How to Install Backsplash on Drywall

Installing a backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and protect the walls behind your sink, stove, or countertops from water damage and stains. Backsplashes made of tile, metal, glass, or other materials can transform the look of a kitchen or bathroom. While the process of installing a backsplash may seem daunting, it can be done successfully by the DIYer with the right preparation and materials. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through all the steps for installing a backsplash on drywall.

Materials Needed for Installing Backsplash on Drywall

Before starting your project, you will need to gather the necessary materials. Having all your supplies and tools ready ahead of time will make the installation process go smoothly. Here is what you will need:

  • Backsplash tiles – Choose the material, size, color, and style based on your design goals. Purchase 10-15% extra to account for breakage and cuts.
  • Tile adhesive – Pick an adhesive compatible with your tile and wall material. Latex or polymer modified thinset is ideal for most applications.
  • Grout – Select a grout color that complements your tile. Unsanded grout works for grout lines 1/8″ or smaller.
  • Backer board – Cement, fiber cement, or plastic boards provide a stable subsurface for tile.
  • Screws – Corrosion-resistant screws are needed to install backer board.
  • Trowel – A notched trowel is required to spread adhesive on the backer board.
  • Tile spacers – Small crossed plastic spacers keep tile spaced evenly during installation.
  • Tile cutter – A snap tile cutter easily cuts tile to fit around outlets and pipes.
  • Grout float – This tool helps apply grout into the tile joints.
  • Grout sealer – Sealing the grout prevents staining and discoloration.
  • Caulk – Caulk seals joints between the backsplash and countertop or walls.
  • Rag – A lint-free rag wipes away excess tile adhesive and grout.
  • Bucket – A bucketMixedthinset mortar before applying it to the backer board.
  • Safety gear – Wear safety goggles and gloves when cutting tile.
  • Drop cloth – Protects floors and countertops from damage during the installation.

Preparing Walls for Backsplash Installation

Proper preparation of the wall surface is crucial for a long-lasting backsplash installation. Here are the key steps:

Step 1: Clean the Surface

Wipe down the wall area where the backsplash will be installed using a household cleaner or mineral spirits to remove dust, oils, or soap film. Rinse thoroughly and let dry completely.

Step 2: Remove Outlets and Switch Plates

Use a screwdriver to temporarily remove any outlets, switches, or cover plates that are within your backsplash area. You will replace these after tiling.

Step 3: Fill Any Holes or Imperfections

Examine the drywall for any cracks, holes, or uneven areas. Fill these using drywall joint compound and let dry completely. Sand if needed to smooth.

Step 4: Install Backer Board

Cut cement, fiber cement, or plastic backer board panels to size according to your planned backsplash design. Hold up to the wall and mark with a pencil where cuts are needed. Attach the backer board to studs using corrosion-resistant screws, spacing every 8 inches.

How to Apply Tile Adhesive on Backer Board

Applying tile adhesive properly on the backer board provides the necessary bed for the backsplash tiles to adhere to. Follow these steps:

Step 1: Plan Your Pattern

Dry lay a row of tiles along the bottom to determine the optimal layout and placement. Account for incomplete tiles at edges and cut tile location.

Step 2: Mix the Thinset Mortar

Pour dry thinset mortar powder into a bucket according to package directions. Add the right amount of water and mix to a smooth, lump-free consistency. Let sit 5-10 minutes.

Step 3: Spread Thinset on the Backer Board

Use the notched edge of the trowel held at a 45-degree angle to apply a thin layer of thinset to an area that can be tiled in 30 minutes.

Step 4: Comb the Thinset

Go over the area with the trowel’s notched side again to “comb” it and create straight, even ridges for the tile to adhere to.

Step 5: Apply Thinset to Tile

Use the trowel to also apply a layer of thinset to the backside of each tile, applying even pressure to coat fully.

Now the backer board and tiles are prepared and ready for installation. Don’t forget to periodically remix the thinset mortar as you work!

How to Install Backsplash Tiles

Carefully installing the backsplash tiles in the planned pattern is the most important step to creating a finished look. Here is how to do it correctly:

Step 1: Begin With a Center Tile

Start by applying the center tile in your planned layout. This allows you to work outward symmetrically. Press the tile firmly into place, twisting slightly.

