How to Lay Backsplash Tile

Laying backsplash tile can transform the look of your kitchen or bathroom by adding an eye-catching accent wall. With the right tools and materials, installing a tile backsplash is a doable DIY project. Follow this step-by-step guide to learn how to lay backsplash tile like a pro.

Choose Your Tile

The first step is selecting your tile. When picking backsplash tiles, consider:


Ceramic and porcelain tiles are popular choices. Porcelain is more durable and moisture-resistant. Natural stone like marble, granite, and travertine add elegance. Glass or metal tiles create a modern look.


Smaller tiles like 2×2 inches are often used for backsplashes. Larger tiles mean fewer grout lines. Mosaic sheets make a bold style statement.


Choose a tile that complements your cabinetry, countertops, and overall kitchen or bath design. Solid colors, subway tiles, or mosaics are classic options.


Tiles come in glossy, matte, or even textured finishes. Smooth tiles are easier to clean. Textured tiles hide flaws well.


Tile prices range widely, from $2 per square foot for basic ceramic to $50 per square foot for high-end stone or mosaic tiles.

Gather Your Materials

To lay tile professionally, you’ll need:

  • Tile and tile spacers
  • Tile adhesive (thinset mortar)
  • Grout
  • Notched trowel
  • Mixing bucket
  • Grout float
  • Grout sealer
  • Wet saw with diamond blade
  • Safety gear – gloves, goggles, mask
  • Caulk and sealant
  • Cleaning sponges & buckets
  • Laser level or sprit level

Prepare the Surface

Proper prep work ensures your tiles will stay adhered.

  • Remove existing backsplash and wall coverings like wallpaper.
  • Repair any holes, cracks, or imperfections in the wall surface. Fill with spackle and sand smooth.
  • Clean the backsplash area thoroughly, removing any grease, soap film, or dust.
  • Paint the wall area with primer to improve adhesion. Let it fully dry.

Create Even Base Layer

If your wall surface is heavily textured, uneven, or damaged, you may need to add a cement backerboard on top before tiling.

Cut cement board to size and attach to the wall studs with screws, keeping seams spaced 1/8 inch apart. Seal seams with mesh tape and thinset mortar. Let cure overnight before tiling.

Lay Out Your Tiles

Carefully plotting out your tile layout saves headaches down the road.

  • Find the center point of your backsplash and mark a plumb line with a level. This helps align tiles.
  • Dry lay tiles across the backsplash area before installing to confirm desired placement and fit.
  • Adjust layout to avoid narrow cut tiles at edges and corners. Whole tiles look best.
  • Use tile spacers to account for grout lines and get straight joints.

Creating a Pattern

Follow tile patterns horizontally or vertically. Offset grout lines for interest. Play with different layouts – herringbone, brick, or pinwheel patterns. Use decorative tiles like listello or mosaics sparingly as accents.

Mix Thinset Mortar

Thinset mortar adhesive spreads easily and bonds tiles permanently to the wall.

  • Pour dry thinset powder into a bucket.
  • Slowly add the amount of water specified on the bag. Mix with a drill until smooth.
  • Allow thinset to slake, or sit, for 5-10 minutes before using.
  • Re-mix occasionally to prevent stiffening. Don’t add more water, which weakens it.

The mortar consistency should be thick but still able to be spread with a notched trowel. Test on the wall – it should hold ridges without dripping.

Apply Thinset & Set Tiles

With careful technique, your tiles will stay in place for years.

  • Spread a thin layer of thinset on the wall area, using a notched trowel held at a 45° angle.
  • Apply only as much thinset as you can tile over in 30 minutes. It dries quickly.
  • Press tiles firmly into place in your pre-determined layout, twisting slightly. Use spacers.
  • Push tiles toward each other to prevent gaps. Level any high or low tiles.
  • Scrape away excess thinset squeezed out from tile joints so it doesn’t dry.
  • Allow thinset to cure for at least 24 hours before grouting.

Remove and check first tile periodically to ensure at least an 85% adhesive transfer rate. Re-apply thinset if needed.

Cut Tile Pieces

Use a wet saw fitted with a diamond blade to accurately cut curved or detailed tile shapes.

  • Mark tiles that need cutting with a pencil.
  • Set tile piece firmly in wet saw tray with the mark lined up over blade.
  • Let blade cut fully through tile, feeding slowly and evenly.
  • Lift tile piece and turn off saw to check cut. Re-align as needed for recut.
  • Smooth sharp cut edges with sandpaper or rubbing stone.

Always follow safety precautions when using a tile wet saw.

