How to Put Up Backsplash Tile


Installing a backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and protect your walls in a kitchen or bathroom. Backsplashes are relatively easy DIY projects that can make a big impact. With some planning, patience, and the right materials, you can achieve a professional-looking tiled backsplash on your own. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps for how to put up backsplash tile successfully.

Choose Your Backsplash Tile

The first step is picking out your backsplash tile. There are endless options when it comes to backsplash materials, colors, textures, and patterns. Consider the look you want to achieve and how the backsplash will coordinate with your cabinets, countertops, appliances, and overall decor. Here are some popular backsplash tile options:

  • Ceramic tile: An affordable, classic choice available in glossy or matte finishes and endless colors. Durable and easy to clean.
  • Glass tile: Adds a contemporary, sleek look. Translucent for depth. Requires specialized cutting tools.
  • Marble or stone: Elegant and sophisticated. Natural pattern variations. On the heavier side. Needs resealing over time.
  • Metal: Makes a bold statement. Choose stainless steel, copper, brass tiles, and more. Can be expensive.
  • Mosaic: Small tiles mounted in sheets create dazzling patterns. Grout carefully to avoid discoloring.
  • Porcelain: Impervious to moisture, scratch-resistant. Can mimic looks of natural stone, metal, wood, and other materials.
  • Subway tile: Classic 3×6” rectangular tiles laid in a brick pattern. Timeless, clean look.

Once you’ve selected your tiles, order enough to cover your backsplash area with an extra 10% to allow for breaks, cuts, errors, and future repairs. Always check actual tile samples before purchasing.

Gather Your Materials

In addition to the tile itself, installing a backsplash requires various tools and materials. Be sure you have all of the following on hand before starting:

  • Tile adhesive: Choose polymer-modified thinset mortar for walls. Make sure it is compatible with your tile choice.
  • Grout: Select unsanded grout for tiles with narrow grout lines less than 1/8”. For wider joints, use sanded grout. Match grout color to your tile.
  • Trowels: Choose a notched trowel suitable for spreading thinset. A 1/4” x 1/4” square notch is common. Have a margin trowel for smoothing.
  • Spacers: Small crosses ensure even grout lines between tiles.
  • Wet saw: For accurately cutting tile if necessary. A tile cutter can also work for simple straight cuts.
  • Mixing bucket: For blending thinset mortar.
  • Measuring tools: Tape measure, ruler, carpenter’s square.
  • Level: For ensuring your starting row is straight.
  • Safety gear: Gloves, goggles, knee pads, etc.
  • Sponges: For wiping away excess grout and thinset.
  • Grout float: For applying grout into joints.
  • Grout sealer: For protecting finished grout lines.

Take inventory ahead of time so you can purchase anything you’re missing. Having the right tools makes tiling much easier.

Prepare Your Backsplash Area

Proper prep work is crucial for a long-lasting backsplash installation. Here’s how to get your backsplash area ready for tiling:

  • Clean thoroughly. Use soap and water to thoroughly clean the wall area. Grease, grime, and debris can prevent thinset and tiles from adhering properly.
  • Remove existing wallcoverings. Take down any old backsplashes, wallpaper, paint, etc. Scrape and sand the walls smooth.
  • Fill any holes or imperfections. Use drywall joint compound to patch cracks, holes, and uneven areas so the wall is as smooth as possible. Allow patching materials to dry completely before moving on.
  • Prime wall surface. Apply a tile primer to aid adhesion and prevent moisture damage. Let primer dry fully before tiling.
  • Mark your focal point. Decide the focal area and mark a plumb line at the center. Measure and dry lay tiles to determine optimal layout.
  • Install backerboard if needed. For heavily used areas like behind a stove, install cement backerboard for added moisture resistance.

Taking time to prep saves headaches down the road. With the wall blank, smooth, and primed you’re ready to start tiling.

Apply Thinset Mortar

Mixing and applying thinset mortar evenly is key to getting your tiles perfectly adhered to the wall. Follow these steps:

  • Mix thinset per package directions. Start with the powder in your bucket and gradually add the correct amount of water, mixing to a smooth consistency.
  • Allow thinset to slake for 5-10 minutes. This allows ingredients to react properly for maximum strength.
  • Re-mix before using. Stir again just before application. Add a little water or powder if needed to adjust consistency.
  • Use the notched trowel to “comb” thinset onto the wall. Hold at a 45° angle and flatten notches to leave uniform ridges.
  • Apply 1/4″ thinset to a small workable area at a time. Don’t cover too much wall as thinset can dry out quickly.
  • Check thickness with a tile spacer. The teeth ridges should match spacer height for proper coverage.

Apply just enough thinset for setting several tiles at once. Keep a bucket of water nearby for re-dipping trowels, which helps spread thick thinset smoothly.

Set the Backsplash Tiles

Once thinset is prepped, it’s time to set your tiles. Work systematically to ensure proper placement.

  • Set the focal tile first. Place the center focal tile right on the plumb line and press firmly into the thinset. Use spacers around edges.
  • Work outwards in rows from the focal point. Build from the center row by row, setting full intact tiles first.
  • Check level and alignment as you go. Adjust if any tiles start to drift from your straight starting line.
  • Use spacers between each tile. Insert spacers in a “+” pattern to ensure grout lines stay even as you tile.
  • Cut perimeter and specialty tiles last. Measure and cut border tiles, fuse tiles, etc. using a wet saw for accuracy.
  • Cut holes for fixtures. Trace and cut openings for outlets, faucets, soap dispensers, etc. if needed.
  • Let thinset cure fully (24-48 hours) before grouting. Do not grout until thinset has hardened completely to avoid dislodging tiles.

