Installing a backsplash in your bathroom can completely transform the look and feel of the space. Not only does a backsplash provide an eye-catching focal point, it also protects your walls from moisture damage. While tiling a backsplash may seem intimidating, it’s actually a relatively easy DIY project that you can tackle in a weekend.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the entire process of how to apply backsplash in bathroom step-by-step. We’ll cover how to prepare your wall surface, select tiles, lay out your design, cut tiles, apply thinset mortar, grout, and seal. With the right materials, tools, and techniques, you can achieve a stylish, professional-looking backsplash that makes a statement in your bathroom.
How to Prepare the Wall Surface
The first step is ensuring you have a smooth, clean, and dry surface to apply the backsplash tiles.
Clean and Dry the Wall
Give the wall a thorough cleaning to remove any dirt, grease, or soap residue. Use a general household cleaner or lightly abrasive cleanser. Then rinse well with clean water and allow to fully dry.
Check for Moisture
Since backsplashes are installed around sinks, tubs, and showers, moisture can be an issue. Test your walls for excess moisture which can interfere with adhesion. Wipe the wall with a cloth and if any dampness shows, allow more drying time. Consider using a moisture-detecting meter.
Remove Wallpaper or Paint
If the wall has existing wallpaper, vinyl wall covering, or paint, it all needs to be scraped and sanded down to the bare substrate. This provides a flat, smooth, clean surface for the backsplash tiles to adhere to.
Fill Any Holes or Imperfections
Examine the wall for any holes, cracks, damages, or uneven spots. Fill small holes with spackle. Use joint compound to patch larger areas. Allow patching materials to fully cure before sanding smooth.
Sand the Entire Surface
Once any holes are filled and the wallpaper or paint is removed, sand the entire surface. Use fine 120-150 grit sandpaper to smooth the wall out. This helps the thinset mortar grip better. Wipe away all dust with a dry cloth.
How to Select Your Backsplash Tiles
Once your wall prep is complete, the next step is selecting your tiles. There are countless backsplash tile options when it comes to colors, textures, patterns, and materials.
Ceramic and porcelain tiles are most common. Natural stone like marble or granite is also popular but more expensive. Mosaics made of glass or metal tiles are a great choice too.
Consider traditional subway tiles, decorative tiles with ornate designs, handpainted tiles, or metallic tiles. Large format tiles or mini tiles are options as well.
Choose a neutral tile color like white that matches everything. Or go bold with a vibrant color that pops like blue or green to make a statement.
There’s glossy, matte, textured, crackled, or hand-painted finishes. Pick a finish that fits the overall aesthetic you want.
Solid tiles, bricklaid patterns, horizontal stacked patterns, vertical patterns, or geometric designs are some top options.
Ceramic tiles tend to be the most budget-friendly. Porcelain and mosaics cost more. Natural stone is the most expensive backsplash tile option.
Be sure to purchase a few extra tiles in case any break during installation.
How to Design and Lay Out Your Backsplash
Carefully mapping out your backsplash design is a crucial step before installing. This ensures you achieve the layout and pattern you want.
Make a Game Plan
Sketch your backsplash design on graph paper first. Measure the area you are tiling and sketch to scale. Draw the tile arrangement, pattern, and any accent tiles.
Select a Focal Point
Most backsplashes have a focal point that creates visual interest. This may be a decorative tile design, border, or geometric pattern.
Be sure to evaluate the functional areas of your bathroom. Position any outlets, faucets, or fixtures within your tile design.
Choose Patterns Wisely
Some patterns like bricklaid or herringbone involve cutting many tiles. Simpler grid, stacked, or horizontal patterns minimize cutting.
Blend Old and New Tiles
If any of your existing tiles must remain, integrate them attractively into the new backsplash design.
Balance Colors and Textures
Mixing tile shapes, colors, and textures creates depth. But don’t overdo it. Stick to 2-3 tile varieties for a cohesive look.
How to Cut the Tile
Once your design is charted, dry lay the tiles on the countertop to determine where cuts are needed. Measure and mark tiles needing custom cuts.
Wear safety goggles and a breathing mask. Use a tile cutter, tile nippers, wet saw, or angle grinder with a diamond blade.
Tile Cutter Scoring
On straight cuts under 1/8”, score the tile face with the cutter wheel, then snap downward evenly.
Wet Saw Cutting
For intricate cuts, curved edges, or holes, use a wet saw. Place tile face up, cut slow, and spray with water.
Cut Outlets or Fixtures
Measure and mark squares around any outlets, faucets, or other fixtures. Carefully cut tiles with the wet saw or an angle grinder.
