How to Install Ceramic Tile Backsplash Over Drywall

Installing a ceramic tile backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and protect the walls behind your kitchen counters or bathroom vanities. With some planning and the right materials, installing tile over drywall is a DIY-friendly project. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you install ceramic tile backsplash over drywall.

Planning Your Tile Layout

Before starting installation, you’ll need to plan out your tile layout. Here are some tips:

  • Measure the area to be tiled and sketch out a layout. It’s easiest to start with a center point and work outward symmetrically.
  • Most backsplashes use 4×4, 3×6, or 4×12 inch tile. Choose a size that fits your design vision.
  • Decide on a pattern. Offset patterns like bricklay or herringbone add visual interest. Keep it simple for narrow areas.
  • Determine the grout line width based on the tile size. Narrow grout lines (1/8 inch) work best with small tile. Wider grout lines (3/16 or 1/4 inch) pair better with larger tiles.
  • Buy 10-15% extra tile to account for cuts, waste, and future repairs.

Preparing the Drywall Surface

Proper drywall prep is crucial for successful tile installation. Here’s how to prepare:

  • Make sure the drywall is firmly secured to the wall framing. Install backerboard if existing drywall feels hollow or weak.
  • The surface must be smooth and free of bumps, nails, or joint compound ridges. Sand down any high points or imperfections.
  • Clean the surface thoroughly to remove dirt, oil, and dust. Wipe with a damp sponge and let dry completely.
  • Apply painter’s tape around the edges to protect the surrounding surfaces from thinset and grout.

Applying the Tile Backerboard

For additional moisture protection and support, many tilers recommend installing cement backerboard over the drywall before tiling:

  • Cut 1/4 or 1/2 inch backerboard panels to fit the area using a utility knife or circular saw.
  • Attach the backerboard with specified screws, spaced 8 inches apart across the panels and 2 inches from the edges.
  • Tape the seams between panels with alkaline resistant mesh tape.
  • Spread thinset mortar over the seams and tape using a putty knife or trowel. Smooth and level it out as you work.
  • Allow the thinset to fully cure for 24-48 hours before continuing.

Spreading the Thinset Mortar

Thinset provides the adhesive base for securing the tiles to the wall. Follow these tips:

  • Choose an appropriate thinset for the tile material and wall type. Latex or polymer modified thinsets work best over drywall.
  • Apply a 1/4 inch layer of thinset to the wall using a notched trowel held at a 45 degree angle.
  • Only spread thinset over sections where tiles will be set immediately before the mortar skins over.
  • Make sure the thinset sticks firmly to the wall and does not slide. Add more adhesive in any areas that appear dry.

Setting and Grouting the Tile

You’re ready to start laying and grouting the tiles:

  • Work in small sections, following your tile layout. Place spacers between tiles for even grout lines.
  • Use a level and carpenter’s square to keep tiles aligned. Adjust as needed while the thinset is still wet.
  • Push each tile firmly into the thinset until the back is fully coated and the tile is even with surrounding tiles.
  • Allow the thinset to cure fully (24-48 hours) before applying grout. Mist the tiles lightly with water if they appear dry.
  • Mix grout according to package directions and apply it over the tiles, packing it firmly into the joints.
  • Clean excess grout off the tile surface with a damp sponge and water. Rinse sponge frequently.

-Allow grout to cure per manufacturer instructions, usually 24-72 hours. Avoid getting the area wet during this time.

-Apply grout sealer if desired for easier future cleaning. Allow sealer to fully cure before regular use.

Common Questions

Does the drywall need to be primed before tiling?

Primer is not required, but can help the thinset adhere better, especially on painted drywall. Use a high-quality primer made for tile projects.

What thinset mortar is best?

Use a polymer or latex fortified thinset. These offer superior adhesion and flexibility. Avoid multi-purpose or mastic adhesives which are watery and dry too quickly.

How do I cut tiles for outlets and uneven edges?

Use a wet saw fitted with a tile blade. For small cuts, a tile nipper or handheld grinder with a diamond blade can also work well.

Can I use larger grout lines with small mosaic tiles?

Yes, you can use a wider grout line of 1/8 inch or more. This helps account for uneven tiles and makes grouting much easier.

How long should I wait before sealing the grout?

Check the manufacturer’s directions, but you typically should wait 72 hours after grouting to apply a penetrating sealer. This gives the grout time to fully cure and prevent discoloration issues.


Installing a tile backsplash over drywall involves careful planning, surface prep, and attention to detail when setting and grouting the tiles. Focus on creating a smooth, level surface, spread thinset evenly, allow proper cure times, and use high-quality setting and grouting materials. The end result will be a gorgeous, practical focal point that upgrades any kitchen or bath. With some patience and these helpful tips, you can DIY a beautiful tiled backsplash over drywall.