Accent with Decorative Add-Ons

Don’t limit your backsplash design to just tile. Look for ways to incorporate complementary materials and decorative touches.

  • Float glass or stone mosaic sheets on the tile for added dimension.
  • Use listello, chair rail tiles, or borders to accent.
  • Separate sections with metal trim strips or tiles with an architectural shape.
  • Add mirrors or colored glass accents for glitter and shine.
  • Install a focal point like an arched niche or decorative recessed shelf.
  • Carry the tile into open shelving, range hood surrounds, or other built-ins to expand the impact.

Plan the Right Height

Standard backsplash height is 4 inches above countertops or vanities. This protects the walls from routine splashing and spills. Full height backsplashes extending up to 18 inches help make more of a design statement.

For kitchen cooktops and ranges, building code recommends backsplashes extend at least 18 inches above the cooking surface. This guards upper walls from grease buildup.

In bathrooms, full height tile around tubs and showers not only looks great but also prevents moisture damage and mold growth on drywall. Take tile or glass up to at least 6 feet for a seamless surround.

Measure carefully when calculating tile to prevent coming up short or having extra. Make a detailed diagram of the space showing all dimensions, permanent fixtures, windows, and doors.

Prepare the Surface Properly

To achieve the best backsplash installation, start with a clean, smooth, and stable surface. Proper preparation prevents tiles from cracking or lifting down the road.

For new drywall, seal raw joint compound with primer to create an even finish. On existing painted walls, sand glossy areas and clean thoroughly to improve adhesion.

Check old drywall for any moisture damage and repair before tiling. In kitchens and baths, use moisture-resistant drywall or waterproof cement board.

Make sure underlying walls are plumb and flat. Use shims if studs bow out. Install backerboard to flatten uneven plaster or adjust for warped areas.

Use the Right Tools

Having the proper tools for each step of the installation makes a big difference in getting professional looking results. Here are some must-haves:

  • Tile cutter – Essential for straight cuts and custom fitting
  • Wet saw – Cuts tile precisely with no chips; needed for stone
  • Tile spacers – Keeps consistent grout lines between tiles
  • Rubber grout float – Spreads and cleans grout smoothly
  • Mixing paddles – Blended mortar and grout thoroughly
  • Grout sealer – Protects grout from stains after installing

Don’t spread thinset or grout with kitchen tools – they won’t grip properly. Invest in equipment designed specifically for the materials and task.

Take Time with Layout

A perfectly laid out tile pattern goes a long way in making your backsplash look like a quality installation. Avoid sloppy or uneven spacing between tiles, rows, and surrounding countertops.

Dry fit tiles first without using adhesive to ensure your planned layout works. Adjust to get the look you want before permanently sticking tiles.

Use plastic tile spacers consistently to establish even grout line thickness. Place spacers at all tile corners for consistency. Remove carefully before grouting.

Measure plumb lines from countertops and cabinets to start rows straight and level. Keep tiles aligned as you progress using these reference lines.

Cut edge tiles to fit precisely around outlets, fixtures, corners, and borders. Take time with tricky outlet cuts to maintain the pattern alignment.

Apply Sealer and Grout Properly

Applying grout is an important step that makes or breaks the finished look. To avoid a sloppy amateur result, follow best practices:

  • Seal tiles first to prevent staining from grout, especially on porous natural stone.
  • Mix grout thoroughly and let slake 5-10 minutes before applying. Don’t spread too large an area at once.
  • Pack joints firmly with a rubber grout float to fill any gaps and remove excess. Hold the float at a consistent 45° angle.
  • Wipe diagonally across tiles with minimal pressure to prevent pulling grout from joints.
  • Clean tiles before grout dries using minimal water. Use sponge in circular motion.
  • Apply grout sealer once fully cured to protect from moisture and make cleaning easier.

Done right, grouting completes the backsplash, making the design pop. Taking shortcuts leads to cracked, poorly filled grout lines that detract from the overall look.

Maintain and Enjoy!

With proper installation and care, a tiled backsplash can last for decades, providing beauty and function. Keep your backsplash looking like new with these maintenance tips:

  • Seal grout annually to prevent staining and cracking over time. Re-grout any problem areas as needed.
  • Use pH neutral cleaners designed for tile and avoid abrasive pads or scrubbing.
  • Immediately wipe up spills, splatters, or grease – don’t let it sit on grout lines.
  • In the kitchen, install a laminated glass splashguard behind the cooktop to protect the backsplash.
  • Caulk where backsplash meets countertops, ranges, sinks and other joints. Re-caulk as needed if cracks appear.
  • Limit moisture contact on natural stone tiles to prevent etching and pitting over time.

A well-designed backsplash ties your whole kitchen or bathroom together, adds character, and increases enjoyment of the space for years to come! Which of these tile backsplash tips will help make your project a success?


How do I cut holes in tile for outlets and switches?

Use a rotary tool or oscillating multi-tool to cut accurate openings in tiles around outlets. Turn off power, then trace the box outline before carefully cutting just inside the line. Finish edges smoothly.

What type of tile is best for the kitchen backsplash?

Porcelain, ceramic, or natural stone tiles rate PEI 4-5 and have low water absorption, making them most suitable for withstanding kitchen heat, grease, and moisture. Glass mosaic works too but requires thorough sealing.

How long does a tile backsplash installation take?

The timeline can range from 1-3 days depending on the scope. Allow adequate dry fit planning time. Applying mortar and tiles goes quicker than meticulous grouting and clean up. Curing sealers need 72 hours before using the space fully.

Can tile backsplash go right over existing drywall?

In most cases, yes. Ensure the wall is cured, primed, cleaned, and roughed up for the thinset to adhere well. Repair any moisture damage before tiling over. Backerboard may be needed on questionable drywall.

What color grout is best?

White and light grey are popular choices that pair with nearly any tile. Match grout color to tile for a monochromatic look or go contrasting. Dark grout shows dirt less. Test grout colors when wet and dry before final selection.


Installing a tile backsplash boosts style and function in your kitchen or bath. With proper planning, material selection, tools, layout, grouting, and care, your new backsplash can be a focal point you’ll enjoy for decades. Use these 10 expert tips to guide your project to create a head-turning, quality tile installation.