How to Install Tile Backsplash on Painted Drywall

Installing a tile backsplash can transform the look of your kitchen or bathroom by adding a stylish, easy-to-clean focal point. While tile is most commonly installed on cement board or directly on gypsum drywall, adding tile to painted drywall requires a few extra steps to ensure proper adhesion and prevent moisture damage. With the right preparation and materials, you can achieve a stunning backsplash on painted drywall that will last for years to come.

Preparing the Painted Drywall Surface

The first step is to make sure the painted drywall is ready for tile installation. Here are the key tips for prepping painted drywall:

  • Clean thoroughly – Use a degreasing cleaner to remove any dirt, oil or soap residue from the walls. Rinse and let dry completely.
  • Sand to rough up the surface – Lightly sand the painted drywall with 100-150 grit sandpaper. This helps the thinset adhere better.
  • Check for hollow spots – Tap along the drywall to listen and feel for any hollow areas. These should be cut out and replaced with new drywall.
  • Fill any seams, holes and imperfections – Use drywall joint compound to fill any cracks, holes or imperfections. Let dry and sand smooth.
  • Prime with tile primer – Apply a coat of high-quality tile primer/sealer to help the thinset bond. Let the primer dry fully before tiling.

Choosing the Right Adhesives

Using the proper adhesives is crucial for a long lasting tile installation on painted drywall.

  • For the thinset, use a polymer-modified thinset mortar rated for use over painted drywall. This type of thinset has additives that create a strong bond.
  • For the grout, use an unsanded grout. Sanded grout has a gritty texture and does not spread as smoothly into the tile joints.
  • Caulk the perimeter where the tile meets the countertop, walls, or other materials. Use a flexible silicone caulk designed for wet areas.

Adding a Waterproof Membrane

Since drywall can be prone to moisture damage, applying a waterproofing membrane is highly recommended before tiling a backsplash.

  • Liquid applied membranes like RedGard or AquaDefense can be brushed or rolled on. Allow to fully cure before applying thinset.
  • Sheet membranes like Kerdi can be cut to size and adhered to the wall with thinset before tiling. The seams are sealed with Kerdi-Band.

The membrane creates a waterproof barrier to prevent moisture from reaching the drywall paper or paint. This protects the integrity of the drywall and prevents the growth of mold and mildew.

Setting the Tile

Once your prep work is complete, setting the tile is straightforward:

  • Apply the thinset mortar evenly to the wall using a notched trowel. Spread only as much as can be tiled in ~15 minutes.
  • Press tiles firmly into the mortar, using spacers for consistent grout lines. Offset seams for the most pleasing pattern.
  • Allow the thinset to cure fully (24-48 hours) before applying grout or removing spacers.
  • Mix the grout and apply it smoothly using a rubber grout float or squeegee. Wipe away excess grout with a damp sponge.
  • Allow grout to cure fully according to manufacturer instructions, then seal grout lines with grout sealer.

With proper preparation and high quality tile setting materials, your new backsplash can withstand everyday use, splashes and humidity for many years of beauty. Maintain it by using gentle cleaners, re-sealing grout annually, and immediately addressing any cracks or damage. Enjoy your stylish focal point!

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Tile on Painted Drywall

Can I install tile directly on painted drywall?

It is possible but not recommended. Painted drywall alone does not provide enough adhesion for a long lasting bond. Using a primer, thinset made for drywall, and membranes will give much better results.

What kind of paint works best under tile?

High gloss enamel paints provide the smoothest, most water-resistant surface for tiling. Latex or acrylic paints work as well. Avoid flat finishes as they are more porous. Always apply a quality tile primer over the paint.

Should I remove wallpaper before installing tile?

Yes, it’s best to remove wallpaper and glue residue completely. Any remaining paper or glue can allow moisture to accumulate and prevent proper adhesion of the tile.

Can I use premixed thinset mortar?

Premixed thinset is not recommended for use on painted drywall as it does not provide as strong of a bond. Use a polymer-modified dry-set mortar designed specifically for use on drywall.

How soon can I grout after applying tiles to the thinset?

It is best to wait 24-48 hours for the thinset to cure fully before applying grout. Grout applied too soon can be pulled out of the joints as it cures.

What happens if moisture gets behind the tile?

Excess moisture behind the tile can ruin the integrity of the drywall and lead to mold growth. Using a waterproof membrane is vital to prevent moisture damage and ensure a lasting installation.


Upgrading your space with a tile backsplash is a satisfying DIY project that can add value and personality. With careful prep work, proper materials, and attention to detail, you can achieve beautiful results installing tile on painted drywall. The finished product provides an elegant, easy-to-clean focal point in your kitchen or bath for years to come.