How to Install Backsplash Tiles

Installing a backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and protect your walls in a kitchen or bathroom. With some planning and the right materials, installing backsplash tile can be an easy DIY project. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to install backsplash tiles.

Gather Your Materials

Before starting, gather all the necessary materials:

  • Backsplash tiles – Ceramic, glass, and stone tiles are popular options. Make sure you purchase enough to cover the area, allowing for cuts and waste.
  • Tile adhesive – Choose an adhesive suitable for the tile material and the wall surface. Many quality adhesives are available in premixed tubes for easy use.
  • Grout – Select a grout color that complements your tile. Unsanded grout is best for joints 1/8″ or smaller.
  • Trowel – A notched trowel is used to spread tile adhesive onto the wall.
  • Spacers – Small plastic crosses maintain even grout joint widths between tiles.
  • Wet saw – For accurately cutting tile if necessary. A handheld tile cutter can also be used for straight cuts.
  • Grout sealer – Protects grout from stains after installation.
  • Other supplies – Tile nippers, grout float, sponges, buckets, tape measure, level, etc.

Prepare the Surface

Ensure the wall is smooth, clean, and dry before tiling:

  • Remove any old backsplash and thoroughly clean the area.
  • Fill any holes or uneven areas in the wall with spackle and let dry completely. Sand smooth.
  • Wipe away dust with a clean, damp cloth.
  • Apply painter’s tape at the edges of the backsplash area to protect the surrounding walls.

Plan Your Layout

Map out your tile layout ahead of time:

  • Measure the area to determine the square footage. Allow for 10-15% extra to account for tile cuts and waste.
  • Dry fit tiles on the countertop to visualize placement and spacing.
  • Mix tile sizes and patterns to create interest. Avoid narrow slivers of tile at edges.
  • Mark the midpoint and level line on the wall as a guide.

Apply the Tile Adhesive

Spread a layer of adhesive on the wall area where tiles will be placed:

  • Apply adhesive to the wall using a notched trowel held at a 45-degree angle.
  • Spread only enough adhesive that tiles can cover within 30 minutes before it skins over.
  • Use the trowel notches to create ridges of even thickness in the adhesive.

Set the Tiles

Carefully press tiles into the adhesive one at a time:

  • Set the bottom row first. Align the tiles along the level line. Use spacers between tiles.
  • Push tiles firmly into the adhesive until they are flat against the wall. Twist slightly to ensure good contact.
  • Periodically check alignment and levelness as you move up the wall.
  • Cut border and filler tiles to fit using a wet saw or tile cutter. Grind the cut edges smooth.
  • Continue setting tiles, working in rows from the bottom up until the area is fully covered.

Apply the Grout

Let adhesive fully cure before grouting, usually 24-48 hours:

  • Mix grout with water per package directions to a thick peanut butter consistency.
  • Spread grout over the tiles using a rubber grout float. Pack it thoroughly into joints.
  • Hold the float at a 90° angle and scrape off excess grout.
  • Wipe the tiles clean with a damp sponge. Rinse frequently.
  • Allow grout to dry completely, about 48 hours, before sealing.

Seal and Finish

The final step is applying a sealant to protect the grout:

  • Apply grout sealer to fully cured grout using a small foam brush. Follow product directions.
  • Allow sealer to penetrate for 5-10 minutes, then wipe off any excess.
  • A second coat of sealer is recommended for optimal protection.
  • Remove painter’s tape from edges and caulk where the backsplash meets the countertop or walls.
  • All done! Enjoy your new backsplash.

Installing backsplash tile takes careful planning, precision, and patience but can give your kitchen or bath a fresh new look. Maintain your tile backsplash by using mild cleaners and resealing the grout every one to two years. With proper care, it will last for many years of beauty and service.

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Backsplash Tiles

What types of tiles work best for backsplashes?

Smaller tiles with uniform thicknesses, such as ceramic, mosaic, and subway tiles, provide the flattest surface for backsplashes. Avoid handmade or stone tiles with uneven thicknesses.

How are backsplash tiles cut?

Tile nippers nip off small shards for rounded cuts. A wet saw with a diamond blade creates precise straight cuts through tile. A score and snap cutter is suitable for some straight cuts on certain tiles.

Should backsplash go all the way to the ceiling?

Not necessarily. Standard backsplash height is 4 inches above the countertop, but you can make it as high or low as desired. Extending to the ceiling makes a bolder statement.

What thinset is best for backsplash tile?

A polymer-modified thinset mortar works for most tile backsplash situations. It provides a stronger bond and more flexibility than regular thinset.

Can you put tiles directly over drywall?

Yes, with proper adhesive and preparation. Ensure the drywall is damp-proof and free of dust and oils. Use a modified thinset adhesive made specifically for drywall installation.

How long does tile backsplash adhesive take to dry?

Adhesive dries in about 24-48 hours before grouting. Exact drying times depend on the adhesive used, tile material, substrate, and humidity levels. Test readiness by touching the adhesive in an inconspicuous spot.


Installing a tile backsplash can take your kitchen or bathroom from bland to beautiful. With some careful planning and preparation, it is an achievable DIY project. Be sure to lay out your design, gather quality materials, thoroughly prep the surface, and take your time setting the tiles. Follow the proper steps and techniques for applying adhesive, grouting, sealing, and finishing for walls that are ready to dazzle. The end result will be a stylish, practical accent that adds charm and visual interest where you need it most.