Installing a backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and protect your walls from splashes and spills in a kitchen or bathroom. While tiling a backsplash may seem daunting, it can be made simple by following some key preparation and installation steps. Properly attaching backsplash tiles to the wall ensures they stay put for years to come.
Gather Materials Needed for Attaching Backsplash
Before starting your project, gather all the necessary materials and tools. Having everything you need on hand will make the installation process smoother.
Pick tiles that are appropriate for backsplash use around sinks, stoves, and other wet areas. Ceramic, porcelain, glass, and stone tiles are popular options. Make sure tiles are uniform in size, color, and texture for the most seamless look. Purchase 10-20% more tiles than you estimate needing to account for breakage and pattern matching.
Backerboard provides a water-resistant surface for attaching backsplash tiles in kitchens and bathrooms. Cement backerboard is the most common type. It is available in sheets that can be cut to fit your space.
Mortar and Grout
Mortar adheres the tiles to the wall surface. Choose an appropriate premixed mortar designed for your tile type. Unsanded grout fills in the spaces between tiles. Sanded grout is also an option for wider grout lines. Make sure to get a grout color that complements your tiles.
Trowels and Floats
These tools apply and spread mortar smoothly onto the backerboard and tile backs. Choose notch trowels in different sizes to control mortar thickness based on tile size. Use floats to even out the mortar.
Spacers maintain even grout lines between tiles. The width depends on your tile size and preference, often 1/8 or 1/16 inch.
Sealing the grout makes it water and stain resistant. Look for an appropriate grout sealer formula based on your grout type.
Wear safety goggles and gloves when cutting backerboard and tiles to protect yourself from sharp edges and broken pieces. A dust mask is also recommended when cutting backerboard.
Standard handyman tools like a tape measure, level, pencil, utility knife, screws, and drill help with basic installation steps. A wet saw specifically cuts tile neatly. A grout float applies grout. Caulk and sponges are useful for clean up.
Prepare the Surface
Proper prep of the wall surface provides the necessary framework to attach and support the backsplash tiles.
Start by thoroughly cleaning the installation area. Remove any existing backsplash. Eliminate any soap scum, grease, or other grime from the wall above counter areas. Rinse with clean water and let dry completely.
Take out any electrical outlets, switches, or anything protruding from the wall. This allows for uninterrupted tiling. Make sure to turn off power at the circuit breaker before removing electrical items.
Check for any moisture problems or leaks that could impact the backerboard. Contact a plumber to fix any plumbing issues prior to backsplash installation.
Cut cement backerboard to fit your workspace. Most backsplashes are installed above counters or appliances. Measure and cut the backerboard to overlap the front edge of the counter. Apply mortar or mastic adhesive to the back of the backerboard pieces with a trowel or notched spreader. Firmly press and adhere the backerboard to the wall.
Backerboard must be screwed tightly into wall studs for proper support. Drill pilot holes if going into wood studs. Use backerboard screws placed every 8 inches across the boards and along stud lines. Screw heads should sit flush, not countersunk into the backerboard.
Fill any gaps between backerboard sheets with mesh tape and thinset mortar to prevent moisture getting behind the backsplash. Cover all seams and screw heads. Skim over screw indentations with additional thinset once dry.
Allow It To Cure
Let the backerboard installation cure for 24 hours before tiling. This ensures maximum adhesion strength. Insulating the wall behind the backerboard can help guard against condensation issues.
Lay Out Tiles
Mapping out a tile layout helps achieve the pattern and look you want with the best use of materials.
Map Your Pattern
Mark a guide line on the backerboard for the bottom row of tiles. Set tiles along the bottom edge dry without any adhesive to map out their positioning. Use spacers to gauge the grout lines. Adjust tiles until you achieve the desired pattern and arrangement you want for the backsplash area.
Follow package directions to prepare mortar adhesive for application. Only mix up enough that can be used within its working time. Using a drill mixer attachment speeds mixing the mortar consistently to the right consistency.
Use a notched trowel held at a 45° angle to spread on a layer of mortar adhesive onto the backerboard where tiles will be placed. Apply enough to fully cover the board in sections that can be tiled before the mortar skins over. Using the right trowel notch size determines the optimal mortar thickness for your tile.
Back Butter Tiles
In addition to mortar on the backerboard, tiles should have a layer of adhesive on their backs too. This is called back buttering. Use a trowel to spread a thin layer of mortar completely covering the back of each tile.
Attach Tiles to the Wall
Carefully fix tiles to the backerboard with mortar starting at the planned layout line. Use spacers and check alignment often for a professional installation.
Set Bottom Row
Start by setting the bottom row of tiles. Press tiles firmly into position along the guide line with even spacer gaps between them. Use a level often to ensure tiles align straight. Allow the mortar to cure per package directions before applying grout or additional tiles.
Apply Additional Rows
Continue setting tiles row by row moving up the wall. Apply mortar and back butter each tile before placement. Tap tiles with a rubber mallet to fully embed them in the mortar. Twist tiles back and forth slightly to confirm mortar has contact across the full backside.
