How to Install Picket Tile Backsplash

Installing a picket tile backsplash can add a charming, unique look to your kitchen or bathroom. With their slim, rectangular shape, picket tiles create a clean lined pattern when arranged vertically on the wall. While tile installation takes some time and effort, picket tiles are simpler to install than more complex designs. By following some key steps, you can achieve a stylish and long-lasting picket tile backsplash.

Plan Your Design and Gather Supplies

Before starting your installation, take time to plan out your backsplash design. Measure the space and sketch ideas to visualize how the tiles will look. Consider the following:

  • What area will the backsplash cover? Just a section behind the stove? The entire wall between countertops and cabinets? Be sure to measure so you purchase enough tile.
  • What size picket tiles will you use? Smaller tiles create a more delicate look. Larger tiles make a bolder statement. Standard sizes are 2×8 inches up to 4×12 inches.
  • What material? Ceramic and porcelain are common. Natural stone offers a richer look but is more expensive. Glass tile can add shine.
  • What color and finish? Matte white is popular for a crisp, clean aesthetic. Go bold with saturated hues. Metallic adds glamour.

Once your design is mapped out, purchase the necessary supplies:

  • Picket tiles – Calculate the square footage and buy 10-15% extra to allow for cuts and waste.
  • Tile adhesive – Choose an appropriate adhesive for the tile material and wall surface.
  • Grout – Pick a grout color that complements the tile. Unsanded grout works for narrow tile joints.
  • Trowel – Choose a notched trowel suited to the tile size.
  • Spacers – Use small plastic crosses to create even grout lines between tiles.
  • Wet saw – For accurately cutting tiles to fit. A handheld tile cutter can also work for straight cuts.
  • Grout sealer – Seal the grout after installation to protect it from stains.

Other helpful supplies include a level, tape measure, utility knife, grout sponge, buckets, mixing paddle, and rags.

Prepare the Wall Surface

Installing tile over an uneven wall surface will lead to cracks and tiles popping off over time. Take time to properly prepare the wall for a durable backsplash installation.

  • Clean the wall area thoroughly to remove grease, dirt and debris.
  • Fill any holes or cracks with spackle compound and let dry completely. Sand smooth.
  • Remove any old paint or wallpaper. Scuff glossy paint with sandpaper so the adhesive adheres properly.
  • Verify the wall is perfectly plumb and flat. Use a level and straightedge to check for any high or low spots.
  • Mark stud locations, as ceramic tile should be fastened to wood or metal studs. Use a stud finder to detect them behind the drywall.
  • Install backerboard if the wall is not already a suitable surface. Cement board provides a rigid, water-resistant layer for tile.

Take the time to address any problem areas in the wall now, so it will properly support the tile installation.

Lay Out the Tile Pattern

Before mixing up any adhesive, do a dry run to map out the pattern. Place a row of tiles horizontally along the bottom edge as your guide. Use spacers to evenly space tiles for consistent grout line widths.

  • Start by centering the tiles on the focal area of the wall, such as behind the stove. Work outward from there.
  • Keep the bottom row perfectly level. Use a laser level or tile leveling system if needed.
  • Cut border and edge tiles as needed to fit. Make small adjustments now, before adhering tiles permanently.
  • Step back periodically and inspect the pattern. Ensure tiles align properly and the overall layout is aesthetically pleasing.
  • Mark the locations of any outlets, switches or fixtures to place cut tiles around them.

Taking the time to lay out tiles first helps ensure everything fits together properly when installing. Don’t adhere tiles with adhesive until the pattern is mapped out successfully.

Mix and Apply Tile Adhesive

With the tile layout planned, it’s time to mix up the adhesive and stick the tiles to the wall. Use the following process for proper application and adhesion:

  • Prepare the work area by protecting nearby surfaces from messes and clearing space to mix adhesive.
  • Plan to adhere only a few tiles at a time, as most adhesives set up and harden quickly.
  • Mix up a small batch of adhesive according to manufacturer instructions. Use a paddle mixer on a power drill for quick mixing.
  • Apply adhesive to the wall using the appropriate notched trowel suggested for the tile size.
  • Hold the trowel at a 45 degree angle to rake the adhesive in straight, even lines across a section of wall.
  • Immediately press tiles into the adhesive one by one, using spacers to maintain even grout line spacing.
  • Push tiles firmly into the adhesive to ensure full coverage and adhesion on the back.
  • Periodically lift a tile to check for proper transfer of adhesive. At least 90% coverage is ideal.
  • Work in small sections, adhering tiles few rows at a time, to prevent the adhesive from hardening before tiles are applied.

Proper mixing and application of the adhesive provides the strongest bond and prevents tiles from lifting or becoming detached over time.

Cut Border and Accent Tiles

Picket tiles create straight vertical lines on the wall, but focal areas, borders, and edges likely require some custom cuts for the proper fit. Make any specialty cuts before adhering tiles permanently.

For simple straight cuts, use a manual tile cutter. Score the tile and snap the pieces apart. For intricately shaped cuts, use a wet saw:

  • Mark or measure the shape that needs cutting. Use painter’s tape to protect the tile’s visible surface when marking.
  • Set the blade depth on the wet saw to just slightly deeper than the tile thickness.
  • Keep fingers clear of the blade and cut slowly and steadily for clean edges.
  • Smooth any rough edges with an abrasive stone or sandpaper.
  • Test the cut piece for proper fit before adhering. Make minor adjustments to the shape as needed.
  • Apply adhesive and place custom cut tiles into the layout pattern. Press firmly.

Take the time to make precision cuts for a professional looking finished product. Correct fit and spacing of border tiles finishes off the installation nicely.

