How to Add Backsplash Tile

Adding a backsplash is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to update the look of your kitchen. Backsplashes not only provide an aesthetic boost but also protect the walls from splashes and stains. With so many options for materials, colors, and designs, backsplashes allow you to customize your kitchen to suit your personal style. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process of how to add backsplash tile, from planning and preparation to installation. Follow along to learn how to add character and function to your kitchen with a stunning new backsplash.

Planning Your Backsplash

The first step when adding a backsplash is to plan out the design. Take into account the size of the space, your style preferences, and how the backsplash will coordinate with the cabinets, countertops, appliances, and other features in the kitchen.

Measure the Area

  • Accurately measure the area you want to cover with the backsplash. Note the height and width, taking into account any outlets, windows, or appliances the tile will need to fit around. Always measure in multiple places – walls are rarely perfectly straight.

Choose a Tile Material

Some of the most popular backsplash tile materials include:

  • Ceramic or Porcelain Tile: Budget-friendly option available in a huge range of colors, styles, and sizes. Durable and water-resistant.
  • Glass Tile: Adds a modern, sleek look. Translucent quality provides depth. Can be expensive.
  • Natural Stone Tile: Elegant option like marble, travertine, or slate. Each piece is unique. Requires sealing.
  • Metal Tile: Great contemporary choice like tin, stainless steel or copper tile. Provides an industrial, rustic feel.

Select a Tile Shape

In addition to material, tile comes in many different shapes:

  • Square tiles are the most common shape and provide a classic look. Easy to install in a grid pattern.
  • Subway tiles are rectangular and elongate the space. Available in many sizes.
  • Hexagons add visual interest and work well in creative patterns.
  • Large format tiles like 12×24 inch rectangles create a seamless look.
  • Mosaics are small tiles mounted together in a netting. Allow for intricate designs.

Determine Tile Layout

Decide on the orientation and pattern of the tiles:

  • Stacked layouts have horizontal rows stacked closely together
  • Brick layouts offset rows like bricks in a wall
  • Subway tile layouts feature rectangular tiles in a zigzag pattern
  • Mosaics create geometric, handcrafted designs

Select Grout Color

Lighter grout helps small tiles appear larger, while darker grout makes them look smaller. Contrasting grout highlights the tile pattern. Matching grout creates a seamless look. White and gray are popular neutral options.

Account for Outlets and Obstacles

Consider where to place tiles around outlets, switches, cabinets, windows and appliances. It often looks best to center tiles in these areas. Small accent tiles can fill odd spaces.

Choose Coordinating Finishes

Pick tile colors, textures and sheen that complement countertops, flooring, paint and other finishes. Tie varying elements together with coordinating grout.

Preparing the Area

Once you’ve determined the backsplash design, prepare the installation area for a successful project. Proper prep work prevents problems down the road.

Remove Existing Backsplash

If there is already a backsplash in place, remove it completely using a putty knife, heat gun, hammer and chisel, or pry bar. Scrape off any remaining bits and adhesive.

Clean the Surface

Thoroughly clean the wall area with soap and water to remove grease, dust and debris. Rinse and let dry completely.

Fix Any Damage

Inspect the wall and repair holes, cracks, uneven sections or other damage using drywall joint compound. Sand smooth.

Prime the Wall

Apply a layer of primer over the entire backsplash area. This helps the thinset adhere to the wall. Allow the primer to dry fully.

Mark the Tile Layout

Map out the tile layout using a level and pencil to mark guidelines on the wall. Indicate the positions of the corner tiles, center lines, and any focal tiles.

Gather Supplies

Collect all the tools and materials needed for installation:

  • Tile and grout
  • Thinset mortar
  • Trowel and buckets
  • Tile cutter and nippers
  • Grout float, sponge, sealer
  • Mixing paddle, tape, spacers

How to Install Backsplash Tile

Once fully prepped, you’re ready to install the backsplash tile. Follow these step-by-step instructions for proper placement and adhesion of the tiles.

