How to Replace Kitchen Tile Backsplash

A kitchen backsplash not only protects your wall from water damage and stains, it serves as a decorative focal point that can transform the look and feel of your kitchen. However, backsplashes can become damaged or outdated over time. Replacing your existing backsplash with a new style is a great way to update your kitchen without a full remodel. This guide will walk you through the complete process of removing your old backsplash and installing a new tile backsplash.

Gather Materials and Tools Needed

Before starting demo on your existing backsplash, you’ll need to gather all the necessary materials and tools:

  • Tile – Purchase enough tile to cover your backsplash area. Consider size, texture, color and style that complements your overall kitchen design.
  • Tile adhesive – Recommended thinset designed for walls and tile type.
  • Grout – Match grout color to tile color. A sanded grout is best for joints wider than 1/8 inch.
  • grout sealer
  • Trowel – Notched trowel for spreading tile adhesive.
  • Tile spacers – Ensure consistent grout lines between tiles.
  • Wet saw – For precisely cutting tile if needed.
  • Mixing bucket – For thinset and grout.
  • Grout float
  • Grout sponge
  • Safety gear – Gloves, knee pads, dust mask and eye protection.
  • Drop cloths
  • Utility knife
  • Hammer
  • Pry bar
  • Putty knife
  • Caulk and caulk gun

Demo Existing Backsplash

Here are the steps for safely removing your existing backsplash:

  • Clear countertops and remove anything hanging on walls, like lighting or decorative backsplash trim.
  • Turn off electricity and water supply to work area.
  • Spread drop cloths in workspace. Wear safety goggles, mask, gloves and knee pads.
  • Use a utility knife or drywall saw to cut caulk between countertop and backsplash.
  • Insert pry bar between backsplash and wall and gently pry tile away. Rap gently with hammer if needed.
  • Remove any screws, tile trim or remaining adhesives.
  • Scrape away old thinset from wall using putty knife. Get wall completely smooth and clean.
  • Vacuum up all tile debris and dust. Wipe surfaces clean with damp cloth.
  • Check wall surface for any damage that needs repair like holes or cracks. Fill and smooth these areas so new tile has a sound surface for adhesion.

Prep the Install Area

To ensure proper installation, the backsplash area needs to be prepped properly:

  • Remove any outlet covers or switch plates in the backsplash zone.
  • Fill any cracks or holes in drywall and sand smooth. Allow patching compound to fully dry.
  • Clean wall surface thoroughly with denatured alcohol to remove grease and soap residue.
  • Mark a level line at the bottom edge of the backsplash area to guide your first row of tile. Use a level and measuring tape.
  • Plan tile layout to avoid very small cut tiles at sides and limit vertical cuts. Mark reference lines on wall if needed.

Cut Tile Pieces

Cut tile edges and holes for outlets precisely:

  • Measure and mark each tile that needs cutting.
  • For straight cuts, use a wet saw fitted with a tile blade. For openings like outlets, drill a hole and use a jigsaw.
  • Cut tile on the backside when using a wet saw. This avoids scratching the surface.
  • Smooth any rough edges with sandpaper or file.
  • Make sure cut tiles fit into space prior to applying thinset.

Apply Thinset and Set Tile

Follow these steps to properly adhere tile:

  • Mix thinset mortar according to package directions. Let sit 5-10 minutes then remix before use.
  • Use a notched trowel to spread a thin layer of thinset onto the wall, holding at a 45-degree angle.
  • Apply thinset only to about a 4 sq. ft. section at a time to prevent drying before tiles are set.
  • Press tiles into the thinset beginning at your bottom guideline. Use spacers between tiles for consistent spacing.
  • Push tiles firmly into thinset and use gentle twisting motion to make sure they are well-adhered and level.
  • Check level and alignment periodically as you move up the wall.
  • Let thinset cure fully per manufacturer’s directions before grouting, usually 24 hours.

Apply Grout Between Tiles

Grout seals the joints between tiles. Follow these tips:

  • Mix sanded grout according to package directions in a bucket. Let sit then remix before using.
  • Holding grout float at 45-degree angle, pack grout firmly into tile joints, scraping off excess.
  • Wipe joints diagonally using a damp grout sponge to smooth joints and remove excess grout from tile faces. Rinse sponge frequently.
  • Allow grout to cure per manufacturer’s directions, usually 48-72 hours. Then seal grout lines with grout sealer.

