How Do You Apply Backsplash – The Complete Guide


Adding a backsplash to your kitchen or bathroom can instantly upgrade the look and feel of the space. But before you start picking out tiles and materials, it’s important to understand the process of how to properly apply a backsplash. There are several steps involved, from preparing the surface to selecting the right adhesives. Knowing what to do ahead of time will ensure your backsplash installation goes smoothly and you end up with a finish you’ll love.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know about how to apply backsplash tile to your walls. We’ll cover how to prepare the surface, choose your materials, cut your tiles, apply the adhesive, grout, and seal. With the right materials and a bit of patience, you can achieve a stylish, professional looking backsplash on your own. Let’s get started!

How to Prepare the Surface for Backsplash Installation

The first step in any tile installation is ensuring you have a smooth, clean, and stable surface to adhere the tiles to. Here are some tips for preparing your backsplash area:

Clean and Sand the Surface

Give the wall a thorough clean with a degreaser to remove any dirt, grease, or grime. Once cleaned, sand the surface lightly with 120 grit sandpaper to help the adhesive adhere properly. Wipe away any dust with a dry cloth.

Fill Any Holes or Imperfections

Examine the wall for any holes, cracks, or uneven surfaces. Fill small holes with spackle and let dry completely. For larger holes, cut and adhere drywall patches. Sand smooth. Address any imperfections that could prevent proper tile adhesion.

Remove Outlets and Switch Plates

Any outlets or light switches in your backsplash area need to be removed prior to tiling. Turn off the power at the breaker and then carefully remove the cover plates and outlet fixtures. Set them aside until tiling is complete.

Apply Primer if Desired

While optional, some tile setters recommend applying a coat of primer to the backsplash area before installing tile. The primer creates a uniform surface and further improves adhesion. Let the primer dry fully before moving on.

Install Backing Boards

For wood-frame walls, backerboard (also called cement board) should be installed prior to tiling. Measure and cut boards to fit the area. Screw into studs and follow manufacturer’s installation instructions.

Now your backsplash area is prepped and ready for tile!

How to Select Your Backsplash Tiles and Materials

With the wall surface prepped, now is the fun part – picking out your tiles! Keep the following considerations in mind when selecting backsplash materials:

Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are very common backsplash options. They come in endless colors, sizes, shapes, and textures. Porcelain is more durable and water-resistant.

Natural Stone Tile

Slate, marble, and granite tiles make a great high-end backsplash option. They have a timeless elegance, but the material costs more and requires greater care.

Glass Tile

Glass tiles are colorful, reflective, and create a sleek modern look. Opt for thicker real glass tiles rather than cheaper mosaic sheets.

Metal Tile

Metal backsplashes have an industrial modern vibe, but can dent easily. Stainless steel is affordable, while copper and brass have a more luxe feel.

Tile Size and Shape

Consider what size and shape tiles work best for your design. Small mosaics have more grout lines, while larger tiles have fewer seams. Mix shapes for interest.

Adhesive and Grout

Choose adhesive and grout to match your tile material. Latex modified thinset and sanded grout work for most ceramic. Epoxy is great for natural stone.

Additional Materials

Don’t forget tile edging strips, spacers for consistent grout lines, and sealant for finishing the job.

Make a Design Layout

Map out your tile layout ahead of time so you know the quantities needed and optimal placement. Mixing multiple colors and sizes makes for a more custom look.

With the right tile selections made, you’re ready to start installing your backsplash!

How to Cut the Backsplash Tiles

In most backsplash projects, tiles will need to be cut to fit around corners, outlets, appliances, and to fill in edges properly. Here’s an overview of how to cut tile for your backsplash:

Measure Carefully

Carefully measure the areas where tile needs to be cut. Mark the measurements on the tiles with a pencil. Leave room for spacers when measuring.

Use a Wet Saw

A wet saw is the best tool for precisely cutting tile. The water prevents overheating. Mark the cuts and run the tile through the saw smoothly and slowly.

Cut Small Pieces with Tile Nippers

For smaller, detailed cuts, a nipper tool can snap off small pieces cleanly. Nip away from the score line in small bites.

Smooth Rough Edges

Use a coarse grinding stone or sanding block to smooth any rough tile edges. Bevel cuts at outlets for a neat appearance.

Don’t Cut Too Much at Once

Only cut the tiles you need for your current working area. Cutting everything at once can lead to confusion and wasted tiles.

Follow any safety procedures when using tile cutting tools. Take your time and measure twice for clean cuts.

How to Apply Adhesive and Set the Tiles

Now we’re ready for the fun part – sticking the tiles to the wall! Follow these tips for properly applying adhesive and setting backsplash tiles:

Choose the Right Adhesive

The adhesive you use depends on your tile material and wall surface. Latex modified thinset mortar works for most ceramic on cement board. Mastic works for very small mosaics.