Apply Grout Between Tiles

Once all full and cut tiles are solidly adhered, it’s time to grout. Grout fills the joints and creates clean lines between each tile. Wait at least 24 hours after installing tiles to apply grout for proper adhesive curing.

  • Mix a small batch of grout just before use. Unsanded grout is best for narrow tile joints.
  • Apply grout to the tile surface using a rubber grout float. Push diagonally across tiles to pack joints completely.
  • Let the grout sit for 10-15 minutes until slightly firm. Then scrape off excess grout with the edge of the float.
  • Wipe the tiles clean using a damp sponge in a circular motion. Rinse the sponge frequently.
  • Once grout haze is removed, allow the joints to become firm, about 30-60 minutes. Then polish the tiles with a soft cloth.
  • Avoid wiping or disturbing the grout joints for at least 24 hours as they fully cure. Grout takes 30 days to reach maximum hardness.

Grout provides the finished look that unifies the tile pattern and accentuates the clean lines of picket tile. Take care to apply it smoothly and cleanly.

Seal and Finish the Installation

Once grouting is complete, a few final steps will finish off your stunning new backsplash:

  • Wait at least 72 hours after grouting to apply grout sealer, allowing it to fully cure.
  • Apply sealer to the grout lines using a small brush or applicator bottle. Avoid spilling on tile surfaces.
  • Allow sealer to penetrate for 5-10 minutes, then wipe off any excess with a clean cloth.
  • Run any remaining perimeter caulk beads between tile and countertops or along the edges.
  • Replace any electrical switch plates, outlet covers, or fixtures previously removed.
  • Make cuts around plumbing fixtures or other obstructions as needed with a multi-tool or oscillating tool.
  • Clean the tiles thoroughly with a pH neutral cleaner to remove haze and residue.

Stand back and admire your handiwork! A sealed grout and shining picket tile backsplash completes the look and provides years of lasting beauty in your home.

Tips for Achieving an Attractive Result

Installing a stylish and durable picket tile backsplash requires care and patience, but it is a DIY-friendly project with the right approach. Keep these tips in mind for success:

Mix tiles from several boxes – When tile colors vary slightly from batch to batch, blend tiles from multiple boxes. Randomize them to ensure an even distribution of any color variations.

Work methodically in small sections – Only adhere and grout a few tiles at a time before the products begin to harden. Complete one row fully before moving to the next.

Keep layout aligned and spaced evenly – Use the proper tools like levels, spacers, and tile grids to maintain straight lines and consistent gaps between tiles.

Make specialty cuts before adhering tile – Test fit border tiles, outlet cuts, and other special shapes first before permanently sticking tiles with adhesive.

Clean tiles and refresh grout over time – Use pH balanced cleaners and periodic grout sealing to keep the backsplash looking like new for years.

With some patience and proper methods, you can install an attractive, on-trend picket tile backsplash that adds personality and visual interest to your space. The finished project will provide you with satisfaction and pride for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Picket Tile Backsplashes

Installing a picket tile backsplash brings unique style to your kitchen or bath. But it also raises common questions for many homeowners attempting their first tile project.

What tools do I need to install picket tile?

Basic essential tools include a notched trowel, spacers, mixing paddle, buckets, a wet saw or tile cutter, grout float, sponges, and safety gear like gloves and eye protection.Specialized tools like a tile leveling system, laser level, or multi-tool make the installation easier but aren’t mandatory.

What adhesive is best for a picket tile backsplash?

Choose a polymer-modified thinset adhesive meant for wall applications. These flexible adhesives provide a stronger bond. Consult manufacturer instructions for the best choice for your tile material and wall type.

Should I use sanded or unsanded grout for picket tiles?

Unsanded grout is recommended for narrow joints under 1/8 inch. It can be pushed deep into the joints easier. Sanded grout is more difficult to get into narrow picket tile joints but provides more strength for wider grout lines.

How soon can I grout after installing the tiles?

Wait at least 24 hours after applying tile adhesive before grouting. This allows the adhesive to fully cure and prevents the grout from loosening tiles that aren’t firmly set. Be sure to follow adhesive manufacturer guidelines.

How do I cut small picket tiles?

Use a manual tile cutter for straight cuts across full tiles. For L-shapes, notches, and irregular edges, use a wet saw fitted with a tile cutting blade. Take safety precautions and go slowly for clean cuts.

How do I keep the grout looking clean?

Sealing the grout after it fully cures prevents staining and discoloration. Grout can be sealed as soon as 72 hours after installation. Re-apply sealer annually or when discoloration occurs. Use pH neutral cleaners for routine tile and grout cleaning.

What’s the best way to lay out picket tiles?

Start tiles in the center and work outward. Keep the bottom row perfectly level. Use spacers between each tile for consistent spacing. Step back periodically and inspect the layout. Adjust as needed before permanently adhering tiles.

How long does picket tile installation take?

Once the wall prep and layout planning are done, the installation and grouting can proceed fairly quickly. Apply just a few tiles at a time before the thinset dries. The total DIY time depends on the size of the project, but most backsplashes take 1-3 days.

Careful planning, precision cutting, and attention to detail in applying adhesives and grout contribute to a successful and long-lasting picket tile installation you can be proud of.


Installing a picket tile backsplash brings a charming decorative accent to your kitchen or bathroom. By following fundamental tiling techniques and best practices, even DIYers with minimal experience can achieve professional-looking results. Pay attention to proper planning, careful surface preparation, deliberate tile layout, precision cutting, methodical installation, and thorough grouting and sealing to maximize durability and visual appeal. Patience and care in each step of the process allows the distinctive beauty of the vertical picket tile design to shine. With some perseverance and pride in your craftsmanship, you can install an eye-catching backsplash that will upgrade your space for years to come.