How to Install Travertine Backsplash

Installing a travertine backsplash can transform the look and feel of your kitchen or bathroom. Travertine is a natural stone that adds warmth, texture, and elegance to any space. While professional installation is recommended for best results, installing travertine backsplash tile is a DIY project many homeowners can tackle with proper planning and preparation. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process step-by-step.

Planning Your Travertine Backsplash

Before you begin installation, careful planning is required to ensure your project goes smoothly. Here are the key factors to consider:

Selecting Your Travertine Tile

Travertine comes in a range of colors from ivory to rusty red as well as finish options like polished, honed, or tumbled. Determine the look you want before making a purchase. Some popular options include:

  • Ivory Honed: A creamy off-white color with a matte finish. Provides a subtle, natural stone look.
  • Walnut Honed: Rich brown color is warm and earthy. The honed finish minimizes shine.
  • Silver Leaf: Features veins and holes filled with grey for a striking contrast. Polished finish offers subtle shine.
  • Tumbled: Hand-finished look with rounded edges. Available in various colors like ivory, rust, and gold.

Measure the backsplash area to determine how many square feet of tile you need. Purchase 10-15% extra to account for tile cuts and potential breakage.

Selecting Your Grout

Grout fills the joints between travertine tiles. It is typically purchased as a dry powder then mixed with water. Choose a grout color that complements your tile. For light travertine, white or ivory grout is common. For darker tiles, brown or grey grout works well.

Make sure to use a high-quality, polymer-modified grout for travertine. Avoid standard cement grout which can stain the stone.

Gathering Your Tools and Materials

Installing travertine backsplash requires some specialty tools and materials. Here is what you’ll need:

  • Travertine tiles
  • Tile adhesive (thinset mortar)
  • Notched trowel
  • Grout
  • Grout float
  • Grout sealer
  • Mixing buckets
  • Mixing paddle and drill
  • Spacers
  • Tile cutter or wet saw
  • Tile nippers
  • Safety gear – gloves, goggles, mask

Preparing Your Work Area

Since cutting tile can get messy, protect nearby surfaces with drop cloths. Have all your tools and materials ready before starting. Clear the backsplash area of any appliances, lighting fixtures, or hardware.

Proper planning is key for a smooth and successful travertine backsplash installation. With tile and grout selected and tools in hand, you’re ready to move on to the installation process.

Installing the Travertine Tiles

Once planning is complete, it’s time to attach the travertine tiles to the backsplash surface. Follow these steps for proper installation:

Step 1: Prepare the Surface

The backsplash area must be clean, dry, and free of any soap scum, grease, or existing wall coverings. Sand glossy paint to dull it and provide texture for the thinset to adhere.

Next, apply painter’s tape around the edges of the backsplash area to protect the surrounding surfaces from thinset and grout.

Before applying any tile, the surface may need preparation depending on the material:

  • Drywall: Prime with drywall primer then apply a drywall sealer as thinset can weaken drywall paper over time.
  • Concrete: Use an etching solution or mechanically etch the surface for proper adhesion. Rinse thoroughly after etching.
  • Wood: Coat surface with primer then apply a cement backerboard secured with screws. This provides a suitable subsurface for tile.
  • Existing tile: Verify existing tile is well-bonded then scuff up the glazed surface using sandpaper. This helps the thinset adhere.

Step 2: Plan Your Tile Layout

A well-planned tile layout is crucial for an aligned, seamless installation. Here are some tips:

  • Map out your tile pattern on the backsplash area with a pencil. Many arrangements work such as a basic grid or a decorative mosaic.
  • Determine the focal point and work outward from there. Place the most eye-catching tiles first.
  • Mix tile sizes and orientations for interest. Use smaller tiles around outlets or as accents.
  • Keep cut edges against walls or edges. Avoid having to cut tiles that go in the field.
  • Follow your floor or countertop pattern for cohesion. Oftentimes backsplash tile aligns with cabinetry.
  • Use spacers between tiles to account for consistent grout joints. 1/16 inch spacers work for most travertine backsplash tile.

Step 3: Mix and Apply the Thinset

Setting travertine tile requires a premium, polymer-modified thinset mortar. This provides a strong, durable bond and prevents staining of the stone.

Mix the thinset to a smooth, toothpaste-like consistency according to manufacturer instructions. Let it slake for 5-10 minutes then remix before using. This allows chemicals in the thinset to activate.

Apply a layer of thinset to the backsplash area using a notched trowel held at a 45-degree angle. Use enough to completely coat the surface but avoid applying too thick. Immediately comb additional thinset horizontally with the notched edge.

