How to Install a Countertop Backsplash

Adding a backsplash is an easy way to protect your walls and add personality to your kitchen. With some planning, the right materials, and basic DIY skills, you can install a countertop backsplash in a weekend. Here is a step-by-step guide to installing a tile or laminate backsplash behind your countertop.

Choosing Your Backsplash Material

When selecting a material for your backsplash, consider your budget, the look you want, and how easy it will be to clean. Here are some top options:


Tile allows for lots of design flexibility. Ceramic, porcelain, glass, and stone tiles come in endless colors, shapes, and sizes. Tile is very durable but requires more skill to install. Grouting tile also takes some practice to get neat, straight lines.

Pros: Durable, easy to clean, design flexibility
Cons: Requires more skill to install, grout needs periodic sealing


Laminate backsplashes consist of sheets made from resin and paper bonded together. Many laminate sheets look just like real tile or stone but install in one easy piece. Laminate is affordable, simple to install, and available in lots of colors and patterns.

Pros: Affordable, easy DIY install, mimics high-end materials
Cons: Less durable than real stone or tile

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel backsplashes have an ultra-modern, professional look. Stainless is easy to keep clean and sanitary. It offers a sleek, minimalist style for contemporary kitchens. Custom-fabbed stainless backsplashes can be pricey but make a dramatic impact.

Pros: Sleek professional look, easy to clean, durable
Cons: Expensive, shows fingerprints

Glass Tile

Glass tile backsplashes add brilliant color and shine. Glass tiles have transparent, jewel-toned finishes.Light bounces off the glass, creating tons of visual interest. Glass tile can dress up a simple design. The tiles are durable but need gentle care when cleaning.

Pros: Adds dramatic color, easy to clean finish
Cons: More expensive, needs gentle cleaning

How to Measure for Your Backsplash

Once you select your backsplash material, measure the area behind your countertop to determine how much you need. It helps to make a detailed drawing of the backsplash area with measurements. Be sure to account for outlets, windows, and any obstacles. If using tile, don’t forget small cuts like those around receptacle covers. Leave an extra 10% for safety.

For best results:

  • Measure width and height in inches
  • Note inside and outside corners
  • Mark outlet locations on drawing
  • Account for uneven walls or gaps
  • Include 10% extra for cuts and errors

Accurate measurements ensure you buy enough backsplash material to complete the job.

Gather Your Backsplash Installation Tools and Supplies

Installing a backsplash is mostly about safely cutting materials to fit. Be sure you have these recommended tools before starting:

Essential Installation Tools:

  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Utility knife
  • Tiling trowel
  • Grout float
  • Mixing trays
  • Sponge and buckets

Additional Supplies Needed:

  • Backsplash material (tile, laminate, etc.)
  • Thinset mortar
  • Grout
  • Caulk
  • painters tape

Prepare the Countertop and Wall Area

To ensure your backsplash adheres properly, start with a clean surface:

  1. Remove existing backsplash if present. Scrape off old caulk or adhesive.
  2. Clean counters and walls thoroughly. Remove grease or dirt so backsplash materials stick.
  3. Fill any holes or imperfections in the wall with spackle and sand smooth.
  4. Paint walls if needed so your backsplash has a fresh background.
  5. Apply painter’s tape along the bottom edge of the countertop. This keeps thinset mortar off the counter when applying tiles.

Prepping the surface takes a bit of work but ensures your backsplash looks professional.

Apply Thinset Mortar to the Wall

Thinset mortar adheres the backsplash tiles or laminate securely to the wall surface. Using a tiling trowel, apply a thin layer completely covering the backsplash area. Follow directions on the mortar packaging and work in small sections for best results.

Key tips for applying thinset mortar:

  • Use proper trowel size and work at 45° angle
  • Only cover sections where tile will be set immediately
  • Spread evenly, pressing hard to integrate mortar with wall
  • Mortar thickness should match tile (1/4″ tile = 1/4″ layer)
  • Let mortar rest 10 minutes before applying tile (slake)
  • Stick tile firmly in place and apply pressure (beat in)

Letting the mortar slake allows moisture to evaporate so it sticks better before adding tile. Beat in your tile so no gaps exist behind them in the mortar.

Cut and Apply the Backsplash Tile or Laminate

Once your thinset mortar is prepared on the wall, carefully measure and cut your backsplash material to size. Make precision cuts for outlets, corners, and edges.

For tile:

  • Use a wet saw for most tile cuts
  • Score and snap tile for straight cuts
  • Use nippers on curves and corners
  • Set tile in place and beat in evenly

For laminate:

  • Cut with a utility knife and straightedge
  • Drill holes for plumbing fixtures
  • Dry fit pieces first before adhering
  • Remove backing and stick laminate to wall

Work methodically and safely when cutting backsplash materials. Apply even pressure when setting materials to avoid gaps or uneven areas.

Grout Tile Backsplashes

If using tile, grouting is an important step. Grout fills the joints between tiles with a waterproof material to finish the look.

To grout tile backsplashes:

  1. Let tile mortar cure 24-48 hours before grouting
  2. Apply grout along the joints with a rubber grout float
  3. Hold float at a 45° angle and work in small sections
  4. Let grout set 10 minutes until haze forms
  5. Wipe off residual grout with a damp sponge
  6. Buff grout lines with a soft cloth once dry

Take care to fully pack joints but not smear grout on the tile faces. Letting grout cure completely makes regular cleaning and maintenance easier.

Finish and Seal the Backsplash

Once your backsplash installation is complete, finish the job with these final steps:

  1. Remove any painters tape along the countertop edge
  2. Caulk along the top edge and any seams if needed
  3. Clean the entire backsplash area thoroughly
  4. Apply a sealant if needed (for grout or natural stone)

Be very thorough when cleaning to remove any haze and dust from installation. Check for any touch ups needed once everything is dry. Enjoy your new backsplash makeover!

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing a Countertop Backsplash

Still have questions about adding a backsplash behind your kitchen countertop? Here are answers to some common FAQs:

What height should my backsplash be?

The standard backsplash height is 4 inches. Backsplashes can range from 4-6 inches tall above countertops. Make sure it meets any minimum requirements for splashing liquids in your area.

How do I cut holes in my backsplash for outlets?

Use a carbide-tipped hole saw drill bit to cut neat openings for outlets in tile or laminate backsplashes. Make sure outlets are turned off, and cover with tape for clean cuts.

Should my backsplash go all the way to the bottom cabinets?

It looks best if backsplashes meet the top of bottom cabinets for a seamless look. Laminate sheets can extend to cabinets easily. With tile, use a matching bullnose edge tile to transition.

How do I finish outside corners with tile?

Use a corner trim tile that matches or complements your field tile. Bullnose and pencil tiles create clean finished edges on outside corners.

Can I install a backsplash directly over drywall?

Yes, in most cases. Be sure the drywall is primed and painted. Use a mortar designed for drywall adhesion, and apply a waterproof sealer after grouting.


Adding a backsplash behind your kitchen countertop or bathroom vanity takes planning but is very doable for DIYers. With the right preparation, materials, tools, and safety measures, you can achieve professional-looking results. Pay attention to detail when cutting, setting, and grouting your backsplash. Contact a tile professional if you need assistance with design or complex tile patterns. With some patience and skill, you can install an eye-catching backsplash and gain handy home improvement experience.