Step 2: Place Spacers

Put tile spacers around the first tile on all sides. Spacers allow for consistent grout lines and prevent tiles shifting.

Step 3: Continue Applying Tiles

Apply more thinset and install the next tile, pressing firmly into place against the spacer. Check for even alignment. Repeat across the starter row.

Step 4: Check Level Frequently

Place a level tool against the tile edges periodically to ensure they are perfectly vertical. Adjust as needed.

Step 5: Cut Edge Tiles as Needed

Measure and mark tiles for cutting around outlets, pipes, or edges. Score with cutter and snap. Smooth edges with sandpaper.

Step 6: Let Tiles Set

Allow the thinset mortar to cure fully (typically 24 hours) before grouting or applying weight. Mist with water to slow drying.

How to Grout and Seal the Backsplash

Grouting and sealing the backsplash completes your project. Take your time with these steps for best results:

Step 1: Mix Grout

Prepare grout by mixing powdered grout with water or latex additive. Work up to a thick peanut butter consistency. Let sit briefly before grouting.

Step 2: Apply Grout and Clean

Use a rubber grout float to spread grout over the surface, pressing into joints. Wipe diagonally across tiles with a damp rag to clean grout residue.

Step 3: Seal Grout

Once the grout has dried fully per package directions, apply grout sealer using a small foam brush. Wipe off excess sealer with a clean cloth.

Step 4: Caulk Joints

Run a silicone caulk bead along where the backsplash meets the countertop, walls, or any gaps. Smooth with a wet finger if needed.

Step 5: Replace Outlets and Finish

Let caulk fully cure before replacing any outlets or switch plates removed before tiling. You did it!

FAQs about Installing Backsplash on Drywall

What is the best tile for backsplashes?

For walls and drywall, ceramic, porcelain, or glass backsplash tiles often work best. Natural stone can also be used if properly sealed. Avoid very porous tiles.

How are backsplash tiles cut?

Mark tiles to be cut with a pencil. Use a snap tile cutter to score the tile, apply pressure, and get clean breaks. Smooth cut edges with sandpaper. A wet saw can also be used.

Should backsplashes go all the way to ceiling?

Not necessarily. Many backsplashes end 3-4 inches from the underside of wall cabinets. This provides a cleaner look. Full height backsplashes are also popular.

How do you prepare drywall for a backsplash?

Drywall should be cleaned, filled for any holes or imperfections, then primed before applying backer board and tile. Be sure to attach backer board securely to studs.

Can you put backsplash tile directly on drywall?

Not recommended. Drywall alone can’t provide enough support for tiles over time. Backer board creates a durable subsurface to adhere tiles to.

What thinset should I use for backsplash tile?

For most porcelain, ceramic, or glass tile, a polymer-modified thinset mortar works well. Latex or acrylic additives improve adhesion and flexibility.

How long does it take for thinset to dry before grouting?

A 24-hour curing time is typically needed at minimum. More drying time is better. Test thickness by pressing on a tile – it shouldn’t move if thinset has dried properly.

What color grout should I use with my backsplash?

A grout close to your tile color provides a seamless look. Contrasting grout colors are also popular for a bold statement. White and off-white are versatile choices.

How do I apply and seal grout?

Use a grout float to spread grout over the surface, pressing into joints. Wipe diagonally to clean residue. Follow package directions for drying time before applying grout sealer with a foam brush.


Installing a tile backsplash on drywall is an intermediate DIY project that can make a big impact in your kitchen or bathroom’s appearance. With the right preparation, high-quality materials, and careful technique, you can achieve a backsplash with a professional built-in look. The key steps come down to preparing the drywall surface properly, cutting and adhering the backer board, applying tile adhesive for a stable bond, carefully laying the tiles, and allowing adequate drying times for thinset and grout. Follow the instructions and techniques outlined here for best results.

Some final tips are to work slowly and methodically, clean up adhesive or grout messes immediately before they can dry, and ask for help lifting heavy backer boards or mixing mortar if needed. With patience and care, your new backsplash can turn out perfectly. Having it installed will increase your home value as well for less than the cost of hiring a professional.