How to Do a Backsplash Tile

Adding a backsplash is an easy DIY weekend project that can completely transform the look of your kitchen. Backsplashes not only provide visual appeal, but also protect the walls from splashes and stains. Tiling your own backsplash allows you to customize it to suit your style, while saving on labor costs. With some planning, the right materials, and these step-by-step instructions, you can achieve a beautiful, professional-looking backsplash tile installation.

Choose Your Backsplash Tile

The first step is selecting the tile. Backsplash tiles come in a huge range of materials, sizes, colors, textures and patterns. Consider the look you want to achieve and your budget. Here are some of the most popular options:

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic is one of the most common and affordable backsplash tile options. It comes glazed or unglazed, in tons of colors, shapes and textures. The glazed surface makes it stain and water-resistant. Unglazed has an earthier, more organic look.

Pros: Durable, easy to clean, moisture-resistant, affordable, wide range of styles

Cons: Can crack or chip if subjected to hard impacts

Porcelain Tile

Porcelain tile has a water absorption rate of less than 0.5 percent, making it even more impervious to moisture than ceramic. It’s very durable and resistant to scratches. The color runs all the way through, so chips and cracks don’t show.

Pros: Extremely durable, stain proof, water-resistant, comes in many colors/finishes

Cons: More expensive than ceramic

Glass Tile

Glass tile has a shiny, elegant appearance. The tiles have a coating on the backside to make them impervious to moisture. Glass tile comes in tons of colors, finishes and degrees of opacity.

Pros: Water-resistant, easy to clean, light reflects off it beautifully, modern/sleek look

Cons: Can crack or chip if subjected to impact, scratches may show, grout can be tricky

Stone Tile

Stone tile backsplashes bring natural texture and beauty to a kitchen. Types like granite, marble, limestone and travertine come in a range of finishes from polished to honed.

Pros: Natural material has beautiful variation, develops a patina over time

Cons: Must be sealed regularly, can stain, prone to cracking if not installed properly

Metal Tile

Metal tiles come in materials like stainless steel, copper, brass and aluminium. They have an industrial, modern, rustic or farmhouse vibe.

Pros: Durable, moisture-resistant, easy to clean

Cons: Can dent or scratch, prone to fingerprints/smudging, conducts heat

Choose the Amount of Tile Needed

Once you’ve selected your tile, figure out how much you need to purchase. Measure the backsplash area in square feet using length x height. For a standard backsplash area of 4 feet high by 10 feet long, you would have 40 square feet.

Refer to the tile package to find how many tiles are included and the coverage per package. Divide your total backsplash area by the tile coverage to get the number of packages needed. Remember to account for extra in case you make cutting errors or break any tiles. It’s better to end up with extras than to run short mid-project.

Gather Your Materials

In addition to the wall and backsplash tiles, you will need:

  • Tile adhesive
  • Grout
  • Grout sealer
  • Tile spacers
  • Notched trowel
  • Mixing bucket
  • Tile cutter (if cutting irregular shapes)
  • Wet saw (for stone, glass or porcelain tiles)
  • Grout float
  • Grout sponge
  • Caulk/silicone sealant

Make sure you have all materials on hand before starting work. Shop for specialty cutting tools according to the type of tile you are using.

Prepare the Surface

Proper prep work is crucial for a long-lasting installation. Follow these steps:

  1. Clean the backsplash area thoroughly – Remove any old backsplash tile, wallpaper, paint or residue. Clean the entire surface with an all-purpose cleaner.
  2. Fill any holes or imperfections – Use spackle or drywall compound to patch holes, dents, cracks or uneven areas so the surface is completely smooth.
  3. Seal porous surfaces – For surfaces like drywall or plaster, apply a sealant so moisture doesn’t penetrate behind the tile.
  4. Apply adhesive backerboard – For most installations, install a water-resistant backerboard as a base. Cement, fiber cement or water-resistant drywall are common options.
  5. Let materials dry completely – Don’t start tiling until all patched areas, sealants and backerboard adhesive are fully cured. This prevents cracks from forming later.

Plan Your Tile Layout

Decide on the pattern you want and make a layout plan. Here are some options:

  • Basic grid – Tiles aligned in straight vertical and horizontal rows
  • Brick pattern – Rows are offset by half a tile width for a staggered look
  • Subway tile – Classic 3×6 inch rectangular tiles in a brick pattern
  • Hexagonal – Angled tiles meeting at corners create interesting geometric shapes
  • Herringbone – Rows go in opposite directions forming a V shape
  • Penny tile – Tiny square tiles give an intricately patterned look

Plan where you will need to make any cuts around outlets, corners or edges. Mix tile varieties in the layout if using more than one style.

