Adding a backsplash to your kitchen can completely transform the look and feel of the space. Not only does a backsplash provide an extra layer of protection for your walls from splashes and spills, but it also serves as a stylish focal point in the kitchen. When thinking about how to put kitchen backsplash, there are a few key steps to consider so you end up with a finished product you’ll love.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know about how to put kitchen backsplash tile or another type of material in your kitchen. We’ll cover how to prepare your backsplash area, choose tiles or materials, lay out your design, cut the tiles, apply mortar and grout, and seal and clean your finished backsplash. With these steps, you’ll gain the knowledge and confidence to install a beautiful, high-quality kitchen backsplash yourself.
How to Prepare the Backsplash Area
Before starting to install the actual tile, the first step is properly preparing the backsplash area. Taking time to get the surface ready will help the tiles adhere properly.
Clean the Surface
It’s important to have a completely clean surface before applying tile. Remove any existing backsplash material, paint, wallpaper, etc. Any grease, dust, or debris left on the wall can prevent the tiles from sticking. Wash the wall thoroughly with a degreasing cleaner or tsp substitute to get rid of any residue.
Make Any Needed Repairs
Examine the wall for any holes, cracks, uneven surfaces, or other damage. Fill any small holes with spackle and let dry completely. Use joint compound, or “mud”, to patch larger areas; allow time to dry and sand smooth. Address any moisture issues or leaks before tiling.
Remove Outlets or Switch Plates
Take out any outlets, switch plates, or other fixtures attached to the wall. You’ll likely need to cut some tile around these areas, so it’s easier if they are detached. Turn off power at the breaker before removing any electrical components.
Priming provides extra adhesion for the tile mortar. Use a paint-on tile primer, or a PVA sealer, and allow to dry fully. This helps prevent absorption into drywall or plaster.
How to Choose Your Backsplash Tiles or Materials
Once your surface is prepped, it’s time to choose the tiles or materials to create your dream backsplash. There are endless options to fit any kitchen’s style.
Ceramic or Porcelain Tile
A timeless choice, ceramic and porcelain tiles offer durability and an array of colors and designs. Glazed ceramic brings a shiny, glass-like finish. Porcelain is extra dense with near-zero moisture absorption. Both provide stain and water resistance. Consider the tile’s texture and aesthetics for your room.
Natural Stone Tile
Slate, travertine, and marble backsplashes bring natural beauty to a kitchen. Each has unique coloring, veining, and texture. Travertine has an ancient, worn-in look. Marble offers bold veining and upscale elegance. Slate has an earthy vibe. Stone needs extra sealing but makes a statement.
Glass mosaic tiles lend eye-catching shimmer and reflectivity. The small, mesh-mounted mosaics are easy to install. Glass tile doesn’t need sealing and is extremely durable and water-resistant. Great for modern or contemporary spaces.
Metal tiles add modern flair or an industrial feel to a kitchen backsplash. Choices like stainless steel, copper, bronze, and tin provide metallic shine. Easier installation than traditional metal sheets. Very durable and naturally water-resistant.
Adhesive peel-and-stick tiles offer easy installation without any mess or specialized tools. Great DIY option for renters or temporary backsplashes. Can mimic stone, ceramic, glass, or other materials. Easy to remove later without damage.
How to Lay Out Your Backsplash Tile Design
Once you’ve selected the perfect tile, next comes the fun part – laying out your backsplash design. Get creative with tile arrangements, patterns, accents, and borders.
Make a Grid Pattern
A basic grid creates an organized layout. Offset tiles so the grout lines don’t align in continuous vertical or horizontal rows. Use a level and install tile spacers to keep grids straight and evenly spaced.
Try a Subway Tile Layout
Subway tile arranged in a brick pattern (offset rows) is a classic choice. Opt for white, simple colors, or intricate subway patterns. Outline the grid with trim pieces or dimensional tiles.
Get Creative with Geometric Shapes
Use shaped tiles like circles, rectangles, diamonds, triangles, or hexagons to make geometric patterns. Try mixing and matching shapes and colors. Accent with rows or strips of shaped tiles.
