Can I Put Backsplash Tile on Drywall?

Installing a beautiful backsplash tile can upgrade the look of any kitchen or bathroom. But before starting your tiling project, it’s important to understand the proper materials and techniques for a long-lasting installation. Many homeowners wonder – can I put backsplash tile on drywall? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Drywall?

Drywall, also known as gypsum board or wallboard, is an interior wall material made of gypsum plaster pressed between two thick sheets of paper. Drywall is the most common wall surface used in modern construction for these reasons:

  • Cost effective
  • Easy to install and repair
  • Creates a seamless surface for decorating

Drywall provides a smooth, durable surface for paint and wallpaper. But when it comes to tile, drywall has some limitations.

Challenges of Tiling on Drywall

While it may seem easier to tile directly over existing drywall, there are a few issues to consider:

Lack of support. Drywall alone does not provide enough stability and structure to support tile long-term. Tile’s weight and rigidity can cause the drywall substrate to crumble or crack over time.

Moisture sensitivity. Drywall is prone to moisture damage and mold growth when exposed to excessive water. Bathrooms and backsplashes see a lot of humidity, steam, and splashing which can degrade drywall.

Difficult to achieve a flat surface. Minor gaps or seams between drywall panels can telegraph through and cause cracks in the tile. Achieving a perfectly smooth surface is difficult with drywall alone.

Prone to damage. Tiles adhere weakly to drywall’s paper surface. Any shifting or unevenness in the wall can cause tiles to loosen or fall off. Drywall’s paper surface can become damaged when tiles are removed.

For these reasons, tiles require a more stable and moisture-resistant backing to last. Let’s look at better options for substrates beneath backsplash tiles.

Better Substrate Options for Tile

While it’s not strictly impossible to attach tile directly to drywall, it is not recommended as a long-term solution. For kitchens and bathrooms, a water-resistant, cement-based backing will provide a much stronger base:

  • Cement board – Made from cement and reinforced with fiberglass, cement board provides a durable, moisture-resistant surface for tile. Brands like Durock or Hardibacker cement board are designed for wet areas.
  • Greenboard – Drywall panels treated with moisture-resistant additives. Provides more protection than regular drywall but less than cement backerboard.
  • Concrete – Can be used as a tile substrate in place of backerboard in wet areas, provided the surface is cleaned and primed first.
  • Plywood – A minimum of 1/2-inch exterior-grade plywood makes a sturdy, water-resistant backing for tiles in dry areas.Edges must be supported.

In bathrooms, cement backerboard is the best practice. In kitchens, cement board or plywood are good options behind backsplashes. Water-resistant substrates prevent moisture from damaging the drywall while providing extra stability for tiles.

How to Prepare Drywall for Tile

If cement board is not an option, it IS possible to “waterproof” drywall to create a more moisture-resistant surface for tile. Here are a few methods:

  • Apply a membrane or drywall sealer to coat the surface. Products like RedGard or Laticrete Hydro Barrier can waterproof drywall.
  • Skim coat the drywall with a latex-modified thinset mortar to seal and strengthen the surface.
  • Apply a fiberglass mesh tape to all seams between drywall panels for added stability and then skim coat the entire surface.
  • In bathrooms, consider applying a moisture barrier like Kerdi over the drywall before tiling.

Even with proper preparation, drywall will never be as resistant to water and movement as cement backerboard. Drywall may only be suitable for low-moisture areas or small sections of light tile.

Tiling Best Practices

If using drywall, follow these tips for the most secure installation:

  • Only use lightweight glass, ceramic, or porcelain tile. Avoid heavy natural stone.
  • Use a high-quality latex modified thinset and grout. Allow proper curing time.
  • Take extra care preparing the surface and use latex modified thinset to skim coat.
  • Support joints with fiberglass mesh tape and seal seams.
  • Use small tiles and avoid large grout lines which can crack.
  • Seal and grout carefully to prevent moisture from reaching drywall.
  • Avoid putting too much weight on the tile, such as resting or leaning on a backsplash.

With the right precautions, small areas of tile can adhere to drywall for years of beauty and enjoyment. But for heavy-use wet areas, a resilient cement board will provide the most stable and long-lasting backdrop for beautiful tiles.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tiling on Drywall

Can I put tile directly on drywall in a bathroom?

This is not recommended. Drywall is prone to moisture damage and does not provide enough support for tile long-term. Use cement backerboard or treat drywall with a waterproofing membrane.

What kind of tile can I use on drywall?

Lightweight wall tile or mosaic sheets are best. Avoid heavy stone tile. Keep tiles smaller than 6 inches and grout lines thin.

How long will tile last on drywall?

With proper installation and lightweight tile, it may last 5-10 years. High-moisture areas will degrade drywall quicker. Cement board offers much longer tile life expectancy.

Should I use mastic or thinset for tile on drywall?

Thinset is stronger. Use a high quality latex-modified thinset over a primed drywall surface. Mastic is not suitable for wet areas.

What is the most waterproof backing for tile?

Cement backerboard is the most water-resistant and durable substrate for tile in wet areas. Kerdi membrane over drywall is another option.


While it’s possible to install tile backsplash on drywall, cement backerboard and other water-resistant substrates offer major advantages for long-term performance. Drywall can work for low-moisture applications with proper preparation. But for heavy-use spaces like kitchens and baths, a moisture-proof foundation will ensure your beautiful new backsplash stands the test of time. Follow best practices and choose the right materials for your project. Happy tiling!