How to Backsplash


Backsplashes are an essential design element in any kitchen. Not only do they protect your walls from water damage and stains, but they also provide an opportunity to add visual interest, color, and personality to your cooking space. Installing a backsplash may seem intimidating, but with proper planning and preparation, it can be an easy DIY project. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to successfully backsplash your kitchen.

Selecting Your Backsplash Material

The first step is choosing the right backsplash material for your needs and style. Here are some of the most popular options to consider:


Tile is a classic and versatile backsplash material. Ceramic, porcelain, and natural stone tiles come in a vast array of sizes, textures, colors, and patterns. Glass, metal, and mosaic tiles can add even more unique style. Tile backsplashes are durable, easy to clean, and relatively simple to install. Just be aware that the grout lines can get grimy over time and require regular maintenance.

Stone Slab

For a seamless, upscale look, a stone slab backsplash is lovely. Marble, granite, quartzite, and other natural stones can be purchased in large slabs cut to size. Stone slabs create a sleek, contemporary vibe and provide heat and stain resistance. However, the installation process is more complex, and stone is quite heavy.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a modern, industrial choice for kitchen backsplashes. It offers a reflective, chrome-like look and is extremely hygienic and easy to clean. Stainless steel backsplashes can be created from metal sheets or made with small stainless tiles. The material is durable but can show scratches over time.

Glass Tile

Glass tile allows you to add brilliant pops of color, iridescent shimmer, and interesting texture to your backsplash. It is available in small subway-style tiles, large sheets, and penny rounds. Glass tile is seamless and water-resistant but requires careful grouting and sealing to prevent staining between tiles.

Metal Tile

For a vintage, Old World look, consider metal tiles for your backsplash. Usually made from tin, copper, or aluminum, metal tiles have an antiqued, weathered patina. Metal tile backsplashes are extremely durable and low maintenance but have a higher cost than ceramic or porcelain.


Wood adds natural warmth and beauty to kitchen backsplashes. Wood choices like cypress, teak, and bamboo resist moisture and are engineered for longevity. Grooves between the planks should be sealed properly to prevent water damage. Wood backsplashes bring a rustic, comfortable feel to the space.


Affordable and low maintenance, laminate backsplashes use plastic laminated onto plywood or MDF. The material is water-resistant and available in numerous colors and patterns that mimic pricier materials like marble or subway tile. Laminates are easy for DIY installation but prone to chipping and susceptible to damage from heat or moisture over time.

Painted Drywall

For the simplest and most budget-friendly backsplash, paint directly onto drywall. Use semi-gloss or high-gloss latex paints formulated to withstand moisture and repeated cleaning. Beadboard panels can create an attractive framed look. Painted backsplashes are easy to install but show nicks and wear over time.

When selecting your material, consider aspects like:

  • Budget – How much are you able to spend on your backsplash? Some materials like stone are higher end while painted drywall is very budget-friendly.
  • Maintenance – Certain backsplash materials like stainless steel are extremely low maintenance, while options like tile require more regular upkeep and grout cleaning.
  • Durability – If your kitchen sees heavy use or you have rambunctious kids, durability should be a priority. Tile, stone, and metal can handle wear and tear.
  • Style – What look are you going for? Sleek and modern? Farmhouse chic? Choose a material that aligns with your overall kitchen design aesthetic.
  • DIY vs. Hiring Out – Laminates, painted drywall, and some tile projects can easily be DIY. More complex materials like large format tile or natural stone may require hiring a pro.

Tools and Materials Needed

Once you’ve selected your backsplash material, gather the necessary tools and supplies. Here’s an overview of what you’ll need:

Essential Tools:

  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Utility knife
  • Trowel for spreading thinset/mastic/adhesive
  • Grout float for applying and wiping grout (for tile)
  • Mixing bucket (for two-part thinset or grout)
  • Notched trowel (for tile)
  • Tile wet saw with diamond blade (for cutting tile)
  • Tile nippers (for nipping small pieces)


  • Backsplash tiles or sheets
  • Thinset mortar or adhesive
  • Grout (for tile)
  • Sealant
  • Caulk
  • Spacers or crosses for tile
  • Backerboard (if not applying direct to drywall)

Safety gear:

  • Safety goggles and mask – for cutting tile
  • Knee pads – for extended work on knees
  • Work gloves

Ensure you purchase the right amount of materials by accurately measuring your backsplash area and planning your layout. Don’t forget any specialty tools like a glass cutter for glass tiles. Having all your supplies handy ahead of time makes the installation go faster and smoother.

