How to Hang Backsplash Tile

Installing a backsplash tile can transform the look of your kitchen or bathroom by adding an attractive, easy-to-clean focal point. While tiling may seem daunting, it’s a DIY project most homeowners can tackle with the right planning, tools, and materials. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to successfully hang backsplash tile like a pro.

Choose Your Backsplash Tile

The first step is selecting the tile itself. There are endless options when it comes to backsplash tiles, so take your time and consider the following:


Ceramic and porcelain tiles are popular choices as they provide an affordable, durable, and easy-to-clean option. Natural stone tiles like marble, travertine, and granite add luxurious visual appeal. Glass tiles can create a shiny, sleek look. Mosaic tiles are great for adding intricate details.


Consider the existing colors and finishes in your kitchen or bathroom. Contrasting or complementary colors and patterns can make the backsplash pop. Neutral colors are versatile and timeless.


Matte, glossy, textured, or smooth – the finish impacts the overall look and feel. Glossy finishes have high shine while matte is more subtle. Textured finishes like stone add depth.


Smaller tiles like mosaics and 4-inch squares allow for detail work. Larger tiles are faster to install. Mixing sizes can create interest.


From modern to farmhouse, the options are unlimited. Choose a style that matches your overall home decor.


Tile prices vary greatly, from $1 per square foot to over $50 per square foot for high-end tile. Set a realistic budget beforehand.

Plan the Layout

Once you’ve selected the tile, it’s time to map out the layout. This is a key planning step since the tile layout impacts the overall visual effect. Consider the following:

Space to Tile

Measure the backsplash area to determine the square footage. This allows you to estimate how much tile you’ll need.

Tile Pattern and Orientation

Basic patterns like brick or grid layouts are beginner-friendly. Or get creative with geometric, mosaic, overlapping or angled layouts. Decide between horizontal, vertical, or diagonal tile orientation.

Accent Tiles

Accent tiles in a different color, texture, or pattern add visual interest. Use sparingly as accents.

Borders and Edging

Frame the backsplash with borders or edge tiles to finish off the look.

Focal Point

Use tile layout to create a focal point, for example behind the stove or around a window.

Make a detailed tile layout plan to refer to during installation. Some additional planning for tile layout:

  • Tile around outlets, switches, and fixtures.
  • Minimize small awkward cuts by adjusting tile spacing.
  • Use level lines for even installation.
  • Choose grout colors to complement or contrast tile.

Gather Materials and Tools

Installing a tile backsplash requires certain materials and tools. Be sure to have the following on hand before starting:

Tile and Grout

Purchase about 10-15% extra tile to account for breakages, cuts, and future repairs. Have grout colors selected.


Cement, fiber cement, or fiberglass backerboard provides a sturdy base for tile adhesion.

Trowel and Mixing Bucket

For mixing thinset mortar used to apply tile.

Notched Trowel

A notched trowel is used to spread thinset mortar evenly.

Tile Cutter

Cuts ceramic, porcelain, or stone tiles to size.

Tile Spacers

Spacers maintain even grout lines between tiles.

Levels and Straight Edges

Ensures tile application is plumb and level.

Grout Float and Grout Sponge

Applying and cleaning grout between tiles.


Waterproof silicone sealant finishes edges and corners.

Safety Gear

Gloves, goggles, knee pads, and N-95 respirator mask for safety.

Prepare the Surface

Prepping the installation surface is an important first step:

  • Clean Surface – Remove any existing backsplash. Clean the area thoroughly to remove grime, grease, and debris.
  • Repair Wall – Fix any holes, cracks, or uneven areas in the wall. The surface should be as smooth as possible for proper application.
  • Install Backerboard – Cut cement, fiber cement, or fiberglass backerboard to fit the area. Secure with screws into studs every 8 inches.
  • Waterproof Backerboard – Seal seams and holes with mesh tape and thinset. Applying a waterproofing membrane provides extra moisture protection.
  • Mark Tile Layout Lines – Lightly sketch tile layout lines in pencil directly on the backerboard as a guide. Include center lines, level lines, and tile spacing.

Proper prep saves time and frustration during installation. The backsplash area should be smooth, sturdy, plumb, and ready for tile.

Spread Thinset Mortar

Thinset mortar bonds the tile to the installation surface. Using a notched trowel, apply a thin, even layer of thinset to the lower part of the backsplash area. Apply just enough that can be tiled over within 15-20 minutes before the thinset dries.

