How to Install Tile Backsplash Over Drywall

Installing a tile backsplash over drywall can transform the look of your kitchen or bathroom. With some planning and the right materials, you can create a stylish, easy-to-clean backsplash yourself. Here is a step-by-step guide to installing tile backsplash over drywall.

Planning Your Tile Layout

Before starting installation, you’ll need to plan out your tile layout. Consider the following:

  • Measure the area to be tiled and sketch out a layout that maximizes full tiles and minimizes small cut tiles around the edges and corners.
  • Choose the tile size and pattern. Smaller tiles like 4″ x 4″ are easier for DIY installation. Subway tiles, bricks, and hexagons are popular patterns.
  • Determine the tile orientation. Laying some patterns diagonally can add visual interest.
  • Buy 10-15% extra tiles to account for broken or damaged tiles and pattern matching.

Gather the Right Materials

Installing tile over drywall requires specific materials. Be sure to get:

  • Tile backsplash tiles
  • Tile adhesive mortar
  • Grout
  • Grout sealer
  • Trowel
  • Grout float
  • Spacers
  • Tile cutter
  • Wet saw (for cutting natural stone)

Also have on hand: painter’s tape, dust masks, safety goggles, kneepads, and drop cloths.

Prepare the Drywall Surface

Proper drywall preparation is crucial for successful tile adhesion:

  • Ensure the drywall is firmly secured to the wall studs. Re-screw any loose areas.
  • Seal the drywall with drywall sealer to prevent moisture damage.
  • Apply painter’s tape along the edges and around outlets to keep the tiled area neat.
  • Lightly sand the drywall to rough up the surface for better mortar adhesion.
  • Clean and dry the sanded drywall thoroughly before applying tile mortar.

Spread the Tile Mortar

Mix up the adhesive mortar according to package directions. Use a notched trowel to spread it evenly over the drywall:

  • Apply enough mortar to cover an area that can be tiled before the mortar skins over.
  • Use the trowel’s notched edge to create ridges for optimal mortar contact and tile adhesion.
  • Spread mortar in the same direction across the whole installation area for consistency.

Set the Tiles

Once mortar is spread, it’s time to set the tiles:

  • Place spacers between tiles to create even grout lines. Ensure proper alignment.
  • Press tiles into the mortar firmly, wiggling slightly, to ensure full adhesive contact.
  • Check tiles periodically to confirm they are level and aligned. Adjust as needed.
  • Allow the mortar to cure fully (usually 24-48 hours) before grouting.

Cut Accent and Border Tiles

Most tile backsplashes require some tile cutting to fit edges and openings neatly:

  • Measure and mark tiles to be cut. Add 1/8″ clearance to the measurements.
  • Keep the tile face up when cutting with a wet saw for precision cuts. Use a tile cutter for straight cuts.
  • Cut tiles steadily and smoothly. Rushing can crack tiles.
  • Dry fit cut tiles to ensure proper sizing before final installation with mortar.

Apply Grout Between Tiles

Grout fills the joints between tiles. Be sure to:

  • Choose grout color to complement or match the tiles.
  • Apply grout using a rubber grout float, pressing into joints fully. Remove excess grout.
  • Wipe tiles diagonally across joints to prevent dragging grout out of the joints.
  • After grout dries, use a damp sponge to clean any remaining grout haze.
  • Seal grout once fully cured to protect from moisture and staining.

Finish With Caulking and Sealant

The finishing touches protect your new backsplash:

  • Run a bead of caulk along countertops, edges, and corners to prevent moisture from getting behind tiles.
  • Seal grout and apply grout sealer according to manufacturer directions to protect from moisture.
  • Remove painter’s tape and other installation debris. Clean the finished backsplash thoroughly.

Tips for Successful Installation

Follow these tips for a flawless tile installation over drywall:

  • Acclimate tiles before installing. Let tiles sit in the room for 1-2 days to prevent cracking or warping.
  • Check wall for moisture problems first. Tile will not adhere to damaged or moldy drywall.
  • Stagger tiles so the grout lines don’t line up. This creates a more seamless look.
  • Use plastic tile spacers for even grout line width. Remove spacers before grouting.
  • Work in small sections so mortar doesn’t dry before tiles are applied.

With careful planning and preparation, you can achieve a professional-looking, durable tiled backsplash over drywall. Take your time and don’t be afraid to adjust tiles or redo sections if needed. The finished result will be well worth the effort.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of drywall is best for installing tile?

Cement board or other backerboard is ideal, but regular drywall can work if properly sealed and prepared. Mold-resistant drywall is a good option for moisture-prone areas.

Can I apply tile mortar directly to painted drywall?

No, paint will impair adhesion. Drywall should be stripped, lightly sanded, and primed with drywall sealer before tiling.

How long should I wait before grouting tiles on drywall?

Wait 24-48 hours for thinset mortar to cure before applying grout. This allows the mortar to adhere fully.

Should sanded or unsanded grout be used with drywall?

Sanded grout is recommended as it stays in place better than unsanded. Use unsanded only for very narrow grout lines.

What’s the easiest way to cut tile for an outlet opening?

Use a rotary tool with a tile cutting bit to score the tile surface and make holes for outlet covers. Finish cuts with tile nippers.


Installing a tile backsplash over drywall can give your space a stylish, finished look if done properly. With careful prep work, quality materials, and patience during installation, you can achieve beautiful results and improve your DIY skills in the process. Be sure to thoroughly plan the layout, prep and seal the drywall, apply mortar and tiles correctly, and neatly grout and seal when finished.