How to Install a Tile Backsplash

Installing a tile backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom can completely transform the look and feel of the space. A tile backsplash serves both form and function – it protects the walls from water damage and splashes while also providing an opportunity to add style, color, and visual interest. While tiling a backsplash may seem daunting, it’s a DIY project that can easily be tackled in a weekend. With some planning, the right materials, and these step-by-step instructions, you’ll have a stunning new backsplash in no time.

Choose Your Tile

The first step is selecting the tile itself. There are endless options when it comes to backsplash tiles. Consider the overall aesthetic you want for the space. Do you want something classic and timeless like subway tile or hexagons? Or are you looking to make a bold, colorful statement with handmade or mosaic tiles? Think about the colors, patterns, textures, and sizes that appeal to you. You’ll also want to decide on natural stone vs ceramic or porcelain.

Some popular backsplash tile options include:

  • Subway tile: Classic 3 x 6 inch glossy ceramic tiles; available in tons of colors and arranged in a brick pattern. Provides a clean, streamlined look.
  • Penny tile: Small, round ceramic tiles that create a retro, vintage vibe.
  • Herringbone: Rectangular tiles set in a V pattern for a classy, sophisticated style.
  • Hexagon: Six-sided tiles that can be creatively arranged in honeycomb shapes for visual interest.
  • Marble or travertine: Elegant natural stone tiles that bring a high-end, luxurious look. Require more maintenance.
  • Peel-and-stick: Affordable, easy-to-install vinyl tiles with adhesive backing. Come in many colors and styles.
  • Mosaic: Tiny glass, stone, or ceramic tiles that form decorative patterns when combined. Add artsy flair.

Be sure to get extras – you’ll likely need about 15% more tile than the measurements of your backsplash area to account for tile cuts, waste and breakage. And don’t forget the grout! Choosing a grout color that complements your tile is key.

Gather Your Materials

In addition to the tile itself, installing a backsplash requires:

  • Tile adhesive: Thinset mortar adhesive for applying tile to walls/backsplash boards.
  • Grout: Grout fills in the spaces between tiles. Can complement or contrast tile color.
  • Grout float: For spreading and smoothing grout between tile.
  • Trowel: For applying adhesive mortar. Look for a notched trowel specially designed for backsplashes.
  • Wet saw: For precisely cutting tile (can rent if needed).
  • Spacers: Plastic crosses to keep uniform grout lines between tiles.
  • Sealant: Waterproof silicone caulk seals edges and corners.

You’ll also need basic safety gear like closed-toe shoes, work gloves, and safety goggles. For tools, you’ll want a grout bucket, grout sponge, mixing paddle, tape measure, ruler, level, utility knife, carpenter’s square, and plastic spacers.

Prepare the Surface

Proper prep work is crucial for a long-lasting backsplash. Start by clearing the area and ensuring the wall surface is smooth, clean, and dry. Painted drywall or water-resistant backsplash panels typically provide an ideal surface.

Use a cleaner or acetone to remove any oils, soap film, or waxes from the wall. Sand or scrape any bumps or imperfections. The area must be completely clean and grease-free for the adhesive mortar to properly bond.

Fill any holes or cracks with spackle and let dry completely. Then sand smooth. Wipe away all dust with a dry cloth. Use painter’s tape at the edges to protect the surrounding walls.

Plan Your Tile Layout

Now comes the fun part – laying out your tile design! Map it out ahead of time to ensure you have the right amount of materials and fully visualize the pattern.

  • Use a level to draw straight horizontal and vertical layout lines on the wall as guides.
  • Dry lay tiles on the countertop first to test arrangement ideas.
  • Mix tile sizes and colors as desired. Use the center of the backsplash as a focal point.
  • Minimize cuts by adjusting starting point and/or using edge trim like bullnose.
  • Snap perpendicular chalk lines on the wall to align the first row of tile.

Spread the Thinset Mortar

Thinset adhesive mortar provides the bed for the tile. Prepare the mixture according to package directions. The mortar should be evenly spread using a notched trowel held at a 45° angle to create straight ridges.

