Adding a backsplash is an easy way to update the look of your kitchen or bathroom. A backsplash protects the walls from water damage and splatters while providing visual interest. With the right materials and some DIY skills, you can attach a backsplash yourself. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process.
What is a Backsplash?
A backsplash is a protective covering on the wall behind a countertop, sink, or stove. Backsplashes are typically made of tile, metal, glass, or stone. They serve both practical and decorative purposes:
- Protect the walls from water damage, grease splatters, and stains
- Provide an accent wall that can tie together your kitchen or bathroom décor
- Allow you to add personality with different colors, textures, and patterns
- Create a wipeable surface that is easy to clean
Backsplashes most commonly appear behind sinks, stoves, and countertops in kitchens and bathrooms. However, they can also be installed in laundry rooms, bars, and other spaces.
Benefits of Installing a Backsplash
There are many good reasons to add a backsplash to your home:
Protects the Walls – Backsplashes prevent water from sinks and bathtubs from seeping into drywall and causing damage. The waterproof surface also withstands splatters from cooking.
Easier to Clean – Wiping down a backsplash is much simpler than scrubbing wall paint or wallpaper. The smooth surface doesn’t absorb stains.
Adds Style – Backsplashes provide the opportunity to add visual interest to your kitchen or bath. You can choose eye-catching colors, patterns, textures and materials.
Increases Resale Value – Updating to a modern backsplash makes your home look new and more appealing to buyers. It’s an affordable renovation that offers a high return on investment.
Customizable – With endless options for materials like tile, metal, glass and stone, you can create a backsplash that fits your unique style.
Durable – Materials like tile and metal resist damage, heat and moisture. Backsplashes are built to last for years.
Easy Maintenance – Unlike wall paint or wallpaper, backsplashes won’t fade and are easy to keep clean.
If you’re renovating your kitchen or bath, installing a backsplash is one of the best ways to update the look while adding lasting practicality.
There are many materials commonly used for backsplashes. Consider the pros and cons of each option:
Ceramic and Porcelain Tile
Tile is one of the most popular backsplash materials due to its durability, ease of cleaning, and water-resistance. Ceramic and porcelain tiles come in a huge range of colors, shapes, finishes and patterns.
- Durable and scrubbable surface
- Water-resistant and stain-resistant
- Affordable compared to other materials
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Available in endless style options
- Grout lines can get dirty but are easily cleaned
- Heavy tiles require strong adhesion and may need backerboard
- Tile can crack or chip if hit forcefully
Glass tile backsplashes have a shiny, sleek contemporary look. The glass is resistant to heat, moisture and stains. Glass tile comes in an array of colors, finishes and styles.
- Great heat resistance for behind stoves
- Waterproof and easy to clean surface
- Very durable and scratch-resistant
- Range of colors and styles like subway tile
- More expensive than ceramic or porcelain tile
- Not as resistant to hits and cracks as other materials
- Grout can discolor over time
Natural Stone Tile
Backsplashes made of granite, marble, limestone or other natural stones have an elegant, timeless look. Each stone tile has unique natural patterning.
- Beautiful natural patterns and colors
- High-end, sophisticated look
- Sturdy and long-lasting
- Expensive compared to man-made materials
- Porous surfaces require sealing
- Can stain or etch without proper sealing
- Heavy weight requires strong wall support
Metal backsplashes like stainless steel, copper or tin add an industrial, modern or rustic touch. Metal stands up well to damage and is easy to wipe clean.
- Extremely water-resistant
- Durable and heat-resistant
- Easy to sanitize and keep clean
- Interesting look from materials like copper or rusted tin
- Higher cost than ceramic or porcelain
- Susceptible to scratches and dents
- Can discolor or corrode if quality isn’t high
Large sheets of glass can be used to create a sleek, seamless backsplash. Tempered glass is very durable and stain-resistant.
- Contemporary, minimalist look
- Easy to clean and keep sanitary
- Durable and heat-resistant
- Variety of colors and frosted finishes
- Higher cost than tile
- Heavy sheets may require professional installation
- Lacks texture of tile backsplashes
There are pros and cons to each material. Consider the look you want, your budget, and how much maintenance you’re willing to do. Ceramic tile is often the most affordable and versatile option.
Tools and Materials Needed
Installing a backsplash is technically a beginner DIY project, but it does require some special tools. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Backsplash tiles/sheets of your choice
- Tile adhesive mortar
- Grout sealer
- Caulk/silicone sealant
- Tape measure
- Tile cutter
- Notched trowel
- Grout float
- Safety glasses & gloves
Make sure you have all the materials and tools on hand before starting. Also have clean water and rags available for cleaning up as you go.
How to Prepare the Wall for Backsplash Installation
Proper preparation is crucial for a long-lasting backsplash installation. Follow these steps:
- Clean the walls thoroughly – Use a degreaser to remove any dirt, oil or grime on the walls. Grease and soap scum can prevent adhesion.
