Can You Install Backsplash Tile on Drywall?

Installing a beautiful backsplash tile can transform the look of your kitchen or bathroom. But before you start tiling, it’s important to understand what type of wall surface you’re working with. Many homeowners wonder, can you install backsplash tile on drywall? The short answer is yes, with the right preparation, backsplash tile can be installed directly onto drywall. Here’s what you need to know.

What is Drywall?

Drywall, also known as gypsum board or sheetrock, is a panel made of gypsum plaster pressed between two thick sheets of paper. It’s a very common wall surface used in construction for interior walls and ceilings. Compared to more traditional wet plaster walls, drywall is easier to install, doesn’t require extensive drying time, and can be patched and repaired easily.

Some key advantages of drywall:

  • Quick and easy installation
  • Smooth and uniform surface for decorating
  • Fire resistant and moisture resistant options available
  • Easy to cut and install around outlets and fixtures
  • Can be repaired and patched easily

Preparing the Drywall Surface

While backsplash tile can be installed directly onto drywall, the drywall does require some preparation first. Here are the steps for preparing drywall for tile:

Check for Moisture

Excess moisture can damage drywall overtime. Inspect the drywall for signs of water damage or leaks. Repair any moisture issues before tiling.

Fill Holes and Imperfections

Use drywall joint compound to fill any holes, dents, cracks, or imperfections in the drywall surface. Allow compound to dry completely.

Sand the Surface

Lightly sand the entire area to smooth any rough spots or dried compound. This helps the tile adhesive stick properly.

Prime the Surface

Apply a coat of drywall primer to seal the surface. This creates a uniform foundation for the tile.

Caulk Joints and Seams

Use caulk to fill and seal all drywall joints, corners, and seams between the drywall and other surfaces. This prevents moisture getting behind the tile.

Once the drywall surface is prepped, you can begin installing the backsplash tile!

How to Attach Tile to Drywall

With the drywall prepped, you can move onto attaching the tile. Here are some tips:

  • Use a polymer-modified thinset. The thinset adhesive needs to be flexible to handle the movement of the drywall. A polymer-modified mortar works best.
  • Apply a skim coat first. Cover the entire drywall area with a thin, uniform layer of thinset. This helps fills any remaining pores.
  • Use a notched trowel for setting tile. A 1/4″ square or U-notched trowel is ideal. This ensures proper adhesive coverage on the back of each tile.
  • Press tiles firmly into place. Apply even pressure across the surface of each tile to ensure the tile makes full contact with the thinset.
  • Grout and seal when dry. Let the thinset fully cure, then grout and seal the tiles. Use a flexible grout designed for drywall.

Tips for Successful Drywall Tiling

Follow these tips to get great results tiling onto drywall:

  • Stick with lightweight natural stone or ceramic mosaic tiles. Avoid heavy natural stones.
  • Opt for smaller tile sizes, such as mosaics or 4×4 tiles rather than large format tiles. Smaller tiles adhere better.
  • Use a white polymer-modified thinset so color doesn’t bleed through grout joints.
  • Avoid soaking the drywall surface with water when cleaning. Drywall absorbs moisture easily.
  • Check manufacturer instructions for any temperature or drying requirements for thinset and grout.
  • Use unsanded grout for grout joints 1/8″ or smaller. Avoid dark colored grout that can stain drywall.
  • Seal the grouted tiles with a penetrating sealer to prevent moisture from reaching drywall.
  • Caulk all changes in plane, such as between counter and tile, to allow for normal drywall movement.

Advantages of Tiling on Drywall

While tileable backer boards such as cement board and DUROCK are popular choices, tiling directly on drywall offers some nice perks:

  • Cost savings. Eliminates the cost of purchasing and installing backer board.
  • Thinner finish. Since drywall is thinner than cement board, the overall finish is less bulky.
  • Time savings. Skip the step of installing backer board and move straight to prepping drywall.
  • Consistent surface. Drywall offers a smooth and uniform surface to tile over.
  • Familiar material. Handling drywall is a familiar process for most DIYers and contractors.

If done correctly, drywall can be an ideal surface for installing beautiful and durable backsplash tile. Just take care to properly prep and prime the drywall prior to tiling. Use a high quality flexible thinset and grout, and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to achieve great results. With the right materials and techniques, you can install tile directly onto drywall with confidence.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tiling on Drywall

Is it okay to install tile directly on drywall in a shower or tub surround?

Tile should not be installed directly on regular drywall in a shower. Moisture resistant cement board or a waterproof membrane should be used instead. Standard drywall will degrade and mold when exposed to prolonged moisture.

What about tiling around a sink, is drywall okay there?

For a backsplash around a kitchen or bathroom sink, standard drywall is fine provided it’s properly sealed and any water exposure is limited to occasional splashes. Use a waterproof grout and sealant to protect the drywall from moisture.

Can you tile a fireplace surround with drywall?

Yes, drywall is a suitable surface for tiling around a fireplace. Use cement board or other non-combustible material for the firebox itself. Ensure the drywall is rated for high temperatures generated near the fireplace.

Is it better to use cement backer board instead of drywall?

Cement backer board is considered a more robust and moisture-resistant substrate for tile. But drywall works well for most basic backsplash projects, as long as proper installation techniques are followed.

How long does it take for thinset mortar to cure on drywall before grouting?

Check manufacturer’s guidelines, but typically 24-48 hours. Cooler temperatures may require longer cure times. Do not grout until thinset has fully cured to avoid cracking or damage to tiles.

What thinset mortar brand works best on drywall?

Some good polymer-modified thinset brands that work well on drywall include Mapei Ultraflex LFT, Custom Building Products FlexBond, and Bostik Ultra-Set SingleFlex. Talk to knowledgeable tile sales staff for best recommendations.


Installing tile directly on drywall opens up possibilities for beautiful backsplash designs without requiring the cost and bulk of cement board. With proper preparation and moisture protection, drywall can serve as an effective tile substrate. Use a flexible thinset adhesive, grout, and sealant. Stick to guidelines for drywall tiling such as smaller tile sizes, lightweight materials, and proper movement joints. Achieve a professional looking backsplash installation on drywall by following manufacturer recommendations and best practices.