Can Tile Backsplash Be Installed on Drywall?

Installing a tile backsplash can greatly enhance the look of any kitchen or bathroom. Tile backsplashes not only look beautiful, but they are also durable, easy to clean, and protect walls from moisture damage. Many homeowners considering a tile backsplash wonder if they can install tile directly on drywall or if a more complex process is required. The good news is that tile can be installed directly on drywall in most cases with proper preparation and materials.

Preparing the Drywall for Tile

Before starting any tile project, the first step is ensuring the drywall is properly prepared to support the weight of the tile. Here are the key steps:

  • Inspect the drywall – Look for any cracks, damage, or imperfections that could prevent proper adhesion of the tile mortar. Any issues should be repaired before moving forward.
  • Clean the surface – Use a damp sponge to wipe away any dust or debris. The drywall needs to be completely clean and dry before applying any mortar.
  • Fill any seams – Use drywall joint compound and tape on any seams between drywall sheets. Feather and smooth the compound so seams are flush with wall surface.
  • Prime the drywall – Apply a coat of primer specially formulated for tile and masonry projects. This helps bonding and prevents drywall from absorbing moisture from the mortar.
  • Mark stud locations – Use a stud finder to mark where wall studs are located. These provide more stability for shelf braces or other heavy items.

Properly preparing the underlayment is crucial for creating a strong base for the tile installation. Rushing this step can cause tiles to crack or become detached over time.

Using Appropriate Adhesives and Mortars

Choosing the right mortar adhesive is also key to a successful drywall tile project. Traditional mastic or thinset mortars do not provide adequate bonding on drywall alone. There are specialized mortars formulated to harden and cure properly on drywall surfaces.

Here are some top options:

  • Latex-modified thinset – This provides better adhesion and more flexibility than regular thinset. The polymer modification allows it to better grip drywall.
  • Mortar with built-in primer – Some mortars contain acrylic additives that act as a primer for drywall surfaces. This enhances the bond strength.
  • Fiber-reinforced mortar – Nylon or fiberglass strands mixed within the mortar give it more durability and prevent cracking.

Be sure to check manufacturer instructions for approved uses and proper mixing and application. Using the right product goes a long way towards creating a durable installation.

Considering a Cement Board Underlayment

While tile can be placed directly on drywall, some installers recommend adding a cement board underlayment first. Cement board provides an extremely durable surface that prevents cracks and improves adhesive strength.

Cement board panels can be glued or screwed onto existing drywall before applying tile. This adds an extra layer of stability for heavy tiles or in high-moisture areas like behind sinks. It also protects the underlying drywall if any tiles need to be removed later.

Adding cement board does require more time and expense to the project. It can also slightly reduce the thickness of the final tile installation. Many professional tilers utilize cement board for any drywall tiling project.

For home owners on a budget or tiling a small backsplash area, the cement board may be optional. Focus on properly preparing and priming the drywall, use a latex-modified mortar, and cement board may not be necessary.

Grouting and Sealing the Tile

Once the tile has been properly installed on the prepared drywall, it must be finished well to achieve the best results:

  • Grout application – Grout fills in the spaces between tiles. Apply grout using a rubber grout float or squeegee. Smooth and clean excess grout for a neat appearance.
  • Caulking – Use mildew-resistant caulk between the tile and countertops, tub/showers, or cabinets. This prevents water getting behind the tile.
  • Sealing – Use a penetrating sealer formulated for porous grout and cement board. This prevents stains and damage from moisture.

Taking steps to properly grout, caulk, and seal the installation will keep the backsplash looking pristine and prevent deterioration.

Tiling Large Areas on Drywall

For small backsplash areas of only a few square feet, tiling directly on drywall often poses no problems when done properly. For larger areas like full bathroom walls or kitchen backsplashes over 6 feet, more care must be taken.

Some tips for tiling extensively on drywall include:

  • Use cement board for at least the lower portion near countertops and sinks.
  • Select lighter weight tile and thinner application of mortar.
  • Include movement joints where backsplash meets countertops or cabinets.
  • Check for any sagging or instability in the drywall before starting.
  • Consider additional drywall screws into studs to shore up support.
  • Use fiberglass mesh tape for an extremely durable drywall finish.

With proper planning and preparation, even large drywall expanses can support beautiful tile designs for years of enjoyment.

FAQ About Installing Tile on Drywall

Can I use regular drywall or does it need to be moisture resistant?

Regular drywall is fine for backsplashes and low-moisture areas. Use moisture-resistant drywall behind sinks, tubs, and showers to prevent deterioration.

What about using mastic instead of mortar?

Mastic does not provide adequate bonding strength for tile on vertical drywall surfaces. Use a high quality latex-modified thinset mortar.

Should I use spacers for a drywall tile backsplash?

Yes, spacers are recommended to allow room for grout between tiles. This prevents cracking or damage to tile edges.

What type of tile works best on drywall?

Lightweight porcelain, ceramic, or natural stone tiles are best. Heavy stone or large format tiles may require cement board underlayment.

Can I install my tile diagonally or in other patterns?

Yes, you can lay tile in many patterns on drywall. Just be sure underlying framing is properly reinforced first.

Should I seal the drywall before tiling?

Yes, priming with a drywall sealer formulated for tile helps bonding and prevents absorption of mortar moisture.

How long should I let the mortar cure before grouting?

Let mortar cure for at least 24 hours. Check manufacturer instructions as some mortars require 48-72 hour curing times.

Can any issues arise from putting tile on drywall?

If not properly prepped and reinforced, tiles may crack or detach over time. Using cement board and high quality mortar prevents most issues.


Installing tile backsplash on drywall is a smart way to upgrade your kitchen or bathroom. With proper preparation of the drywall surface and using quality mortar and grout, tile can be applied successfully directly to drywall in most residential applications. Pay close attention to cleaning, priming, and reinforcing the drywall to create a strong base. Choose lightweight tiles and be sure to fully seal and grout for a professional finish. With some diligent planning and effort, you can enjoy a gorgeous new tile backsplash without the added effort and cost of cement board or other complex installations.