How to Do a Backsplash with Tile

Installing a tile backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and value to your kitchen or bathroom. With some planning, the right materials, and a bit of DIY skill, you can create a stylish, custom backsplash that suits your design aesthetic. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps for tile backsplash installation, from choosing your tiles to grouting for a professional finish. Follow along and you’ll gain the confidence and knowledge needed to tackle this rewarding weekend project.

Choosing Your Backsplash Tiles

The first step in any tile installation project is selecting your materials. With so many options for sizes, shapes, textures, colors and patterns, the choices can seem endless. Keep the following tile considerations in mind as you shop for your perfect backsplash:

Tile Material

  • Ceramic: A classic option, ceramic tiles are made from clay and come in a huge range of styles. They’re budget-friendly, easy to cut, and hold up well in kitchens. Glazed ceramic tiles have a shiny, protective coat that makes them very stain and moisture resistant. Unglazed or natural tiles absorb more easily but add texture.
  • Porcelain: Denser and more durable than ceramic, porcelain tiles have very low water absorption. This makes them great for backsplashes as they resist staining, scratches, and chips. Get the look of natural stone with the benefits of porcelain.
  • Glass: For a sleek, modern look, glass backsplash tiles have transparent or colored glass bonded to a mesh or foil backing. They reflect light beautifully but require careful grout cleaning.
  • Metal: Metallic backsplashes are dramatic show stoppers. Tin, stainless steel, copper, and aluminum add shiny elegance. Expect to pay more and take care to seal and polish during installation.
  • Mosaic: Tiny mosaic tiles let you create pictures, patterns, and designs. Mesh-backed sheets make mosaic tiles easy to apply. Use them alone or mix with larger tiles.
  • Stone: Marble, granite, and slate backsplash options give an upscale, natural feel. Each piece is unique with its own veining. Know that natural stone requires more maintenance.

Tile Shape and Size

Consider the size of your space when selecting tile dimensions. Small spaces can use smaller tiles around 4 inches to create the illusion of more area. Larger tiles like 6 inch subway tile make a bigger impact in a large kitchen. Include accent tiles like a mosaic strip or decorative shape for extra pop.

Tile Layout Pattern

The arrangement of your tile creates visual interest and makes the installation more or less challenging. Here are some top layout patterns:

  • Stack or Subway: Stacking rectangular or square tiles in offset rows has a classic look. Easy to install.
  • Herringbone: Angled tiles form a V-shape for a timeless zig-zag aesthetic. Requires more tile cuts.
  • Brick: Just like bricks in a wall, tiles are offset by half the width of one tile per row. Informal pattern.
  • Diamonds: Square tiles set on point create dynamic lines and geometric shapes. Rate the layout difficulty moderate.
  • Penny Rounds: Circular penny tiles alternating direction cover the space in arcs. Complex install but organic vibe.

Tile Style

Finally, let your overall design inspire your tile style. Seek out pieces that coordinate with your color scheme, cabinetry, and decor.

  • Color: From neutral whites to bold saturated hues, colored tiles lend personality. Glossy finishes reflect more light.
  • Texture: Smooth, crackled, or handpainted tiles showcase artistry. Consider textured for added dimension.
  • Material Blend: Mix natural stone with glass or ceramic mosaic for eclectic style. Try metals and mirrors too.
  • Pattern: From Moroccan influences to floral prints, choose tiles with prints you love. Or create patterns with multiples.

Once you select the ideal backsplash tiles for your goals, order 10-15% extra in case you need replacements for damaged pieces down the road. Now let’s go over the prep work required before sticking those tiles in place.

Preparing the Surface

To achieve the long-lasting bond critical for tile installation success, you need to start with the right subsurface. Take time to properly prepare your backsplash area before bringing out the mastic and tiles.


Eliminate any grime, grease or soap scum built up on the installation area. Scrub with an all-purpose cleaner and rinse to remove residue. Allow the surface to fully dry before moving on.