Preparing Your Walls

With your materials gathered, properly preparing your backsplash walls is the next crucial step. Here is how to get your surface ready:

  • Remove any existing backsplash – Use a hammer and chisel to pry off ceramic or tile. For adhesive plastic tiles, a heat gun or utility knife helps release any sticky residue.
  • Clean thoroughly – Scrub away any grime or grease on the wall using degreasing cleaners and rinse. Let walls dry completely.
  • Sand & fill imperfections – Lightly sand to scuff the surface for better thinset adhesion. Fill any holes or uneven spots with drywall compound.
  • Prime if needed – For glossy or painted walls, use a masonry primer to aid thinset bonding. Allow to fully dry.
  • Install backerboard – Most tiles require a cement backerboard be mounted as a substrate. Use screws to fasten securely to studs.
  • Apply waterproofing – In wet areas, coat seams with waterproofing membrane tape and brushed over entire surface.
  • Mark layout lines – Map out your planned tile layout and use a level to mark even guideline rows. This helps keep first tiles straight.

Proper wall prep helps prevent cracked or loose tiles, mildew issues, and other problems down the line. Be sure to use mold-resistant drywall or cement board in humidity-prone areas around sinks or stoves. Take the time to get walls flat and secure before tiling.

How to Install a Tile Backsplash

Assuming your backsplash walls are prepped and ready, here is a step-by-step guide to achieve a flawless tile application:

Step 1: Plan Your Layout

  • Measure the total backsplash area and sketch a layout – Draw the shape of your wall space and map out the tile arrangement.
  • Determine starting point – Most pros start towards the bottom center, working outwards and upwards.
  • Decide tile pattern – Staggered bricklay, herringbone, pinwheel, subway stack – options are endless!
  • Dry fit tiles – Place tiles on counters and hold up to visualize patterns and fit.

Step 2: Apply Thinset Mortar

  • Mix thinset per package directions – Start with small batches to prevent premature drying.
  • Apply thinset using notched trowel – Cover an area just large enough for a few tiles, using adequate pressure.
  • Comb thinset in straight lines – Hold trowel at a 45 degree angle and use notches to create ridges.
  • Knock down high points – Lightly flatten ridges so thinset is uniform depth for maximum coverage.

Step 3: Set & Space Tiles

  • Place first tile in corner – Use spacers and level to ensure it is straight.
  • Apply tiles row by row – Leaving equal spacer gaps between tiles and perimeter for grout lines.
  • Cut tiles as needed – Use a wet saw to notch partial tiles for edges and around outlets.
  • Check level frequently – Make adjustments to avoid tiles creeping upward or downward.

Step 4: Grout Application

  • Allow thinset to fully cure – Give it 24-48 hours before grouting your tile.
  • Mix and apply grout – Follow package directions. Use a grout float to spread into joints.
  • Clean excess grout – Wipe diagonally across tiles with a damp sponge to remove residue.
  • Seal grout – Once dry, apply a penetrating grout sealer for added moisture protection.
  • Caulk perimeter – Use a flexible, mildew-resistant caulk where tile meets counter, walls, cabinets etc.

With proper thinset mortar application, leveling, and grouting, you can achieve a flawless finished product that will last for years to come.

Common Backsplash Installation Mistakes to Avoid

While tiling your backsplash, beware of these frequent pitfalls:

  • Not cleaning walls properly – Adhesive will fail if applied to dirty or greasy walls. Degrease thoroughly.
  • Insufficient backerboard screws – Cement board must be firmly secured. Use plenty of correctly sized screws.
  • Poor thinset coverage – Maximum mortar contact prevents loose, hollow-sounding tiles. Don’t skimp.
  • Uneven tile spacing – Use plastic crosses consistently to prevent sloppy, irregular grout lines.
  • Forgetting the grout sealer – Unsealed grout absorbs stains easily. Seal after installation and yearly upkeep.
  • Applying tiles on mismatched planes – Use levelling systems to avoid tiles mounted too far forward or back.
  • Waiting too long between steps – Thinset and grout have short working times. Don’t wait until materials begin hardening.
  • Mixing up materials – Make sure to use compatible products – don’t mix mastic with mortar, for example.

Patience, proper planning, and meticulous technique will help you steer clear of amateur tiling mistakes during your backsplash installation. Take things slow and steady.

