Adding a backsplash to your kitchen can instantly update the look and help protect your walls from splatters and spills. While backsplashes were once mostly an afterthought, today they have become a key design element that can add visual interest, color, and personality to your space. If you’re ready to install a new backsplash, there are a few key steps to get it right. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about how to place backsplash tile to get the look you want.
Choose Your Backsplash Material
The first step is deciding on the material for your backsplash. The most popular options include:
- Ceramic or Porcelain Tile: An affordable, easy-to-clean option available in a huge range of colors, sizes, and finishes.
- Glass Tile: Adds a contemporary, sleek look with lots of shine and visual depth. More expensive than ceramic or porcelain.
- Natural Stone: Offers a classic, high-end look in materials like marble, travertine, limestone, and granite. Requires extra sealing.
- Metal: A modern, industrial vibe. Stainless steel is common, but also consider copper or aluminum.
- Mosaic Tile: Small tiles mounted to a mesh sheet, allowing you to create intricate patterns and designs.
Consider the overall look you’re going for, as well as factors like budget, ease of maintenance, and how heavily the space is used. An inexpensive glass tile could look amazing over a stovetop prone to splatter, while natural stone might make more sense for a lightly-used wet bar.
Choose Your Tile Layout
Once you’ve settled on a backsplash material, it’s time to map out your tile layout. A few layout options to consider:
- Basic Grid: Simple, classic layout with tiles lined up in even rows and columns. The most common arrangement.
- Brick Pattern: Rows are offset half a tile width for a staggered, zig-zag effect. Adds visual interest.
- Pinwheel: Tiles arranged in a circular pattern radiating outward. Works well with mosaic sheets.
- Herringbone: Tiles placed in a “V” pattern for a classy, elegant look. Better suited to smaller tile sizes.
- Subway Tile: Classic 3×6-inch rectangular tiles installed in an offset brick pattern. Timeless and clean.
Sketch different layouts on graph paper, keeping the size and shape of your backsplash area in mind. Ensure you account for the edges and corners.
Calculate How Much Tile You Need
Once your backsplash layout is planned, it’s important to calculate exactly how many tile pieces you’ll need. Measure the backsplash area and use these measurements to do the math based on your tile size. Don’t forget the outer edges and any niche or outlet areas.
It’s always best to purchase 10-15% extra tile. This not only covers any miscuts or broken tiles, but also allows you to save leftover material for future repairs if ever needed. Keep your receipt and order info to ensure any additional tile purchased later is from the same lot.
Gather Your Materials and Tools
Installing a tile backsplash is largely a DIY project, but you’ll need to stock up on certain supplies:
Tile Adhesives and Grout
- Thinset mortar that is polymer-modified for strength
- Unsanded grout for tile joints 1/8-inch or less
- Epoxy grout for glass tile or areas exposed to moisture
Tools and Equipment
- Tile cutter and nippers
- Mixing bucket, paddle, grout float
- Rubber grout float, sponges, and rags
- Levels, tape measure, sharpie marker
- Safety glasses and work gloves
- Drop cloths or rosin paper
- Painter’s tape
- Tile spacers and wedges
- Sealer (for natural stone)
- Caulk and caulking gun
Shop smart – only purchase what you need for your specific project. And ensure you have all the right safety gear for mixing thinset and grouting.
Prepare the Surface
Before any tile goes up, take time to properly prepare the installation surface:
- Remove existing backsplash tile or other materials with a prybar and hammer. Scrape off all old thinset.
- Thoroughly clean the wall area with an all-purpose cleaner. Remove any grease or soap residue.
- Ensure the surface is smooth. Sand down any bumps on drywall. Fill any large holes or gaps with joint compound.
- Paint the installation area with primer. This helps adhesion for thinset mortar.
- Run a straightedge across the top and bottom to mark any high points. Use drywall shims as needed.
Prepping the backsplash area takes patience but prevents problems down the road. Take it slow and create the flattest, smoothest surface possible.
Mark Your Center Point and Level Line
Now it’s time to map out reference points that will guide the installation:
- Measure the width of your backsplash area and mark the exact center point with a pencil.
- Stretch a chalk line vertically from the center point, holding it perfectly level. Snap to leave a long reference line.
- Use a 4-foot level and measure down from the chalk line in several spots to ensure it’s perfectly plumb. Adjust if needed.
- Finally, snap horizontal chalk lines spaced equal distances apart for a guideline on your rows.
With these reference marks, you can start in the center and work outward in both directions while keeping tiles aligned and level. Remove chalk lines as you go.
Mix and Apply Thinset Mortar
Mixing thinset mortar takes a bit of practice to get the right consistency:
- Start with dry thinset in a bucket per package instructions, usually just adding clean water.
- Mix with a power drill on low speed to achieve a toothpaste-like consistency without lumps.
- Allow to slake or rest for 5-10 minutes, then remix before use. Properly mixed thinset should hold ridges from the trowel but easily spread.
