How to Install Wall Backsplash

Adding a backsplash to your kitchen or bathroom walls is an easy way to add visual interest and protect the walls from water damage and stains. With some planning, the right materials, and a bit of DIY know-how, you can install a beautiful, functional backsplash on your own. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps for installing wall backsplash tile, from choosing the right tile and prep work to applying grout and caulk for a professional finish.

Choosing Tile for Your Backsplash

The first step in any tiling project is selecting the right tile. Here are some considerations when shopping for backsplash tile:


  • Ceramic: Classic, affordable option available in a huge range of colors, styles, and finishes. Durable and water-resistant.
  • Porcelain: Similar look as ceramic but denser and more impervious to moisture. Withstands stains better.
  • Glass: Gorgeous, shiny finish. Translucent for an eye-catching accent wall. Can be expensive and requires careful cutting.
  • Metal: Very durable and comes in stainless steel, copper, etc. Provides an industrial, modern look.
  • Natural Stone: Elegant natural textures like marble, travertine, granite. Needs sealing to prevent stains. Higher cost.


  • Small mosaics (1-2 inches): Intricate patterns, best for backsplashes. Require more grout.
  • Medium tiles (4-6 inches): Balance between detail and faster installation. Classic subway tile size.
  • Large tiles (8+ inches): Dramatic statement tiles. Minimize grout lines. Harder to cut and install.


Subway: Classic rectangular shape, like brickwork. Timeless and simple.

Peninsula/Arabesque: Elongated with an arched end. Add movement and interest.

Herringbone: Angled tiles form a V shape. Sophisticated geometric pattern.

Mosaic: Tiles less than 2 inches, sold mounted in sheets. Great for backsplashes.

Backsplash Design Planning

Once you’ve selected the perfect tile, map out your design before starting the installation.

Make a Layout

A layout helps you determine how many tiles you need and how they will be positioned. Mark the center point and outline the installation area. Dry lay tiles to test the pattern.

Calculate Quantity

Measure the space then use the tile size to determine the square footage. Buy 10-15% extra to account for cuts and waste.

Choose Grout Color

The grout between the tiles makes a big impact. Contrasting grout highlights each tile while matching grout unifies the look.

Decide on Borders or Accent Tiles

Borders at the top or bottom of the backsplash can frame the design. Accent tiles mixed in add pops of color and interest.

Gather Supplies

Having all materials on hand will make the installation go smoothly. You’ll need: tiles, mortar, grout, grout sealer, tile spacers, tile cutter, mixing bucket, trowel, sponges, painter’s tape.

Preparing Walls for Tile Backsplash

Proper prep work ensures your backsplash tiles will adhere correctly and stay put.

Clean the Surface

Thoroughly clean the installation area with soap and water to remove grease, dirt and debris. Rinse and let dry completely.

Remove Outlets and Switch Plates

Protect electronics by temporarily removing outlets, switches, and light fixtures from the backsplash area.

Fill Any Holes or Cracks

Use caulk or drywall compound to patch any holes or cracks for a smooth surface. Allow time to dry completely.

Apply Primer/Sizing

For glossy or painted surfaces, coat the area with primer and sizing compound to help the mortar adhere.

Mark the Tile Layout

Make level horizontal and vertical reference lines where tiles will start. Dry lay tiles and make adjustments.

Apply Mortar

Use a notched trowel to spread thinset mortar evenly over the installation area. Apply only as much as you can tile over in 30 minutes.

Setting the Wall Tile

With proper preparation complete, you’re ready to start setting tiles for your backsplash.

Mix Tile Adhesive

Prepare the thinset mortar according to package directions. Let slake for 10 minutes before use.

Spread Mortar

Use the notched edge of the trowel to apply an even layer of mortar over the surface, about 1/4 inch thick.

Place Tiles

Following your layout, press tiles firmly into the mortar. Push toward the center for best adhesion.

Check Alignment

Use spacers between tiles for consistent spacing. Make sure tiles are level and aligned.

Cut Tiles

Measure and mark tiles that need cutting. Score with cutter then snap. Use wet saw for intricate cuts.

Remove Spacers

Once the mortar has cured per package directions, gently remove all spacers between tiles.

Apply Grout

Push grout evenly into joints with a rubber grout float. Wipe away excess grout with damp sponge.

Seal Grout

Once cured, apply grout sealer to protect from stains. Follow package directions for sealing time.

How to Finish the Installation

Apply the finishing touches for a seamless, complete backsplash installation.

Caulk Perimeter

Use silicone caulk to seal any gaps between tiles and walls, corners, countertops, or cabinets.

Seal Natural Stone (If Applicable)

Apply natural stone sealer to granite, marble, etc. per product instructions to resist stains.

Replace Outlets and Fixtures

Reinstall any outlets, switches, or fixtures previously removed. Test to make sure all are functioning.

Clean the Tiles

Use a pH-neutral cleaner and damp microfiber cloth to remove any haze or residue from tiles.

Grout Maintenance

Protect your grout by sealing it annually. Reapply grout in any areas that crack or crumble over time.

Enjoy Your New Backsplash!

Step back and admire your newly tiled backsplash! With proper care it will provide beauty and functionality for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Wall Backsplash

Get answers to common questions about prepping, tiling, grouting, and maintaining your new backsplash installation.

What tools do I need to install a backsplash?

Basic tiling tools include a mixing bucket, notched trowel, grout float, sponges, tile cutter, tile spacers, grout sealer, caulk, and more. Rental tools like a wet saw make intricate cuts easier.

How do I cut tile for outlets and around corners?

Measure and mark tiles to fit around outlets and corners. Cut with tile cutters or wet saws. Use silicone caulk around corners for flexible waterproof seams.

What thinset mortar is best for backsplash tile?

Choose a polymer-modified mortar which is stronger and more water resistant. Unsanded thinset works for small mosaic sheets. Sanded for larger tiles. White thinset shows through glass tile.

Should the thinset mortar go over the drywall or right onto the tiles?

Thinset should be applied directly onto the primed and prepared drywall, not onto the backs of the tiles. Push tiles into the mortar with a back and forth motion.

Can I use regular grout for a backsplash?

While you can use sanded floor grout, unsanded grout is better for thin backsplash joints. Make sure it’s polymer-modified. Grout with silicone provides maximum water resistance.

How long does it take for grout and thinset to dry?

Thinset cures in 24-48 hours before grouting. Grout takes 24-72 hours to cure enough to withstand sealing. Exact times depend on tile size, temperature and humidity.

Should I use epoxy grout instead of regular grout?

Epoxy grout is more durable, resistant to stains, and waterproof. The downside is it’s more expensive and difficult to work with. Not necessary for low-moisture backsplashes.


Installing a backsplash is a satisfying DIY project that can completely transform the look of your kitchen or bath. With proper planning, materials, and careful tile setting technique, you can achieve professional-looking results and improve your space both aesthetically and functionally. Reference this guide when laying out your design, prepping the area, setting and cutting tiles, grouting, and applying the finishing details. Be sure to leave ample time for thinset mortar and grout to fully cure before enjoying your upgraded backsplash.