How to Do Herringbone Backsplash

Installing a herringbone backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom can add visual interest and give your space a beautiful, unique look. While it requires some careful planning and precision, a DIY herringbone backsplash is an achievable project for an intermediate DIYer. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to do herringbone backsplash tile installation.

Choose the Right Tile

Choosing the right tile is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your herringbone backsplash. Consider the following:

Tile Material

Popular options include:

  • Ceramic – budget-friendly, available in a wide variety of colors, styles, and finishes. Durable and water-resistant.
  • Porcelain – less prone to chipping and staining than ceramic. More durable and water-resistant.
  • Natural stone – marble, travertine, slate, etc. Add visual depth and texture. Requires sealing.
  • Glass – shiny, modern look. Durable but chips easily. Difficult to cut.

Porcelain and ceramic tiles tend to work best for herringbone backsplash.

Tile Size

Opt for smaller tiles, like 2×4 inch subway tiles or mosaic tiles. Large tiles don’t bend well and are difficult to install in a herringbone pattern.

Tile Finish

Consider the amount of texture:

  • Smooth glossy finish – elegant, easy to clean. Shows more grout.
  • Textured or matte finish – hides grout well. More challenging to clean.
  • Metallic or iridescent – adds glamour and shine.

Tile Color

Choose a tile that complements your cabinetry, countertops, appliances, and overall kitchen or bathroom aesthetics. Warm neutrals like white, beige and brown are versatile. Bold colors like navy blue make a dramatic statement.

Plan the Layout

Carefully mapping out the tile layout is crucial for a seamless herringbone pattern. Consider:

Staggered vs. Aligned

Staggering every other row creates a disjointed, zig-zag effect. Aligning the rows results in a neater, sharper pattern.

Pointing Left vs. Right

The directional orientation drastically impacts the visual look. Mix it up by pointing some rows left and some right.

Border Tiles

Plan for edge tiles along the perimeter. Borders tiles present a cleaner transition from wall to floor.

Accent Tiles

Add pops of color or texture by substituting occasional tiles. For example, replace a white tile with a bold blue one every dozen rows or so.

Grout Lines

Grout lines will be more visible, especially on glossy tile. Select a coordinating grout color.

Starting Point

Determine the most inconspicuous starting point, like behind the stove or under upper cabinets.

Calculate How Much Tile is Needed

To determine the tile quantity needed:

  • Measure the total square footage of the backsplash area. Round up.
  • Account for 10% extra for tile cuts and breakage.
  • For a staggered layout, purchase 15% more tile than the total square footage.
  • Buy all tile at once for consistent dye lots.

Gather Supplies

Acquire all necessary tools and materials before starting:


Purchase all tile needed according to measurements. Include a few extras.

Tile Adhesive

Choose an appropriate adhesive for the tile type. Latex or polymer modified thinset mortar works for most wall tiles.


Select an unsanded grout in a color that complements the tile.


Use a notched trowel suitable for the tile size. Bigger tiles require deeper notches.

Mixing Bucket

Get a 5-gallon bucket for mixing adhesive and grout.

Tile Spacers

Plastic spacers maintain even grout line width.

Tile Nippers

Nipper pliers cleanly cut irregular gaps. Required for intricate cuts.

Tile Cutters

A manual cutter has a wheel scorer and snapping action. A wet saw makes precision miter cuts.

Grout Float

A grout float smoothly spreads the grout into joints.

Grout Sponge

Use a grout sponge and bucket for wiping away excess grout.

Safety Gear

Wear goggles and a dust mask when cutting tile.

Prepare the Surface

Ensure the backsplash area is ready for tile:

  • Clean thoroughly to remove grease, soap residue, and grime.
  • Fill any holes or imperfections with spackle compound. Sand smooth.
  • Remove existing backsplash tile with a pry bar and hammer. Scrape off all old adhesive.
  • Prime painted walls to prevent bonding issues. Apply primer and let dry.
  • Install backerboard if surface is unsuitable drywall. Secure with construction adhesive and screws.
  • Mark stud locations. Tiles may need support screws driven into studs.

Lay Out the Pattern

Dry laying a few rows is strongly recommended to visualize the pattern.

  • Mix up different tile orientations. Stagger rows to offset seams.
  • Use spacers to gauge the width of grout lines. Adjust spacing as needed.
  • Snap perpendicular chalk lines as guides. This helps keep rows straight.
  • Make adjustments until satisfied with the layout.

Mix and Apply the Adhesive

Refer to adhesive packaging for specific mixing and application instructions. In general:

  • Pour adhesive powder into bucket and gradually add water.
  • Mix with a paddle to a smooth, lump-free consistency. Let slake for 5 minutes.
  • Re-mix before using. Do not add more water.
  • Apply adhesive to the wall using the notched trowel at a 45 degree angle.
  • Spread only enough adhesive that can be tiled within 10-15 minutes before drying.