Cut Border Tiles
Measure and cut border tiles as needed to fit along the top and side edges with a tile wet saw. File cut edges smooth. Set border tiles in position gently without fully embedding them yet.
Make sure the tile layout remains aligned checking plumb and level frequently. Make minor adjustments immediately by lifting and repositioning while mortar is still fresh if needed. Allow tiles to set undisturbed per the mortar dry time.
Grout Space Inspection
Once mortar has cured, inspect tile spacing and alignment. Use a utility knife to remove excess mortar from grout spaces and tile edges. Consistent grout line width gives a clean finished look.
Grout and Seal the Tiles
Grouting fills the joints between tiles with a waterproof material to complete the backsplash installation. Proper sealing protects the grout.
Mix up a batch of grout just before use following package directions. Only make enough that can be applied within its working time. Use sanded grout for joints wider than 1/8 inch. Apply grout sealer to the tiles first as an extra shield according to product instructions if desired.
Holding the grout float at a 45° angle, work it in a circular motion pressing grout thoroughly into tile joints. Take care to fully pack joints and avoid dragging grout across the tile faces. Let grout sit slightly firm up before final cleaning.
Wipe a damp grout sponge diagonally across tiles to smooth joints and remove excess grout from tile faces. Rinse the sponge frequently. Avoid wiping in a circular motion or pulling grout out of joints. Allow grout to cure per manufacturer recommendations.
Once fully cured, apply grout sealer to the joints following product label directions. Avoid applying sealer to tile surfaces. Promptly wipe and remove any excess sealer from tiles. Allow sealer to penetrate and cure completely before use.
Run a bead of silicone caulk along the top outer edge and side perimeter of the backsplash. Tool caulk smooth with a finger or caulk tool. Caulk protects these vulnerable spots from moisture.
Backsplash Installation Tips
Follow these additional pointers to help your backsplash installation go smoothly from beginning to end.
- Carefully plan tile layout on paper first to visualize final design and identify potential problems.
- Always double check measurements and tile cuts. Measure twice, cut once as the saying goes.
- Gently stagger tile sheets when setting them to avoid lippage where tiles unevenly overhang each other.
- Use tile leveling systems and wedges during installation to keep tiles flat and aligned.
- For easier spreading, mortar and grouts can be mixed slightly on the wet side, but not runny.
- Ensure backerboard seams land on wall studs for strength. Stagger all backerboard and tile joints.
- Alternate tile colors and grains when setting them to prevent patchy spots. Mix tiles from several boxes.
- Let mortar and grout cure fully between steps per manufacturer directions for proper strength.
- Clean up spills and smears immediately before they dry using a damp sponge. Use painter’s tape to help reduce messes.
- Work in small sections to make managing the process easier, especially when grouting.
- Avoid walking or working on newly tiled sections so weight does not shift tiles before mortar cures.
With the right prep, materials, and techniques, successfully installing a backsplash is an achievable DIY project. Just take it step-by-step. Thorough planning, paying attention to details as you work, and having patience as products cure fully allows you to gain an eye-catching, long-lasting backsplash that protects your walls.
FAQs About Attaching Backsplash
Installing a new backsplash brings up many questions for DIYers. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about properly attaching backsplash tile.
Is backerboard necessary for backsplash?
Yes, using backerboard is highly recommended as a base for any backsplash installation. Unlike drywall, backerboard is designed to stand up to prolonged moisture exposure. This water-resistant surface provides a stable, supportive foundation to attach backsplash tiles with mortar adhesives. Backerboard helps prevent loosening, cracking, mold, and other damage issues over time.
Can you attach backsplash directly to drywall?
It is not advised to attach backsplash tiles directly to drywall alone. While the initial install may seem fine, the drywall will eventually fail and lead to problems. The gypsum core of drywall quickly breaks down when subjected to moisture from splashes and spills. The paper facing can also peel away. Mold growth is another consequence of using drywall behind backsplashes.
What screws should be used for backerboard?
Backerboard is attached to wall studs with specialized backerboard screws. These feature a wide threading and smooth shanks. The threads offer extra grip strength, while the shank allows the backerboard to expand and contract minimally with temperature changes. Backerboard screws are available in lengths up to 2 1/2 inches for use with wood studs. Masonry screws work for attaching to metal framing.
How far apart do you screw backerboard?
For maximum strength and stability, backerboard screws should be placed every 8 inches across both horizontal and vertical stud lines. This means positioning screws at least every 8 inches around the perimeter of each backerboard sheet and down the middle at 8 inch intervals. Also use screws wherever backerboard seams meet. Sink screw heads flush, not countersunk, into the board.
What is the best thinset to use for backsplash?
For backsplash applications, unmodified thinset mortar works well. This type of thinset contains just cement, sand, and water with no latex or acrylic bonding additives. Unmodified thinset reliably adheres tile to cement backerboard in dry areas like a backsplash. It is also more affordable. White thinset mortar provides extra visibility of adhesive coverage on the dark backerboard.