Only apply as much mortar as you can tile over within 20-30 minutes before it skins over. Start on the bottom row and work upwards:

  • Spread mortar over the lower portion of the wall, using the notched side of the trowel to comb lines in one direction.
  • Use the flat side of the trowel to flatten ridges and achieve consistent depth.
  • Stick tiles into the ridges of mortar and press firmly to adhere, using spacers to maintain even grout line width.
  • Check tiles for alignment and flatness, adjusting as needed before the mortar dries.
  • Allow the mortar to cure per manufacturer instructions before grouting.

Cut Tiles to Fit

Most backsplashes require some tile cutting to fit around outlets, pipes, corners, and edges. Measure carefully and use a wet saw fitted with a diamond tile blade to cut tiles precisely.

Some tips for proper tile cutting:

  • Keep tile surface wet and saw reservoir filled with water to minimize dust.
  • Cut tiles face up for best results.
  • Make several light passes rather than one forceful cut.
  • Cut tiles a bit larger at first as needed, then shave down to custom fit.
  • Use an old tile or scrap wood to raise the cut tile up to the full blade height.
  • Finish raw tile edges with sandpaper or a stone.

Apply the Grout

Once your tile adhesive mortar has fully cured, it’s time to grout! Grout fills the seams between tiles with a waterproof, finished look. Follow these grouting tips:

  • Mix grout per package instructions to a thick, peanut butter-like consistency. Let slake 5-10 minutes.
  • Hold the grout float at a 45° angle and spread grout forcefully over the tile surface, packing it deeply into joints.
  • Go over the entire installation, smoothing grout diagonally across tiles to fill any low spots.
  • Let grout firm up slightly for 10-20 minutes until a light haze forms.
  • Wipe diagonally across tiles with a damp sponge to clean grout haze and smooth joints. Rinse sponge frequently.
  • Allow grout to cure fully before sealing or using. Avoid getting excessively wet for 72 hours.

Seal and Finish

The final step is sealing the grout and corners to protect your new backsplash.

  • Let grout cure fully, generally 72 hours. Confirm with manufacturer instructions.
  • Apply a penetrating grout sealer with a small paintbrush. Allow to dry completely.
  • Use silicone caulk to seal all corners, edges, and gaps. Wipe with a damp finger before drying.

Then stand back and admire your handiwork! With proper prep and patience, you can tackle a tiled backsplash installation and check DIY tiling off your home improvement skill set.

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing a Tile Backsplash

What’s the best way to cut holes in tile for outlets and switches?

Use a rotary tool or oscillating tool with a tile blade to cut neat openings for outlets in tile. Make multiple passes around the perimeter first, then tap out the center hole. Cover with a tile escutcheon plate.

Should the backsplash go all the way to the ceiling?

Typically backsplashes are installed 4-6 inches above countertops on average. But extending to the ceiling can look bold and dramatic if it fits your style vision.

What about the seams where the backsplash meets the wall or countertop?

These transition areas should be filled with a flexible silicone caulk. The caulk bead seals and waterproofs the edges and corners.

How do I remove an existing backsplash?

Carefully pry off tiles with a putty knife or scraper. Soak with water to soften old mastic. Sand or scrape away adhesive residue. Repair drywall as needed before new installation.

Can I install a backsplash over existing drywall or plaster walls?

Yes, in most cases. Ensure the walls are smooth, grease-free, and properly primed. Painted drywall provides an ideal surface for great adhesion.

What’s the typical cost to install a backsplash?

The average price for professional installation ranges $10-$40 per square foot. DIY costs average $5-$15 per square foot, depending on tile type and complexity.


Installing a tile backsplash can take your kitchen or bathroom from bland to beautiful. With a well-planned design, high-quality materials, and proper technique, you can achieve a stunning, high-end backsplash on any budget. Use these detailed steps to confidently tackle this rewarding upgrade project. Just measure twice, cut carefully, and take your time spreading thinset and grout. Before you know it, you’ll have a stylish, new focal point to enjoy for years to come. With the right know-how and tools, you can definitely DIY this – so go for it!