Installing a backsplash is an easy and affordable way to add visual interest and protect the walls behind your kitchen counters or bathroom vanities. But is drywall an appropriate backing material for a backsplash? The short answer is yes – with proper preparation, backsplashes can be successfully installed over drywall. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about installing a backsplash on drywall, from materials and tools to prep work and installation tips. Read on to learn the dos and don’ts of backsplashing on drywall.
What is Drywall?
Drywall, also known as wallboard or plasterboard, is a panel made of gypsum plaster pressed between two thick sheets of paper. It’s the most common interior wall surfacing material used in modern construction for several reasons:
- Cost effective
- Easy to install
- Smooth, uniform surface for decorating
- Fire resistant
- Absorbs sound
- Available in different thicknesses
Drywall provides an excellent painting surface and takes paint nicely. It can be finished to a completely smooth surface or given texture with joint compound. This makes it a suitable backing material for many wall coverings, including tile backsplashes.
Can You Install a Backsplash Directly on Drywall?
Yes, it’s perfectly fine to install a backsplash directly over drywall as long as the drywall is properly prepared first. Backsplashes are typically made from tile, stone, or metal sheets. These materials are applied with thinset adhesive, which bonds very well to drywall.
However, drywall alone does not provide enough support for the weight of backsplash tiles. Some additional steps must be taken to reinforce the drywall prior to backsplash installation.
How to Prepare Drywall for a Backsplash
Proper preparation is the key to a successful backsplash installation on drywall. Here are the steps:
1. Make Sure the Drywall is in Good Condition
Examine the drywall carefully for any damage, imperfections, or moisture problems. Repair any issues with joint compound or replace severely damaged or damp drywall.
2. Clean and Sand the Surface
Wipe away any dirt, grease, or flaking paint. Lightly sand to smooth any bumps or scrapes in the drywall surface. This prepares it for good adhesion.
3. Seal and Prime the Drywall
Applying primer seals the surface so moisture doesn’t penetrate into the drywall. Use a high-quality primer designed for tile and masonry. Let it dry completely.
4. Apply a Cement Backerboard
Cement backerboard provides a durable, water-resistant layer for anchoring backsplash tiles. Cut it to fit the area, fasten with screws, and seam the joints with fiberglass mesh tape and thinset mortar.
5. Install Metal Lath (Optional)
For extra stability, you can also fasten metal or fiber lath over the backerboard with roofing nails. This creates a reinforced scratch coat.
6. Skim Coat with Thinset Mortar
Apply a thin skim coat layer of thinset mortar over the backerboard (and lath if using). This coats the rough surface to prep for tiling. Let dry completely.
Once these steps are complete, the drywall is prepped and ready for backsplash tiling!
Tiling a Backsplash on Drywall
Follow standard tiling techniques for setting tile on the prepared drywall:
- Use a notched trowel to spread a thin layer of thinset mortar on the backsplash area.
- Press tiles firmly into the thinset and use spacers for even grout joints.
- Allow the thinset to cure fully (24-48 hours) before grouting.
- Clean excess thinset from the tiles with a damp sponge.
- Mix grout and apply to the joints, wiping away excess. Allow to dry.
- Caulk between the backsplash and countertop/cabinets.
Make sure to use the appropriate trowel size, thinset, and grout for the tile material. Take care to clean any grout haze once installed. Then you can enjoy your newly tiled backsplash on drywall!
Benefits of Installing a Backsplash on Drywall
- Much faster and easier than installing it on new backerboard.
- Don’t need to alter existing drywall if it’s in good shape.
- No tear-out or disposal fees for old backerboard.
- Can tile over primed and painted drywall.
- A weekend DIY project for most homeowners.
- More affordable than replacing drywall or backerboard.
Things to Keep in Mind
- Only use drywall in good condition – no moisture damage or repairs needed.
- Heavy natural stone tiles may require additional backerboard support.
- Take time to properly prepare and reinforce the drywall.
- Use high-quality setting materials and adhesives.
- Carefully follow all preparation and installation steps.
- Drywall doesn’t provide water protection – caulk joints and seal penetrations.
Alternative Backsplash Installation Options
If your existing drywall is damaged or you want added durability, consider these backsplash foundation options:
- Cement backerboard – Fiber cement board that withstands moisture; screws to wall studs.
- Greenboard – Drywall with moisture-resistant core good in bathrooms.
- Plywood – Must be water- and mold-resistant grade (Extira, etc).
- Plaster – Requires several coats for smooth subsurface; prone to cracking.
No matter the backing material, proper prep and installation are vital for backsplash success.
Frequently Asked Questions about Backsplashes on Drywall
Can I use mastic instead of thinset to install backsplash tiles on drywall?
No, mastic adhesive is not suitable for backsplashes. Always use a polymer-modified thinset mortar rated for the tile material you’re installing. Mastic is too weak to support backsplash tiles long-term.
What about using construction adhesive or liquid nails to attach the backsplash?
Adhesives other than thinset should never be used. Like mastic, they do not provide a strong enough bond and are not water resistant. Thinset is the proper adhesive for backsplashes.
Should I tape the seams in the drywall before tiling?
Taping drywall seams is not mandatory but can provide extra stability and moisture protection behind the backsplash. Use fiberglass mesh tape and thinset to reinforce any seams.
How long does the thinset need to cure before I can grout the tiles?
Allow the thinset mortar to fully cure for 24-48 hours before applying grout. This allows the bond between the tiles and drywall to grow strong so tiles don’t shift or pop off.
Can I just use caulk between the backsplash tiles rather than grouting?
Do not use caulk instead of grout between backsplash tiles. While caulk is flexible, it traps dirt easily and does not allow the tiles to be cleaned properly. Grout is always preferred.
Installing a backsplash on drywall is a home improvement project within reach of DIYers. With proper preparation involving backerboard, priming, and reinforcement, drywall can serve as an excellent substrate for backsplash tiles using thinset mortar. Carefully following installation procedures results in a beautiful, long-lasting backsplash over drywall. Just be sure to address any existing drywall damage and moisture issues before tiling. With adequate prep work, drywall and backsplashes can successfully coexist in bathrooms, kitchens, and beyond.