- Apply a thin layer in 2-3 square foot sections using the trowel’s flat side. Then add the final combed layer for ridges and valleys.
Don’t spread too far ahead or the thinset will dry out. Work in small sections for best adhesion. Keep a damp rag nearby to wipe smudges on the tiles.
Set the Tiles
Now the fun part – placing the actual tiles! Follow these tips for success:
- Work from the center lines outward and in a pyramid pattern.
- Use spacers between tiles to ensure even spacing and alignment as you go.
- Press tiles firmly into the thinset and slide slightly to collapse ridges and maximize contact.
- Check level and plumb often. Make alignment adjustments quickly before thinset dries.
- Cut border and edge tiles to fit using a ceramic cutter. Nip smaller pieces for outlet areas.
- Don’t walk or work directly on freshly tiled sections. Allow 24 hours before grouting.
Have a designated work zone to stage materials and keep organized. Having to stop and search for supplies breaks momentum.
Apply Grout Between the Tiles
Grout fills the spaces between tiles, seals the installation, and gives a clean finish:
- Allow thinset to fully cure before grouting, usually 24 hours. Grout right away if using epoxy.
- Hold the grout float at a 45 degree angle and force grout deeply into joints.
- Wipe diagonally across tiles to remove excess grout and smooth joints. Flush water as needed.
- Allow grout to firm up for 10-15 minutes as the haze forms. Keep the area moist.
- Polish off haze with a clean, damp sponge in circular motions. Rinse sponge frequently.
- Allow grout to fully cure for 72 hours before sealing or getting wet. Avoid walking on the floor during this time.
Take care to fully grout corners and edges where gaps easily form. Well-sealed grout lines are crucial for a professional finish.
Seal and Finish the Installation
Your last steps complete the backsplash and pull the whole project together:
- Apply grout sealer to cement-based grout to protect from stains. Use an epoxy-based sealer with epoxy grout. Read labels closely.
- Use caulk to seal perimeter joints where the backsplash meets the walls or countertops. Match caulk color to the grout for a streamlined look.
- If needed, carefully drill holes for wall-mounted fixtures like towel bars, utensil hooks, etc. Ensure you hit a stud.
- Clean the entire backsplash area with an all-purpose cleaner and soft rag. Remove any haze or residue.
- Finally, step back and admire your work! Enjoy your stunning new backsplash installation.
Taking the proper final steps ensures your backsplash stays beautiful and protected for years of everyday use.
Tips for Getting it Right
Installing backsplash tile has a learning curve. Keep these tips in mind as you work:
- Stick with midsize tiles: Large tiles are tough for beginners to handle. Tiny mosaic sheets take forever. 4-6 inch tiles are the sweet spot.
- Have extra tile on hand: End up short at the last minute? You’ll be glad for the extras.
- Take your time: Don’t rush through steps – slow and steady yields best results.
- Use the right tools: Quality tile cutters and tools make the work much easier.
- Constantly check level: Even small deviations quickly add up. Stay perfectly plumb.
- Mix thinset and grout thoroughly: Clumpy adhesives lead to poor bonding and cracked tiles.
- Keep work area contained: Limit mess with drop cloths and clean as you go.
- Allow for full drying between steps: Cutting corners here results in major issues later.
Patience and proper prep work are key to mastering the art of backsplash installation. But the results are so worth it!
Frequently Asked Questions About Backsplashes
Here are some common questions on how to place backsplash tile in your home:
What’s the best height for a backsplash?
The standard backsplash height is 4 inches. However, you can customize based on your space. Keep your backsplash proportional – go higher behind a large rangetop or install full-height behind a shorter wet bar.
How do I cut holes for outlets and switches?
Use a jigsaw with a ceramic blade to carefully cut tile around switchplates. Turn off power. Protect outlets by masking with painters tape before tiling. Take care not to nick electrical boxes.
Should I remove or tile over an existing backsplash?
It’s best to remove and start fresh with the proper subsurface. Trying to tile over existing materials often leads to poor adhesion, cracked tiles, or alignment issues.
What thinset mortar is best?
Look for polymer-modified thinset. The polymers add flexibility and strength. Unsanded works for small tile and wall applications. White thinset shows through glass tile – use gray.
Can I use the same grout on walls and floors?
Floor tile needs sanded grout for wider joints. Use unsanded grout for wall tiles less than 1/8 inch. Match wall grout color to your tile – white is common.
How do I prep glossy tile and natural stone?
Glossy tile needs extra scoring for thinset adhesion. Use a rubbing stone on stone tile to open the pores before sealing. Check manufacturer guidelines.
If you’re up for a doable DIY challenge, installing a backsplash tile can make a big visual impact and add value to your home. With proper planning, careful prep, and attention to detail as you work, you can achieve professional-looking results. Focus on doing the job right each step of the way, rather than rushing through. As you complete your gorgeous new backsplash, you’ll gain valuable skills – and likely get inspired to take on more tile projects!