Mix the Thinset Mortar

Combine thinset powder with water in a bucket according to the package directions. Mix to a smooth, toothpaste-like consistency. Allow to slake for 5-10 minutes.

Apply Thinset to the Wall

Use a notched trowel held at a 45 degree angle to spread a layer of thinset mortar onto a small section of the wall, just enough for a few tiles.

Set the Tiles

Press tiles firmly into the thinset beginning at the center lines. Use spacers between tiles for consistent grout lines. Work in small sections.

Check for Level and Alignment

As you place tiles, use a level and straightedge to verify they are level and aligned. Adjust as needed while the thinset is still pliable.

Cut Tiles to Fit

Measure and mark tiles to cut to fit around outlets, corners, and edges. Score and snap with tile nippers. Use a tile cutter for more precise cuts. Grind the edges smooth.

Fill Gaps around Obstacles

Where tiles meet cabinets or fixtures, fill any gaps with silicone caulk to prevent water intrusion behind the tile. Smooth with a wet finger.

Clean Excess Thinset

Wipe away any thinset that squeezes up between tiles with a damp sponge before it dries. Rinse sponge frequently.

Allow Thinset to Cure

Let the thinset fully cure for at least 24 hours. Verify tiles are firmly attached and do not wiggle. Address any loose tiles.

Grouting the Backsplash

Grout fills the joints between tiles with a waterproof material that also enhances the design. Ensure proper grouting for a durable finish.

Mix the Grout

Prepare grout by mixing powder with water or latex additive to a thick peanut butter consistency. Allow to slake 5-10 minutes.

Apply Grout with Float

Use a rubber grout float to spread grout over the tiles, pressing firmly into joints. Hold at a 45 degree angle and wipe diagonally across tiles.

Clean Excess Grout

Wipe any remaining grout from the tile surface with a damp sponge, rinsing frequently. Wipe diagonally to prevent pulling grout from joints.

Polish and Seal the Surface

Once grout is fully dry, polish the tiles by buffing with a soft cloth. Apply grout sealer according to product directions to protect from moisture and stains.

Caulk Edges

After grouting, fill any gaps along the edges where the backsplash meets the countertop or along the perimeter with silicone caulk. Smooth with a wet finger.

FAQs about Adding Backsplash Tile

Many homeowners have additional questions when installing a backsplash. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Should I hire a professional to install a backsplash?

For a simple, DIY-friendly layout using large format tiles, an experienced homeowner can tackle a backsplash install. Complex patterns or natural stone require more skill and may warrant hiring a pro.

What tools do I need to add a backsplash tile?

Essential tools include a tape measure, level, tile cutter, mixing buckets, notched trowel, grout float, spacers, and sponges. A wet saw is also useful for intricate cuts. Rent tools if needed.

How long does a backsplash tile installation take?

The timeframe depends on the size of the space and complexity of the design. Simple installations can be completed over a long weekend. More intricate tile layouts often take 5-7 full days to allow for proper drying and curing time.

Can I install backsplash tile over existing wall tile?

It is not recommended to tile over existing tile. The layers need to bond securely, which is difficult over tile. The old tile should be removed prior to installing the new backsplash.

Should I use thinset or mastic for a backsplash tile install?

Thinset is the preferred adhesive for backsplashes. It provides a stronger bond than mastic. Mastic can deteriorate over time, especially when exposed to moisture. Thinset offers greater durability.

How do I cut backsplash tiles?

Use a wet saw fitted with a diamond blade for most accurate cuts. A manual tile cutter also works for straight cuts. Mark the tile and score it with the cutter, then snap it. For small notches, use tile nippers and sand any rough edges.

What is the average cost to install a backsplash?

The national average cost for a professionally installed backsplash is $800-$1200 depending on the tile size, material and complexity of the design. DIY installation can reduce the cost to $200-$600 for materials.

Enjoy Your New Backsplash!

You can quickly and affordably upgrade your kitchen with a stylish, functional backsplash. With proper planning and preparation, and by following the step-by-step installation guide, you can achieve beautiful results. The new backsplash will enhance your home’s beauty and value for years to come.