Key tips for working with thinset mortar:

  • Choose polymer-modified thinset for strongest bond.
  • Spread thinset in straight, even lines using a notched trowel held at a 45° angle.
  • Apply 1/4”-3/8” layer of thinset adhesive. Spread in the direction you will lay the tile.
  • Only cover sections that can be tiled over before the thinset dries. Work in small sections.
  • Let thinset sit briefly so moisture evaporates from surface. This allows the adhesive to cure properly.
  • Regularly scrape out built up mortar from trowel notches to maintain consistency.

Applying thinset mortar evenly is crucial for proper tile adhesion and preventing cracks once cured.

Cut Tile to Size

Use a wet tile saw to cut any perimeter tiles or accent tiles to proper size. Key tips:

  • Measure and mark tiles to be cut with a pencil.
  • Align marked tiles on wet saw and cut to size.
  • Make precise cuts in one smooth motion for clean edges.
  • Adjust blade height just above tile thickness.
  • Spray tile with water or wet saw reservoir to minimize dust and overheating.

Cut all specialty edge tiles prior to installation. Having pre-cut tiles ready to install speeds up the process.

Apply Tile to Thinset

Once thinset is prepped and tiles are cut, it’s time to set the tiles:

  • Work in small sections, applying tiles to areas with fresh thinset adhesive.
  • Use tile spacers between tiles to maintain consistent grout line spacing.
  • Press tiles firmly into the thinset with a slight twisting motion. Use a rubber mallet if needed.
  • Push tiles toward any installed adjacent tiles to keep spacing even.
  • Ensure tiles are fully embedded in the thinset with no lifting edges or corners.
  • Tap down any raised or uneven tiles before thinset cures.
  • Clean away excess thinset squeezed out between tiles with a damp sponge.
  • Allow thinset to cure for 24 hours before grouting.

Applying tiles carefully results in strong adhesion and straight, consistent tile spacing for a pro-quality look.

Apply Grout Between Tiles

Once tile thinset adhesive has fully cured, it’s time to grout:

Mix Grout

Mix grout per manufacturer instructions. Let stand 5-10 minutes so polymers activate. Re-mix just before grouting.

Apply Grout

Holding grout float at a 45° angle, spread grout forcefully in circular motions packing into tile joints. Remove excess grout by holding float edge at 90° angle and scraping across tiles.

Clean Grout Haze

Wipe a damp grout sponge diagonally across tiles to clean grout haze. Rinse sponge frequently. Final clean up can be done once grout dries.

Allow Drying

Let grout dry 24-48 hours for lighter grout. Darker grout may require 72 hours drying time. Avoid getting grout wet during this timeframe.

Grout completes the backsplash, so take time to apply grout properly between all tiles for strong, finished results.

Seal and Finish the Tiled Backsplash

Once fully dry, the backsplash is ready for finishing:

  • Apply grout sealer to protect porous grout from stains and discoloration.
  • Use silicone sealant along countertop-backsplash junction, around fixtures, at tile edges, and in corners.
  • Apply trim pieces or end caps along unfinished tile edges for a clean look.
  • Caulk any gaps between wall and backsplash tiles with flexible caulk.
  • Clean the backsplash one final time with pH neutral cleaner.

Sealing and properly finishing the backsplash keeps it looking great for years to come. Enjoy your new, professionally installed backsplash!

backsplash tile FAQs

Below are some common questions homeowners have about installing backsplash tile:

What’s the best way to cut backsplash tiles?

The best method is cutting with a wet tile saw. This produces clean, precise cuts. A manual cutter or wet saw with a diamond blade also works for straight cuts. Use a tile nipper only for small nicks.

Does backsplash tile need to be sealed?

Sealing is highly recommended. It helps prevent staining, discoloration, and moisture damage in grout and natural stone tiles. Use a penetrating sealer suitable for your specific tile and grout. Reapply yearly.

How do I create a backsplash accent?

Create a focal point by using accent tiles, mosaic sheets, or tiles set on a diagonal. Frame with trim pieces or mix up the orientation of larger tiles. Or use tile layout to make a central feature behind cooktops or sinks.

What thinset mortar is best for backsplash tile?

Polymer-modified thinset mortar bonds best on any surface, including drywall. It offers flexibility and is resistant to cracking and shrinkage. White thinset blends in for light stone tile. Grey works for dark stone or glass.

How long does backsplash tile installation take?

The timeline can range from 1-3 days depending on tile size, layout complexity, and overall square footage. Cutting tile and prepping takes time. Allow thinset and grout to fully cure between steps. Proper planning optimizes the installation time.


Installing a beautiful, functional backsplash tile brings an instant style upgrade to your kitchen or bath. By following the techniques for proper tile prep, using quality installation products, taking care with tile placement, and applying grout consistently, you can achieve stellar long-lasting results. Paying close attention to planning and detail leads to professional-looking finished tilework to enjoy for many years.