Finish With Sealant and Accessories

Apply finishing touches:

  • Run a bead of silicone caulk between countertop and backsplash. Wipe smooth with wet finger.
  • Replace switch plates, outlets and any backsplash trim or décor.
  • Seal grout lines with grout sealing product.
  • Clean any remaining haze or residue from tiles with manufacturer’s recommended tile cleaner.

With proper materials, careful prep and strategic tile cuts, you can install an eye-catching backsplash that upgrades your kitchen style and protects the wall.

Tips for Removing Old Tile Backsplash

Taking out an outdated or damaged tile backsplash is an important first step for your replacement project. Here are some tips for safe and effective tile removal:

  • Protect counters and floors with drop cloths to contain debris and dust. Wear goggles, gloves and mask.
  • Use a utility knife to cut any caulk between backsplash and countertop. This allows you to pry off tiles cleanly.
  • Start prying off tiles with a pry bar, working from the bottom up. Apply pressure slowly to avoid damaging the wall.
  • For stubborn tiles stuck with mortar, use a hammer and tap gently to dislodge.
  • Inspect the wall after removing tiles. Scrape off any remaining thinset mortar until smooth.
  • Be careful around electrical outlets. Turn off power and use caution around boxes and wiring.
  • Take out any screws or spacers used in the original installation. Remove remaining grout between tiles.
  • Vacuum up all debris, dust and crumbs. Wipe the wall with a damp sponge to clean thoroughly.
  • Inspect for any needed repairs like cracks or holes. Fill and sand smooth prior to new backsplash install.

A meticulous removal process provides a smooth, clean surface for your new backsplash and ensures no damage to walls.

How to Determine the Amount of Tile Needed

To find how much tile you need for your backsplash, follow these calculations:

  • Measure the height and width of your backsplash area in inches. Multiply height x width = total square inches.
  • Divide total square inches by 144 to convert to square feet.
  • Add 10-15% more for cuts and waste.
  • Consider accent tiles like borders or medallions. Measure and calculate separately.
  • Review the tile size specifications. Coverage amounts vary based on tile dimensions.
  • Use online calculators to estimate tiles needed based on your measurements and tile sizes.
  • Round up for full boxes when purchasing. Partial boxes may not be returnable.

Carefully measuring and planning tile purchasing prevents shortages along the way. Buy a bit extra to allow for imperfect cuts, breakage or future replacement needs.

Choosing Grout Color

Selecting the right grout color is an important finishing step for your new backsplash. Consider these tips when choosing grout color:

  • Match the grout color to the tile color for a monochromatic look.
  • Go for stark contrast between grout and tile colors for a bolder style statement.
  • Factor in the size of grout lines based on type of tile and tile spacing. Wider joints call for darker grout colors.
  • Consider the overall style you want to achieve – traditional white, modern, rustic, etc. Grout color impacts the vibe.
  • Look at grout colors in natural daylight which can alter appearance from indoor lighting.
  • Hold actual tile and grout samples next to each other to visualize completed look.
  • Know that natural grout lightens over time as it ages. Account for this fade factor when selecting a darker shade.

Always check the manufacturer’s recommendation for best grout to use with your specific tile type. Test grout color samples on spare tiles to confirm the perfect match before applying to your new backsplash.

Preparing Wall Properly for Tile

Effective preparation is key before installing your new backsplash tile. Follow these steps:

  • Remove any remaining old adhesive by scraping off thoroughly until smooth.
  • Wash the wall with denatured alcohol, vinegar or ammonia solution to remove residue.
  • Fill any cracks or holes with spackling compound. Allow to dry completely.
  • Sand rough areas to ensure surface is smooth.
  • Prime bare drywall or plaster with recommended primer-sealer.
  • Check for level and plumb. Mark reference lines if needed.
  • Cut out for electrical boxes. Install extender rings as needed for flush fit.

Proper prep prevents adhesion problems down the road. Your tile will only look as good as the surface it is applied to, so take time to get the wall ready.