Smooth the Rough Edges
Use tile nippers to nip off any rough edges. Rub surfaces smooth with a tile stone. Vacuum dust before installing tiles.
How to Apply Thinset Mortar
Thinset mortar provides the strong adhesive bed to attach the tiles to the wall. Use a notched trowel to spread it evenly.
Choose the Thinset
For walls, use a polymer-modified thinset. It has latex polymers added to make it flexible and water-resistant once cured.
Prep the Work Area
Cover flooring and countertops to protect from mess. Have a bucket of clean water and sponges handy to wipe excess thinset.
Trowel the Thinset
Apply a layer of thinset using a notched trowel held at a 45° angle. Spread in one direction across the wall area.
Also apply a thin layer of thinset directly to the back of each tile. This “backbuttering” improves adhesion.
Install the Tiles
Firmly press tiles into the thinset, using spacers for even grout lines. Don’t slide tiles through thinset once placed.
Check for Coverage
Pull off a tile periodically and inspect the back. Aim for at least 80% thinset coverage between tile and wall.
How to Grout the Tile Backsplash
Grouting fills the joints between tiles with waterproof grout. Let thinset cure fully before grouting, usually 24 hours.
Mix the Grout
Sanded grout is best for joints wider than 1/8”. Use unsanded grout for narrow grout lines. Mix grout per package directions.
Holding a rubber grout float at a 45° angle, spread grout forcefully to fill joints. Diagonally sweep off excess grout.
Wipe the Surface
Once the grout gets firm, use a damp sponge to wipe diagonally across tiles to clean grout haze. Rinse sponge often.
Seal the Grout
After grout dries 24-48 hours, apply grout sealer with a small paintbrush. This protects grout from stains and moisture.
Use a flexible, waterproof silicone caulk to seal any gaps between tiles and the tub, sinks, or countertops.
How to Seal and Finish the Backsplash
The final step is applying a sealant to the finished tiles. Sealing helps protect the grout and tiles from moisture and stains.
Wash the entire tiled area with a non-abrasive tile cleaner and rinse well. Let the backsplash dry completely before sealing, usually 24-48 hours.
Use a sponge brush or paint pad applicator to apply a thin, even coat of tile sealant across all tiles and grout. Avoid any puddling.
Let the sealant cure fully before use, usually 24-72 hours depending on humidity. The tiles can then be gently washed with tile cleaner and soft cloth.
Reapply fresh sealant every 1-2 years. Be sure to use soft, non-abrasive cleansers only on sealed tiles. Harsh cleaners can degrade sealant over time.
Frequently Asked Questions
What tools do I need for a backsplash install?
Basic tools include a tape measure, level, tile cutter, mixing bucket, notched trowel, grout float, sponges, plus safety gear like gloves and goggles. A wet saw is great for intricate cuts.
How is backsplash tile installed?
Tiles are adhered to the wall using a polymer-modified thinset mortar. The thinset is applied with a notched trowel to achieve full coverage. Tiles are firmly pressed into the thinset bed and alignment is maintained with spacers.
What thinset mortar should I use?
An acrylic or latex-polymer modified thinset is best for backsplash walls. This provides a strong, flexible bond and is resistant to moisture and shrinkage.
Can I apply new tile over existing tile?
It’s not recommended. Existing tile should be removed to provide the proper subsurface for new tile adhesion. Use caution scraping to avoid wall damage.
How long does thinset mortar take to cure?
Thinset adhesive will dry in 2-4 hours but takes a full 24 hours to cure completely. Grouting should not be done until thinset has cured fully to avoid displacing tiles.
Can I grout after 24 hours?
Yes, after a full 24 hour cure time, unsanded grout or sanded grout can be applied between tile joints, depending on your grout line width. Hold off any sealing for 48 hours.
How do I cut holes in tile for outlets?
The key is taking measurements and marking cut lines. Use a Rotozip spiral saw, angle grinder or wet saw to carefully cut the outlet opening. Smooth rough edges with a file.
Can backsplash go all the way to ceiling?
Backsplash can extend to the ceiling, which is popular for stone, mosaic or metallic tile installations. Be sure the ceiling surface is in good condition first.
Installing a tile backsplash transforms a basic bathroom into a beautiful showpiece. With proper planning, patience, and technique, it’s a DIY project any motivated homeowner can tackle successfully. The end result will not only amplify your bathroom’s style but also increase functionality and make cleaning easier. Just take it step-by-step, use quality thinset mortar and grout, and you’ll achieve a striking new backsplash design with professional polish.