Prepare the Tile

Follow these steps to get the tiles ready for installation:

  1. Arrange tiles – Unpack tiles and arrange by color/pattern if necessary so you can easily find pieces.
  2. Clean the tiles – Wipe off any dust, dirt or residue from the tile surfaces.
  3. Make cuts – Use a wet saw for stone/glass or a tile cutter for ceramic/porcelain. Cut border and edge pieces to fit.
  4. Apply sealer – For natural stone tiles, apply a sealing product to help resist staining.

Once tiles are prepped, you’re ready to start setting them on the wall.

Install the Tile

Here is the process for properly installing the tiles:

  1. Apply thinset – Use a notched trowel held at a 45 degree angle to spread a thin layer of thinset mortar adhesive on the backerboard.
  2. Add tile spacers – Place plastic spacers at regular intervals for even grout lines.
  3. Press tiles into thinset – Set tiles firmly into the thinset one at a time in your planned pattern.
  4. Check level and alignment – As you go, use a level and measuring tape to keep tiles even.
  5. Cut edge and border tiles – Use a tile cutter or wet saw to cut any edges and border tiles to fit.
  6. Let thinset cure – Allow thinset to fully dry/cure according to manufacturer directions before grouting.

Apply the Grout

Follow a careful process for clean, professional-looking grout lines:

  1. Mix grout – Prepare grout mix according to package directions with water in a bucket.
  2. Apply grout – Use a grout float or squeegee to spread grout over the tiles, pushing it into the joints.
  3. Wipe away excess – Let grout sit briefly, then use a damp sponge in a circular motion to wipe residual grout off the tile surface.
  4. Clean tiles – Once the haze has been removed, scrub tiles with a soft cloth to clean residue.
  5. **Apply grout sealer **- After grout has cured, apply a sealer product to protect it from moisture and staining.

Finish the Installation

The final steps complete your new backsplash tile installation:

  • Caulk along countertops, edges, corners or any gaps with a silicone caulk.
  • Seal the grout and tiles again after a few days for an extra layer of protection.
  • Use a gentle cleaner when maintaining your backsplash to avoid damaging the tiles or grout.

With proper care, your backsplash tile can last for many years of daily use while adding style, personality and luxury to your kitchen!

Frequently Asked Questions About Backsplash Tiles

What is the best tile for kitchen backsplash?

Porcelain and ceramic tile are most popular since they are affordable, easy to clean, durable and come in endless colors/finishes. Glass, stone or metal backsplashes have high-end appeal but require special care.

How do I choose a backsplash color?

Consider colors already in your cabinets, counters, appliances or flooring. Contrasting or complementary hues can make your scheme more dramatic. Neutrals like white or beige backsplashes give a clean, classic look.

What is the standard backsplash height?

The area between countertops and kitchen cabinets is usually 14-18 inches high. Full backsplashes go all the way up to the underside of the upper cabinets, about 4 feet.

Should backsplash tiles match floor tiles?

Matching backsplash and floor tiles can make spaces appear larger and more cohesive. Contrasting styles can help differentiate zones. Just ensure colors/finishes complement each other.

How much does it cost to install a kitchen backsplash?

Homeowner DIY installation costs $3-$10 per square foot. Hiring a professional tiler costs $10-$50 or more per square foot depending on tile type and labor/material costs in your area.

What thinset should I use for backsplash tile?

Use white thinset mortar adhesive for ceramic, porcelain or glass tiles. Use modified thinset for stone or large format tiles. Make sure thinset is formulated for wall/backsplash applications.

Can you use subway tile for a backsplash?

Yes, subway tiles with their classic rectangular shape laid in a brick pattern are one of the most popular backsplash tile styles. Use white or color glazed ceramic or glass subway tiles.

Should you seal backsplash tile?

Sealing is crucial for natural stone backsplashes to prevent staining and damage. Sealers add extra protection for grout as well. Ceramic and porcelain may not require sealing but it can still be beneficial.

How do you cut tiles for a backsplash?

Use a wet saw with a diamond blade for cutting stone, glass or porcelain tiles. A manual tile cutter is fine for scoring and snapping ceramic tiles. Use a ruler, pencil and utility knife for intricate free-hand cuts.

How do you attach backsplash tile to drywall?

Adhere tile to drywall using a premium polymer modified thinset mortar. Make sure to prepare the surface first with any needed patching, priming and waterproof membrane for a durable bond.


Installing a backsplash tile transforms a kitchen from so-so to spectacular. With proper planning, materials and technique, it can be an easy weekend DIY project. Carefully follow the steps for preparing the surface, choosing tiles, making a layout, cutting, setting tiles, grouting and sealing. Soon you’ll have a stunning, high-end looking backsplash to take your cooking space to the next level.