Drilling Holes

Drill holes in tiles using a ceramic drill bit and a variable speed drill. Go slow and hold tile firmly to prevent cracking.

Apply Grout

Grout fills in joints between tiles with a waterproof finish.

  • Mix grout powder with water in a bucket, to a thick peanut butter-like consistency.
  • Holding grout float at 45°, force grout diagonally into tile joints. Remove excess.
  • Wipe away grout residue with a damp sponge in diagonal motions. Rinse sponge frequently.
  • Once grout in joints becomes slightly firm, polish it with a soft cloth for smooth finish.
  • Allow grout to cure fully for 2-3 days before sealing and using backsplash.

Avoid wiping grout from tile faces once it begins setting up. This can pull it out of joints.

Seal & Finish

Sealing the grout and caulking edges provides extra protection.

  • Apply grout sealer according to product directions to prevent stains and damage.
  • Fill any gaps at countertop-wall or tile-wall joints with mildew-resistant caulk. Smooth with wet finger.
  • Wipe down the finished tile backsplash with a soft, damp cloth to remove residue.
  • Allow backsplash area to fully cure for 1-2 weeks before heavy cleaning.

With proper prep and care, your stunning new backsplash will withstand daily wear and tear for many years.

Backsplash Tile Types

Beyond classic white subway tile, there are so many options for kitchen or bathroom backsplash tiles. Consider both form and function when choosing tile.

Glass Tile

Glass mosaic or sheet tiles are resistant to heat, moisture, and stains. Their glossy finish and variety of colors lend an artistic flair. Smaller mosaics create intricate patterns but are trickier to install.

Metal Tile

Durable metal like stainless steel, copper, and tin brings industrial chic appeal. Metal tile backsplashes make a bold statement but show fingerprints. Some metals can dent. Use sealant rated for metal.

Stone Tile

Granite, marble, travertine, and slate tiles evoke high-end luxury. Each natural stone has distinct veining. Porous stones like travertine require extra sealing during installation. Avoid acidic cleaners which can etch stone surfaces.

Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

Affordable and diverse options for glazed or unglazed ceramic and porcelain tiles make them a top backsplash choice. Modern styles mimic stone, metal, mosaic patterns. Porcelain grades resist moisture better than ceramic.

Backsplash Styles

From minimalist to boldly decorative, check out these stylish backsplash tile ideas.

Subway Tile

Classic rectangular white or colored subway tiles arrange in a classic brickwork pattern. Use all white or add single-color or multi-colored accent rows. Subway tiles work in any design scheme.


Angled rectangles or small squares arranged in a V-shape make a herringbone layout. Contrasting grout lines accent the unique geometric pattern. Works for any tile type.

Penny Rounds

Copper penny tiles bring vintage warmth. Affordable ceramic penny rounds come in glossy reds, blues, and tans. Use as full backsplash or penny accents within main tile design.

Moroccan Fishscale Tile

Small tiles or mosaics fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, often in blue and white. Adds artsy global flair popular in bohemian kitchens.

Marble Hexagon Tile

Hexagon-shaped marble, glass, or ceramic tiles lay in a honeycomb pattern. The six-sided tiles mesh together snugly and symmetrically for a clean, geometric look.

Stone Mosaic

Tumbled stone like marble, travertine, or pebbles on a mesh backing creates natural mosaic sheets. Combines artsy with earthy in an eclectic blend. Good for rustic or Mediterranean spaces.

Backsplash Tile Patterns

Beyond basic brickwork, there are many creative ways to install backsplash tile.


Tiles of the same size and color stacked vertically make a clean, minimalist statement. Works with any solid colored square, rectangle, or hexagon tile.


Weaving together different shaped tiles – rectangles and circles or hexagons – achieves a modern, quasi-mosaic look.

Picture Frame

Accent outer edges of backsplash with border tiles that “frame” the space. Subway tiles laid on point or decorative listello trim tiles work well to frame mosaic, marble, or travertine tiles.

Sideways Brick

Turn rectangular subway tiles so the long side faces out and up for a modern twist on traditional brickwork.


Combinations of triangles, rhombuses, octagons, and other graphic shapes arranged in patterns make for artsy dimensional designs. Use all one color or create contrasts.


Gradating tile colors from dark to light or vice versa adds subtle drama. Works great on solid subway tiles.

Tile Backsplash Ideas by Color

All-White Backsplash

Crisp and clean, all-white tile in gloss or matte is a timeless choice. Mix up sizes of subway, hexagon, penny tiles, and stone mosaic. Add interest with brickwork patterns and grout color.

