Adding a backsplash is an easy and affordable way to instantly upgrade the look of your kitchen or bathroom. A stylish backsplash serves both form and function – protecting the walls from water damage while also providing an opportunity to add eye-catching style. With a little planning and DIY know-how, you can install a beautiful backsplash tile that fits your taste and budget. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know, from picking the perfect tile to proper installation techniques. Read on to learn how to add backsplash tile like a pro!
Choosing Your Backsplash Tile
The first step in any backsplash project is selecting the right tile. With so many sizes, textures, colors and materials to pick from, the options may seem endless. Keep the following factors in mind when making your backsplash tile selection:
Consider the overall look you want to achieve. Backsplashes made from natural stone like marble, travertine or granite can create an elegant, upscale aesthetic. Ceramic or porcelain tiles offer endless possibilities with colors, shapes, prints and textures. Glass, metal and mosaic tiles add shiny, modern flair. Pick tiles that will complement your cabinetry, countertops and overall decor style.
Look for tiles suitable for a high-moisture environment like the kitchen or bathroom. Porcelain and ceramic tiles are very water-resistant. Natural stone can be prone to etching from acidic foods, so sealant is recommended. Mosaics should have a sturdy paper or mesh backing.
Tile prices run the gamut from $1 per square foot to $50 or more. Natural stone and metal tiles tend to be the most expensive. Ceramic, porcelain and glass tiles offer the best value. Look for sales or discontinued lots for the lowest pricing.
Scale and Size
Smaller tiles like mosaics and 3×6 subway tiles create busier patterns. Larger tiles, 6×6 or bigger, have a more contemporary, streamlined look. Choose a size that fits the scale of your space. Use larger tiles in bigger kitchens and smaller tiles in cramped bathrooms.
Tiles with wider grout lines (1/8-inch or larger) are easier to install if you’re a DIY novice. Small tiles with tight grout lines require more precision. Mosaics typically have pre-set grout widths as thin as 1/16-inch.
Choosing Your Layout Pattern
Once you select the tile itself, determine the layout pattern. Here are some of the most popular backsplash tile patterns:
- Subway tile: A classic choice, subway tiles are 3×6 inch rectangles arranged in a brick pattern. Useful in both modern and vintage decors.
- Stacked tile: Rectangular tiles installed in offset rows to create a staggered brick look. Provides contrast and visual interest.
- Herringbone: Tiles set in zigzag rows for a geometric, Tailored look. Often done in two contrasting colors.
- Basketweave: Just like it sounds, tiles are arranged in over-under basket-like rows. Create contrast with varying tile colors.
- Penny tile: Tiny 1×1 inch square tiles create a retro penny tile look. Provides tons of grout lines for texture and contrast.
- Hexagonal tile: Six-sided tiles neatly tesselate to form a distinctive mosaic pattern. Makes a bold style statement.
- Diamond, octagon and other shaped tiles create patterns with visual depth and appeal.
- Random and free-form: For a one-of-a-kind backsplash, arrange tiles irregularly for an artistic, eclectic look.
How Much Tile Do You Need?
To determine how much tile to purchase, measure the square footage of the wall area to be tiled using this formula:
- Length x Height of backsplash area = Square Footage
Once you know the square footage, here’s a rough tile calculator to figure how much tile you’ll need:
- Mosaics and small tiles: Multiply square footage by 1.15
- Standard tiles: Multiply square footage by 1.10
- Large format tiles: Multiply square footage by 1.05
It’s smart to add an extra 10% to your tile estimate to accommodate imperfections, cuts and waste. Round up to buy full boxes of tile if possible for the best value.
Additional Supplies Needed
To complete your backsplash installation, you’ll need these additional supplies:
- Tile adhesive: Thinset mortar modified with polymers for a strong bond. Makes sure it’s formulated for wall use.
- Grout: Available in different textures and a rainbow of colors to complement your tile. A sanded grout is best for joints 1/8-inch or wider.
- Trowels: A notched trowel is used to spread adhesive. A rubber grout float applies grout between tiles.
- Tile spacers: Plastic crosses maintain even grout line spacing.
- Grout sealer: Protects grout from stains after installation.
- Wet saw: For accurately cutting tile if necessary. Some home stores offer tile cutting.
- Backerboard: Cement or fiberglass board provides a waterproof foundation for tile.
- Caulk: Flexible sealant fills in expansion gaps around countertops, sinks, etc.
