How to Do a Kitchen Backsplash

A kitchen backsplash is a functional and decorative element that protects the wall behind a stove, sink, or countertop from water damage, heat, grease splatters, and more. Installing a new backsplash is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to update the look of your kitchen. With a variety of tile, stone, glass, and metal options to choose from, you can create a backsplash that matches your kitchen’s style and complements your cabinets and countertops. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps for successfully planning, preparing for, and installing a beautiful and functional kitchen backsplash.

Selecting Materials for Your Backsplash

Choosing the right material for your backsplash is one of the most important decisions you’ll make during this project. Consider the pros, cons, and costs of various backsplash materials:

Ceramic Tile

Pros: Affordable, durable, easy to clean, variety of colors/textures/sizes, DIY friendly

Cons: Can chip or crack, grout can stain

Cost: $5-$50 per sq ft installed

Ceramic tile backsplashes are one of the most popular options. Glazed ceramic tiles are water-resistant, while unglazed tiles can develop patina over time. Choose a tile that will withstand heat and stains.

Porcelain Tile

Pros: More durable than ceramic, water-resistant, variety of styles

Cons: Prone to chipping if struck, grout can stain

Cost: $10-$100 per sq ft installed

Denser and more durable than ceramic, porcelain tile stands up well to moisture and heat. Use light grout colors to prevent staining.

Glass Tile

Pros: Variety of colors/patterns, water-resistant, easy to clean

Cons: Expensive, tiles can crack or chip

Cost: $20-$50 per sq ft installed

With endless color and pattern options, glass tile creates a shiny, eye-catching backsplash. Use care when handling the delicate tiles. Smaller mosaic tiles are often mounted on mesh sheets for easy installation.

Natural Stone Tile

Pros: Elegant, heat/stain-resistant, variety of options

Cons: Expensive, may need sealing, prone to staining

Cost: $40-$100 per sq ft installed

Granite, marble, travertine, and slate backsplashes can add natural beauty. Check that the stone you choose has the durability needed for a kitchen backsplash. Porous options like marble will need regular sealing.

Metal Tile

Pros: Durable, water-resistant, easy to clean, modern look

Cons: Conducts heat, prone to scratches, expensive

Cost: $30-$100 per sq ft installed

Metal backsplashes like stainless steel, copper, or tin add glamour. Ensure the metal you select is intended for backsplashes and can withstand heat and moisture.

Peel-and-Stick Tile

Pros: Affordable, easy installation, variety of patterns/textures, removable

Cons: Not as durable as traditional tile, prone to moisture damage

Cost: $5-$20 per sq ft

Self-adhesive peel-and-stick backsplash tiles can create the look of traditional tile without complex installation. Ensure your wall surface is perfectly smooth and thoroughly cleaned before application.

Planning Your Layout

Once you’ve selected your backsplash materials, it’s time to map out the tile layout.

  • Measure the total area of the backsplash surface – measure the length and height and multiply to determine total square footage.
  • Draw the backsplash area to scale on graph paper, indicating any outlets, windows, or built-in appliances.
  • Map out tile placement, using your graph paper sketch as a guide. Play with different layout options.
  • Calculate how many full tiles will be needed to cover the area. Having to cut very thin slivers of tile can be tricky.
  • For subway tile, determine whether tiles will be installed horizontally, vertically, or in a brick pattern.
  • Incorporate design features like borders, geometric designs, tile accents, or mosaic tile inserts.
  • Have 10-15% more tile than measurements indicate to allow for breakage, cuts, and future repairs.

Thorough planning and accurate measurements ensure you purchase enough materials and achieve the layout you want.

Preparing the Work Area

Once your design is mapped out, start preparing the kitchen for the installation.

  • Remove existing backsplash tile or wall covering if present using a putty knife, hammer, and pry bar.
  • Inspect the wall for any damage once existing backsplash is removed. Fill holes or cracks with spackle and sand smooth.
  • Clean the backsplash area thoroughly – remove any grease, soot, paint, or grime so the tile will adhere properly.
  • Mask off countertops, floors, and other surfaces with painter’s tape and drop cloths to protect from debris and dripping thinset mortar.
  • Turn off all appliances, fixtures, and electrical outlets that are in or near the backsplash area.
  • Cover anyawkward protrusions like pipework with blocking made of plywood secured with screws.
  • Apply painter’s tape 2/3 up from the countertop to mark the bottom line for tiles. Use a level to keep the line perfectly straight.