Step 4: Set the Travertine Tiles

Once the thinset is prepped, it’s time to set the tiles! Follow these tips for proper placement:

  • Work in small sections: Set 4-5 tiles at a time before grouting to prevent thinset from drying out.
  • Apply back-butter: Use the flat side of the trowel to spread a thin layer of thinset on the back of each tile before placing, ensuring full coverage and adhesion.
  • Set tiles firmly: Press tiles into the combed thinset using a back-and-forth motion across the surface to flatten and adhere.
  • Use spacers: Place tile spacers between each tile to account for consistent grout joint size.
  • Check alignment: As you go, verify tiles are level and aligned. Make any adjustments right away before thinset dries.
  • Cut tiles as needed: Use a wet saw for clean cuts around outlets, edges, and other obstructions. File any rough edges.

Step 5: Let Tiles Set

Once all full tiles are placed, allow them to set undisturbed according to thinset manufacturer directions. This allows the thinset to cure properly.

Use this time to mix up your grout according to package instructions so it’s ready to go. Most travertine tile requires a 24-48 hour tile set time with polymer-modified thinsets.

Setting the tile properly is the most technical part of the process. Maintain patience as you work, allowing the thinset to properly cure before grouting.

Grouting the Travertine Backsplash

After allowing the thinset to fully cure, it’s time to move on to grouting. Neat, consistent grout lines will give your project a polished finish.

Step 6: Apply the Grout

Using a grout float, spread your mixed grout at a 45-degree angle pressing into the joints between the tiles. Hold the float edge at 90 degrees to avoid dragging grout out of the joints.

Make sure joints are fully compacted with no gaps or low spots. Add more grout as needed until the joints are uniformly filled flush with the tile surface.

Step 7: Clean Excess Grout

Once grouted, use a damp sponge to clean up excess grout on the surface before it dries. Work diagonally to the joints to smooth and shape as you clean.

Change rinse water frequently to prevent haze. Buff surface with a clean, dry cloth once done cleaning.

Step 8: Seal the Grout

After the grout has dried fully (24-48 hours), apply grout sealer according to manufacturer directions. This helps protect grout from stains and damage.

Sealing the grout is an important finishing step. Use a high-quality penetrating or “impregnating” sealer formulated for travertine and cementitious grout.

Applying grout takes finesse and patience for best results. Keep the joints compacted with no gaps for a professional finish.

Caulking and Final Details

Once grouting is complete, finish up your travertine backsplash installation with these final steps:

Step 9: Apply Caulk

Use a neutral-colored, silicone caulk to fill any gaps at corners or edges next to the countertop, cabinets, or fixtures. Apply caulk with a steady, even pressure then tool for a smooth finish.

Caulk protects areas prone to cracking from normal movement. Allow to fully cure 24 hours before use.

Step 10: Seal Travertine (Optional)

Sealing is an optional step that helps protect porous natural stone tile from stains and etching. Use a penetrating sealer specifically for travertine.

If sealing, apply the product carefully according to manufacturer directions. Buff surface completely dry after each coat. Multiple coats may be needed for desired protection.

Step 11: Install Accessories

Once everything has fully dried and cured, you can reinstall any fixtures, outlets, or finishing touches like trim. Wipe down the backsplash one final time to remove any haze or residue from installation.

Stand back and admire your stunning, new travertine backsplash! With proper care and maintenance, it will provide lasting beauty for years to come. Be sure to reseal grout and stone periodically as needed.

FAQs About Installing Travertine Backsplash

Ready to tackle your own travertine backsplash installation? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Does travertine need to be sealed before installation?

Sealing prior to installation is not required. However, it can help minimize staining from the thinset mortar during application. Use a penetrating sealer recommended for travertine tile.

What thinset mortar is best for travertine backsplash?

Always use a premium-grade, polymer-modified thinset mortar formulated for natural stone. This provides superior adhesion and flexibility. Avoid multipurpose or standard cement-based thinsets which can fail or stain.

How long does travertine tile thinset take to cure?

Standard set times are 24-48 hours for polymer-modified thinsets. Cooler temperatures or high humidity can extend curing times. Verify the tile is firmly adhered before grouting.

Can you use sanded grout with travertine?

No, sanded grout contains abrasive sand particles that can scratch more delicate stones like travertine. Use an unsanded floor and wall grout. Match the grout color to your tile.

How soon can I get the backsplash wet after grouting?

Avoid moisture on the grout until it has fully cured, typically 24-48 hours. Then seal the grout with a penetrating sealer to protect from staining.

With the right planning and preparation, installing a travertine backsplash is an achievable DIY project for many homeowners. Just take it step-by-step to get professional-looking results. The natural elegance of travertine tile will bring warmth and style to your space for years to come.


Installing a travertine backsplash can take your kitchen or bathroom design to the next level. With proper planning, expert tile-setting techniques, quality materials, and careful grouting, you can achieve stunning results. While it takes some effort and patience, the finished product will enhance your home with timeless beauty. Approach the project methodically, work carefully, and your new travertine backsplash is sure to become a showpiece space you’ll love coming home to each day.