- Remove existing wall coverings – Take down any old backsplash or wallpaper. Scrape off all leftover adhesive.
- Fill any holes or imperfections – Use spackle to fill holes, cracks and uneven spots. Let dry completely.
- Sand walls smooth – Lightly sand walls to remove gloss and roughness. This helps the mortar adhere.
- Apply primer – Prime all walls with a stain-blocking primer. This provides extra adhesion.
- Mark your focal point – Decide the focal point of your backsplash installation. This is usually behind the stove or sink. Measure and mark a level line at the bottom edge of the installation area.
- Install backerboard if needed – For heavy tile or stone, you may need to install cement backerboard for support before tiling.
With the wall prepped, you’re ready to start tiling your new backsplash!
How to Install a Tile Backsplash
Follow this step-by-step guide for flawlessly installing a tile backsplash:
Step 1: Plan Your Layout
- Measure the area to tile and sketch a layout. Having a plan helps avoid mistakes.
- If installing around receptacles or fixtures, plan accordingly.
- Choose a tile pattern – like subway brick or herringbone.
- Do a dry layout on the floor first to ensure your plan works.
Step 2: Cut the Tiles
- Measure and mark any tiles that need cutting to fit edges and corners.
- Use a wet tile saw to accurately cut ceramic, porcelain or stone tile.
- Cut glass tiles with a glass cutter. Follow with a light sanding.
Step 3: Apply Mortar
- Apply a thin layer of tile adhesive mortar to the wall using a notched trowel.
- Only cover a small area that you can tile before the mortar dries.
- Push the tiles into the mortar for a solid bond.
- Use spacers between tiles for even grout lines.
Step 4: Set the Tiles
- Working in small sections, press the tiles into the mortar and slide into position.
- Push the tiles toward each other to keep lines straight and even.
- Check tiles are level and aligned. Adjust as needed.
- Continue setting tiles across the installation area.
Step 5: Grout the Tiles
- Let the mortar fully cure according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Mix grout and apply it over the tiles to fill the joints using a grout float.
- Let it set slightly before wiping away excess grout with a sponge.
- Clean tiles thoroughly with a damp sponge.
Step 6: Seal and Finish
- Once grout has cured fully, apply a penetrating grout sealer.
- Caulk perimeter edges with silicone sealant.
- Clean tiles once more and enjoy your new backsplash!
Take your time and don’t rush the steps. With careful tile-setting and grouting, you can achieve a professional-looking backsplash.
How to Attach a Backsplash Sheet
For glass or metal backsplash sheets, follow these steps:
- Clean and prime the wall as prepared above.
- Apply adhesive mortar to the wall where the sheet will go.
- Carefully lift and place the backsplash sheet against the wall into the mortar.
- Press the sheet firmly into the adhesive using a grout float or wallpaper roller.
- Use painter’s tape triangles in the corners to hold the sheet in place until the mortar cures.
- Once fully cured, remove the tape and apply silicone caulk around all edges.
Ensure backsplash sheets are handled carefully to avoid cracks or dents during installation. The mortar adhesive provides a very secure bond.
How to Attach Backsplash Around a Window
Tiling around a window requires a few special considerations:
- Plan your layout so tile edges align evenly on both sides of the window. Cut edge tiles to fit if needed.
- After setting bottom tiles, measure and cut L-shaped corner pieces to frame the bottom of the window neatly.
- Apply mortar and stick corner edge tiles around the window ledge.
- Cut tile pieces to size to fill in around the window edges. Remove window sash if needed.
- Take time fitting the border tiles around the window so grout lines align perfectly.
- Caulk along the top window trim to seal any gaps after grouting.
Accurately measuring and cutting the border tiles ensures your backsplash looks seamless around all edges of the window.
Can You Put Backsplash Over Existing Tile?
Installing new backsplash tile over existing tile is possible, but it has some downsides:
- The extra tile layer creates more thickness that must be accounted for around outlets, faucets, etc. Proper spacers will be needed.
- Any imperfections or problems with the existing tile will telegraph through the new tile. grout lines will not align.
- Adhesion may be compromised, especially if existing tile is not sanded and primed first. This can lead to future failure or loosening.
- Accessories like wall outlets will sit noticeably further from the wall surface.
- Overall quality and longevity may be reduced.
While it’s generally not recommended, backsplashes can be installed over existing tile if done carefully and properly. But for best results, it’s advisable to remove the old tile first.
How to Remove Existing Backsplash
Taking out an old backsplash isn’t difficult, but it can be messy. Follow these steps:
- Wear safety glasses and gloves to protect yourself.
- Outline the area to be removed with painters tape.
- Use a putty knife, hammer and chisel to chisel off grout around tiles.
