Can You Put Backsplash Tile on Drywall?

Backsplash tile can add a beautiful, protective finishing touch to your kitchen or bathroom. But before installing tile, it’s important to understand what type of wall surface it should be applied to. Many homeowners wonder, “can you put backsplash tile on drywall?” The short answer is yes, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

An Overview of Backsplash Tile on Drywall

Drywall is a very common wall material used in construction and remodeling. It’s made of gypsum plaster pressed between two thick sheets of paper. Drywall is an ideal painting surface, but not the most durable material for directly applying tile. With proper preparation and installation, backsplash tile can adhere successfully to drywall. However, there are a few extra steps involved compared to installing on cement, plaster, or other robust surfaces.

The keys to achieving a long-lasting backsplash tile installation on drywall are:

  • Proper drywall preparation and priming
  • Use of a high quality tile mortar adhesive
  • Careful tile application and grouting technique
  • Sealing and caulking gaps after installation

By following best practices, your backsplash tile can provide years of beauty and protection for your drywall.

Preparing Drywall for Tile

Drywall needs some special treatment before tile can be installed. Here are the steps:

Ensure Drywall is Dry

Drywall must be fully dried out and cured before applying tile. Check moisture levels, especially around sinks, appliances, and near windows where condensation occurs. Only install tile once drywall moisture readings are acceptable.

Seal and Prime the Drywall Surface

Apply a drywall sealer to coat the paper surface facing outwards. This seals the drywall and provides a more consistent surface for tile mortar to bond with.

Next, prime over the sealer with a tile bonding primer or acrylic primer. This gives an enhanced surface for the mortar to grip.

Check for Smoothness

Any bumps, cracks, or uneven areas on the drywall can prevent tile from adhering correctly. Sand down any protrusions or fill divots with joint compound. Feather out compound patches so they blend seamlessly.

Once dry, sand smooth. Vacuum up all dust before priming.

Consider a Cement Backer Board

For heavy tile or stone backsplashes, it’s best to install cement backer board over the drywall. This provides an extremely durable surface designed specifically to support tile. Screw backer board securely to studs.

If just using lightweight tile, you can probably avoid backer board. But it’s always the most robust choice.

Choosing the Right Mortar

The type of mortar used to set the tile is crucial for a long-lasting installation on drywall. Standard mortars do not have enough flex or grip. Instead, use a premium latex or polymer-modified thinset mortar adhesive. These “modified” mortars expand and contract with the drywall, while standard mortar can crack.

Avoid mastic adhesives – these are not suitable for drywall. Make sure to mix and apply the mortar according to manufacturer’s directions. The mortar consistency should be somewhat sticky to spread on the wall.

Setting the Tile

Once drywall is prepped and primed, and mortar mixed, it’s time to install the tile. Follow these tips:

  • Apply a thin layer of mortar to the back of each tile (known as “back-buttering”)
  • Spread a consistent 1/4” layer of mortar on the drywall where tile will be placed
  • Use spacers between tiles for consistent grout lines
  • Push tiles firmly into position and slide back-and-forth to collapse the mortar ridges
  • Check tiles for level and alignment as you go
  • Allow mortar to cure fully (usually 24-48 hours) before grouting

Take care to regularly verify tiles are firmly bonded and aligned. Don’t rush the installation. The mortar needs time to cure completely before grouting or using the backsplash.

Grouting and Finishing Touches

Once the tile mortar has cured, it’s time to grout the joints. Use a flexible “unsanded” grout for backsplash installations. Apply grout by working it deeply into the joints and wiping excess away.

After grouting, make sure any gaps between the tile and drywall are caulked to prevent moisture intrusion behind the tile. Siliconized caulk works well.

Lastly, apply a penetrating sealer to the grouted areas and any exposed tile edges. This prevents moisture from being absorbed into the tile or grout.

With proper prep and installation, you can achieve stunning backsplash tile on drywall that will last for many years. Take things slow and steady. And don’t be afraid to call in a tile professional if unsure about any step of the process.

FAQ About Installing Backsplash Tile on Drywall

Should I use mastic or thinset mortar to install backsplash tile on drywall?

Thinset mortar is strongly recommended, as it provides a much stronger bond than mastic. Use a latex or polymer-modified thinset for best results on drywall.

What type of tile can be installed on drywall?

Lighter weight tile and stone work best, such as ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone tiles under 2lbs per square foot. Avoid heavy stone or larger format tiles which require a more robust substrate.

How long does tile mortar need to cure before grouting on drywall?

It’s best to allow tile mortar to cure for 24-48 hours before grouting tiles on a drywall installation. This allows the mortar to reach full strength.

Should I use sanded or unsanded grout for backsplash tile?

Unsanded grout is preferred for backsplash tile joints, as it provides more flexibility and is less likely to crack. Sanded grout is better suited to floors.

Is epoxy grout a good choice for drywall installations?

Epoxy grout is extremely durable and waterproof. However, it can crack if the underlying surface shifts or flexes. Standard cement grout has more give, making it a better choice for drywall backsplashes.


Installing backsplash tile on drywall adds beauty and an easy-clean surface in kitchens, baths, and other areas. With proper preparation, high quality adhesive, careful application, and finishing, tile can adhere successfully and last for many years on drywall. Pay attention to the details in each step of the process. And don’t be afraid to hire a tile professional if unsure how to best approach tiling on drywall. With some diligence, creativity, and effort, you can achieve the backsplash of your dreams directly on drywall.