Black and White Backsplash

High-contrast pop of black and white tile arranged in geometric or graphic patterns. Use with colorful walls or countertops to offset the bold drama.

Neutral Backsplash

Warm beiges, taupes, creams, and grays create an earthy, welcoming vibe. Natural stone like travertine and slate mimic this palette. Works in any kitchen or bath.

Bold Color Backsplash

Make your backsplash the focal point with vibrant solids or patterns in blues, greens, reds, yellows, and bold metallics like copper. Balance with neutral cabinetry.

Design Tips for Small Backsplashes

Tile backsplashes can brighten even narrow spaces behind a stove or vanity. Follow these tips when working with a small backsplash area:

  • Select smaller tile sizes like mosaics, 2×2 inch squares, or subway tiles. Avoid large tiles which can overwhelm.
  • Opt for solid colors or simple patterns. Keep grout lines minimal.
  • Add a decorative thin border or trim tiles along top and bottom edges.
  • Include a couple rows of contrasting tiles or mosaic accents to add interest.
  • Extend tiles to create a full-height focal wall or frame window over sink.

Cost to Install a Tile Backsplash

The price of your backsplash depends on the tile materials chosen and the complexity of the design.

  • Tile Material: Ceramic and porcelain tiles range $2-$10 per sq. ft. Natural stone costs $10-$50 per sq. ft.
  • Tile Installation: Professional tiling averages $6-$10 per sq. ft, including labor and materials.
  • Total Cost: An average 20-30 sq. ft. backsplash runs $200-$600 DIY, or $400-$1,200 installed. High-end tile can reach $2,000-$3,000.

Factor in extra costs like backerboard, special tools, trim, and pro tiling for intricate designs.

Can I Install a Backsplash Myself?

Installing backsplash tile is a relatively easy DIY project for an experienced do-it-yourselfer. Basic tiling techniques can be learned with some research and preparation. Thorough planning for layout, tile cutting, and grouting are key.

Consider hiring a professional tile installer for:

  • Large backsplash areas over 50 sq. ft.
  • Complicated patterns like herringbone layouts.
  • Natural stone tile that requires extra sealing and treatment compared to ceramic and porcelain tile.
  • Precision cutouts needed around outlets or fixtures.

With proper materials and patience, a weekend DIYer can tackle most basic backsplash tile designs and achieve beautiful results.

Backsplash Tile Maintenance Tips

Keep your backsplash tiles looking like new with proper care and maintenance:

  • Seal grout and natural stone tiles annually to prevent staining and damage. Use products designed for tile.
  • Clean backsplash routinely with mild detergent and water. Avoid harsh chemicals and abrasive pads.
  • Immediately wipe up food, grease, and water spills to prevent stains, especially on grout lines.
  • Re-apply fresh grout or caulk if existing starts cracking or peeling away. Match original color.
  • Do not let water pool long-term under bottom edge of backsplash to avoid moisture issues.

With routine cleaning and sealing, quality backsplash tile can last 20-30 years or longer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the standard backsplash height?

Most backsplashes extend 4-6 inches above the countertop surface, around 18-24 inches high. Full height backsplashes rise to below cabinetry, around 36-42 inches high.

How do you cut holes in tile for outlets?

Mark outlet locations and use a rotary tool or ceramic wet saw to cut tile holes. Make holes slightly bigger than fixture – 1/8 inch clearance all around. Use caulk to seal gaps.

Can backsplash tile get wet?

Yes. Tile backsplashes withstand water exposure better than drywall or paint. The grout and caulk seals out moisture. Just wipe up excess water promptly after use to prevent pooling water stains at tile seams or edges.

What prep work is needed before tiling a backsplash?

Ensure the surface is clean, dry, and in good repair. Remove glossy existing wall paint or coverings. Apply primer coat. Install cement backerboard if wall surface is uneven. Let prep materials fully cure before spreading thinset to install tiles.

Should backsplash tile match floor tile?

Matching backsplash and floor tiles can look busy and overwhelm a small kitchen. It’s often best to pick complementary tiles – match color scheme but use different sizes, textures, or patterns to create interest.


Installing a tile backsplash can take your kitchen or bathroom from basic to beautiful. With so many tile materials, colors, patterns, and designs to choose from, you can create a customized backsplash suited to any decor style. Carefully following the how-to steps for proper surface prep, tile cutting, thinset mortar application, grouting, and sealing results in a stunning, high-quality backsplash you’ll enjoy for decades. With the right tools and techniques, do-it-yourselfers can tackle tiling smaller backsplash installations and achieve professional-looking results.