How to Install a Backsplash in the Kitchen

Adding a backsplash is one of the best ways to update the look of your kitchen. A backsplash protects the walls from water damage and spatters, while also providing an opportunity to add visual interest and personality. Installing a backsplash may seem daunting, but it can actually be a relatively easy DIY project. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to install a backsplash in your kitchen.

Selecting a Backsplash Material

The first step is choosing the material for your backsplash. There are many options to consider that can fit any style and budget.


Tile is a classic and versatile choice. Ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone tiles come in a vast array of sizes, shapes, colors, and finishes. Tiles allow you to create fun patterns and designs. They are durable, easy to clean, and water-resistant. Tile backsplashes can range from classic white subway tile to elaborate mosaics.


Glass tile and sheet glass backsplashes add a reflective, sleek contemporary vibe. The tile comes in every color. When lit properly, glass backsplashes emanate depth and visual interest. Glass is heat-resistant and waterproof, but the grout requires more sealing maintenance.


Metallic backsplashes like copper, stainless steel, or tin add brilliant luster and texture. Metals like tin are naturally rustic. Stainless steel has an edgy, modern look. Copper develops a trendy patina over time. Metal backsplashes combine well with many styles from industrial to vintage.


Natural stones like marble, travertine, granite, and slate create upscale, timeless backsplashes. They carry distinct veining and markings for one-of-a-kind designs. Stone backsplashes work beautifully in rustic or traditional kitchens. Honed stones offer a lower maintenance matte finish.


Wood finishes showcase natural grain patterns for warm, organic appeal. Mosaics, planks, or shingles can be made from hardwoods like oak or bamboo. Woods come in diverse stains that pair nicely with cabinetry. Sealing is required to prevent moisture damage.


Concrete backsplashes are minimally processed to expose the aggregate and achieve a raw, eclectic look. The neutral gray color works with any style. Concrete is durable but susceptible to staining from acidic foods. Sealants can help protect the finish.

Consider the overall kitchen design, lifestyle, and budget when selecting backsplash materials. Make sure to choose a product appropriate for a wet environment.

Tools and Materials Needed

Installing a backsplash requires a few basic tools and materials that can be easily picked up at your local home improvement store. Having all necessary items on hand will make the project go quicker and smoother.

Essential Tools

  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Mixing bucket
  • Mixing paddle
  • Notched trowel
  • Grout float
  • Sponge
  • Caulk gun
  • Tile nippers
  • Tile cutter or wet saw

Additional Supplies

  • Construction adhesive
  • Grout
  • Tile spacers
  • Caulk
  • Backerboard
  • Thinset mortar
  • Screws
  • Trim pieces

Ensure you have all essential tools before beginning the installation. The tile cutter or wet saw is for cutting any specialty pieces of tile if needed. Having extra tile and supplies on hand allows you to easily replace any tiles later if necessary.

Preparing the Surface

Preparing the installation surface is a crucial first step for proper backsplash adhesion and preventing moisture damage.


Thoroughly clean the entire backsplash area with soap and water first. Remove any existing backsplash, wallpaper, paint, or residue. Eliminate any grime, grease, or dirt so the backsplash adheres well.

Damage Inspection

Inspect the drywall or plaster behind the backsplash for any damage or imperfections. Repair any holes, cracks, or uneven areas with drywall joint compound. The surface must be as smooth as possible.

Moisture Protection

Since backsplashes see high moisture, take precautions to waterproof the walls. Apply a waterproofing membrane or cement backerboard to the surface. RedGard and Kerdi are trusted brands of waterproofing membranes.

Outlet Modifications

Determine if any electrical outlets sit within the backsplash area. Turn off the power and remove any outlets temporarily. The backsplash tile and thinset should completely cover the outlet boxes. The outlets will be re-installed over the tile later.

Prepping the surface properly prevents future damage and mold growth behind the backsplash.

Dry Fitting the Tiles

Always do a dry layout before installing backsplash tiles with thinset mortar. This allows you to map out the design and find the best layout.

Measure Space

Start by accurately measuring the backsplash area from end to end. Mark the center point and draw reference lines if installing a vertical stack pattern.

