How to Mix Mortar for Backsplash


Installing a backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom can add visual interest and protect walls from moisture and stains. While backsplashes can be made from different materials like metal or glass tiles, one of the most popular and affordable options is to use ceramic or stone tiles set in mortar. Mixing the right mortar is key to creating a long-lasting, durable backsplash installation.

Mortar acts as the adhesive between the backsplash tiles and the wall surface. It needs to bond well, prevent moisture issues, and withstand decades of heat, steam, and exposure to cooking messes and splashes. The type of mortar you select and how you mix it will impact the strength and appearance of the finished backsplash.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about how to mix mortar for backsplash projects. We’ll cover:

  • The different types of mortar and how to choose the right one
  • Mortar mixing tools and materials you’ll need
  • Step-by-step instructions for mixing mortar by hand or with a paddle mixer
  • Mortar consistency and workability
  • How to retemper and apply the mortar
  • Tips for cleaning and curing the mortar

Mixing mortar properly is crucial for creating a backsplash that will stand the test of time. Follow these steps and techniques for optimal results.

Choosing the Right Mortar Type

The first step in mixing mortar is selecting the right type of mortar for your backsplash project. Using the wrong mortar can lead to adhesion or durability issues down the road.

There are several types of mortar to choose from:

Type N Mortar

Type N is an all-purpose mortar suitable for most indoor and outdoor applications, including backsplashes. It provides good bonding strength, flexibility, and water resistance. Type N gains strength slower than other cement mixes, so it is more forgiving for beginners.

Type S Mortar

Type S mortar offers high bond strength and durability. It gains strength faster than Type N. Type S is recommended for outdoor applications like patios, walkways, and retaining walls when high strength is needed. It can also be used indoors, but beginners may find it sets too quickly.

Polymer-Modified Mortar

Polymer-modified mortars contain additives like latex or acrylic resins. These increase the mortar’s adhesion and flexibility while making it more water resistant. Polymer-modified mortars are ideal for wet areas like showers and swimming pools. They are also useful for glass tile backsplashes.

Epoxy Mortar

Epoxy mortars provide extremely strong adhesion and are waterproof when cured. They are commonly used for installing stone and tile in wet areas like showers. Epoxy mortars can be tricky to work with and require precise mixing. They also have a short working time before hardening.

For most basic backsplash projects, Type N or polymer-modified mortar will provide the right combination of workability and strength. Always check the tile manufacturer’s recommendations too. Talk to an expert at your local home improvement store if you are unsure which type of mortar to use.

Gathering Mortar Mixing Tools and Materials

Once you select the type of mortar, gather the necessary tools and materials for mixing it up:

Mortar or Cement Mix

You can buy dry mortar mix at hardware and home improvement stores. It comes pre-blended with the right ratios of cement, lime, and sand for the mortar type. For example, you would buy Type N mortar mix for a Type N mortar.

Masonry cement is another option. It needs to be blended with sand to make mortar. Be sure to get the right type of masonry cement for the mortar you want.


If using masonry cement, you’ll also need clean masonry sand. It should be washed and free of dirt, roots, salts, and organic material. The sand particles should be angled, not round.


Use potable water that is clean and free of minerals and contaminants. Warm water can speed up the curing process.

Mixing Container

You’ll need a container for mixing the mortar, like a wheelbarrow, 5-gallon bucket, or cement mixer. Don’t use containers that held other materials which could contaminate the mortar.

Shovel or Trowel

A shovel or trowel will help you scoop and mix the mortar ingredients. Use a pointing trowel for small batches.

Drill and Mortar Paddle Mixer

A drill with a mortar paddle attachment makes mixing mortar much easier, especially for larger batches.

Safety Gear

Wear gloves, eye protection, a dust mask, and long sleeves to protect yourself while mixing.

Step-by-Step Mortar Mixing Instructions

Once you have all the equipment and materials, it’s time to start mixing. Here is the process for mixing mortar by hand or with a power mixer:

1. Add the Dry Ingredients

First, add the dry mortar or cement mix and sand (if using masonry cement) to the mixing container. Follow the product packaging for the correct mortar mix ratio. For example, Type N may be 1 part cement to 3 parts sand.

Add the dry ingredients incrementally, not all at once. This gives you better control over the consistency as you mix.

2. Form a Well and Add Water

Create a small well or depression in the center of the dry mix. Slowly pour in a small amount of clean water into the well. The well helps control the water dispersion.

3. Blend the Mortar

Mix the water and dry ingredients together with your shovel, trowel, or mortar paddle mixer. Move material from the edges to the center as you mix.

Blend to a thick, creamy consistency. The mortar should easily form and hold its shape. Add small amounts of water if needed. But avoid adding too much water, which weakens the mortar.

4. Test Consistency

To test the mix, scoop some mortar onto a trowel and hold it upside down. It should adhere without dripping excessively. The mortar should also leave a firm thumbprint when pressed.