Be patient and precise during the setting process to get your tile pattern and alignment perfect.

Grout the Backsplash

Grout fills the joints between tiles with a waterproofing material that also enhances appearance. Follow these tips for flawless grouting:

  • Mix grout with water to a thick peanut butter consistency. Add powder colorant if desired. Let stand 5 minutes then remix before use.
  • Apply grout by pressing it deeply into the joints. Hold grout float at a 30° angle and drag diagonally across tiles to pack tightly.
  • Wipe diagonally across tiles with a damp sponge. Rinse sponge often to smooth joints and remove excess grout from tile faces.
  • Clean any remaining haze once grout dries slightly. Use a soft cloth and minimal pressure to polish off haziness without pulling out grout.
  • Allow grout to fully cure for 72 hours. Avoid getting grout wet during this time.
  • Seal grout lines with a penetrating grout sealer for added protection. Apply with a small foam brush.

Take your time with grouting for picture-perfect polished results. The grout plays just as big a role as the tiles in the overall aesthetic.

Finish the Installation

You’re in the home stretch! Apply any finishing touches:

  • Seal natural stone tiles if used. Apply multiple coats of stone sealer using a small foam roller.
  • Add trim pieces like bullnose tiles, chair rail, or metal edging along top and sides for a clean finish.
  • Caulk perimeter seams where backsplash meets countertop, walls, sink, etc. Allow caulk to set fully before water exposure.
  • Attach any missing fixtures like soap dispensers, towel bars, faucet hardware, etc.
  • Clean the finished backsplash. Use a pH neutral cleaner and soft sponge. Re-seal as needed over time.
  • Enjoy your stunning new backsplash! Have a drink and appreciate your tiling skills.

With proper planning, patience, and care, you can achieve striking backsplash results. Just take it step-by-step.

Tips for Backsplash Success

Here are some additional tips for executing a tile backsplash professionally:

  • Stagger tiles brick-style for more strength rather than a running bond alignment.
  • Inspect all tiles before setting. Don’t install any with defects or shade variations.
  • Lay out your pattern before installation to ensure you have enough of each tile type and that the design aligns.
  • Pre-cut smaller pieces with curved cuts before installation when doing an intricate pattern.
  • Use a laser level to ensure your starting line is perfectly straight.
  • Tape sheets of mosaic tiles to a vertical surface and apply thinset to the wall for easier sticking.
  • Allow thinset to skin over before applying tiles for maximum grab.
  • Be vigilant about keeping all grout lines the same width when tiling.
  • Grout small sections at a time to prevent premature drying or hardening.
  • Apply caulk where tiles meet countertops or other materials since tiles move differently than other surfaces.
  • Always have tiles cut and ready to install before mixing thinset mortar.
  • Work quickly and methodically to get tiles adhered before thinset dries.

Cleaning and Maintaining Your Backsplash

Caring for your backsplash properly helps keep it looking like new:

  • Use pH neutral dish soap and water for regular cleaning. Avoid harsh chemicals.
  • Rinse soap residue thoroughly to prevent streaks or buildup.
  • Reseal grout lines annually with a penetrating sealer to prevent stains.
  • Reapply stone sealers every 1-2 years if you have natural stone tiles.
  • Inspect for loose or cracked grout/caulk. Re-grout or caulk as needed.
  • Don’t use abrasive scrub pads or scouring powders which can scratch tiles.
  • Wipe spills up promptly to avoid staining grout.
  • Use a soft sponge or microfiber cloth to gently clean tiles.
  • For tough stains in grout, use a specialized grout cleaner.

FAQs About Installing Backsplashes

What height should a backsplash be?

Standard backsplash height is 4”-6” above the countertop surface. Full height backsplashes that go all the way to the underside of wall cabinets are also popular.

How do I cut holes in tiles for outlets and switches?

Use the outlet or switch box as a template to trace a cutout shape onto your tile. Drill a pilot hole inside the outline. Then carefully cut out the hole using a wet saw or tile nippers.

Can I install a backsplash directly over drywall?

Yes, as long as the drywall is in good condition. Skim coat any imperfections, prime, and you can tile directly over drywall. In wet areas, use cement backerboard.

How long does thinset take to dry before grouting?

Allow 24-48 hours for thinset mortar to cure fully before applying grout. Check manufacturer recommendations. Grouting too soon can displace tiles.

Should I use sanded or unsanded grout?

For narrow grout joints under 1/8” wide, use unsanded grout. For wider grout lines, sanded grout provides more texture to help fill gaps neatly.

What color grout should I choose?

Select a grout close to your tile color for a subtle look. For contrast, go much lighter or darker. White and gray are common grout colors that complement most tiles.

Is it cheaper to install a backsplash myself or hire a pro?

DIY installation can save 60% or more compared to hiring a professional depending on the tile selection. But factor in your time and skill level. Pros complete projects much faster.


Installing a fresh backsplash is a satisfying DIY project that can completely transform the look of your kitchen or bath at a reasonable cost. Armed with the right information, techniques, materials, and tools, you can achieve professional-level backsplash results on your own. The key is taking a systematic approach and having patience with each step in the process. Avoid shortcuts and be detail-oriented for optimal long-lasting results. Once your beautiful new backsplash tile is in place, the effort is well worth it whenever you admire the finished look you’ve added with your own hands.