How long do you have to wait before grouting backsplash?
It is crucial to allow the mortar adhesive attaching backsplash tiles to fully cure before grouting. Check mortar package directions, but tile joints typically can be grouted after 16-24 hours of cure time. Rushing the process risks destabilizing tiles as uncured mortar has not reached optimal strength and adhesion yet. Grout also does not bind well to fresh mortar.
Should backsplash go all the way to ceiling?
Continuing the backsplash tile up to the ceiling provides a seamless finished look. However, taking backsplash tile only part way up the wall above a countertop is also fine. A height of 4-6 inches above countertops is common. Optimal backsplash coverage depends on your budget, style preferences, and how much protection needed from cooking splatters. An abbreviated backsplash is often wide enough to safeguard the drywall from normal use.
How do you finish top edge of backsplash?
The top of the backsplash should be finished with a trim piece or caulked edge for a polished look. Bullnose trim tiles that have one rounded finished edge are a classic choice. Metal strips and decorative moldings are other options. Using caulk to seal the raw tile edge provides a smooth finish. The caulk fills in the slight gap between the tile’s edge and wall too.
Can backsplash be installed over existing tile?
It is possible to install a new backsplash over existing tile, but it is not generally recommended. The old tile must be firmly attached to a moisture-resistant backing like backerboard, not just drywall. Gluing to a slick surface prone to grease may be problematic as well. A skim coat of mortar applied over the old tile provides added adhesion. But installing backerboard and fresh tile usually gives better long term results.
Using quality materials and proper techniques allows you to attach backsplash tile securely. Following good preparation, layout, and installation practices results in a high-performing backsplash. With careful planning and patience during each step, you can achieve a stunning, durable backsplash yourself.
How to Attach Backsplash in Bathrooms
Backsplashes play an important role in bathrooms by protecting walls around sinks, bathtubs, and showers from water exposure. Installing tile backsplash in bathrooms requires careful preparation and installation to account for the wet environment. Successfully attaching bathroom backsplash tile provides a finished look that holds up well over time.
Select Appropriate Tile
Tiles suited for steamy bathroom conditions differ from standard types for kitchen backsplashes. Moisture-resistant tiles prevent mildew and adhesion issues.
Porcelain or Ceramic Tile
Glazed porcelain and ceramic tiles resist absorbing moisture well. Their dense composition makes them among the most water-resistant options. A PEI rating of 5 or higher indicates suitability for wet areas.
Glass Mosaic Tile
Small glass mosaic tiles feature built-in spacing that allows airflow and drainage between them. Use glass designed for flooring/wet areas. Make sure the mortar and grout matches the mosaic tile material.
Natural Stone Tile
Some dense, non-porous natural stones like granite, marble or slate hold up in humid bathrooms when properly sealed. Check stone porosity ratings or use a waterproof membrane beneath.
Prime Surfaces Properly
Proper priming creates a suitable base for backsplash tile in bathrooms.
Install Cement Backerboard
Cement backerboard withstands bathroom moisture and gives tiles a secure base. Water-resistant drywall is another option for low-moisture areas above sinks or counters.
Use Waterproof Membrane
Applying a waterproofing membrane over surfaces provides an extra layer of water protection. Use around tubs, showers, and below tile backsplashes. RedGard, AquaDefense, and Kerdi are common brands.
Prime Existing Tile
When tiling over existing backsplash, etch the old tile and apply a tile bonding primer before setting new tiles. Mapei Eco Prim Grip and Custom Building Products MBP work well.
Use Appropriate Mortar and Grout
The right products create a water-resistant bond and seal for bathroom backsplash installations.
Epoxy-based mortars like Laticrete Latapoxy 300 provide an extra-strong waterproof bond ideal for bathroom backsplashes. Regular unmodified mortar may be used above countertops.
Unlike cement grout, epoxy grout contains polymers that make it naturally waterproof when cured. It won’t absorb moisture or easily crack. Epoxy grout like Laticrete SpectraLOCK PRO Grout provides reliable sealing between bathroom tiles.
Run a bead of bathroom-grade silicone caulk around the top and sides of the backsplash. Tool it smooth with a caulk sponge for a finished look and watertight seal. 100% silicone caulk adheres well and withstands moisture longer than latex-based.
Allow Extended Cure Time
The mortar and grout require ample time to fully cure and gain maximum strength and water resistance for bathrooms. Allow 48-72 hours before grouting newly placed tiles. Let epoxy grout cure 3 days before light use. Avoid water contact as long as possible.
With careful prep and installation plus high-quality water-resistant materials, you can install durable, long-lasting tile backsplash in bathrooms. Taking steps to properly prime surfaces, seal tile joints, and allow for extended cure times results in a beautiful backsplash resistant to moisture damage.
How to Attach Tile Backsplash Around Outlets
Outlets and switches on walls require special treatment when installing tile backsplash around them. Working carefully around receptacles, conduits, and wires maintains electrical safety. Planning