Preparing Your Backsplash Area
Proper prep work ensures your backsplash tiles will have a long-lasting, durable installation. Follow these steps to get your backsplash area ready:
- Clean the walls thoroughly to remove grease and grime. Scrub with TSP cleaner if walls are heavily soiled. Rinse well and let dry completely.
- Remove any old backsplash with a hammer and pry bar, pulling out nails as you go. Scrape off all leftover thinset mortar.
- Fill any holes or imperfections with spackling compound and sand smooth when dry.
- Prime walls with a PVA primer to improve adhesion, especially if painting a different color.
- Install cement backerboard using backerboard screws placed every 8 inches throughout board. This provides a waterproof foundation for tiles. Leave a 1/8-inch gap between boards and seal seams with mesh tape and thinset.
- Cut sink and fixture holes using a jigsaw with backerboard blade. Remove outlets and cover boxes with tile sealing membrane.
- Seal around sinks or cabinets with 100% silicone caulk. Create any support ledgers/cleats to strengthen the wall. Let caulk dry fully before tiling.
How to Install the Tile
Once your prep work is complete, it’s time for the fun part – installing the tile! Follow these pro tips for flawless results:
Step 1: Plan Your Layout
Dry lay a few rows of tile on the countertop to confirm your desired layout and pattern. Shift tiles around and view from different angles until satisfied. Cut spacer strips from tile backing to map out grout lines.
Step 2: Apply the Adhesive
Use a notched trowel to spread a thin layer of thinset adhesive on the wall, applying just enough to one section at a time. Hold the trowel at a 45° angle to create consistent notched ridges.
Step 3: Set the Tiles
Starting at the bottom, press tiles into the adhesive one at a time. Use spacers between tiles to maintain even grout line width. Push tiles firmly in place, sliding back and forth slightly to collapse the adhesive ridges.
Step 4: Check Alignment
Periodically remove a tile and check the back to ensure at least 80% adhesive transfer and full contact between tile and wall. Reapply more adhesive if needed.
Step 5: Cut Final Pieces
Measure and mark tiles to fit around outlets, corners or edges. Score the marking with a tile cutter and snap tile. Smooth cut edges with sandpaper. Fit cut tiles into place.
Step 6: Let Adhesive Cure
Allow thinset mortar to cure fully – generally 24 hours. Mist the tiles lightly with water after 8-12 hours if needed. Do not grout or disturb tiles before adhesive has cured.
Once adhesive has cured properly, it’s time to fill the joints with grout. Follow this easy process:
- Wipe away any debris, dust or excess thinset from tile faces and joints with a damp sponge. Make sure joints are clean to receive grout.
- Mix grout per product instructions and let slake 5-10 minutes. Re-stir just before applying. Match grout color closely to your tile.
- Holding grout float at 45°, force grout into joints with a firm squeegee motion. Apply diagonally across tiles to prevent drag lines.
- After 10-15 minutes, use a damp grout sponge in a circular motion to smooth joints and clean tile faces simultaneously. Rinse sponge frequently.
- Use as little water as possible when sponging to prevent discoloring grout. Wipe diagonally across tiles.
- Allow grout to air dry 30-60 minutes until moist but no longer wet. Use fans to speed drying if needed.
- Wipe any remaining grout haze with a soft, dry cloth once fully set, generally after 72 hours. Use grout haze remover if needed.
- Seal grout with a penetrating sealer for optimal stain resistance. Wait a full week or as directed before sealing.
You’re in the home stretch! Just a few more steps to complete your backsplash installation:
- Caulk along countertops, edges and around fixtures with flexible silicone caulk.
- Reinstall any electrical switch plates, outlets and sink fixtures.
- Seal natural stone tiles (if used) with a natural look penetrating sealer.
- Celebrate with a beverage of choice – you did it!
Backsplash Maintenance Tips
Follow these simple tips to keep your new backsplash looking like new for years to come:
- Use a gentle cleaner designed for tile and grout. Avoid harsh cleaners or scrubbing pads.
- Promptly wipe up spills and splatters to prevent staining of grout.
- Re-seal grout lines annually or as needed to resist staining and mildew growth.
- Do not use waxes, soaps or sealants formulated for stone countertops on wall tiles.
- Inspect caulk sealant and reapply as needed to prevent moisture from seeping behind tiles.
With proper care, your backsplash tile can last at least 10-15 years or longer. Eventually, styles and tastes change. When it’s time for an update, rest assured – you can install a new backsplash tile right over the existing one.
