How to Install Backsplash Tile on Drywall

Installing a tile backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and value to your kitchen. Tile backsplashes protect the wall from water damage and are relatively easy DIY projects, even for beginners. With some planning and the right materials, you can achieve a professional-looking backsplash on drywall in your kitchen or bathroom.

Getting Started with Your Tile Backsplash Project

Before you start tiling, make sure you have all the necessary materials and tools on hand. Here is an overview of what you will need:


  • Backsplash tiles – ceramic, porcelain, glass, or natural stone. Make sure tiles are rated for walls/backsplashes.
  • Tile adhesive – Choose an appropriate adhesive for the tile material. Many acrylic adhesives can be used for both ceramic and stone tiles.
  • Grout – Either sanded grout or unsanded grout, depending on tile spacing. Grout color should complement the tile.
  • Backerboard – Cement board or a water-resistant underlayment panel.
  • Drywall screws
  • Trim pieces – Bullnose trim, chair rail, or decorative tiles for finishing edges.


  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Screws and a power drill
  • Tile cutter – Manual cutter for ceramic/porcelain or wet saw for natural stone
  • Trowel for spreading adhesive
  • Grout float
  • Grout sealer
  • Sponges
  • Buckets for mixing adhesive and grout

Safety Equipment

  • Work gloves and eye protection
  • Knee pads
  • Dust mask/respirator
  • Ear protection if using a wet saw

Planning Your Layout

Take careful measurements of the backsplash area and draw out a layout plan. Account for the edges and corners. For a professional look, tile layouts should be symmetrical and aligned. Cutting tiles may be necessary to fit edges and openings.

Calculate the amount of tile and supplies needed. Add 10% extra to account for broken tiles and cutting waste.

Consider accent tiles like subway tiles, mosaics, or decorative listellos to add interest. Use trim pieces like bullnose or Schluter strips on exposed edges.

Preparing and Installing Backerboard

Backsplashes require a water-resistant base material under the tile. Cement board is ideal, though you can also use moisture-resistant drywall. Here are the installation steps:

  1. Remove existing backsplash and clean the surface thoroughly. Fill any holes or imperfections in the wall.
  2. Cut cement board or backerboard to size using a utility knife. Hold the cement board against the wall as a guide.
  3. Apply adhesive mortar to the back of the cement board with a notched trowel.
  4. Press cement board onto the wall and secure with drywall screws, spaced 8 inches apart. Orient boards vertically for strength.
  5. Seal seams between boards with mesh tape and thinset mortar. Allow mortar to fully cure before tiling.

If using backerboard over existing drywall, make sure drywall is in good condition first. Screw backerboard sheets directly over drywall. Offset seams between panels.

Make sure the backerboard is completely smooth before tiling. Sand down any rough areas. Prime cement board faces with a drywall primer/sealer.

Laying the Tile

With your backerboard ready, it’s time to start laying tile. Follow these steps for proper installation:

  1. Plan your layout – Dry fit tiles and measure spacing. Mix tile from several boxes together.
  2. Prepare the adhesive – Mix tile mastic or thinset mortar as specified. Get the right consistency.
  3. Spread adhesive using a notched trowel, applying 1/4 to 1/2 inch layer evenly on the wall.
  4. Press tiles into the adhesive firmly, using spacers for consistent grout lines.
  5. Cut border and edge tiles using a manual tile cutter or wet saw.
  6. Apply premixed grout with grout float, holding at a 45 degree angle pressing into joints.
  7. Wipe away excess grout with a damp sponge. Clean tiles well before it dries.
  8. Apply grout sealer once grout has cured for 72 hours to protect from stains.

Tips for Tile Layout Patterns

  • Stagger layout for a pleasing effect, avoiding aligning grout lines.
  • Place cut edge tiles near corners or openings rather than in the center.
  • Minimize small cuts by adjusting your center starting point.
  • Leave 1/8 inch gap between tile and countertop or cabinets.

How to Finish Tile Edges and Corners

Finishing the edges of your backsplash properly gives a polished, professional look. Here are some options:

Bullnose Trim Tiles

Bullnose tiles have a rounded finished edge that covers rough edges. Available in many styles.

  • Install bullnose trim pieces first before field tiles.
  • Bullnose tiles should sit slightly above field tiles, not flush.

Schluter Strips

Schluter makes metal edging strips designed to protect tile edges.

  • Anodized aluminum finish available in various colors
  • Attach strips to wall before tiling using screws or adhesive
  • Designed to sit a bit above tile surface

Decorative Accent Tiles

Use special tiles like listellos, mosaics, or glass along edges.

  • Helps hide uneven cuts for artistic effect.
  • Can coordinate with field tiles or serve as an accent.
  • Install along with main field tiles in layout.

