How to Put Backsplash Tile

Backsplashes are a great way to add visual interest and protect your walls in kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas prone to moisture and stains. Installing tile as a backsplash is an approachable DIY project that can make a big impact. With some planning, patience, and the right materials, you can achieve a stylish, long-lasting backsplash tile installation.

What You Need to Know Before Installing Backsplash Tile

Before you start tiling your backsplash, there are some important things to consider:

Choose the Right Tile

  • Ceramic, porcelain, glass, and natural stone tiles are common backsplash options. Choose a material that fits your budget, style, and functionality needs.
  • Smaller tiles like mosaics create more grout lines but are easier to cut and install. Larger tiles have fewer grout lines but may require specialty cuts.
  • Make sure the tiles are rated for walls/backsplashes and not just floors. Wall tiles are coated to be more water-resistant.
  • Gather tile samples and test them out on the actual wall before fully committing to a tile. You want to make sure the size, color, and texture work as envisioned.

Choose the Right Grout

  • Grout fills the spaces between tiles with a waterproof material. It comes in different colors and finishes.
  • Match the grout color to your tile color for a seamless look or choose a contrasting grout for more definition.
  • For kitchen backsplashes, use a water-resistant epoxy grout, which is more stain and moisture resistant than regular cement grout.

Gather the Right Supplies

Some essential supplies for installing backsplash tile include:

  • Tile adhesive (thinset mortar)
  • Grout
  • Grout sealer
  • Trowels for spreading adhesive
  • Tile spacers
  • Tile cutter and/or wet saw
  • Mixing buckets
  • Tile nippers/breaking pliers
  • Grout float
  • Grout sponge
  • Safety gear like gloves and goggles

Prepare the Surface

Proper prep work ensures your backsplash tiles will stay firmly attached:

  • Clean the wall surface thoroughly to remove any dirt, grease, or existing paint.
  • Fill any cracks, holes, or uneven areas in the wall with spackle. The surface should be as smooth as possible.
  • Paint the wall with primer to improve adhesion, especially if covering an existing glossy paint.
  • Apply painter’s tape around the perimeter of the installation area.
  • Mark a level line on the wall to start your first horizontal row. Use a level tool to find this line.

How to Install Backsplash Tile

Follow these key steps for a successful DIY backsplash tile installation:

Step 1: Plan Your Tile Layout

  • Decide on the tile pattern. Offset patterns like brick layout or herringbone are popular.Aligning tiles in a straight grid is easiest for beginners.
  • Dry lay tiles on the countertop to map out the pattern and space them evenly.
  • Figure out where you’ll need to cut partial tiles. Avoid using slivers smaller than half a tile.
  • Plan seam placements carefully, avoiding high traffic zones like near the stove.

Step 2: Apply Adhesive With the Proper Technique

  • Work in small sections, spreading thinset adhesive only where you can set tiles before it dries (15-20 minutes).
  • Use a notched trowel at a 45° angle to scrape the adhesive onto the wall, creating even ridges.
  • Spread additional adhesive with the flat side of the trowel to evenly cover the area.
  • For large tiles, back-butter each tile by applying a thin layer of adhesive to its back before setting it.

Step 3: Set and Space the Tiles

  • Working in your planned sections, firmly press tiles into the adhesive using a back-and-forth motion.
  • Use plastic spacers between tiles to achieve even grout lines.
  • If the tiles slide downward, use painter’s tape to temporarily hold them in place until the adhesive sets.
  • Check for even coverage by occasionally removing a tile and inspecting its back.
  • Continue setting tiles, working row by row or section by section until complete.

Step 4: Cut and Shape Border and Accent Tiles

  • Measure and mark tiles that need cutting or shaping with a pencil.
  • Manual tile nippers can nip small chips for rounded edges.
  • Use a wet saw for straight cuts through tile.
  • For intricate tile shapes, use a rotary tool or jigsaw with a tile-cutting blade.
  • Smooth cut edges with sandpaper so they don’t cut fingers during grouting.

Step 5: Apply Grout Between the Tiles

  • Let adhesive fully cure for 24-48 hours before grouting unless thinset instructions state otherwise.
  • Apply grout by holding a rubber grout float at a 45° angle and packing grout firmly into joints.
  • Scrape off excess grout held on the tile face with the float edge.
  • Clean grout haze or film off the tiles with a damp sponge and water. Rinse the sponge frequently.
  • Once grout is dry, use a soft cloth to polish and bring out the color.