5. Let Stand and Remix

Allow the mixed mortar to stand and absorb water for about 10 minutes. Then remix before use. This leads to a smoother, more workable consistency.

Follow these same steps whether mixing mortar by hand or with a power mixer. Hand mixing can take 10-15 minutes per batch. Using a paddle mixer on a drill speeds up the job significantly.

Achieving the Right Mortar Consistency

Finding the ideal mortar consistency is key for both ease of use and strength. Here’s what to aim for:

  • Stiff but moist: The mixed mortar should hold its shape when squeezed in your hand. It shouldn’t be soupy or drip a lot of water, which indicates too much mixing water. Excess water weakens the mortar and prevents proper curing.
  • Cohesive: The mortar should easily come off the trowel in a single mass without crumbling. Test by scooping some with a trowel and turning it upside down.
  • Smooth and workable texture: Freshly mixed mortar should have a soft, malleable texture similar to frosting. It should spread smoothly without requiring excessive pressure.
  • Forms thumbprint: When you press your thumb into a sample of mortar, it should leave a clear fingerprint indentation.

Mortar that is too dry and crumbly needs more mixing water. Mortar that is too wet and drippy needs more cement mix or sand added. Getting the ideal consistency takes some trial and error. Don’t hesitate to adjust as needed.

Retempering and Using the Mortar

Mortar starts curing and drying as soon as it’s mixed. You’ll get the best results applying mortar within 2 hours of initial mixing.

If the mortar starts getting too stiff to work with, you can “retemper” it by adding a small amount of water and remixing. This buys you more time for installing the tiles. But don’t retemper more than once.

Here are some tips for properly using the mortar:

  • Apply a thin layer of mortar to the backsplash area using a notched trowel. Push it firmly onto the wall surface.
  • Apply more mortar onto the back of each tile and slide it into place, twisting slightly.
  • Use spacers between tiles to get consistent grout lines.
  • Work in small sections so the mortar doesn’t dry out before tiles are applied. Discard any unused mortar after 2 hours max.
  • After installing the tiles, let the mortar cure fully (typically 48-72 hours) before grouting. Avoid getting the tiles wet during curing.

Take your time to spread and embed the tiles properly. Don’t let excess mortar dry on the tile surface or it will need to be cleaned off later.

Cleaning and Curing Tips

Proper cleaning and curing are just as crucial as mixing and applying the mortar correctly:

  • Gently sponge off any excess mortar on tile surfaces with a damp cloth before it dries and hardens. Avoid smearing mortar in the grout lines.
  • Allow the mortar to cure undisturbed for at least 48-72 hours. Avoid walking on or cleaning the tiles during this time.
  • Provide good ventilation and air circulation to allow proper curing. Keep the tiles dry.
  • Cold temperatures and high humidity can significantly slow curing. Be patient and allow for extended cure times if needed.
  • Don’t grout until the mortar has fully cured, or it may get pulled out of the joints. Test by firmly wiggling a tile to check adhesion.
  • Keep the new backsplash protected until grouting is complete. Avoid knocking tiles loose or disturbing curing.

Letting the mortar cure slowly and completely will help ensure your tiles stay firmly adhered to the wall.

Frequently Asked Questions

What ratio should I use to mix mortar?

Mortar mix proportions vary by mortar type. Type N is typically 1 part portland cement to 1/2 part lime to 4 parts sand. Check your specific product packaging for the correct ratios. Or use pre-blended mortar mix for convenience.

Can I use concrete instead of mortar for backsplash?

No, concrete and mortar have different properties. Concrete is weaker in bond strength and flexibility. Mortar is designed to adhere tiles to surfaces. Always use the appropriate mortar mix.

How soon can I grout after applying backsplash tiles?

Wait 48-72 hours at a minimum for the mortar to cure before grouting. Rushing the curing risks weakly bonded tiles that move and crack. Check adhesion by wiggling tiles firmly.

Why is my mortar cracking and crumbling?

Cracking and crumbling mortar is usually due to improper curing from letting it dry out too fast. Ensure the mortar stays moist during curing by misting or tenting the area. Cold temps and lack of air circulation also prevent good curing.

Can I reuse extra mortar later?

Leftover mortar can be reused if it hasn’t started curing, but don’t retemper more than once. Discard mortar that is crumbling or has hardened. For convenience, only mix what you’ll use in 1-2 hours.


Mixing the proper mortar provides the foundation for a successful backsplash installation. By following the right steps to select the mortar type, gather supplies, blend to the ideal consistency, and properly apply and cure the mortar, you can achieve strong, long-lasting adhesion for your tiles.

Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific tiles too. Test the mortar consistency before mixing large batches. And don’t rush the curing time. Patience leads to the strongest bond and best-looking finished backsplash.

With these tips for how to mix mortar for backsplash projects, you can tackle this job with confidence. Just take your time and avoid shortcuts. Before you know it, you’ll have a gorgeous new backsplash surface that withstands decades of use while adding style to your space.

