Installing a beautiful backsplash can transform the look and feel of your kitchen. While tile and grout get most of the glory, the unsung hero behind many backsplash projects is mastic, the adhesive that bonds the tile to the wall. But how much mastic do you actually need to complete your backsplash installation? Read on for a comprehensive guide to determining your mastic needs.
What is Mastic?
Before calculating how much mastic you need, it’s important to understand what mastic is and why it’s an integral part of backsplash installation.
Mastic is a thick, sticky adhesive used to set tile and stone on surfaces. It is typically latex or acrylic based, flexible when cured, and provides a strong, water-resistant bond. Mastic comes in different varieties designed for specific uses:
- Cabinet/countertop mastic – Formulated for laminates. Bonds tightly without shrinking.
- Wall tile mastic – Designed for walls and backsplashes. Maximum strength and flexibility.
- Floor tile mastic – Made for floors. Withstands weight and shear forces from foot traffic.
- Non-sagging mastic – Thicker consistency prevents sag on vertical surfaces. Good for large format wall tiles.
- Mildew-resistant mastic – Contains additives to prevent mold and mildew growth. Ideal for wet areas.
For backsplashes, a wall tile mastic is recommended. It provides the adhesion strength needed while allowing for normal expansion and contraction of the tile. Using the right mastic for the job is key to preventing installation failures down the road.
Why Mastic is Used Under Backsplashes
Backsplashes undergo stress from temperature changes, humidity, grease splatters, and daily wear and tear. Quality mastic bonds the tile firmly so it does not crack or detach from the wall over time. Advantages of using mastic under backsplash tiles include:
- Strong adhesion – Mastic forms a tenacious, long-lasting bond. It adheres well to drywall, plaster, cement backerboard, plywood, and other common backsplash substrates.
- Flexibility – Mastic stays somewhat pliable after drying. This allows the backsplash to flex minimally with wall movement.
- Water resistance – Mastic provides a waterproof connection, preventing moisture from compromising the bond if liquids get behind the tile.
- Impact resistance – Shock and impact are absorbed by the mastic layer. Tiles are less prone to cracking or dislodging.
- Ease of application – Mastic spreads easily with a notched trowel. Minimal mess compared to thickset mortar.
Choosing quality mastic designed for walls gives backsplashes the durability and longevity needed in the demanding kitchen environment.
Factors That Determine How Much Mastic You Need
Many variables affect how much mastic is required for a backsplash installation. To calculate the right amount, you need to consider:
Size of the Backsplash Area
The total square footage of wall covered determines how many tubes or buckets of mastic must be purchased. Measure the height and width of the space to get the area. Don’t forget to include things like niches, inside corners, and accent strips in the calculation.
Smaller tiles have more grout joints, requiring more mastic underneath. Larger format tiles have fewer grout lines, needing less mastic. As a general rule of thumb:
- Mosaic tiles under 2″ use 1/4″ mastic lines. Requires more mastic.
- Standard tiles 4-6″ use 1/8″ mastic lines. Moderate mastic needs.
- Large format tiles 12″+ use skim coat layer. Need less mastic.
Type of Substrate
Porous surfaces like drywall soak up some moisture from the mastic, requiring heavier application. Non-porous surfaces only need a skim coat to bond tiles.
- Porous – Drywall, plywood, cement board. Needs thicker mastic layer.
- Non-porous – Existing tile, glass, metal. Can adhere with skim coat application.
Notch Size of Trowel
The trowel notch depth determines how much mastic gets applied with each pass. Bigger notches apply more thickness for better coverage on uneven walls.
- 1/4″ notch – For mosaic sheets and tiles under 4″.
- 1/8″ notch – For standard 4″x4″ wall tiles.
- 1/16″ notch – For large format tiles and smooth substrates.
Grout Joint Width
The spacing between tiles affects how much mastic is exposed after grouting. Wider joints leave more mastic uncovered.
- Fine grout lines 1/16″ – Less mastic contact area with tile.
- Average joints 1/8″ – Typical amount of exposed mastic.
- Wide grout lines 1/4″ – Increased mastic contact and consumption.
Supplemental Bonding Products
Liquids like primer, acrylic additives, and mortar enhancer require additional mastic to bond with. Read manufacturer instructions.
Considering these variables together ensures you buy enough mastic in advance, avoiding costly delays or shortages during the backsplash installation.
Estimating Mastic Usage for Your Backsplash
Now that you know the factors involved, how much mastic should you plan on using for your specific backsplash project?
Here is the process:
Step 1) Measure the backsplash area
- Measure the height and width of the backsplash installation zone.
- Multiply height x width to get the total square footage.
Step 2) Account for tile size
- For mosaic tiles, allow 1/4 lb. mastic per square foot.
- With standard 4-6″ tiles, plan on 1/8 lb. mastic per square foot.
- For large tiles 12″+, use 1/16 lb. per square foot.