Install the Tile

Once adhesive is spread, it’s time to set the tile:

  • Position the first tile in the corner as a guide. Use spacers against edges.
  • Press tiles firmly into the adhesive using a slight twisting motion.
  • Make sure tile faces align evenly and flat. Use a level across several tiles.
  • Cut border and filler tiles as needed with nippers or wet saw. File edges smooth.
  • Drive support screws into wall studs behind tiles, if required.
  • Allow the adhesive to cure per manufacturer instructions before grouting. Typically 24 hours.

Apply the Grout

Grouting seals the joints and creates a finished look:

  • Mix grout powder with water to a thick peanut butter consistency.
  • Spread grout over the tile using a rubber grout float, packing joints completely.
  • Let grout firm up and haze over for 10-15 minutes. Mist with water if drying too fast.
  • Wipe diagonally across grout lines with a damp sponge to remove excess grout and smooth joints.
  • Rinse sponge frequently and change rinse water often for best results.
  • Allow grout to fully cure for 72 hours before exposure to water.

Tips for Achieving Flawless Results

Follow these tips and tricks for executing a picture-perfect herringbone installation:

  • Maintain 1/8” grout lines for cleaner look. Wider joints collect more grout.
  • Level starter rows with shims before adhering tiles. Don’t rely on the wall being plumb.
  • Use a ledger board above first row. This provides a straight edge to align against.
  • Cut holes for outlets and switches with an angle grinder before tiling around them.
  • Tape off adjacent areas, like countertops, to prevent adhesive and grout from staining.
  • Vary the tile orientation often. Don’t establish a predictable repeating pattern.
  • Avoid L-shaped corner joints. Wrap tile edges around for a neater finish.
  • Inspect the floor under foot frequently for dropped spacers to avoid crunching them.
  • Use a grout sealing product to protect grout lines from stains and discoloration.

Cleaning and Maintaining the Backsplash

Caring for the backsplash properly helps keep it looking like new:

  • Seal natural stone tiles with a penetrating sealer to prevent staining. Reapply yearly.
  • Avoid abrasive cleaners or pads that can scratch the tile surface.
  • Use a pH-neutral cleaner suitable for the tile type. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Re-caulk joints every 2 years or sooner if cracking or peeling occurs.
  • Address re-grouting needs promptly to prevent moisture issues behind tiles.
  • Take extra care when cleaning around metallic or iridescent glass tile.

Installing a herringbone backsplash brings stylish dimension and visual appeal to your kitchen or bath. With thoughtful planning and precise execution, a DIY herringbone tile project can create a beautiful feature wall to enjoy for years to come. Let the unique geometric pattern add that special decorator touch.

Frequently Asked Questions About Herringbone Backsplash

Many questions come up when planning a herringbone backsplash installation. Here are answers to some of the most common queries:

Is herringbone difficult for a DIYer to install?

Herringbone is more challenging than basic subway tile, but it’s achievable for an intermediate DIYer who carefully plans the layout and has some tile cutting experience. Patience and precision are key.

What’s the best grout color for herringbone?

A white or very light gray grout works well with most colors. It shows the pattern while subtly receding into the background. Choose a darker grout with white tile or match the grout with colored tile.

How do you cut the border tiles?

Border tiles typically need rounded corner edge cuts to fit properly. Use a wet saw or manual tile cutter to notch closely spaced v-shaped cuts, then nip away the shards with pliers. Finish edges with a file.

Should herringbone go all the way to the ceiling?

Not necessarily. Many homeowners opt to do herringbone only part way up the wall as an accent. Edge with pencil liner trim for a finished look. Full height can make a smaller kitchen feel boxed in.

Is herringbone still in style for 2023?

Absolutely! The classic zig-zag herringbone pattern remains one of the hottest kitchen and bathroom backsplash trends. Its timeless geometric elegance never goes out of style.

How do you clean grout haze off herringbone tile?

Use a barely-damp microfiber cloth in a circular motion. Too much moisture can stain porous tiles. Vinegar diluted with water also helps cut through haze. Rinse thoroughly.

Can you put herringbone tile on the floor?

It’s possible but not ideal. The irregular staggered edges are uncomfortable underfoot. Placing it in low-traffic areas like a bathroom floor can work. Use a small tile size and low grout lines.


With its striking zig-zag motif, herringbone backsplash tile brings mesmerizing visual appeal and dimension to your living space. Set against a subway tile backdrop, as an entire feature wall, or simply as an accent band, the geometric pattern delights and intrigues. By thoughtfully planning the layout, carefully preparing the surface, methodically installing the tile, and properly maintaining the finished project, even someone with basic DIY skills can execute a stunning herringbone backsplash. Embrace this iconic look that beautifully graces kitchens, bathrooms, and beyond. Let your creative spirit shine through this artistic and enthralling tile design challenge.