Map Design

Lay the tiles on the countertop in the desired pattern. Move the tiles around to find the optimal layout. Try to minimize small odd cuts on the outer edges. Balance full and cut tiles.

Cut Tiles

Use spacers to see the joint sizes. Test fit tiles needing specialty cuts like those around receptacles or corners. Number each cut tile and its corresponding space.

Check Level

As you lay tiles, use a level often to ensure they remain perfectly straight. Adjust the dry layout as needed before installing with mortar.

Doing a dry run helps avoid expensive tile cutting errors and having to remove adhered tiles later.

Applying Thinset Mortar

With the dry layout complete, you’re ready for the messy but fulfilling step of applying thinset mortar. This special adhesive mortar permanently secures the tiles to the wall.

Mix Thinset

Prepare the thinset mixture in a bucket according to package directions. Start with the powder then gradually add the proper ratio of water, mixing continuously to avoid clumps.

Load Notched Trowel

Load the notched trowel evenly with thinset. Hold it at a 45 degree angle to the wall and spread on an even 1/4″ layer.

Back Buttering

Additionally “back butter” the back of each tile with a thin layer of thinset before placing on the wall. This doubles the adhesive power.

Horizontal First

Typically start the bottom row horizontal. Use spacers to ensure consistent grout line spacing. Don’t spread thinset too far ahead.

Check Level

While working, place levels across tiles periodically to confirm they’re perfectly straight. Adjust as needed before the mortar sets.

Take time to neatly spread even layers of thinset for optimal adhesion strength.

Grouting and Finishing Touches

Grout fills the joints neatly between tiles while sealing and protecting the edges. Finish up with trim and sealant. Then finally enjoy your stunning new backsplash!

Waiting Period

Allow the thinset mortar to fully cure according to manufacturer instructions, typically 24-48 hours. Remove spacers once tiles are sturdy.

Mix and Apply Grout

Prepare grout mix and apply evenly over the entire backsplash, forcing into joints with a rubber grout float. Allow to sit briefly before wiping clean.

Remove Residue

Wipe any remaining grout residue away with a damp sponge in circular motions. Rinse the sponge and wipe again until tiles are completely clean. Allow to fully cure.

Caulk Edges

Apply a waterproof silicone caulk along the bottom edge, corners, and any gaps. Smooth with a damp fingertip before curing.

Seal Grout

Apply a penetrating grout sealer evenly over the entire surface to protect grout from stains. Allow to dry completely.

Finish Outlet

Re-install outlet covers and fixtures over the tile. Use silicone caulk around edges for waterproofing. Check that outlets function properly.


Does the backsplash have to go all the way to the ceiling?

No, the backsplash can stop wherever you prefer based on the height of your cabinets and personal preference. A good rule of thumb is to go at least 4 inches above the cabinet. Extending to the bottom of upper cabinets protects more of the wall.

What kind of thinset mortar should I use?

Use white polymer fortified thinset specifically formulated for walls and backsplashes. This type contains latex additives that create a stronger bond and more flexibility.

Can I apply backsplash over existing tile?

It is not recommended to install a backsplash directly over existing tile. The layers of adhesive mortar will be too thick. It is best to remove old tile and start fresh on the wall surface underneath.

How do I cut tiles around outlets?

Use a rotary tool or tile nippers to cut small V-shaped notches extending from the tile edge to the desired hole size. Cut up to the hole from all sides so the tile slides easily around the outlet.

Can I use regular grout for the backsplash?

No, it is best to use an epoxy grout formula for backsplashes. Epoxy grouts provide maximum sealing, waterproofing, stain protection, and crack resistance in wet areas.


Installing a kitchen backsplash is an achievable DIY project that can completely transform the style of your space. With the right tools, materials, and careful prep, you can create a designer-looking backsplash tailored to your taste. Always thoroughly plan the design, properly prepare the surface, ensure proper thinset and grout application, and seal the finished product. Follow this guide and take your time for a backsplash you will enjoy for years to come. With your own two hands and some determination, you can upgrade your kitchen with beautiful new backsplash tiles.