How to Install Cement Tile Backsplash


Installing a cement tile backsplash can transform the look of your kitchen or bathroom by adding a beautiful and durable focal point. Cement tiles have been used decoratively for over 150 years, and their patterned designs and rich colors make them a popular backsplash choice today. While professional installation is recommended for the best results, installing cement tile backsplash is a DIY project that can be managed by homeowners with some tiling experience.

With proper planning, high-quality materials, and attention to detail, you can achieve an eye-catching cement tile backsplash in your home. This article will guide you through the complete process of installing cement tiles, from selecting your design and preparing the surface to setting the tiles and applying the grout. We’ll share tips and tricks to help you avoid common mistakes and end up with a stunning backsplash you’ll enjoy for years to come. Let’s get started!

How to Choose Cement Tiles for Your Backsplash

The first step is choosing the perfect cement tiles for your design. Here are the key factors to consider:

Tile Shape and Size

Cement tiles come in a variety of geometric and patterned shapes. Common shapes include squares, hexagons, diamonds, and rectangles. The size can range from smaller mosaics to 4-inch, 6-inch, or 8-inch tiles. Larger tiles will have fewer grout lines for a cleaner look. Choose a size and shape that suits your design vision.

Tile Color and Pattern

One of the big advantages of cement tiles is the multitude of colorful designs available. You can select solid colors, bold patterns, or elaborate motifs. Popular options include Moroccan, Spanish, and encaustic patterns. Allow the tiles to be a work of art and choose a style that speaks to you.

Complementing the Space

Select tiles that coordinate with your cabinetry, countertops, floors, and overall design aesthetic. For example, bold patterned tiles pair nicely with simple cabinetry in a contrasting color. Ensure the tiles will complement any existing elements you want to keep.

Suitability for Wet Areas

Confirm that the cement tiles are marketed as suitable for backsplash use. Tiles should have a water absorption rate of less than 10%. The back and edges may be sealed for extra water resistance. This ensures they will hold up well in a kitchen or bathroom environment.

Purchase Extra Tiles

It’s wise to purchase 10-15% more tiles than you think you’ll need. This provides extras in case any tiles become damaged during installation or need to be replaced later on. Extras are especially important for patterned tiles.

Once you’ve selected the perfect tiles, order them well in advance of your project start date to ensure they are available and arrive on time.

How to Prepare the Surface for Installation

Careful preparation of the installation surface is crucial for a successful cement tile backsplash project. Here are the key steps:

Clean the Surface Thoroughly

The surface must be clear of any debris, grease, or soap residue that could prevent proper adhesion. Clean with an all-purpose cleaner and rinse thoroughly.

Remove Any Old Backsplash

If there is an existing backsplash, you’ll need to take it down completely. Use a putty knife, hammer, or pry bar to remove the old tile and scrape off any remaining adhesive.

Evaluate and Repair the Wall Surface

The wall surface must be smooth and sound enough to support the tile installation. Repair any cracks or holes with filler designed for the substrate. Level any uneven areas.

Choose the Right Backer Board

Cement backer board provides an ideal subsurface for cement tile. It’s water-resistant and prevents warping or damage to the tiles. Cut boards to fit your space and fasten securely to studs or existing wall surface.

Apply Waterproof Membrane

For behind-the-range or wet area installations, apply a waterproofing membrane over the entire surface. This provides extra protection against moisture damage.

Make Cutouts for Outlets, Fixtures, Etc.

Measure and mark all locations that need tile cutouts, such as outlets, switches, fixtures, and cabinets. Cut holes in the backer board with a utility knife or saw.

Thorough surface prep helps tiles adhere properly and prevents future tile cracking or detachment. Now you’re ready to move on to the fun part – setting the tiles!

How to Install the Cement Tile Backsplash

Once your surface is fully prepped, it’s time to start installing the cement tile backsplash. Follow these tips for proper installation:

Plan Your Tile Layout

Dry lay the patterned tiles on a flat surface to determine the optimal layout. Ensure you have enough tiles to complete the project. Adjust arrangement as needed.

Mix the Adhesive Mortar

For cement tiles, a medium bed mortar with polymer additive is recommended. This type of thin-set mortar provides strong, water-resistant adhesion. Mix to a smooth consistency.

Apply the Mortar and Set the Tiles

Use a notched trowel to spread a thin layer of mortar on the surface, about 1/8” thick. Press tiles into the mortar, twisting slightly. Use tile spacers between them.

Check Alignment Frequently

As you set the tiles, step back periodically and inspect the alignment. Adjust any crooked or misaligned tiles promptly before the mortar cures.

Cut Border and Accent Tiles as Needed

Measure and mark tiles that need trimming to fit edges and gaps. Use a wet saw or tile cutter to cut tiles neatly. Grind cut edges smooth.

Allow Tiles to Set

Let the tiles set undisturbed for at least 24 hours. Mist occasionally with water to prevent excessively fast drying. Avoid walking on tiles until fully cured.

Apply Grout and Sealant

Once cured, apply grout between the tile joints. Wipe away excess. Apply grout sealant once dry for added protection and water resistance.

Pay close attention to proper tile alignment and spacing during the installation process. Getting this right results in a clean, polished look for your new backsplash.

Grouting Cement Tile Backsplash Correctly

Grouting is an important step that will give your backsplash a perfectly finished look. Follow these tips when grouting cement tiles:

Choose the Right Grout

Use an unsanded grout for cement tiles and make sure it matches the color you want. A polymer-modified grout is best as it resists discoloration and cracking.