Repairs and Fresh Coat of Paint

Fix any damage or imperfections on your surface to create a smooth, continuous area for your backsplash. Fill holes with drywall compound, sand bumps, prime exposed drywall, and apply fresh paint if needed.

Textured Wall Removal

Heavily textured walls don’t provide an ideal base for backsplash tiles. If possible, strip the texture to reveal a flat subsurface for tile bonding.

Proper Moisture Testing

Excess moisture under your backsplash can damage the tiles over time. Use a moisture meter to test for dampness and know if a waterproofing sealer is needed before tile prep begins.

With the prep work complete, you can move on to laying out your design.

Planning Your Layout

Carefully planning the placement of your tiles ensures you have the right amount of materials and results in a professional looking finished project.

Measure the Space

Use a measuring tape to determine the height and length of the backsplash area. Be sure to account for any outlets, pipes, or indentations that affect your usable tiling space.

Design and Sketch Your Layout

Decide on your tile arrangement and use graph paper to sketch your backsplash layout. Mark the center and focus any tile patterning or accents around that middle point for balance.

Calculate Tile Needs

Use your measurements and sketch to determine how many full, half or partial tiles are needed. Don’t forget to account for pattern matches and waste. Purchase 10-15% extra.

Blending Tiles

For the most natural blended effect, you’ll want to pull tiles from multiple boxes as you go. Keep this in mind before breaking down packaging.

Snap Chalk Lines as Guides

Once your design is planned, use a chalk box to snap vertical and horizontal lines on your installation area guiding central starting points and tile spacing.

Level and Square the Walls/Surface

Use a level and carpenter’s square to identify any plumb or leveling issues. Make adjustments as needed, or compensate with initial tile placement.

With the map for your tile backsplash ready, prepare the area for installation.

Preparing the Tiles and Supplies

Before you can start the fun part of actually applying and sticking the tiles, take time to handle all the necessary prep work for your materials.

Choosing Your Adhesive

Your tile adhesive needs to be appropriate for the wall surface material. Use a latex thinset mortar for drywall or a cement-based mortar for masonry.

Gather Supplies

Make sure you have all required tile setting tools including trowels, spacers, grout float, mixing paddle, buckets, wet saw and safety gear.

Tile Nippers and Safety Gear

To cut tile edges and small notches for outlets, tile nippers cleanly break tile. Always wear safety goggles for tile cutting and dust.

Purchase High Quality Spacers

Plastic spacers maintain even grout line width around each tile for a professional finish. Buy enough for 1 spacer per tile.

Layout Tiles and Make Cuts

Based on your chalk line guides, lay tiles out in sections on a flat surface and pre-cut any pieces needed using a wet saw.

Mixing the Adhesive

Pour the adhesive powder into a bucket and gradually add the right amount of water. Mix to a smooth, lump-free consistency according to instructions.

With your layout set and materials prepped, it’s time for the fun part – installing the tiles!

Installing the Backsplash Tiles

Now we get to the rewarding hands-on work of setting the tiles to transform your space. Follow these tips for properly applying tiles to the wall surface:

Apply Adhesive to Wall

Use a notched trowel held at a 45° angle to spread adhesive evenly over the surface area, scraping down to create grooves.

Press and Twist Tiles into Place

Starting at your center line, press tiles firmly into place while giving a slight twist. Ensure full adhesive contact.

Check Alignment Frequently

As you place tiles, frequently step back and align them with your chalk lines and surrounding tiles. Adjust as needed.

Use Tile Spacers Consistently

Insert spacers around each tile edge to maintain even grout line spacing for a cohesive appearance.

Cut Edge and Around Outlets

Use nippers and wet saw to fit tile edges and cut openings for outlets. Insert trimmed tiles carefully.

Avoid Cured Adhesive

Don’t install tiles over spots where adhesive has dried fully. Reapply fresh adhesive as you go instead.

Clean Up Excess Adhesive

As needed, use a damp sponge to remove any adhesive that squeezes up between tiles to keep grout lines clear.

Give Tiles a Firm Press

Walk along the installation and give tiles an additional press into the adhesive using consistent, firm pressure.