Step 3) Adjust for substrate absorbency
- For porous substrates, increase mastic amount by 20%.
- No adjustment needed for non-porous surfaces.
Step 4) Factor in trowel size
- Add 10% more mastic if using 1/4″ notch trowel.
- No adjustment for smaller notched trowels.
Step 5) Consider grout joint width
- With 1/16″ joints, no adjustment needed.
- For 1/8″ joints, add 10% more mastic.
- With 1/4″ joints, increase mastic by 20%.
This gives you an accurate estimate of mastic needs for the project. Remember to have 10-15% extra on hand for touch-ups or mistakes.
What’s Better – Buckets or Tubes of Mastic?
Mastic is sold in pre-mixed buckets or convenient caulking tubes. What’s the better option for DIY backsplash installations?
- Contain large volumes – up to 5 gallons.
- Ideal for large backsplash jobs.
- Provide the most economical price per ounce.
- Have a long shelf life when sealed properly.
- Can be hard to estimate right amount needed.
- Require proper storage between use to prevent drying out.
- Contain smaller amounts – typically 10 or 20 ounce tubes.
- Allow better control over usage.
- Easy to buy only what you need.
- Tubes can’t be resealed, limiting shelf life after opening.
- Slightly more expensive per ounce.
- Limited to small and medium backsplash sizes.
For most standard sized backsplashes, caulking tubes provide convenience without wasting material. Buckets make sense for extra large wall areas or when sharing mastic between multiple jobs. Consider how much you need and your project scale when deciding between buckets and tubes.
How to Apply Mastic for Backsplashes
Once you have the right amount of mastic, proper application technique is also critical for success. Follow these best practices when installing mastic:
- Only apply to clean, dry surfaces. Mastic won’t bond well to dirty or damp substrates.
- Plan to cover only a small workable area with mastic at one time. It starts drying quickly once exposed.
- Load notched trowel evenly across width, angling blade 45° to get full notch depth.
- Spread mastic horizontally first in a thin layer, then follow with vertical strokes.
- Maintain consistent coverage and depth across entire area. Avoid bare or excessively thick spots.
- For porous drywall, apply extra coat after 20 minutes if first coat soaks in.
- Set tiles immediately while mastic is still fresh and tacky. Don’t let it dry or skin over.
- Don’t spread more mastic than can be tiled over within 30 minutes of application.
- Ensure 100% tile coverage. Inspect carefully for gaps, lifting any tiles as needed before mastic cures.
- Clean excess mastic promptly from tile and grout lines with damp sponge before drying occurs.
Following manufacturer instructions for open times and proper application is key to getting a reliable bond and beautiful finished backsplash.
Tips for Easier Mastic Application
Applying mastic well takes practice. Here are handy tips to make the process easier:
- Use smaller notched trowel – Beginners should start with a 1/16″ notch to control thickness.
- Apply painter’s tape borders – Tape off perimeter of work area for clean edges and thickness guide.
- Invest in quality trowel – Forged steel holds edge better than flimsy drywall knives.
- Break up large areas – Work in 3-4 foot sections instead of entire wall at once.
- Have damp rags ready – Quickly clean water-soluble mastic off tiles and hands.
- Check coverage often – Periodically lift tiles to ensure 100% adhesive transfer and no voids.
- Watch the clock – Note exact open time and don’t spread more mastic than can be tiled immediately.
- Be neat – Carefully smooth all ridges and trowel lines for easiest grouting later.
- Rinse trowel often – Prevent buildup of old mastic residue affecting application.
Don’t be afraid to practice mastic application on scrap material until achieving a smooth, consistent troweling technique. The more comfortable you get with the process, the better your finished backsplash will look.
Common Mastic Problems and How to Avoid Them
Using the right mastic techniques prevents issues down the road. Here are typical mastic mistakes and solutions:
Problem: Mastic drying and skinning over before tiles applied.
Solution: Work in smaller sections and allow shorter open times in warm, dry, or drafty conditions.
Problem: Slumping or excess mastic oozing from joints.
Solution: Apply skim coat only, using less mastic over non-porous substrates like existing tile.
Problem: Tiles shifting after installation.
Solution: Ensure minimum 95% adhesive coverage achieved consistently over entire surface.
Problem: Mastic deteriorating or discoloring prematurely.
Solution: Use mastic rated for wet environments for showers and tub surrounds.
Problem: Grout cracking or crumbling near bottom of backsplash.
Solution: Don’t spread mastic too close to lower edges where thin grout lines will exist.
Problem: Efflorescence forming behind tiles.
Solution: Check mastic acrylic/latex content is high and that no Portland cement is present.
With care taken during application, quality mastic bonds backsplash tile securely and permanently. Don’t cut corners or rush this important step.
Removing Old Mastic When Replacing a Backsplash
Previously installed backsplashes often have layers of old mastic needing removal before new tile can be put up. Here are some tips for mastic removal during backsplash renovations:
- First try scraping with a stiff putty knife or wall scraper tool. This may lift off much of the mastic film.
