How to Apply Tile Backsplash

Installing a tile backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom can add style, protection, and value to your home. With some planning and the right materials, applying tile backsplash is a DIY project many homeowners can tackle. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you successfully apply tile backsplash.

Choose Your Tile

The tile you select will set the tone for your whole backsplash design. Consider the following when picking tile:

  • Style – Select tile that fits your overall kitchen or bath aesthetic. Options include ceramic, porcelain, glass, marble, and stone.
  • Color/pattern – Choose a color that complements your cabinetry, counters, appliances, and decor. Opt for solid tiles or mosaic patterns.
  • Finish – Matte, glossy, textured, and metallic are popular tile finishes. Glossy adds shine while matte is more subtle.
  • Size – Smaller tiles like mosaics create more grout lines. Larger tiles have fewer grout lines for a cleaner look.
  • Price – Tile ranges from inexpensive to high-end. Set a budget and shop sales.
  • Durability – Porcelain and ceramic are very durable. Natural stone requires more sealing.

Gather Your Materials

Once you’ve selected your tile, assemble the rest of the supplies you’ll need:

  • Tile adhesive – Choose an adhesive suitable for your tile type. Many brands are sold.
  • Grout – Grout comes in different colors. Select a shade that complements your tile.
  • Grout float – This tool helps apply grout into the tile joints.
  • Grout sealer
  • Spacers – These keep tiles evenly spaced as you set them in the adhesive.
  • Tile cutter – Essential for custom cutting tiles to fit. A snap cutter is inexpensive and easy to use.
  • Miscellaneous – Bucket, sponge, grout sponge, cleaning rags

Prepare the Surface

Proper surface prep helps ensure your tiles adhere well:

  • Clean thoroughly – Remove any existing backsplash. Wash the wall to eliminate grease, dirt and soap residue.
  • Remove outlets/switches – Take out any electrical outlets or light switches on your backsplash area.
  • Fill any holes/cracks – Use spackle to fill in any holes or cracks for a smooth surface.
  • Prime – After patching, apply a layer of primer. This helps the thinset adhere.
  • Apply backerboard – Cut cement backerboard to size and screw it into the wall studs.
  • Tape seams – Use mesh tape designed for cement board to cover all seams.

Spread Thinset Adhesive

Thinset adhesive applied to the backerboard secures the tiles in place:

  • Mix – Prepare the thinset per package directions. Let it sit 5-10 minutes before using.
  • Apply – Use a notched trowel to spread a thin, even layer of thinset onto the backerboard.
  • Test – Set one tile and lift to check adhesive transfer. There should be full contact.
  • Add more thinset – If needed, use the trowel to apply more adhesive.

Set the Tiles

Once your thinset is prepped, it’s time to set and space the tiles:

  • Place spacers – Set plastic spacers at the corners to maintain even grout lines.
  • Lay tiles – Press tiles firmly into the thinset beginning at the bottom. Work upwards.
  • Check level – Use a level often to ensure tiles are evenly vertical and horizontal.
  • Cut to fit – Use the tile cutter as needed to custom cut tiles around outlets, corners, etc.
  • Let dry – Allow the thinset to dry for 24-48 hours before grouting. Remove spacers.

Apply the Grout

Grout fills and seals the joints between the tiles:

  • Mix – Prepare grout per package instructions with water in a bucket.
  • Apply – Use the grout float to spread grout over the tile surface, pressing into joints.
  • Wipe – Wipe diagonally across tiles with a damp sponge to clean grout off tile faces.
  • Seal – Once dry, apply grout sealer with a paintbrush or foam applicator.
  • Polish – Buff off excess sealer with a soft cloth for a clean finish.

Finishing Touches

Once your new backsplash is beautifully grouted and sealed, a few final steps remain:

  • Caulk edges – Use silicone caulk to seal any gaps along countertops or edges.
  • Replace outlets – Install any electrical outlets/switches you removed.
  • Clean – Use a grout haze remover to eliminate any remaining film or residue.
  • Seal yearly – Reapply grout sealer annually to protect from moisture and stains.

With good planning and preparation, installing tile backsplash is an achievable DIY project for many homeowners. Follow these tips and take your time for beautiful, professional-looking results. The new backsplash will provide an eye-catching focal point and add lasting value to your kitchen or bath.

Frequently Asked Questions

What tools do I need to apply tile backsplash?

You’ll need basic tiling tools like a tile cutter, trowels, sponges, buckets, grout float, and spacers. For surface prep, have drywall putty, primer, backerboard, tape, and a drill. Use notched trowels, thinset mortar, grout, and grout sealer to apply the tiles.

What’s the best tile for kitchen backsplash?

Ceramic and porcelain tile are very popular and affordable options. Glass tile provides shine. Natural stone like marble or travertine add elegance. Mosaics make a statement. Choose tile that fits your style, budget and complements your decor.

How do I cut tiles for an outlet?

Use a rotary tool or handheld tile cutter to cut precise openings for outlets and switches. Make small cuts up to the opening from the tile edge. Remove these pieces to create space for the outlet cover plate. Use cut tiles along edges.

Can I install backsplash tile over existing drywall?

It’s best to install cement backerboard over drywall before tiling. The cement board provides a water-resistant, stable surface for the tile to adhere to. If tiling over drywall, apply a waterproof membrane first.

How long does tile backsplash installation take?

It typically takes 2-3 days for a DIY backsplash install. Day 1 is surface prep and applying backerboard. Day 2 is installing the tiles. Allow a day for the thinset mortar to fully cure before grouting on Day 3. Drying time makes the project longer.

How do I grout a tile backsplash?

Mix grout per package directions and apply over the tiles with a rubber grout float. Let it sit briefly before wiping away excess grout with a damp sponge in diagonal motions. Allow the grout to dry completely, then seal with a grout sealer to protect from moisture and staining.


Installing a tile backsplash can give your kitchen or bath a high-end customized look. With careful planning and preparation, it is a DIY friendly project that many homeowners can accomplish successfully. Using the right materials and following these techniques will allow you to gain skills, save money, and end up with a gorgeous new backsplash you can enjoy for many years. Don’t be afraid to tackle tiling your backsplash yourself – take it slowly and the results will be well worth it.