Once all whole and cut tiles are applied, be sure they remain completely undisturbed for at least 24 hours as the adhesive fully cures and bonds – hands off!

Grouting the Backsplash

Grout fills the spaces between tiles, seals the installation, and gives a finished look. Follow these tips for flawless grout application:

Choose Grout Color

Select an appropriate grout color that complements your tiles. Contrasting or matching shades are both options.

Spread Spacer Plastic Underneath

Protect surfaces by placing plastic underneath the backsplash area before grouting.

Mix and Apply Grout

Prepare grout per package instructions. Use a rubber grout float to spread it diagonally over the surface, pressing into joints.

Clean Excess Grout

Wipe diagonally across the tiles with a damp sponge to remove excess grout off the surface while leaving grout in joint spaces.

Polish Grout Haze

Once grout in joints sets slightly, use a clean cloth to gently polish away any remaining haze or film on the tile surface.

Remove Grout Spacers

Carefully pop off each spacer gently with a knife once grout has set enough to allow removal without damaging joints.

Clean Up and Seal

Use a soft cloth to remove residual grout dust. Apply grout sealer evenly over all grouted areas following manufacturer directions.

Stand back and admire your newly tiled backsplash!

Caring for Your Tile Backsplash

Put effort into caring for your backsplash and it will stay looking beautiful for years to come:

  • Use a gentle cleaner designed for tile and grout for regular upkeep. Avoid harsh cleansers.
  • Re-seal grout lines annually or biannually to prevent staining and damage.
  • Inspect grout lines and re-apply grout as needed to prevent moisture issues behind tiles.
  • Handle any cracked or damaged tiles right away through replacement to prevent damage spreading.
  • Use a grout saw when removing old grout to limit risk of harming good tiles around the repair.

With proper care, your gorgeously installed backsplash adds character and upgraded style to your home for decades to come!

Frequently Asked Questions About Backsplash Installation

Many homeowners tackling their first tile backsplash install have some common questions about the process. Here are answers to some of the key concerns:

Do I Need to Remove Drywall Before Tiling a Backsplash?

Removing drywall is not necessary. Ensure the drywall is in good condition, free of moisture damage, holes, cracks or bowing. Clean it well and apply fresh paint if needed.

How Do I Cut Holes in Tile for Outlets?

Use a rotary tool or nippers to cut small side notches towards the hole. Then tap carefully on the cutoff piece to remove it without damaging the surrounding tile edges. Use wet saw for straight back cuts.

What Type of Tile Backsplash is Easiest to Install?

The subway tile style of rectangular tiles stacked in a bricklike pattern is one of the simplest layouts for DIY installation. TILE reduces complex cuts.

How Do I Get a Perfectly Straight Grout Line?

Use plastic spacers pushed up against each tile edge. This maintains even width in the joints for straight uniform grout lines across your entire backsplash.

Can Any Adhesive Be Used to Install Backsplash Tile?

No. Be sure your adhesive is designed specifically for the wall surface material you are tiling onto, such as modified thinset for drywall or cement-based mortar for masonry.

How Long Does Tile Adhesive Take to Dry?

Adhesive drying times vary based on products used. In general, 24 hours is adequate for tile adhesive to fully set and cure before applying grout or using the surface.

What’s the Easiest Way to Apply Grout?

Use a soft rubber grout float to push grout diagonally over the tile surface to completely fill joints. Hold at a 45° angle and use a figure-8 motion for most control.

How Soon Can I Get Grout Wet After Grouting?

It’s best to wait at least 72 hours before regular water exposure when grouting with traditional cement-based grout. Epoxy grouts can handle moisture after 24 hours of curing.


Installing a backsplash tile project brings new style to your space and satisfaction from boosting the value of your home with your own handiwork. Carefully following the steps in this guide will have you achieving professional-looking results. From adept tile cutting to expert grouting techniques, you can gain confidence in new skills with each tiling task completed. Once your gorgeous backsplash is installed, be sure to admire it often and care for it properly. Your customized tiles will beautifully reflect your personal design taste, adding a focal point of eye-catching appeal.