How to Maintain and Clean Your New Backsplash

Once your stunning new backsplash is professionally installed, maintaining that eye-catching appearance involves proper ongoing care and cleaning. Here are some top tips:

  • Seal grout and natural stone annually – Reapplying sealant prevents stains from being absorbed.
  • Address spills quickly – Don’t let food, grease or liquids linger. Blot immediately to avoid staining.
  • Use gentle cleaners – Harsh chemicals can etch or discolor tiles. Use pH neutral options.
  • Clean with soft materials – Avoid abrasive scouring pads or stiff brushes that can scratch.
  • Check for missing or cracked grout – Repair any problem areas to prevent moisture issues behind tiles.
  • Consider periodic polishing or re-sealing – Refreshing high-traffic backsplash areas helps restore luster.
  • Test cleaners in inconspicuous spot – Confirm that cleaning agents won’t damage your particular tile finish.
  • Wipe down after cooking – Use a microfiber cloth to remove splatters after heavy kitchen use.

Show your backsplash some TLC and it will maintain its beauty while also remaining sanitary and moisture-resistant over the long term.

Tips for Removing Existing Backsplashes

Taking out an old existing backsplash is often the first step in any kitchen refresh. Here are tips for tackling this demolition:

Ceramic or Porcelain Tile Removal

  • Protect surfaces – Mask off nearby walls, floors, and counters with drop cloths.
  • Score grout lines – Use a grout saw or oscillating multi-tool to cut into existing grout.
  • Knock tiles inward – Carefully tap tiles with a hammer inward toward the wall cavity.
  • Pry off remaining pieces – Use a pry bar or flathead screwdriver.
  • Clean adhesive – Scrape away any remaining old mastic or thinset mortar.
  • Sand or grind – Smooth and prep the wall for your new backsplash.

Plastic Backsplash Panel Removal

  • Heat adhesive – Use a heat gun to warm and loosen the adhesive behind panels.
  • Slice caulk beads – Cut along caulk lines between panels and perimeter with utility knife.
  • Pop off panels – Wedge putty knife in seam gaps and gently pry panels outward.
  • Scour off adhesive – Use mineral spirits and steel wool to remove any remaining residue.

Glass Tile Removal

  • Wear heavy gloves – Broken glass can cause nasty cuts. Maximum hand protection is key.
  • Strike perpendicular joints – Use hammer to carefully tap where tiles intersect, avoiding direct hits.
  • Remove intact sheets where possible – Pry off any large sections of intact grout and tiles as one piece.
  • Check for hidden screws – Glass mosaic sometimes has sheet metal backing. Unscrew before prying.
  • Clean thoroughly – Ensure no shards remain before applying new backsplash.


Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about backsplashes:

How much does a backsplash cost?

Backsplash costs vary widely based on your choice of material and DIY vs. pro installation, but estimate $5-$50 per square foot installed. Simple painted drywall is cheapest. Stone slabs are highest.

What is the most popular backsplash tile size?

The 3×6 subway tile is currently the most popular size and style for kitchen backsplashes. It offers versatility and a classic, clean look.

Can you use porcelain floor tiles as a backsplash?

Absolutely! Durable porcelain floor tiles translate beautifully to the backsplash. Just make sure tiles are rated for wall use with low water absorption. Mosaic sheets also work well.

What is the easiest backsplash to install?

Laminate panels offer the quickest, simplest backsplash installation for DIYers. Peel and stick tile is also beginner-friendly. For paint, go with beadboard panels rather than directly on drywall.

How do you cut holes in a backsplash for outlets?

Mark the exact outlet location on your tile. Drill holes in all four corners, then tap out the center section with a hammer and utility knife. Use a tile wet saw for final precision trimming.

Can you put backsplash tile over existing tile?

This is not advisable. Existing tile should be removed to provide the flat, secure surface needed for proper thinset mortar adhesion. Covering old tile with new rarely lasts.

How do you accent a backsplash?

Consider adding a decorative tile border or geometric designs, like a row of mosaic penny tile. Mixing metal, glass and ceramic tiles can make your backsplash pop. Accent lighting on top cabinets also helps draw attention.


Installing a stylish, functional backsplash protects your kitchen and adds an eye-catching focal point. With careful planning, proper materials, and meticulous technique, you can achieve beautiful results. Focus on thoroughly preparing your backsplash walls, setting tiles properly in quality thinset mortar, and flawless grouting. Maintain your backsplash with routine cleaning and re-sealing. With the right know-how, you can install the backsplash of your dreams and enjoy the upgrade for years of cooking to come.