Apply Grout Properly

Holding the grout float at a 45° angle, force grout into the joints with a firm, circular motion. Completely fill joints and pack tightly.

Clean Tile Faces Thoroughly

Before grout dries, wipe all tile faces well to remove any film or excess. Use a damp sponge in a circular motion. Rinse sponge frequently.

Tool the Grout Lines

Once grout becomes firm, use a rounded tool to smooth joints and compress grout into gaps. Ensure lines are evenly shaped.

Allow Proper Curing Time

Leave grout undisturbed for at least 72 hours. Keep the area dry to enable full curing and prevent discoloration. Avoid walking on tiles during this time.

Apply Grout Sealant

After full curing, apply grout sealant according to manufacturer’s directions. This adds protection from moisture and staining.

Following the right grouting techniques will give your cement tile backsplash a clean, professional quality finish. Take your time, do it right, and your beautiful design will come together perfectly.

Common Problems and Solutions for Cement Tile Installs

Despite the best preparations, you may encounter minor issues when installing cement tile backsplash. Here are some common problems and how to fix them:

Uneven Tile Layout

Solution: Carefully lift and re-apply crooked or uneven tiles before mortar fully cures. Use tile spacers consistently to keep everything aligned.

Gaps in Grout Lines

Solution: Ensure a tight fit between tiles during setting. Re-grout gaps wider than 1/16”. Use sanded grout for wider joints. Apply grout sealant to minimize future cracks.

Grout Haze on Tiles

Solution: Always clean tiles thoroughly before grout cures completely. For haze, apply grout haze remover once cured. Agitate with a nylon brush and rinse clean.

Efflorescence on Grout

Solution: This white, powdery deposit can occur with cement products. Wipe it away with distilled white vinegar. Minimize recurrence by sealing grout lines.

Hollow or Cracked Tiles

Solution: Remove and replace any damaged tiles. This occurs when mortar is not packed tightly behind tiles during setting.

Catching and resolving any tile issues promptly prevents them from marring the final backsplash appearance. With careful installation and grouting, your cement tile backsplash will turn out beautifully.

Caring for Your Cement Tile Backsplash

To keep your cement tile backsplash looking like new for years to come, follow these simple care and maintenance tips:

  • Use a pH-neutral cleaner for regular cleaning. Avoid harsh chemicals.
  • Re-seal grout lines annually with grout sealant to resist staining.
  • For scuffs or difficult stains, use a paste of baking soda and water. Rub gently with a soft brush.
  • Avoid excessive moisture on the backsplash from leaks, condensation, or overhead spraying.
  • Immediately clean up spills to prevent possible staining. Blot with a clean towel.
  • Consider re-applying grout or tile sealant every 2-3 years for optimal stain protection.
  • Check for any cracks or damage. Re-grout or replace individual tiles as needed.

With proper care, your cement tile backsplash will maintain its beauty and function for many years of use. The small amount of maintenance required is well worth the durability of this classic material.

Achieving a Professional Quality Look

One of the great benefits of cement tile backsplash is the ability to achieve a high-end, designer look in your kitchen or bath. Here are some tips for guaranteeing professional quality results:

Hire an Experienced Tiler

Consider hiring a professional tile installer, especially if you don’t have tiling experience. They can ensure proper mortar thickness, tile spacing, and perfect alignment.

Use the Best Materials

Invest in high-quality Portland cement tiles and top-rated grouts and adhesives. Don’t cut corners here. Premium materials make all the difference.

Take Your Time

Don’t rush the installation. Allow adequate drying times between steps. Meticulous grout application creates a flawless finished look.

Complete Any Electrical or Plumbing Work First

Finish any needed electrical or plumbing modifications before tiling. Then make neat cutouts for outlets, faucets, etc.

Illuminate Properly

Ensure your backsplash will have proper lighting. Well-positioned task lighting highlights the tile design and color variations beautifully.

The combination of using quality tiles, careful installation, and purposeful lighting ensures your project will turn out looking like it was professionally designed and installed. You’ll love the finished result!

Frequently Asked Questions About Cement Tile Backsplash

What type of backer board is best for cement tiles?

Cement backer board like Durock or HardieBacker is ideal. It prevents moisture damage and provides a stable subsurface for a long-lasting installation.

What thinset mortar adhesive works best?

Use a polymer-modified medium bed mortar adhesive. This creates the strongest bond and provides some flexibility to prevent cracks.

How soon can I walk on newly installed tiles?

Avoid walking on tiles for at least 24 hours after setting. Wait 72 hours before grouting. Allow several days of curing before heavy use.

Why do some tiles get a whitish bloom after installation?

This efflorescence is caused by natural salts rising to the surface. It can be removed with white vinegar once installation is complete.

Is sealing the tiles and grout lines really necessary?

Yes! Sealing helps prevent staining from water, oils, and acids. Reapply sealants periodically to maintain optimal protection.

How do I cut cement tiles without chipping them?

Use a quality wet saw with a diamond blade. Cut slowly and steadily. File any rough edges smooth with a rubbing stone.

What’s the best way to remove old grout haze from tiles?

Use a specialized grout haze removal product, or make a cleaning paste from baking soda and water. Gently scrub.


Installing a cement tile backsplash boosts the visual appeal of your kitchen or bath with eye-catching color, pattern, and texture. By following the steps outlined above for proper planning, preparation, installation, grouting, and maintenance, you can achieve stunning results. A quality cement tile backsplash will upgrade your space with a gorgeous focal point that lasts for decades. With some time and care invested on the front end, this durable and classic material offers great value and long-lasting enjoyment. Your beautiful new backsplash will quickly become a favorite feature of your home that you can proudly display.