- Carefully pry tiles off the wall slowly. Take care not to harm the drywall behind.
- Use a scraper and putty knife to remove any remaining tile adhesive.
- Fill any leftover holes or imperfections with spackle so walls are smooth.
- Sand and clean walls thoroughly when finished removing all tile.
Work slowly and carefully to get the old tile off without damaging the wallboard. Be sure to protect nearby surfaces from flying debris.
Backsplash Height Guidelines
Standard backsplash height is 4 inches from the countertop. But you can adjust to suit your space:
- For a minimalist look, go as low as 2 inches.
- For high-traffic areas, extend to 6-8 inches to protect more of the wall.
- Full height backsplashes from counter to ceiling make a bold statement.
On average, the ideal backsplash height is between 4-6 inches. This protects the most vulnerable wall area from splashes and spills.
When determining height, also consider things like window location, cabinets, existing backsplash height, and appliance clearance. Stick with widths between 3-8 inches for the most versatile look.
How High Should Backsplash Go Behind Stove?
For heavy-duty cooking protection, extend the backsplash above and around the stove:
- Tile from counter to ceiling above the stove cooktop.
- Continue tiling on either side at minimum 12-15 inches past the stove edges.
- If bottom cabinets are shallower than top cabinets, bring tile down to the top of the bottom cabinets.
- Where bottom cabinets are deeper, end the tile at 18-24 inches above the countertop.
Covering a larger zone behind and around the stove keeps more of your wall safe from grease splatters. For any exposed drywall areas, use a durable paint designed for kitchens.
How to Finish Edges of Backsplash
Completing the edges of the backsplash installation requires planning:
To finish at a wall end:
- Keep grout lines aligned evenly with wall lines.
- Use edge-finishing trim if desired for a clean look.
Where backsplash meets side wall:
- Cut edge tiles to fit if needed to align grout lines.
- Take tiles to inside corner or caulk corner seam for clean transition.
Bottom edge meeting countertop:
- Leave 1/8 inch gap between backsplash and counter.
- Apply color-matched silicone caulk to seal bottom edge.
Take the time to properly finish each edge of the backsplash installation. It takes careful tile alignment and trim work to get a seamless look.
Can You Install Backsplash with Silicone?
Using silicone adhesive instead of mortar is possible but not ideal:
- Easier for DIYers than mixing and applying mortar
- Flexible adhesive accommodates movement or imperfections
- Not as strong bond as mortar adhesive
- Tiles may loosen or fall off over time
- Hard to keep tiles evenly aligned as setting
- Gaps between tiles often need caulk after, giving uneven look
While silicone may work for lightweight applications like glass mosaics or small subway tile, mortar adhesive is preferred. Mortar bonds tiles solidly for the life of the installation. Silicone doesn’t provide the same strength and longevity.
How Long Does Backsplash Tile Installation Take?
A standard backsplash tile project will generally take 2-3 days from start to finish.
Day 1 is for preparing the wall surface and doing the tile layout. Plan 1 full day for cleaning, removing old backsplash, filling holes, sanding, priming, and marking reference lines.
Day 2 is for installing the tiles. Depending on the area size, setting the tiles with mortar adhesive will take 6-8 hours or more. Let the mortar cure overnight.
Day 3 is for grouting, sealing, and caulking. After allowing the grout to cure fully, silicone all perimeter edges and corners.
Working time depends on the wall size, tile size and intricacy of the design. Simple subway tile layouts go faster than detailed mosaics. Either way, don’t rush the steps and allow materials to fully cure for best results.
Backsplash Maintenance Tips
Keep your backsplash tiles looking like new with proper care:
- Seal grout periodically to prevent staining and mold growth.
- Use gentle cleaners designed for natural stone if needed. Avoid harsh chemicals.
- Clean spills right away to prevent setting of stains.
- Re-apply grout sealer every 1-2 years for maximum protection.
- Check for cracked or missing grout over time. Re-grout if necessary.
- Do not use abrasive scouring pads or powders which can dull the tile surface.
With the right sealants and gentle cleansers, your quality backsplash installation will stay beautiful for years to come. Be sure to use products recommended for your specific tile material.
Backsplash Design Ideas
Backsplashes aren’t just practical – they’re an opportunity to add eye-catching style to your kitchen or bath. Consider these design ideas:
Mix tile shapes and patterns – Blend different sized tiles, listellos, and mosaic sheets to create interest.
Play with color – Choose a crisp white, or go bold with bright saturated hues. Add pops of color with alternating tiles.
Focus on texture – Mix gloss and matte tiles, carrara marble, or textured glass for depth.
Use natural stone – Marble, travertine and granite backsplashes have an elegant, timeless look.
Install a modern sheet backsplash – A single sheet of stainless steel, copper or glass makes a statement.