How to Install Interlocking Tile Backsplash

Installing an interlocking tile backsplash can add visual interest and protect your walls from water damage and stains in kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas. Interlocking tiles are easy to install, require few supplies, and allow you to create customized patterns. Follow this step-by-step guide to properly prepare your surface and install interlocking tile backsplash like a pro.

Selecting Interlocking Tiles

When selecting interlocking tiles for your backsplash, consider the following:


Interlocking tiles come in various materials like porcelain, ceramic, glass, metal, and natural stone. Porcelain and ceramic are most common. Consider material durability, aesthetics, and pricing.


Interlocking tiles come in different colors, textures, finishes, and patterns. Select a style that complements your décor. Subway tiles, mosaic tiles, and penny tiles are popular options.

Tile Size

Standard sizes are 1 inch, 2 inch, and 4 inch square tiles. Large tiles create less grout lines for a smoother look. Smaller tiles allow more design flexibility.

Angle and Shape

Square tiles are most common. Some have angled edges for interest. Hexagon shaped tiles can create honeycomb patterns.


Thicker tiles are more durable. Porcelain and ceramic tiles are typically 1/4 inch thick. Glass tiles tend to be thinner.

Quantity Needed

Measure the area and calculate square footage to determine how many tile sheets you’ll need. Account for unusable thin edge pieces.

Preparing Your Surface

Proper surface prep prevents tiles from coming loose over time.

Clean Thoroughly

Clean the installation area with soap and water. Remove existing wallpaper, adhesives, oils, sealers, paints, and waxes so the tiles can adhere directly to the surface.

Evaluate Surface Flatness

Interlocking tiles need a perfectly flat surface for proper installation. Use a level to identify any uneven spots.

Scrape and Sand

Scrape off bumps, dried adhesive, and other debris. Use coarse sandpaper to smooth and level the area.

Fill Holes and Cracks

Fill any holes, cracks, or uneven areas with drywall compound. Allow it to fully cure before sanding smooth.


After smoothing the surface, apply primer to help the thinset mortar adhere firmly. Let the primer dry completely.

Gather Supplies

These basic supplies are needed:

  • Interlocking tiles
  • Thinset mortar
  • Grout
  • Grout sealer
  • Trowel
  • Tile spacers
  • Tile cutter
  • Utility knife
  • Mixing bucket
  • Grout float
  • Grout sponge
  • Clean rags
  • Painter’s tape
  • Level
  • Safety gear like gloves and goggles

Prepare the Tiles

Before installing the interlocking tiles:

Group Tiles

Arrange the tiles on a flat surface and position them until you are happy with the pattern and color distribution. Group them accordingly.

Cut Edge Pieces

The thin protruding edges won’t adhere well. Measure and cut off the excess tabs and edges with a utility knife or tile cutter.

Organize Groups

Keep the pre-arranged tile groups together and in sequence for easy installation.

Apply Thinset Mortar

Thinset mortar adheres the tiles to the surface.

Mix Thinset

Mix the thinset powder with water in a bucket according to the product directions. The consistency should be thick but spreadable. Let it slake for 5-10 minutes.

Apply to the Wall

Use the trowel to apply a layer of thinset to the surface, holding it at a 45 degree angle. Apply only a small area that you can tile over within 10-15 minutes.

Comb Thinset

Then comb additional thinset over the initial layer using the trowel’s notched edge to create ridges for the tile to adhere to.

Install the Tiles

Once the thinset is prepared, carefully install the interlocking tile sheets:

Position the First Tile Sheet

Place the first pre-arranged tile sheet against the upper corner of the installation area. Press it firmly into the combed thinset.

Apply Pressure

Use a rubbing motion over each tile to ensure it makes full contact with the thinset and flattens any ridges or air bubbles.


Apply more thinset and install the next tile sheet according to your planned pattern. Overlap the interlocking tabs slightly.

Check Alignment

Use spacers between tiles and the level to ensure proper alignment as you go. Adjust as needed.

Cut Around Obstructions

Measure and cut border and edge tiles to fit around electrical outlets, pipes, or other fixtures.

Let Tiles Set

Allow the thinset to cure fully per manufacturer directions before grouting. Usually 24 hours.

Grout the Tiles

Grout fills the seams for a finished look:

Mix and Apply Grout

Prepare grout by mixing powder with water per package instructions. Apply to the tiles by holding the float at a 45° angle and forcing it into the seams.

Clean Excess Grout

Wipe diagonally across the tiles with a damp grout sponge to remove excess grout from the tile surface. Rinse the sponge frequently.

Seal Grout

After grout has cured fully, apply grout sealer according to product directions to protect it from moisture and stains.

Finish and Maintain

Remove Spacers

Carefully remove all the tile spacers with pliers once grout has hardened, being careful not to crack tiles.

Clean and Polish

Wipe away any remaining grout haze with a soft cloth. Buff dry with a clean rag to polish and shine the tile.

Seal Tiles

Sealing the tiles adds an extra layer of protection, especially for natural stone. Use a spray-on grout and tile sealer.


Reapply grout and tile sealer once a year to maintain protection and appearance over time.

Tips for Achieving a Professional Result

Follow these pro tips for beautiful backsplash results:

  • Always start installation from the bottom up at the lowest point of the area. Work in small sections.
  • Plan tile layout on paper first. Avoid narrow pieces along top or outer edges.
  • Use painter’s tape to create clean installation lines and protect surrounding areas.
  • Check thinset consistency and re-mix occasionally to avoid drying out while tiling.
  • Ensure tiles align squarely over the surface and with adjacent tiles as you go.
  • Maintain a consistent joint width by keeping tile spacers in place during installation.
  • Inspect each tile and use a leveler tool to flatten any raised edges or corners.
  • Clean excess grout thoroughly from tile surface to avoid haze and loss of shine.
  • Use a grout release agent on polished or delicate surfaces to make grout cleanup easier.
  • Allow recommended drying times for thinset, grout, and sealers for maximum adhesion and durability.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much thinset mortar and grout do I need?

For thinset, allow about 60-80 lbs per 100 square feet. For grout, 0.75-1.25 lbs per square foot is sufficient in most cases.

Can I use leftover tile from previous projects?

Yes, as long as the tiles are in good condition with no cracks or chips. Just be diligent about planning the pattern.

What’s the best grout color?

Matching the grout color as closely as possible to your tiles will give a more seamless look. Bright white grout can be prone to staining.

How do I cut interlocking tiles?

Mark the line with a straight edge and score the tile face with a utility knife. Flex the tile downward to break cleanly along the cut line.

Should I use tile adhesive instead of thinset?

Thinset mortar is preferred for interlocking tile. It provides a stronger bond, especially for wet areas like backsplashes. Adhesives can fail over time.

How long should I let the thinset cure before grouting?

It’s best to wait at least 24 hours for thinset to cure before applying grout if possible. Refer to product directions for recommended cure times.

What’s the maintenance like for interlocking tile?

Occasional cleaning with warm water and gentle pH-neutral cleaner is all that is needed. Re-seal grout lines annually to maintain water resistance.


Installing an interlocking tile backsplash can take time but results in a stylish, customized focal point. With proper planning and preparation, the right tools, quality materials, and some patience, even DIYers can achieve professional-looking results. Maintain your backsplash by using gentle cleaners, avoiding abrasives, and regularly re-sealing grout lines. Refer to this guide anytime for tips and best practices on properly installing interlocking tile backsplash.