A cleanly prepared surface helps tiles adhere and ensures straight even rows. Taking time to properly protect surfaces saves cleanup work later.

Installing the Backsplash Tile

Once prepped, it’s time to start setting your tiles. Follow these tips for proper installation:

Step 1: Mix and Apply Thinset Mortar

  • Mix thinset mortar adhesive according to package directions. Work in small batches that can be used within its working time.
  • Apply a coat of thinset to the backsplash area using a notched trowel held at a 45° angle.
  • Spread only as much thinset as can be tiled over within the adhesive’s working time.

Thinset mortar should be evenly applied to fully support tiles and prevent cracks or voids. Consistent notched trowel strokes create straight grout lines.

Step 2: Set the Backsplash Tiles

  • Starting at the bottom corner, press tiles firmly into the thinset, using spacers for consistent grout lines.
  • Check tiles for level and vertical/horizontal alignment as you work using a level and tape measure. Adjust as needed.
  • Periodically remove a tile and inspect thinset coverage on its back – there should be full contact between mortar and tile.
  • Slide tiles across each other for a snug fit without any gaps or lips between tiles.

Setting tiles properly ensures they are fully supported for maximum strength and optimal appearance. Don’t rush – straight, level tiles make the rest of the job easier.

Step 3: Cut Tile Pieces as Needed

  • Measure and mark tiles to be cut using a tile cutter, wet saw, or snap cutter depending on the material.
  • Cut tile with the good side facing up for ceramic, porcelain, or stone. Glass tiles must be cut with decorative side down.
  • Cuts should be made 1/16″-1/8″ smaller than the space to allow room for grout lines. Test cuts on scrap material first.

Carefully cutting custom tile pieces for corners, edges, outlets, and other gaps gives a flawless finished look. Take time to make precise cuts.

Step 4: Let Tile Set and Apply Grout

  • Let thinset mortar fully cure for 24-48 hours before continuing. Do periodic touch tests to check.
  • Mix sanded tile grout according to package directions. Apply grout using a rubber grout float, pressing into joints.
  • Wipe diagonally across tiles with a damp sponge to clean off excess grout. Rinse sponge frequently.
  • Once grout dries, wipe backsplash with a soft cloth to polish and clean off haze.

Letting thinset cure prevents tiles shifting. Clean grouting and polishing ensures your backsplash looks amazing for years to come.

Securing Specialty Backsplash Materials

Certain backsplash materials require some special preparation and installation steps:

Glass Tile Backsplashes

  • Glass tiles are secured using a more flexible latex-modified thinset to allow for temperature changes.
  • Handle glass tiles gently to prevent cracking and breaking. Use plastic tile spacers.
  • When grouting, take care not to scratch the surface. Use a grout release or sealant prior to grouting.

Metal Tile Backsplashes

  • Use fiberglass mesh thinset and grout for moisture resistance and flexibility.
  • Cut metal tiles with sheet metal snips. File cut edges smooth.
  • Use care when removing excess grout from delicate metal tile to prevent scratching.

Peel-and-Stick Tile Backsplashes

  • Ensure the wall surface is perfectly clean, smooth, and dry so the adhesive adheres properly.
  • Don’t apply peel-and-stick tile directly over existing tile. Remove old backsplash completely.
  • Cut using a utility knife and ruler. Apply pressure gently but firmly to create a tight seal.

Following material-specific recommendations results in a long-lasting, high-performing backsplash. Do a test sample if unsure of specialty tile techniques.

Grouting and Caulking the Finished Backsplash

Once all tiles are firmly set, grouting and caulking complete your backsplash installation:

Grouting Tiled Backsplashes

  • Allow thinset mortar to fully cure before grouting, typically 24-48 hours. Do a touch test.
  • Apply grout carefully using a rubber grout float. Push into joints until completely filled.
  • Clean excess grout off tile faces using a damp sponge in diagonal motions to prevent pulling grout from joints.
  • Once grout is dry, polish the tiles with a soft cloth to remove haze and reveal their true color.

Proper grouting keeps tiles locked in and protects the underlying wall from moisture. Thorough grout joint cleaning gives a crisp finished look.

Caulking the Perimeters

  • Run a bead of silicone caulk around all edges where the backsplash meets the wall or countertop.
  • Use a caulk smoothing tool or dampened finger to spread caulk for a smooth finished look.
  • Remove any excess caulk with a paper towel before it dries. Wipe area clean.

