Adding a backsplash to your kitchen can instantly upgrade the look and feel of the space. However, finishing the edges of the backsplash properly is crucial for a seamless and polished result. There are several techniques for finishing a backsplash’s edges depending on the materials used and overall look you want to achieve.
Planning the Backsplash Layout
Before installing the backsplash, take time to map out the layout. Consider the following:
- Size of the backsplash area – Measure the space to determine how many tiles you will need. Allow for extra tiles in case any break or need replacement.
- Pattern design – Make sure to plan any pattern repeats and align grout lines.
- Outlets and switches – Account for any outlets, switches, or fixtures and cut tiles to fit around them.
- Edge finishing location – Decide where you want finished edges to be visible or hidden.
- Inside and outside corners – Plan how tile courses will intersect at corners.
Proper planning will ensure the finished edges look clean, professional, and integrated into the design.
Finishing Exposed Edge Options
For backsplash edges that will be visible and not covered by countertops, cabinets, or appliances, here are some finishing techniques:
Bullnose tiles have one or more rounded finished edges. They are ideal for exposed backsplash edges as they create a smooth, safe transition from the wall to counter or cabinetry. Bullnose tiles come in many materials like ceramic, porcelain, glass, and natural stone.
- Clean, finished look
- Variety of materials and styles
- Coordinates with field tiles
- Safer rounded edges compared to sharp tile edges
- More expensive than basic tiles
- Limited size availability
- Rounded edges can collect dirt if not cleaned properly
To install bullnose tiles:
- Cut field tiles to fit up to the bullnose edge. Leave a 1/8″ gap.
- Apply thinset mortar and place bullnose tiles alone the edges using tile spacers.
- Grout and seal as normal. Apply caulk between bullnose and counter/cabinets.
Tile Edging Trim
Tile edging trim provides a straight alternative to bullnose tiles. Options include metal, plastic, or vinyl strips cut to size. Some have a lip to protect the tile edge.
- Less expensive than bullnose tiles
- Straight edge for modern look
- Easy to cut to length
- Range of colors and finishes
- Can appear less finished than bullnose
- Grout lines still visible
- Metal or vinyl can show wear over time
To install tile edging:
- Measure and cut pieces to fit backsplash edges.
- Apply thinset mortar and press trim against the edges.
- Grout up to the trim. Use caulk between trim and counter/cabinets.
Oversized tiles like 12”x24” rectangles can create a dramatic backsplash look. Their large size allows the edges to overhang countertops slightly, removing the need for edging.
- Modern, sleek look
- Less finishing work required
- Make a statement
- Overhang can collect dirt and moisture
- Limited large-format tile options
- Harder installation requiring flat, level substrate
To install oversized tiles:
- Make sure walls are smooth and plumb for proper install.
- Use tile spacers to leave small gaps between tiles and countertops.
- Apply high quality modified thinset mortar suitable for large tiles.
- Grout and seal tile; caulk where tiles meet counter.
Edge-graining involves arranging rectangular tiles vertically with the elongated side exposed rather than the shorter end. This fully exposes the tile sides as finished edges around the perimeter.
- Finished look without bullnose or trim
- Creative pattern opportunity
- Matches field tile color and finish
- Pattern may not suit all designs
- Grouting elongated grout lines can be tricky
To edge-grain tiles:
- Lay out tile pattern, arranging vertical tiles along edges.
- Cut border tiles as needed to fit.
- Maintain 1/8’ grout lines when installing tiles.
- Grout and seal; caulk between tiles and counter/cabinets.
Finishing Hidden Edges
For edges that will be hidden behind cabinets, countertops, or appliances, choose a simple finished edge:
Pencil trim is a rounded vinyl, metal, or plastic trim that covers sharp tile edges. It attaches directly to the tiles for a clean finish.
- Quick and easy application
- Multiple colors available
- Very affordable
- Less finished look than bullnose
- Can come off over time
To add pencil trim:
- Cut pieces to fit backsplash edges.
- Apply trim directly to tile edges, securing with adhesive.
- Run a bead of caulk along trim edge.
Origininal Tile Edges
For hidden edges, you can also leave the original tile edge exposed. This avoids added trim costs.
- No added trim or labor costs
- Thinset mortar adheres tile edges completely
- Exposed sharp edges
- Less finished appearance; grout lines visible
To leave original tile edges:
- Cut and install tiles as normal with 1/8” grout lines.
- Apply thinset to exposed edges.
- Apply caulk along edges that will meet counter/cabinets.
Cutting Tiles Around Obstacles
Proper planning is key when cutting tiles to fit around outlets, fixtures, pipes, and inside corners:
Outlets & Switches
- Turn off power at the breaker.
- Remove outlet/switch cover plates.
- Measure and cut tiles to fit up to the box edges.
- After installing tiles, attach extender rings and covers.
- Disconnect or remove fixtures when possible.
- Measure and cut tiles to create gaps for fixtures and pipes.
- After tiling, re-install fixtures over tiles.
- Plan overall layout to stagger vertical grout lines.
- Cut tiles to fit using a wet saw. Grind cut edges smooth.
- Alternate full and cut tiles when installing.
Follow these tips for best grouting results:
- Wait at least 24 hours after installing tiles before grouting.
- Apply grout release to polished tiles beforehand.
- Use a rubber grout float and work diagonally across tiles to fill joints.
- Avoid excess grout sitting on tile surfaces. Wipe off residue immediately.
- Smooth and shape joints when grout becomes firm.
- Once dry, polish with a soft cloth to prevent haze.
Properly caulking the seams between the backsplash and surrounding surfaces prevents moisture damage:
- Ensure backsplash edges and trim pieces are thoroughly dry first.
- Apply painter’s tape parallel to seams to keep caulk straight.
- Load caulk tube into gun and cut tip at 45 degree angle.
- Push caulk into seams with steady pressure, overfilling slightly.
- Use a damp finger or tool to smooth caulk before it dries.
- Remove tape after caulk is dry and excess is trimmed off.
How do you finish a backsplash with no countertop?
For exposed edges without a countertop, install bullnose tiles, tile trim, or utilize an oversized tile overhang. Finish by caulking where tiles meet the wall.
Should you caulk above a backsplash?
Caulking above the backsplash where it meets the wall is not necessary. But caulking along the bottom edge where it meets the countertop is important to prevent moisture penetration.
What is the most common backsplash height?
The most common backsplash height is 4 inches. However, backsplashes can range from as little as 2 inches to as high as you want them. Standard tile sizes make 4 or 6 inches common.
Can you use four different backsplash tiles?
Yes, you can use four different backsplash tiles. To ensure it looks cohesive, keep tiles in a similar color scheme or within the same material. Balance pattern repeats and maintain proper grout line alignment.
Should backsplash tile match floor tile?
Matching the backsplash and floor tiles is not required. Contrasting tile can actually help delineate the separate spaces. If you do want them to match, use the same tile, colors and grout.
Finishing backsplash edges properly not only makes them look attractive but also prevents water infiltration and increases their longevity. Plan your design, select quality materials suitable for edges, and take time to install them correctly. Inside corners and seams where the backsplash meets other surfaces also need special attention. With the right approach, you can achieve restaurant-quality results and significantly upgrade your kitchen.