Install a Mosaic Design
Mosaics create visual interest and texture. Use mosaic sheets or individual small tiles to make patterns, images, borders, or accents. Combine with larger field tiles or negative space.
Add Contrast with Borders or Bands
Borders and bands, horizontal or vertical, define sections of the backsplash. Contrasting colors or materials create visual dividers. Accent with pencil trim.
Vary Heights and Layouts
Take your backsplash to new heights by installing tile partway up the wall, ceiling to counter, or floor to ceiling. Creating different levels and layouts makes the space more dynamic.
How to Cut the Tiles
Most backsplash projects will require some tile cutting to fit around outlets, pipes, corners, and edges. Follow these tips to cut tiles cleanly and accurately.
Use a Wet Tile Saw
For straight cuts and mitered edges, a wet tile saw is the best tool. The water prevents overheating of the blade and tiles. Mark tiles where cuts are needed. Cut slowly and smoothly for clean edges.
Cut Small Pieces with Tile Nippers
Sharp tile nippers are ideal for quick, small cuts like notching corners or slivers to fit around outlets. Nippers take practice to use correctly; cut a little at a time.
Make Detailed Cuts with a Grinder
For specialty cuts like curves, holes, or detailed notches, use an angle grinder with a diamond tile blade. Mark cuts carefully and work slowly. Use water to keep blades and tile cool.
Finish Edges with Sandpaper or Stone
If tile edges are rough after cutting, use fine-grit sandpaper or a silicon carbide stone to smooth the edges. Bevel edge slightly for better adhesion and smoother grout lines.
Drill Holes with Ceramic Bits
To drill holes for fixtures or pipes in ceramic or porcelain, use a ceramic drill bit and drill on low speed. Go slow with steady pressure – don’t force the drill.
How to Apply Mortar and Install Tiles
With your tiles cut, it’s time for the fun part – applying mortar and installing the tiles. Follow these tips for proper adhesion and a seamless finish.
Choose the Right Mortar
Mortar holds the tile in place and creates a waterproof barrier. For walls, use latex or polymer modified thinset mortar. Acrylic additives make application easier and improve bond strength.
Mix the Mortar
Mix the thinset mortar according to package directions, using the proper proportions of powder, water, and any additives to achieve ideal consistency. Avoid mixing too wet or dry. Only mix what you can use in 30-45 minutes.
Spread Mortar with Notched Trowel
Apply a layer of mortar using a notched trowel held at a 45° angle. Notches create ridges to apply mortar evenly and allow mortar to fully contact tile. Spread only 1-2 tiles worth of coverage at a time.
Install Tiles in Sections
Start in a corner or edge and work in sections. Press tiles firmly into mortar with a slight twisting motion. Use spacers between tiles for consistent spacing. Level and align adjacent tiles. Work any mortar between tiles up to create a solid bed.
Let Mortar Set Before Grouting
Allow mortar to cure 24-48 hours before grouting tiles. This prevents grout from loosening. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations based on temperature and humidity. Avoid walking on tiles before they’ve fully set.
How to Apply Grout Between Tiles
Grout fills the spaces between tiles, sealing them together into a cohesive surface. Follow these tips for seamless grouting.
Choose Grout Type
For kitchens, use either sanded grout or unsanded grout. Sanded grout is recommended for joints wider than 1/8”. Unsanded grout is best for narrow grout lines under 1/8”. Choose grout color to complement or contrast tiles.
Prepare Grout According to Package
Mix grout powder with water per manufacturer directions. Allow proper setting time, usually 10-15 minutes. Proper consistency should be like thick peanut butter. Only mix as much grout as can be applied within 30 minutes.
Spread Grout Across Tiles
Use a rubber grout float or squeegee to spread grout at a 45° angle pressing into joints until completely filled. Hold float edge flush to avoid pulling grout from joints. Wipe diagonally across tiles to remove excess.
