How to Install Ceramic Backsplash

Installing a ceramic tile backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom can add visual interest and protect your walls from water damage and stains. With some planning and the right materials, installing a ceramic tile backsplash is a manageable weekend project for many DIYers.

Choose Your Tile

Ceramic tile comes in a huge range of sizes, shapes, colors, textures, and patterns. Visit a tile showroom to view samples in person before deciding on a style. Some popular options include:

  • Subway tile: Classic 3×6 inch rectangular tiles in glossy or matte finish
  • Metal tile: Tile with a metallic glaze for an industrial vibe
  • Mosaic tile: Small tiles mounted on a mesh sheet for easy installation
  • Handpainted tile: Decorative tiles with colorful designs
  • Stone tile: Tile made to mimic natural stone like marble, travertine, or slate

Consider the overall look and feel you want for the space. Also think about how the tile will coordinate with your cabinets, countertops, appliances, and other finishes.

Calculate How Much Tile You Need

Measure the total square footage of the area to be tiled. Don’t forget to include uneven surfaces and niches. For a kitchen backsplash, measure the wall area between the countertops and cabinets.

Most often, ceramic tile is sold by the square foot. Your tile supplier can help you estimate how much tile you’ll need based on the measurements and tile size. Be sure to add an extra 10-15% onto your total to account for unusable damaged or cut tiles.

You’ll also need tile for inside corners and the edges. These are usually sold as bullnose tiles or finish pieces.

Gather Your Supplies

In addition to the tile itself, installing a ceramic tile backsplash requires:

  • Tile adhesive: Choose polymer-modified thinset for walls. Make sure it is suitable for the tile material and wall surface.
  • Grout: Pick an appropriate grout color. Unsanded grout is best for tiles with narrow grout lines.
  • Tools: Notched trowel, spacers, grout float, sponges, mixing paddle, buckets, tile cutter, etc.
  • Sealant: Tile sealer protects the grout from stains.
  • Backer board: Cement, fiber cement, or fiberglass sheets provide a sturdy surface.
  • Waterproofing: Membrane or tape for moisture-prone areas near sinks or stoves.

Shop for high quality setting materials and specialty tools to make the installation process smoother.

Prepare the Wall Surface

The wall must be clean, dry, and structurally sound before tiling. Painted surfaces should be sanded to ensure proper adhesion. Walls next to sinks, stoves, or outdoor walls may need waterproofing treatment.

Install cement backer board according to manufacturer instructions if the wall material is drywall, plaster, or wood. This provides stability and prevents moisture damage. Fiber cement and fiberglass backer boards are other lightweight options.

If your walls are already in good shape, you may be able to tile directly onto the existing surface in some cases. Always check the tile adhesive specifications first.

Layout Your Tile

Before applying any mortar or adhesive, do a dry layout to map out your pattern and spacing. Use small spacers between tiles to plan for even grout lines.

Begin your layout in the center of the wall and work outward. Check that tiles fit neatly around corners, electrical outlets, and any other fixtures. Make adjustments and finalize tile placement before installation.

Spread the Adhesive and Set Tile

Follow the product instructions for mixing and spreading the thinset mortar adhesive. Use a notched trowel to spread it evenly on a small section of the wall at a time.

Place the first tile in the center of your layout. Twist it into the adhesive with a slight back and forth motion to ensure full contact and prevent air pockets behind the tile.

Continue setting tiles one by one, using spacers to maintain even grout line width. Periodically check that tiles are level and aligned. Allow the mortar to dry fully before grouting.

Cut Tiles to Fit

Use a wet saw or tile cutter to customize edge and filler tiles to size. Make precise measurements and cuts to achieve professional results. Use niche tiles and bullnose edging as needed around electrical boxes, corners, and transitions.

Let cut tiles dry fully before installing with mortar. Use a tile nipper for small nicks and adjustments. Use a grinder to shape and smooth cut edges.

Grout and Seal the Tiles

Once the mortar has dried completely, mix up grout and apply it with a rubber float. Push it deeply into the tile joints, holding the float at a 90° angle. Wipe away excess grout with a damp sponge.

After the grout has cured, apply a penetrating sealer to protect from moisture and stains. Use a foam brush or roller to apply the sealer carefully according to product specifications.

Finally, caulk along the edges and seams where the tile ends to prevent water intrusion behind the tile.

Let the grout and caulk cure fully before using the newly tiled backsplash. Enjoy your new ceramic focal point!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I choose the right tile?

Consider the room’s decor, counter and cabinet finishes, and your own style preferences. Visit showrooms to view many types of ceramic tile in person before deciding.

What tools do I need for installation?

At minimum, you’ll need a notched trowel, tile spacers, mixing paddle, buckets, a grout float, sponges, and safety equipment. Other tools like a tile cutter and nipper make the job easier.

Can I install tile on drywall or plaster walls?

Drywall and plaster walls need cement backer board installed first to provide a sturdy, moisture-resistant surface for tile. Fiber cement and fiberglass backer boards are lighter options.

How long does mortar need to dry before grouting?

Check the product specifications, but tile mortar typically needs at least 24 hours to fully cure before applying grout. Make sure tiles are firmly set before grouting.

Should sanded or unsanded grout be used for backsplash tile?

For tiles spaced closely together, unsanded grout is best to completely fill the narrow joints. Sanded grout is used for wider grout lines with tiles spaced slightly farther apart.

How can I cut ceramic tiles neatly?

Use a wet saw for straight cuts and a tile nipper for small edge adjustments. A grinder smoothes sharp edges of cut tiles. Make measurements carefully for a pro-quality look.


Installing a ceramic tile backsplash can take some time and planning, but the results are well worth the effort. The right tiles can give your kitchen or bathroom a high-end custom look while protecting walls from splatters and spills. With careful prep and the proper tools, avid DIYers can achieve professional-looking results. Just take things step-by-step to turn your backsplash visions into reality.