How to Install Tile in Kitchen Backsplash

Installing tile in your kitchen backsplash can transform the look and feel of your cooking space. With the right planning and preparation, tiling your backsplash is an achievable DIY project. Follow this comprehensive guide to learn everything you need to know about how to install tile in a kitchen backsplash.


Tiling your kitchen backsplash is one of the most popular DIY remodeling projects. The backsplash protects your wall from splashes and stains while serving as an eye-catching focal point in the kitchen. With limitless tile options to choose from, you can create a backsplash that perfectly matches your kitchen’s style.

Installing tile backsplash requires careful planning and patience but it is a manageable project for DIYers. The key steps include preparing the surface, laying out the tile design, applying thinset mortar, setting the tiles, and grouting. We will walk through each step in detail below. Follow this guide and you will gain the skills and confidence to tile your own beautiful, functional kitchen backsplash.

Benefits of Tiling Your Backsplash

Here are some of the top benefits of installing tile on your kitchen backsplash:

  • Aesthetics – Tile provides limitless design options. Pick a material, color, pattern that matches your kitchen decor.
  • Durability – Tile stands up to heat, stains, and moisture. It lasts for decades with proper care.
  • Ease of cleaning – Tile backsplash is easy to clean and keep sanitary. Simply wipe with a sponge and warm water.
  • Affordability – Tile is an affordable DIY project. The materials are cheaper than other backsplash options.
  • Increased home value – Tile backsplash is a top selling feature. It can increase your kitchen’s value for resale.

Preparing the Surface

Proper preparation is crucial for a long-lasting tile installation. Follow these steps to prepare the surface:

Step 1: Remove Existing Backsplash

If your kitchen already has a backsplash, remove it completely. Use a hammer and pry bar to take down tile, grout, and adhesive. Remove all debris and scrape the wall smooth.

Step 2: Deep Clean the Wall

Clean the entire backsplash area with TSP substitute cleaner. This removes grease and soap scum. Rinse thoroughly and let dry.

Step 3: Repair and Level the Wall

Fix any cracks, holes, or uneven spots using drywall joint compound. Sand bumps smooth. The wall must be totally level and smooth for proper thinset adhesion.

Step 4: Prime the Surface

Apply tile primer to the sanded areas and entire backsplash surface. This helps the thinset stick to the wall better. Let the primer dry completely.

Planning Your Tile Layout

Carefully planning your tile layout is crucial for an organized, professional look:

Choose Your Tile

Select tile material, color, shape, and pattern. Ceramic, porcelain, glass, and stone tile all work well. Buy a few extra tiles to account for waste.

Map Your Layout

Sketch your backsplash and decide on the tile arrangement. Offset patterns add interest. Accent tiles break up solid fields.

Pick the Starting Point

Figure where to start tiling. Center tiles under windows or across the stove. Minimize small sliver cuts at edges.

Calculate Tile Needs

Use the room dimensions and tile size to estimate the quantities needed. Having extra tiles allows for mistakes and future repairs.

Consider Accents

Decide if you will incorporate border or accent tiles. These tiles often require special ordering. Plan the layout so they align properly.

How to Apply Thinset Mortar

Thinset mortar bonds the tile to the wall. Mixing and applying it correctly ensures a strong bond:

Step 1: Mix Thinset

Pour dry thinset in a bucket. Add latex additive and mix to a smooth, toothpaste consistency. Let slake for 10 minutes.

Step 2: Apply to the Wall

Use a notched trowel to spread thinset onto the wall. Apply 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness in small sections.

Step 3: Back-Butter Tiles

Spread a layer of thinset to the backs of each tile too. This doubles the adhesive strength.

Step 4: Beat in Thinset

Use the trowel to flatten the ridges so thinset adheres evenly. The wall is now ready for tiling!

Setting the Tile

It’s time to start setting your tiles. Follow these tips for proper installation:

Step 1: Set the Starting Point

Begin tiling from your planned starting point. Use spacers to leave even 1/16 inch grout lines.

Step 2: Work in Small Sections

Tile a few square feet at a time. Thinset dries quickly so work in manageable sections.

Step 3: Check for Proper Adhesion

After setting tiles, try moving them sideways. They shouldn’t budge if thinset adhesion is proper.

Step 4: Make Precise Cuts

Use a wet saw to cut border and accent tiles precisely. Grind the cut edge smooth with stone.