Apply Adhesive with a Notched Trowel

Spread a thin layer of adhesive on the wall using a notched trowel. Hold the trowel at a 45 degree angle to get consistent depth.

Apply in Small Sections

Work in sections applying adhesive only where you can set tiles before the adhesive dries. This prevents lifting or sliding.

Set Tiles in Place Gently

Once adhesive is spread, press tiles into place with a slight twisting motion. Use spacers between tiles for even grout line spacing.

Check Alignment Frequently

As you set tiles, verify they are aligned and evenly spaced. Adjust as needed before the adhesive sets.

Let Adhesive Cure

Allow the adhesive to cure fully (usually 24 hours) before grouting. This prevents tiles from shifting or popping off.

Take care to apply the adhesive properly so your tiles adhere straight and permanently. Don’t rush the process and check your work along the way.

How to Grout Backsplash Tiles

Grouting is an important step that gives your tiles a polished finish and seals them together. Keep these tips in mind when grouting your backsplash:

Use Proper Grout

Choose an appropriate grout for your tile. Unsanded grout works for tiles with narrow grout lines. Sanded grout is better for wider joints.

Apply Grout with a Rubber Float

Force the grout diagonally into the tile joints with a rubber grout float. Hold at a 45 degree angle and work in small sections.

Clean Excess Grout

Wipe the tiles diagonally with a damp sponge to remove excess grout as you work. Rinse the sponge frequently.

Smooth and Shape Joints

Once grouted, shape the joints by holding the grout float edge at a 90 degree angle and gliding diagonally to smooth.

Allow Proper Cure Time

Let the grout cure for 24-48 hours before sealing or any water exposure. This prevents soft grout that can crack.

Update Electrical Plates

Once fully cured, update outlet covers and switches with new ones to match your fresh backsplash.

Taking time to properly grout the tiles makes them look crisp and uniform. Don’t rush this important step.

How to Seal the Backsplash

The final step is applying a sealer to protect your newly installed backsplash. Sealing tips include:

Clean Surface Before Sealing

Use a damp sponge to wipe away any haze or remaining grout before sealing. Let the backsplash dry completely.

Apply Approved Sealant

Use a sealant designed for your specific tile material. Natural stone tiles need a stone sealant, while porcelain may only need grout sealer.

Multiple Thin Coats

Apply 2-3 thin coats of sealer using a small foam roller or paintbrush. Avoid over-applying. Wipe any excess.

Seal Grout and Tiles

Make sure to apply sealant over both the grout joints and tile surfaces for full protection. Porous grout needs sealing.

Allow Proper Curing

Let the sealer cure fully before using the backsplash. This prevents water damage or smudging. Most sealers take 24 hours to cure.

Sealing the tiles provides an extra layer of protection from moisture and stains. It also enhances the color of natural stone.

FAQs about Applying Backsplash Tile

What kind of backsplash tile is easiest to install?

Porcelain, ceramic, and glass tiles tend to be the easiest materials for DIY backsplash installation. Mosaics and natural stone require more precision and skill to set properly.

How do I get a smooth finish on my backsplash corners?

Use an inside corner trim piece to get a clean finish where the backsplash meets an adjacent wall. Set the tiles on one wall first, then install the metal corner and cut any wall two tiles to fit.

My backsplash tiles aren’t sticking to the wall. What should I do?

If the tiles are sliding or lifting, it likely means the adhesive wasn’t given proper time to cure and harden before grouting. Carefully pry off the affected tiles and adhesive and reapply new adhesive. Let it fully cure before resetting tiles.

How long does backsplash tile installation take?

The timeline can vary based on the size of the area and complexity of the design. On average, expect the DIY installation process to take 2-3 days from start to finish. Proper adhesive and grout cure times must be factored in.

How do I cut holes in backsplash tile for outlets?

Use a diamond hole-cutting drill bit in the size needed for your outlets and switches. Drill slowly on a piece of scrap wood before drilling tiles. The outlets can then be fitted neatly into the cut tile.

Can I apply backsplash tile over existing drywall or plaster?

Yes, in most cases backsplash tiles can be installed directly over existing drywall or plaster walls, provided they are in good condition. Be sure to properly prepare and prime the surface first.


Installing a tile backsplash is an achievable DIY project for most homeowners. By following proper preparation, measuring, adhesive application, and grouting techniques, you can achieve professional-looking results and get the satisfaction of improving your home with your own hands.

The key is taking your time and not rushing through any steps. Get the right tools and materials for your specific tile, and thoroughly plan out the design. Don’t be afraid to adjust as you go until the alignment is perfect. Before you know it, you’ll have a stunning new backsplash worthy of a magazine.

We’ve covered all the basics here, but don’t hesitate to seek advice from experienced tile setters or watch video tutorials for any step along the way. With patience and care, you can master how to apply backsplash tile like an expert.