Backsplash Tile Ideas and Inspirations
Need some inspiration for your backsplash tile project? Here are some beautiful and unique backsplash tile ideas to spark your creativity:
Vintage Chic Backsplash
- Antique inspired designs like geometric patterns, fleur de lis, or decorative rosettes.
- Classic subway tile or penny rounds in soft pastels.
- Mix patterned decorative tiles with white subway tiles.
- Add vintage elements like beaded trim strips or a salvaged antique mirror.
Modern Geometric Backsplashes
- Large format rectangular tiles or elongated hexagons.
- Glossy white, black or bold colors for dramatic impact.
- Multi-sized geometric tiles or mosaics in graphic patterns.
- Horizontal stripes, vertical stacks or diagonal motifs.
Rustic Farmhouse Backsplash
- Natural stone tiles like slate, travertine, or country style ceramic tile.
- Subway tiles with dark grout lines for a handmade look.
- Wavy rectangular tile shapes to mimic old reclaimed wood.
- Neutral tones with black, brown, tan, or red accents.
Coastal Style Backsplashes
- Shades of blue, green, sea glass and sandy beiges.
- Shell or fish scale shaped ceramic tiles.
- Weathered finishes in limewash or concrete.
- Glass or ceramic tile “mosaics” with undulating wave patterns.
Wood-look Plank Backsplashes
- Porcelain planks that mimic reclaimed barnwood.
- Warm wood tones like oak, walnut or cedar.
- Wood-look paired with modern white tiles for contrast.
- Horizontal staggering of planks for visual interest.
- Vibrant tile colors and patterns like zigzags, diamons and embellished shapes.
- Decorative borders and accents tiles.
- Metallic hints of gold, silver or copper.
- Glass subway tiles with a shiny iridescent finish.
Graphic Pattern Backsplash
- Retro 70’s inspired patterns and funky colors.
- Geometric patterns, diagonal designs or dizzying zigzags.
- Contrasting grout colors to accentuate the motif.
- Mix and match complimentary patterned tiles.
The options are practically endless for creating a stunning and unique backsplash tile design. Use your backsplash as an opportunity to showcase your personal style and bring artistry into your kitchen. With a little planning and DIY spirit, you can install an eye-catching backsplash that will transform the look and feel of your space.
Frequently Asked Questions About Adding Backsplash Tile
Some common questions that arise about backsplash installation:
How difficult is it to install a backsplash yourself?
Installing a tile backsplash is totally doable as a DIY project even if you have minimal experience. Just take your time, follow instructions closely, and enlist help for an extra pair of hands. Patience and attention to detail are key.
What tools do I need to install backsplash tile?
You don’t need any fancy tools – just a few basics like a tile cutter, notched trowel, grout float, spacers and sponges. Many home improvement stores rent tools if you don’t want to invest in buying.
How long does a backsplash tile installation take?
Plan on the project taking 2-3 full days: Day 1 for preparing the area, Day 2 for installing tiles, Day 3 for grouting and sealing. Working in small sections helps keep adhesive from drying out.
Should I seek professional help for my backsplash project?
Consider hiring a pro tile installer if you’re unsure about tackling the job yourself, or have an intricate pattern, challenging layout or large area to tile. They can also assess any underlying issues.
How do I cut tiles for fitting edges and outlets?
Use a wet saw fitted with a diamond tile blade for straight cuts, and a tile nipper for creating small notches to fit around outlets and pipes. Use a grinder for specialized edge shaping if needed.
Can I install tile over existing wall tile or another surface?
Yes, tile can be installed over existing tile or other materials like drywall if the surface is properly prepared. Be sure to scrub well and add adhesive coats to ensure proper bonding.
How do I prevent cracking or tiles falling off?
To prevent cracks, use flexible thinset mortar and avoid placing tiles directly over wall joints. Ensure at least 80% mortar transfer onto tiles. Falling tiles are likely due to improper adhesive curing or lack of support.
How long will my backsplash tile last?
With proper installation and care, backsplash tile should last at least 10-15 years. Grout may need sealing every 1-2 years. Eventually tile can become outdated and warrant replacement due to wear and tear or changed designs.
Adding a backsplash offers big rewards for a small investment of time and money. With a well-planned design and careful DIY approach, you can install an eye-catching backsplash customized to your unique taste. This will not only make a stylish statement, but also protect your walls and add value to your home. Just take it one step at a time, utilize the right tools and techniques, and soon you’ll have a beautiful new backsplash to enjoy.