Clean Grout Haze
Once grout in joints becomes firm, after 10-20 minutes, wash tiles with a damp grout sponge in a circular motion. Rinse sponge frequently. Continue cleaning until tiles are free of grout haze and film. Allow grout to cure fully, 24-72 hours, before continued cleaning.
Caulk Corner and Change of Plane Joints
In corner joints and any change of plane, use caulk instead of grout. Grout is prone to cracking in these areas. Smooth caulk with moist finger for a clean finish.
How to Seal and Clean the Finished Backsplash
The final step is properly sealing and cleaning your new backsplash to protect it and keep it looking like new.
Seal Grout and Natural Stone
After grout has cured at least 72 hours, seal with a penetrating grout sealer. This prevents stains and damage from moisture. Re-seal grout every 1-2 years. Sealing natural stone tiles is also recommended to prevent staining and etching from acids.
Clean with PH Neutral Cleaner
For routine backsplash cleaning, use a PH neutral cleaner and soft sponge or cloth. Avoid harsh chemicals, abrasives, or scrubbing. Immediately clean any oil, grease or food spills to prevent staining. Rinse any cleaner residue thoroughly.
Polish Metal or Glass Tile
Special metal or glass tile cleaners help keep shiny finishes glowing. Use a microfiber cloth to gently polish surfaces. Avoid any harsh scrubbing or abrasive cleaning of delicate tile.
Avoid Moisture Buildup
Allow backsplash area to fully dry after cleaning. Ensure any leaks or moisture issues are addressed immediately to prevent damage. Properly seal and caulk edges to prevent water infiltration.
Frequently Asked Questions
What tools do I need to install a backsplash?
Basic tools needed are a tape measure, level, spacers, mixing bucket, notched trowel, grout float, sponges, tile cutter, nippers, wet saw, drill and grinder (for specialty cuts). Have safety gear like gloves and eye protection.
What are tile spacers and why are they important?
Spacers are small plastic crosses placed between tiles to create even grout lines. They ensure consistent spacing and prevent tiles from shifting during install. Remove spacers before grouting.
How do I cut holes in tiles for outlets or fixtures?
Mark the area to cut with tape. Drill a pilot hole in the center, then use a carbide hole saw to cut the hole to the needed size. Use nippers to trim and shape if needed. File edges smooth.
Can I install backsplash over existing tile or other surfaces?
It is not recommended. Existing tile or other surfaces prevent proper thinset mortar adhesion. Remove existing backsplash completely before installing new tile. Use proper wall surface preparation.
How long does it take for grout and mortar to fully cure?
Grout takes 24-72 hours to cure to normal hardness, longer in cold or humid conditions. Mortar thinset reaches initial set in 6-8 hours but takes a full 7-10 days to achieve maximum strength and adhesion properties.
How do I remove existing backsplash tile?
Carefully score grout lines with utility knife. Use hammer and chisel to break tile adhesive’s bond. Pry off tiles gently. Remove remaining thinset mortar using scraper, chisel, or grinder. Take care not to damage drywall.
Can I install backsplash tile over drywall or do I need cement board?
In most cases, tiles can be installed directly over drywall as long as proper primers and quality thinset mortars made for drywall are used. Cement board provides an extra durable surface but is not required.
What should I use to cut decorative or specialty tile?
For intricate tiles, use a wet saw with a diamond blade or angle grinder with a diamond disc designed for tile. Make several light passes when cutting to avoid cracking delicate tiles.
How do I remove grout haze?
Let grout cure 10-20 minutes until firm. Use clean sponge and water to wipe tiles diagonally across joints to loosen haze. Rinse sponge frequently. Do not scrub tiles while grout is still soft. Haze can be buffed off once fully cured.
Installing a kitchen backsplash is a satisfying DIY project that can completely transform the look of your space. By following the steps outlined here for proper planning, preparation, tile cutting, installation, grouting, and sealing, you’ll gain the knowledge to tackle this project confidently. The end result will be a gorgeous, quality backsplash you’ll enjoy for years to come. With a well-executed design and proper materials, your new backsplash will not only be beautiful, but will protect your walls and add value to your kitchen.