Step 6: Seal the Grout

  • After 72 hours, apply grout sealer following product directions. This adds waterproofing.
  • Avoid sealing epoxy grout, which doesn’t require sealing.
  • Apply a thin coat, wiping off excess sealer that gets on the tile surface.
  • Don’t use the area for at least 2 hours while the sealer penetrates and cures.

Helpful Tips for Installing Backsplash Tile

Follow these tips and tricks for a smoother tiling process:

  • Always mix adhesive and grout per package instructions. Don’t eyeball water amounts.
  • Arrange your tile workspace in zones – one for cutting, one for applying adhesive, one for grouting.
  • Let spacers stick out past tile edges so you can easily remove them later.
  • Pre-seal porous natural stone tiles (like marble) so the grout doesn’t stain them.
  • Tack a tile spacer to your grout float handle as a guide for consistent grout line widths.
  • Make perfectly straight grout lines by taping strips of wood trim as guides before applying grout.
  • Minimize grout clean-up by applying a thin, even coat only within the joints.
  • Don’t walk on the new tiles during installation. Set a plank across several rows to avoid foot traffic.
  • Let freshly grouted areas cure 24 hours before removing spacers to avoid shifting tiles.

Troubleshooting Common Backsplash Tile Problems

Even if carefully installed, backsplash tiles can sometimes encounter issues. Here are some common problems and how to fix them:

Problem: Grout cracking or crumbling


  • Check that the thinset mortar fully cured before grouting. Grouting too soon weakens grout.
  • Make sure to apply grout sealer. Unsealed grout is prone to cracking.
  • If re-grouting, rake out the old grout at least 1/8″ deep before applying new grout.

Problem: Tiles becoming loose or falling off


  • Ensure the wall surface was properly prepped and primed before setting tile. Poor adhesion causes loose tiles.
  • Press tiles firmly into the mortar, using even pressure and coverage. Uneven thinset can make tiles unstable.
  • Give thinset adhesive adequate time to fully cure before grouting. Early grouting can displace tiles.

Problem: Efflorescence, a white hazy residue on grout


  • Efflorescence is from moisture reacting with minerals in grout. It can be common with cement grout.
  • Wipe off the white haze with vinegar or a specialty efflorescence cleaner and water.
  • Make sure to seal cement grout several days after installation to prevent this.

Problem: Grout getting dirty or stained


  • Apply a penetrating grout sealer to protect from staining. Reapply yearly.
  • For epoxy or urethane grout, use the manufacturer’s recommended cleaner. Avoid bleach.
  • Scrub with a grout brush and oxygen bleach cleaner formulated for grout.

Problem: Grout color inconsistent or patchy


  • When grouting, make sure to apply grout in a consistent, even layer across the entire area.
  • To recolor small sections, use a grout colorant kit with a small brush just on the affected areas.
  • For large areas with color variation, you may need to rake out all the grout and re-grout entirely.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the easiest backsplash for beginners to install?

For DIY beginners, glass tile or mosaic sheets mounted on a mesh backing provide the easiest installation. Peel-and-stick backsplash tiles are another very beginner-friendly option requiring no grout or adhesives.

How do I cut backsplash tile?

Use a wet saw with a diamond blade for straight cuts in most tile materials. A manual tile cutter works for scoring and snapping smaller tiles. Use a rotary tool for specialty cuts. Always wear protective gear like goggles.

Can I put backsplash tile over existing tile?

It’s not recommended. The layers of old and new tile would be too thick and prone to moisture issues. It’s best to remove old backsplash tile and start fresh on the bare wall.

What color grout looks best with white tile?

White and light gray grouts keep the focus on clean white tiles. Almond or tan grout coordinates with white tile for a warmer, more subtle contrast. Dark grout highlights the white tile but shows dirt more easily.

How long does backsplash tile installation take?

Once fully prepped, allow 2-3 days from start to finish for the average DIYer. Working in small sections, you can probably tile and grout about 10-15 square feet per day. Pro tilers work much faster.

Can I put backsplash tile behind my stove?

Yes, tile is durable enough for the heat, splatters, and moisture from a stove backsplash. Use heat-resistant silicone adhesive when installing near heat sources. Avoid natural stone behind ranges which can stain.


Installing a tile backsplash boosts your kitchen or bathroom aesthetics while also protecting the walls. With proper planning and materials, DIYers can achieve professional-looking results. Focus on adequate surface prep, using the right adhesive and grout, careful tile cutting, consistent grout application, and sealing. The end result will be an eye-catching, long-lasting backsplash you can enjoy for years to come. With so many colors, textures, and patterns to choose from, you’re bound to find the perfect tiles to suit your unique style.