How to Install Zellige Tile Backsplash

Zellige tile is a colorful and beautiful option for a backsplash that can add pops of color and Moroccan flair to any kitchen. Installing a zellige tile backsplash may seem daunting, but with the right preparation and materials, it can be an easy DIY weekend project. Here is a step-by-step guide to installing a stunning zellige tile backsplash in your kitchen.

Choose the Right Zellige Tiles

The first step is to choose the right tiles. Zellige tiles are handmade Moroccan terra cotta tiles that feature small chips of tile in various colors arranged in intricate patterns. They are available glazed or unglazed. Here are some tips for choosing zellige tiles:

  • Colors – Zellige tiles come in a vast array of vibrant colors like blue, green, yellow, red, and orange. Decide if you want a monochromatic look using tiles in shades of one color or a multicolored mosaic effect.
  • Glazed or Unglazed – Glazed tiles have a shiny glossy finish that pops the colors while unglazed has an earthy, natural terracotta look.
  • Size – Standard sizes are 4”x4” or 6”x6”. The larger 6-inch tiles will have a bolder impact.
  • Shape – Octagonal, hexagonal, diamond, and square shaped tiles are available.
  • Accent tiles – Consider choosing accent tiles in a contrasting color or metallic mosaic tiles to add interest.

Prepare the Backsplash Surface

Preparing the backsplash area is key to getting an even finished look.

  • Remove the old backsplash completely if there is one. Scrape off any adhesives or debris.
  • The surface should be smooth. Fill any holes or uneven spots with spackle and sand smooth when dry.
  • Clean the surface thoroughly to remove grease, dirt and dust.
  • Apply a coat of primer over the entire backsplash area and let dry. This allows the thinset to adhere properly.

Layout Tile Placement

Take some time to layout the tile placement and pattern. Zellige tiles have an imperfect beauty that comes from their handmade production.

  • Lay the tiles out on the floor to visualize placement and pattern.
  • Mix tiles from several different boxes to ensure an even distribution of colors.
  • Balance bold colors with more neutral tiles.
  • Avoid a jarring or repetitive pattern. Opt for a random organic look.
  • Blend metallic accent tiles throughout the design.
  • Make sure grout lines align. Adjust pattern if needed.

Install Backsplash Tile

Once your design is mapped out, it’s time to start installing the tiles.

Step 1: Mix the thinset

  • Use an adhesive thinset mortar specially formulated for wall application.
  • Mix according to package directions. Let sit 5-10 minutes then stir again.

Step 2: Apply the thinset to the wall

  • Use a notched trowel to spread a workable amount of thinset evenly over the surface area.
  • Use the notched edge to comb horizontal lines through the thinset.
  • Only cover a small workable area at one time.

Step 3: Press tiles into the thinset

  • Working in small sections, press the tiles firmly into the thinset, using light twisting motions.
  • Push tiles toward each other to minimize grout lines.
  • Use tile spacers between tiles if needed.
  • Check lines stay straight and tiles are evenly placed. Adjust as needed.
  • Allow thinset to dry 24 hours before continuing. Remove spacers.

Step 4: Grout application

  • Mix grout according to package instructions. Apply over tiles using a grout float.
  • Push grout into joints firmly. Scrub excess grout off the tile surface.
  • Clean tiles with a damp sponge rinsing frequently. Allow grout to dry 24 hours.
  • Use a soft cloth to polish off any remaining haze once completely dry.

Seal and Protect the Finished Backsplash

Sealing the backsplash tiles will protect their color from fading and prevent staining.

  • Use a penetrating sealant formulated for unglazed ceramic tiles.
  • Apply an even coat with a paintbrush. Allow to dry completely.
  • Apply a second coat following label directions for curing time.
  • Reapply the sealant regularly for ongoing protection.

With good prep work and attention to detail, you can install a stunning zellige tile backsplash that will be a focal point in your kitchen. The intricate colors and patterns will add a unique and artistic flair.

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Zellige Tile Backsplash

What type of thinset should be used with zellige tiles?

Use an adhesive thinset mortar designed specifically for walls and ceramic tile. It should meet ANSI A118.4 standards. Avoid multipurpose thinset.

How long does the thinset need to dry before grouting?

Allow the thinset to cure for 24 hours before grouting zellige tiles. This prevents tiles from shifting.

What color grout works best with zellige tiles?

Use a sanded grout in a light color like white or ivory. Avoid dark grout colors, which can make the grout lines too overpowering.

Can zellige tile backsplash be installed over existing tile?

It is not recommended to install zellige tiles over existing tiles. Removing old tile allows the thinset to properly adhere to the wall.

How are zellige tiles cut?

Use a wet saw with a diamond blade. Cut tiles face up for best results. Cuts may need honing with a sanding stone. Work slowly and carefully.

Do zellige tiles need sealing?

Yes, apply a penetrating sealer formulated for unglazed tile. This prevents stains and color fading. Reapply yearly.


Installing a zellige tile backsplash brings vibrant Moroccan style to your kitchen in a unique way. With their colorful patterns and imperfect beauty, these tiles make a big decorative impact. Follow the techniques outlined to properly install a backsplash that will be strong, durable, and stunning. Take it step-by-step, and you’ll have a beautiful showpiece that adds artistic flair. With the right prep and materials, you can tackle this project as a DIY weekend upgrade. Just seal and protect your finished backsplash, then sit back and enjoy this eye-catching focal point.