Step 5: Clean Excess Thinset

Use a damp sponge to wipe away any thinset that squeezes up between tiles. Doing this periodically prevents buildup.

Grouting Your Tiled Backsplash

Grout fills the spaces between tiles. Follow these techniques for smooth, attractive grout lines:

Step 1: Let Thinset Cure

Allow thinset to cure 24-48 hours before grouting. Check for gaps or lifting tiles and re-adhere if needed.

Step 2: Apply Grout

Mix grout per package directions. Apply over the tile surface using a rubber grout float or squeegee. Push it deeply into grout lines.

Step 3: Wipe Excess Grout

Wipe tiles diagonally across grout lines with a damp sponge. Rinse the sponge frequently. Remove all grout haze.

Step 4: Seal Grout

After grout dries fully, apply grout sealer. This prevents staining and makes grout cleaning easier.

Step 5: Caulk Perimeters

Run a bead of silicone caulk along all edges. This seals moisture out of the installation. Smooth with a wet finger.

Tips for Installing Tile Backsplash

Follow these tips to help your project go smoothly from start to finish:

  • Carefully read all manufacturer instructions for thinset mortars, grouts, and sealers. Improper use can cause failures.
  • Arrange your tiles on the floor first to visualize placement and find the best layout.
  • Always mix thinset and grouts with the exact water ratios. Too little water prevents proper adhesion.
  • Tiles may have shade variations. Blend tiles from multiple boxes for consistent appearance.
  • Use tile spacers for evenly spaced grout lines. Remove spacers before grouting.
  • Work in small sections so thinset mortar does not dry and lose adhesion before tiles are set.
  • Use a tile wet saw with a diamond blade for precise cuts. Grind cut edges smooth.
  • Seal your grout and re-apply yearly to prevent staining and mold growth in grout lines.

Mistakes to Avoid When Tiling Backsplash

It’s easy for beginners to make some common mistakes. Avoid these issues to get a professional looking backsplash:

  • Failure to level the wall. Tiles will crack or loosen over time if installed over uneven areas.
  • Not cleaning grease and soap scum. Result is poor thinset adhesion.
  • Applying thinset unevenly. Creates weak spots where tiles can detach.
  • Forgetting to back-butter tiles. Can lead to lifting, cracks, and holes in grout.
  • Allowing thinset to skin over before setting tile. Prevents proper bonding.
  • Neglecting to use tile spacers. Causes uneven grout lines when tiles shift.
  • Skipping sealing grout. Leads to stained and discolored grout.
  • Using wrong grout color. Can make tile colors look dingy or off.
  • Forgetting perimeter caulk. Allows moisture to penetrate the installation.

FAQs About Installing Tile Backsplash

Still have questions? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

How Long Does it Take to Tile a Backsplash?

For an experienced DIYer tiling a standard 8 foot by 2 foot backsplash, the total time is usually 15-20 hours. Planned over a long weekend, the project is quite manageable.

What Type of Tile is Best for Kitchen Backsplash?

Ceramic and porcelain are most popular. Choose glazed tiles with a low absorption rating. Glass, metal, and stone also work well but require specialized cutting tools.

How do I Cut Holes in Ceramic Tile for Faucets?

Use a diamond-grit hole saw kit. Mark the holes, center the pilot bit, and drill at low speed with steady pressure. File the edges smooth.

Should Backsplash Tile Match Countertops?

It depends on your style. Matching materials create a seamless look. Contrasting tiles paired properly add interest. Pick what best fits your kitchen design.

How do I Attach Tile Around Receptacles?

Carefully cut tile sections to fit around outlets and switches. Turn off power. Keep metal outlet boxes covered for safety. Silicone caulk any gaps.

Can I Install Subway Tile in a Brick Pattern?

Yes, laying subway tile in a brick or herringbone pattern adds great visual appeal. Plan the layout so tiles fit precisely around focal areas. Use leveling systems to prevent slipping.

Should I Hire a Pro for Open Shelving Backsplash?

Open shelving requires tiling edges and drilling holes for brackets. The overhang above counters must be completely level and strong. Because of the precision required, a professional installer is advisable for this more complex task.


With proper planning and attention to detail, you can achieve beautiful, professional-looking results by tiling your own kitchen backsplash. The end result will be a stunning focal point that puts the finishing touch on your kitchen design. Tackling this project yourself saves thousands over hiring a contractor. Follow the techniques described above and take your time to get everything just right. Soon you will have a stylish, high-quality backsplash you can enjoy for many years to come.