How to Choose the Right Mortar for Backsplash


Choosing the proper mortar is one of the most critical steps in a successful backsplash installation. The mortar acts as the adhesive between the tiles and substrate, so using the right type matters.

Many options exist, including masonry cement mortar, premixed mortar, epoxy, and more. Each has different properties and suits certain types of tiles and installations better than others.

This guide covers the key factors in selecting the right mortar for your backsplash project, such as:

  • Tile material being used
  • Environment where it’s being installed
  • Type of substrate
  • Skill level of installer
  • Special application considerations

We’ll also provide an overview of the most common backsplash mortar types with recommended uses. Follow these tips to pick the ideal mortar for your upcoming backsplash project.

Mortar Types for Backsplashes

Mortar provides the adhesive strength, flexibility, and water resistance needed for proper tile adhesion. Here are some of the most common options:

Premixed Acrylic or Latex-Modified Mortars

Premixed mortars have polymers like acrylic or latex added to improve adhesion and flexibility. They offer high bond strength for floor and wall tiles while resisting cracks and shrinkage. Premixed mortars are easy to use. Just add water. They suit diverse tiles and substrates.

Epoxy Mortar

Epoxy mortars provide extremely strong adhesion, especially with stone tiles. They also offer high water and stain resistance. Epoxy mortars have a fast set time and can be difficult for DIY installers. They also lack flexibility.

Cement-Based Mortar

This traditional mortar is a blend of masonry cement and sand. It allows customization of ingredients for desired properties. Cement-based mortar requires precise mixing. Premixed versions with optimal cement-to-sand ratios simplify the process.

Polymer-Modified Cement Mortar

This has polymers added to improve adhesion and strength. It is more flexible and water resistant than regular cement mortar. It offers versatile use for floor and wall tiles.

Factors for Selecting Mortar Type

Consider the following factors when deciding which type of mortar to use:

Tile Material

Certain mortar types suit some tile materials better. Cement-based mortars work well with ceramic, porcelain, and natural stone. Epoxy provides extra adhesion for stone. Glass tiles often require polymer-modified or epoxy mortars.

Substrate Type

All mortars adhere well to backsplash substrates like cementboard and drywall. Epoxy bonds especially well for problematic surfaces like existing tile. Some mortars like epoxy don’t bond well to wood or metal.


Indoor backsplashes in dry areas can use any mortar type. Wet areas like showers need improved water resistance from epoxy or polymer-modified mortar. Outdoor or cold temperature mortars require specific cement-based or polymer-modified blends.

Skill Level

Premixed mortars are the easiest to use for DIYers. Cement-based and epoxy mortars require precise mixing and have faster drying times. Beginners often find these mortar types more difficult.

Special Considerations

Glass tiles and large format tiles benefit from epoxy or polymer-modified mortar. Tiling over problematic substrates requires epoxy or polymer-modified mortar for better adhesion.

Always check manufacturer guidelines for mortar recommendations with specific tile types too. An experienced tile installer can also help select the best product.

Mixing and Using the Mortar

Once you select the mortar type, proper mixing is crucial for optimum bond strength.

Premixed mortars only require adding clean water per the product instructions. Cement-based mortars must be blended in the right cement-to-sand ratio. Let all mortar types slake or stand 5-10 minutes after initial mixing.

Apply mortar to both the tile and substrate using the appropriate notched trowel. Don’t spread more than can be covered before drying. Push tiles firmly into place while the mortar is still wet and malleable.

Let the mortar cure fully before grouting, normally 48-72 hours. Avoid walking on or cleaning tiles during curing.


Choosing the right mortar for your backsplash project will ensure a successful installation. Consider the tile material, substrate, environment, skill level, and special requirements when selecting a product. Premixed mortars offer ease of use while epoxy and polymer-modified mortars provide extra adhesion and water resistance. Always mix and apply the mortar per manufacturer instructions. Letting it fully cure will create a robust, long-lasting bond.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mortar for Backsplashes

What is the easiest mortar to use for beginners?

Premixed acrylic or latex polymer-modified mortars are the easiest type for DIYers to use. They only require adding water and offer strong adhesion with a longer working time.

When should I use epoxy mortar?

Use epoxy for glass tiles, natural stone tiles, large format tiles, and problem substrates like old tile or metal. It offers the strongest bond but dries quickly.

How do I know if mortar is expired?

Check the use-by date on packaging. Avoid mortar that is cracked, crumbling or very hard. Mortar that seems dry or doesn’t blend well has expired. Stale mortar prevents proper bonding.

Can mortar be used outdoors?

Yes, cement-based and some polymer-modified mortars can be used outdoors. Ensure the product specifically states it is suitable for exterior use. Outdoor mortar needs enhanced water resistance.

What mortar is best for shower backsplash?

Epoxy or polymer-modified mortars offer extra waterproofing and adhesion for wet areas