Inside Corner Options

  • Use standard bullnose tiles, miter cutting ends at 45 degree angles to fit.
  • Use a specialty L-shaped corner bullnose tile made for inside corners.
  • Or, simply caulk inside corners and overlap tiles slightly, grouting over.

Grouting Your New Backsplash

Grout fills the joints between tiles, finishing your installation. Use sanded grout for joints 1/8 inch and wider, unsanded for smaller joints.

  1. Apply grout sealer to tiles before grouting to prevent staining.
  2. Holding grout float at 45 degree angle, work diagonally pressing grout firmly into joints.
  3. Clean excess grout off tile surface with damp sponge, rinsing sponge frequently.
  4. Wipe diagonally across tiles to prevent pulling grout out of joints.
  5. Allow grout to cure fully, 72 hours, before sealing and applying grout sealer.

Always follow product instructions for mixing and curing times for thinsets, adhesives, grout, and sealers. Using the right products for your tile material is key to success and longevity.

FAQs About Installing Backsplash Tile on Drywall

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

No, it does not. Standard height is 4 inches above countertops or around 18-24 inches high total. You can install partial height or full ceiling height depending on preference.

What thinset mortar should I use for backsplash tile?

For ceramic or porcelain tile, use a polymer-modified thinset mortar which is more water-resistant. For natural stone, use a white thinset without polymers. Choose appropriate trowel notch size for tile size.

Can I use mastic instead of thinset for backsplash tile?

Yes, mastic or acrylic tile adhesives are acceptable for backsplash installations. Make sure product is designed for wall use. Mastics allow for easier installation compared to thinset mortar.

How do I cut ceramic tiles without chipping them?

Use a manual tile cutter with carbide wheel. Score tile evenly where cut is needed. Place over edge of tile cutter and snap downward. Use nippers to remove sharp edges if needed. Wet saws can also make precise cuts.

Should backsplash go over or under upper cabinets?

Tile should be installed first, going under upper cabinets. Cabinets are then installed on top, overlapping the backsplash slightly. Leave a small 1/8th inch gap between tile and cabinets.

Can I install backsplash tile directly over drywall or plaster?

No, backerboard should be installed first over drywall or plaster to provide a water-resistant underlayment for tile. Fiber-cement, Durock, Wonderboard, or Hardiebacker are common options.

How long does thinset mortar take to cure before grouting?

Normal thinset cure time is 24-48 hours. Rapid-setting thinsets can cure in as little as 4-6 hours before grouting. Check adhesive product info for recommended cure times.

What color grout should I use for white subway tile backsplash?

White or very light gray grout matches well with white subway tiles. Avoid stark black or dark gray grout lines, unless deliberately aiming for high contrast.

Why is my tile backsplash cracking or lifting off the wall?

This occurs when adhesives fail or bond improperly with surface. Make sure to prep wall surfaces thoroughly and use appropriate backerboard and adhesive materials. Don’t use mastic with natural stone.

Avoiding Potential Problems With Backsplash Tiling

Proper planning, patience, and care when installing tile backsplashes can help avoid common problems, including:

  • Adhesion failure – Ensure adhesive compatibility and proper curing time.
  • Grout cracking or crumbling – Mix grout correctly and use appropriate grout for joints.
  • Tile lifting or popping off – Allow mortar to fully cure before grouting. Improper trowel size can also cause adhesion issues.
  • Uneven tile – Use level and spacers when laying tile for consistency.
  • Grout haze or staining – Seal tiles before grouting, wipe tiles well, and apply grout sealer.
  • Cuts or cracks in tile – Use proper tools and techniques when cutting or drilling tiles.
  • Moisture damage – Ensure water-resistant backerboard is installed first before tiling.

Carefully following all manufacturer’s instructions for prep, installation, and curing will provide the best results.

Maintaining Your Tile Backsplash

Follow these tips to keep your new tile backsplash looking great for years:

  • Reapply grout sealer every 1-2 years to protect from stains.
  • Use non-abrasive cleaners to clean tiles. Avoid bleach or ammonia.
  • Repair any cracked or damaged grout lines with fresh grout.
  • Immediately wipe up any moisture that gets behind tiles to avoid damage.
  • Re-caulk perimeter joints annually, especially at countertop seam.
  • Avoid hanging heavy items like spice racks directly on tile.
  • Use a gentle touch when cleaning to avoid scratching delicate tile surfaces.

Achieving a Stunning DIY Tile Backsplash

Installing a tile backsplash on drywall is an achievable DIY project for motivated homeowners. With proper planning and care taken at each step – preparing surfaces, applying backerboard, thoughtful tile layout, clean installation, and grouting – you can gain a beautifully tiled backsplash that elevates your kitchen or bath. Pay close attention to details like proper adhesive selection, grout line consistency, edging, and making precise cuts. In a weekend, you can transform an ordinary wall into a decorative focal point!