Waterproof caulk seals the edges and prevents moisture from getting behind the backsplash. Carefully smooth and clean excess for optimal appearance.

Maintaining Your Backsplash

Once your new backsplash is installed, follow these tips to keep it looking like new:

  • Seal natural stone backsplashes annually with a natural stone sealer.
  • Simple warm soapy water is ideal for routine cleaning. Avoid harsh cleaners.
  • Re-grout as needed to prevent staining or damage from moisture penetration.
  • Avoid scraping or vigorous scrubbing that can scratch the surface.
  • Re-caulk perimeter edges when wear and gaps appear to prevent moisture issues.
  • Spot treat stubborn stains with specialized stone or tile cleaners. Test in an inconspicuous area first.
  • Replace any cracked, broken, or damaged tiles right away. Save extra materials.

Proper care and maintenance makes your backsplash more stain, moisture, and heat resistant. Take steps at the first sign of damage to prevent bigger issues.

Tips for a Successful Backsplash Project

Installing a kitchen backsplash boosts style and function. For a job done right:

  • Gather all materials and tools needed before starting. Set up a tidy workspace.
  • Follow backsplash material manufacturer’s instructions for design specifications.
  • Take time to properly prepare the backsplash area before tiling.
  • Work slowly and carefully. Don’t rush through tile setting or grouting.
  • Clean up thoroughly throughout the project to avoid debris dried in place.
  • Ask for help lifting heavy materials or with tasks requiring extra hands.
  • Be flexible – imperfections are part of the charm with natural tile materials.

Planning ahead, moving methodically through steps, and cleaning up consistently results in a stunning DIY backsplash you’ll truly enjoy for years.

Frequently Asked Questions About Backsplashes

Many questions come up when taking on a backsplash installation project. Here are helpful answers to some of the most common backsplash FAQs:

Does the Backsplash Have to Match the Countertop?

Matching the backsplash to the countertop is not mandatory. Contrasting or complementary backsplash tile can look very striking. Just ensure colors and styles flow nicely. Using the same material for both can be an easier match.

How Is a Tile Backsplash Installed?

Ceramic or porcelain backsplash tile installation involves applying thinset mortar to the wall, pressing tiles into place, leaving space for grout lines. After the thinset cures, grout is spread into the joints between tiles. Excess grout is cleaned off.

What Thinset is Best for Kitchen Backsplash?

For kitchen backsplashes, white polymer-modified thinset mortar works best. It provides maximum adhesion for ceramic, porcelain, or stone backsplash tiles and better withstands moisture.

How Do You Waterproof a Tile Backsplash?

To waterproof a tile backsplash:

  • Use water-resistant backsplash materials like ceramic, porcelain, or glass tile.
  • Seal natural stone tiles with a penetrating sealer.
  • Apply high quality, mold-resistant grout and caulk all seams.
  • Re-seal porous tiles annually. Re-grout and re-caulk as needed.

How Much Does it Cost to Install a Tile Backsplash?

A tile backsplash installed professionally typically costs $7-$35 per square foot depending on tile type, patterns, prep work needed, and local labor costs. Simple ceramic tile starts around $7-15 per sq. ft. Natural stone, metal, or glass tile costs $25-35 per sq. ft.

What is the Most Popular Backsplash Tile?

The most popular backsplash tile is white subway tile – classic 3×6” glossy ceramic tiles installed in a brick pattern. White marble, ceramic mosaic tiles, and porcelain or ceramic tiles that mimic natural stone are also very popular and timeless options.

Should Backsplash Tile Go All the Way to the Ceiling?

Backsplashes typically end at 4 inches above the maximum height they need to protect. Often 18-20 inches above countertops or appliances. Full height backsplashes can suit more modern styles but may overwhelm a space visually. Partial backsplashes are most common.


Installing a kitchen backsplash can transform the style and function of your cooking space. With proper planning, careful preparation, and attention to detail throughout the installation process, you can achieve stunning results. A weekend of hands-on work can give you a customized backsplash that provides personality and flair and makes your kitchen truly feel complete. The range of beautiful, durable backsplash materials available means you can find the perfect option to suit your kitchen’s decor. With these steps and tips, you can install an eye-catching, high performing backsplash that will upgrade your cooking space for years to come.