- Heat guns and infrared paint strippers soften mastic for easier scraping. Be careful not to scorch walls.
- Chemical solvents available at home centers help dissolve latex and acrylic mastics. Follow directions closely.
- For heavy mastic buildup, use a coarse sanding sponge to abrade the adhesive layer down.
- Protect sensitive surfaces like counters and range tops from stripping chemicals and scrapings.
Removing all old mastic provides the pristine base needed for the new backsplash tiles to adhere properly. Be sure to follow any manufacturer instructions when using specialty mastic removers.
Mastic vs. Thinset – Key Differences
Mastic gets compared to thinset mortar by many DIYers. While both bond tile, there are important differences:
- Composition – Mastic is latex/acrylic based. Thinset is cement based.
- Application – Mastic applied with notched trowel. Thinset uses a notched trowel or mortar float.
- Dry time – Mastic dries in about 30 minutes. Thinset takes 24+ hours to fully cure.
- Flexibility – Mastic remains elastic when dried. Thinset cures rigid and inflexible.
- Cleanability – Mastic cleans with water during tile setting. Thinset requires mineral spirits while wet.
- Suitability – Mastic used mostly for walls and backsplashes. Thinset recommended for floors and wet areas.
While thinset is harder and more durable when cured, mastic offers greater ease of use for the DIYer on wall applications like backsplashes. Many pros still prefer mastic for its convenience and flexibility.
When to Use Thinset Instead of Mastic
There are certain situations where thinset is the better product choice over mastic:
- For floor installations where mortar needs to bear heavy foot traffic loads.
- When setting natural stone tiles prone to staining from adhesives.
- Setting tile in wet areas like showers that see prolonged water exposure.
- In cold weather installations where mastic may not cure properly.
- For tiles larger than 8″ x 8″ where maximum tensile strength is needed.
- Over problematic substrates like exterior grade plywood where flexibility could allow movement.
- For tile with lugs, ridges, or uneven back profiles needing complete mortar contact.
Consult manufacturer guides to determine if thinset is required instead of mastic for certain demanding tile applications.
Gauging Mastic Quantity for Small Accent Areas
Not all backsplashes are floor-to-ceiling installations. Some only cover a contained area like behind a stove or sink. How much mastic is needed for small accent backsplashes?
There are two ways to estimate for mosaic, brick, or stacked tile details:
By square footage
- Option 1: Measure area and calculate mastic at 1/4 lb. per square foot.
- Option 2: For every 5 square feet, use one 10 ounce tube of mastic.
By linear feet
- For 4″ height, figure one 10 ounce tube per 5 linear feet.
- For 6″ height, allow one 10 ounce tube per every 3 linear feet.
- For 8-12″ heights, calculate one tube per 2 linear feet covered.
Buy a little extra since part-used tubes can’t be saved. Having a small amount of leftover mastic is better than running short.
Reviewing the Benefits of Properly Installed Mastic
Correctly applied mastic is worth the time and care needed. Here’s a recap of how quality mastic benefits your backsplash:
- Strongly bonds tile to the wall and resists moisture.
- Provides flexibility to handle temperature changes and normal building movement.
- Reduces cracking and loosening of tiles over time.
- Allows for minor wall imperfections and unevenness.
- Dampens impact from dropped pots, pans, or kitchen tools.
- Functions as intermediate layer to prevent damage to drywall from tile adhesion.
- Simpler and cleaner to apply vs. traditional mortar and grout.
- Enables successful DIY installations by amateur tilers.
Take the time to apply mastic properly and you’ll have a backsplash that stays beautiful for years to come.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does mastic take to dry before grouting?
Mastic dries quickly, typically within 24 hours. But it’s best to wait 48-72 hours before grouting to allow it to fully cure and prevent the tiles shifting.
Should mastic go over or under backsplash membrane?
Always install waterproofing membranes like RedGard before setting tile. Mastic goes over the membrane onto the prepared substrate.
Can mastic be used outdoors?
No, mastic should only be used for indoor applications. Outdoor installations require specially formulated exterior grade mortar and grout.
What’s the best way to fix a gap if a backsplash tile comes loose?
Carefully remove the tile and scrape away old mastic. Apply fresh mastic and reseat the tile, using shims or spacers to keep aligned as it sets.
How soon can I apply grout after installing backsplash tile with mastic?
Wait a minimum 24-48 hours for mastic to fully cure before grouting. Rushing the process risks tiles shifting or lifting during aggressive grouting.
A properly masticed backsplash transforms any kitchen or bathroom. Determining the right amount to buy and applying it correctly ensures a durable, high quality finished product. Consider tile size, substrate, trowel notch, and total area when calculating needs. With some practice creating consistent, void-free coverage, even novice DIYers can achieve professional-looking results. Take your time and don’t cut corners with mastic application – the beauty of your new backsplash depends on it!