Installing a stone backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and value to your kitchen. Stone backsplashes come in a variety of natural stone types like marble, granite, slate, and travertine, and can lend a luxurious and timeless look to any space. Installing stone tile on a drywall surface is a doable DIY project if you have some tiling experience, as it does not require any additional moisture barriers needed for shower surrounds.
With proper planning, materials, tools, and techniques, you can achieve a stunning stone backsplash on your drywall that will stand the test of time. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process step-by-step, from preparing the drywall to grouting and sealing the finished product. Let’s get started!
Preparing the Drywall Surface
Before you can set those beautiful stone tiles, you need to make sure the drywall is properly prepared to receive them. Here are the key steps:
Clean and Sand
- Wipe down the drywall with a damp cloth to remove any dust or debris. Let it fully dry.
- Lightly sand the drywall with 120-150 grit sandpaper to rough up the surface and help the mortar adhere better.
- Vacuum the area thoroughly after sanding to remove all dust.
Fill Any Holes and Imperfections
- Examine the drywall for any holes, cracks, or imperfections, and fill them with drywall joint compound. Let it fully dry and sand smooth.
- Vacuum again to remove any leftover dust.
Prime the Surface
- Apply a coat of high quality drywall primer and let it fully dry. This creates a uniform surface.
- Opt for an acrylic-based primer for best adhesion results with natural stone tile.
- Some acrylic primers like Mapei’s Eco Prim Grip also act as a bonding agent.
Apply the Cement Board (Optional)
- While not always necessary, applying a thin layer of cement board adds extra stability.
- Cut boards to size and adhere them with thinset mortar to the wall surface.
- Make sure boards are level and gaps are filled for a smooth finish.
The drywall is now prepped and ready for tiling!
Selecting Your Stone Tiles
Once your backsplash surface is prepped, it’s time to pick out your tiles! Consider the following when making your selection:
- Natural stone varieties like granite, marble, travertine, slate etc. each have their own aesthetic. Select based on your design style.
- Softer, porous stones like travertine require more sealing than harder granites or marbles.
- Honed finishes have an understated, matte look while polished finishes offer more shine and reflection.
Tile Size and Shape
- Smaller tiles like 2×2″ mosaics make for easier installation than large format tiles.
- Square, rectangular, hexagon, or mosaic shaped tiles all produce different visual effects.
- Mixing tile sizes, shapes, and textures creates more dynamic patterns.
Color and Pattern
- Look for stone tile that complements your cabinetry, countertops, and overall kitchen decor.
- Consistent stone patterns or veining can add natural elegance. Distinct veining creates a bolder statement.
Purchase Extra Tiles
- Be sure to purchase 10-15% more tile than your initial measurements to account for waste, cuts, repairs etc.
Tools and Materials Needed
Gather the necessary tools and materials ahead of time to ensure an efficient install process:
- Tile saw with diamond blade for cutting stone
- Notched trowel for spreading mortar
- Grout float for applying grout
- Grout sealer
- Mixing bucket, measuring cups, mixing stick
- Safety glasses and gloves
- Natural stone tiles
- Thinset mortar that is polymer-modified for stone tile
- Tile spacers
- Painter’s tape
Install the Tile
Now comes the fun part – installing your gorgeous new stone backsplash! Follow these steps closely:
Step 1 – Plan Your Tile Layout
- Map out your tile layout considering any focal points, appliances, or outlets on the wall.
- Draw a diagram to visualize placement and help avoid errors.
Step 2 – Mix the Thinset Mortar
- Pour mortar powder into a bucket and mix with water per manufacturer instructions.
- Only mix what you can use in 30-45 minutes; it will harden beyond that point.
Step 3 – Spread the Thinset
- Apply a layer of thinset to the wall using a notched trowel held at a 45° angle.
- Apply only as much as you can tile over within 15-20 minutes before it skins over.
Step 4 – Set the Tiles
- Place your pre-cut tiles into the thinset one by one using tile spacers for consistent grout lines.
- Press tiles firmly into the thinset and check for level alignment.
- Work in small sections and remove any excess thinset along the way.
Step 5 – Cut Any Custom Pieces
- Measure and mark tiles that need custom cuts around outlets, edges etc.
- Carefully cut using a wet tile saw for clean edges. Grind smooth if needed.
Step 6 – Let Thinset Cure
- Let thinset fully cure for at least 24 hours before grouting unless otherwise specified.
- Some polymer-modified thinsets may only require 8-12 hours curing time. Consult instructions.
Grouting the Tile
Now that your tile is firmly set, it’s time to grout! Follow these tips for success:
Step 1 – Prep the Area
- Remove all tile spacers and debris between tiles. Vacuum well.
- Use painter’s tape around the edges to keep the area clean.
Step 2 – Mix the Grout
- Mix grout powder with water in a bucket per package directions. Normal sanded grout works for most stone tiles.
- Only mix what you can use in 30-45 minutes. Discard any unused mixed grout.
Step 3 – Spread the Grout
- Apply grout over the tile surface using a rubber grout float. Push it deeply into joints.
- Hold float at a 45° angle for best application.
Step 4 – Clean Excess Grout
- Let grout rest for a few minutes before wiping up excess with a damp sponge.
- Rinse sponge in water bucket frequently and change water as needed.
Step 5 – Seal the Surface
- Once grout has dried fully (24-48 hours), apply a penetrating sealant to protect porous natural stone.
- Re-seal every 1-2 years, or whenever grout lines appear darker as seal wears off.
Curing and Ongoing Care
Your stunning stone backsplash is complete! Follow these final tips for curing and care:
- Avoid heavy cleaning or residue for 1-2 weeks to allow grout and thinset to fully cure.
- Only use pH-neutral gentle stone cleaners, not harsh chemicals.
- Re-seal the tiles every 1-2 years with a natural stone penetrating sealer.
- Properly seal around your new backsplash to prevent moisture issues near the sink or stove.
- Enjoy your elegant, head-turning stone tile backsplash for decades to come with proper care and maintenance!
What kind of thinset should I use for a stone backsplash?
Use a polymer or latex-modified thinset mortar specifically formulated for natural stone tile. Avoid multi-purpose thinsets. Consult manufacturer instructions.
Can I use a stone backsplash behind a cooktop?
Yes, stone can work wonderfully behind a cooktop or stove. Just be sure to properly seal it to prevent grease stains and damage. Heat resistant stones like granite work best.
How long should I wait before sealing my stone backsplash?
It’s best to wait 2-3 days after installation to seal to allow the grout and thinset to fully cure. Be sure the tiles are clean and free of haze before applying sealer.
How do I cut natural stone tiles?
Always cut stone tile with a wet saw equipped with a diamond blade. For intricate cuts, use a tile nipper and then grind the edges smooth. Don’t cut stone dry or with a score-and-snap tool.
What’s the difference between honed and polished stone finishes?
Honed stone has a matte, satin finish while polished stone is shiny and reflective. Honed is better for backsplashes near a window to avoid glare.
Installing a stunning stone tile backsplash on your drywall is an achievable DIY project that can add immense style, value, and luxury to your kitchen. Just be sure to prepare the surface properly, use quality mortars and sealers made for natural stone, and employ proper techniques at each stage. The end result will be a backsplash you can admire and enjoy for many years to come. With this comprehensive guide, you can feel confident tackling this project and completing it like a pro.