How to Cut Tile for Outlets

Cutting tile precisely around electrical boxes and outlets maintains a seamless backsplash installation. Follow these tips:

  • Turn off power at circuit breaker before starting.
  • Measure opening size and height above countertop accurately.
  • Transfer measurements to tile and mark cutting lines.
  • Use a carbide tip drill bit to drill a starter hole. Insert jigsaw blade.
  • Cut tile slowly following marked lines. Use steady pressure.
  • Check fit around box and file edges smooth. Test fit tile in opening.
  • Cut tile so that the front edge or decorative border is exposed around outlet.
  • For multiple outlets, make a template from cardboard to mark all tiles consistently.
  • Use caution and proper protective gear when cutting.

With careful measurements and cuts, your backsplash electrical outlets will blend right in. Take your time for the most accurate cuts around these openings.

Choosing Alternatives to a Tile Backsplash

While tile may be the most popular backsplash option, consider these attractive alternatives too:

  • Stainless steel – Sleek, modern option perfect for contemporary kitchens. Easy to clean and sanitize.
  • Glass tile – Elegant translucency with style. Available in range of colors, shapes and finishes. Easy to maintain.
  • Metal – Copper, zinc, tin and other metals create an industrial chic look. Great accent option.
  • Stone slabs – Choose granite, marble or travertine. Provides upscale, seamless appearance. Requires sealing.
  • Cement – Cement backsplashes offer unique mottled textures and earthy palette. Durable and heat resistant.
  • Painted drywall – Inexpensive, simple option. Use high-gloss, semi-gloss or water-resistant paints.
  • Reclaimed wood – Rustic, natural appeal perfect for farmhouse or cottage kitchens.
  • Wallpaper – Available in endless colors and patterns. Wipeable vinyl papers are water-resistant.

Consider your kitchen’s style, budget and functionality before deciding on backsplash materials. Visit showrooms to view different options and visualize in your space.

Cleaning and Sealing Grout

Keep your backsplash grout looking fresh by proper routine cleaning and sealing:

  • Sweep or vacuum loose dirt to prevent grout scratching from abrasives.
  • Mix baking soda and water into a spreadable paste for natural cleaning. Scrub with toothbrush or rag.
  • Wipe grout with a sponge and mild dish detergent mixed with warm water.
  • Rinse well and dry with soft cloth.
  • Reseal grout every 1-2 years using a silicone-based grout sealing product. This prevents staining and erosion.
  • Apply sealer with small paintbrush. Wipe excess sealer off tile surfaces.
  • Caulk joints between countertop and backsplash to prevent moisture from penetrating grout.

With frequent cleaning and sealing, your grout will stay looking new and prevent damage to your tile. Catch any mildew or stains quickly to minimize buildup.

Troubleshooting Grout Cracks

It’s frustrating when grout lines in your backsplash begin to crack. Here are some causes and fixes:

  • Poor initial grouting leads to weak spots susceptible to cracking. Spread grout thoroughly over tiles.
  • Excessive moisture can break down grout. Run exhaust fan when cooking and fix any leaks to keep area dry.
  • Normal settling over time can cause slight cracks due to shifting. Expect some cracks with age.
  • Seasonal expansion and contraction from temperature swings causes grout stress. Maintain indoor climate control.
  • Improper grout mix can lead to cracking. Follow package directions carefully.
  • Surface cleaning with abrasives may erode joints over time. Use gentlest method possible.

For hairline cracks, reseal entire backsplash with grout sealant which often fills small cracks effectively. For large cracks, regrout affected areas with new grout matching original color.


What is the most popular backsplash tile size?

The most commonly used backsplash tile sizes are 4×4, 3×6, or 1×4 inches. The small scale allows for impactful patterns and designs. Standard subway tiles measure 3×6 inches. Tile dimensions depend on your personal style preference.

What should I consider when selecting a backsplash tile?

Factors like color, material, finish, style, durability, pricing, and ease of maintenance should all be considered when choosing backsplash tile. Decide on the overall look you want to achieve, if you’ll do a solid tile or decorative mosaic, what best fits your budget, and the effort needed to keep the material looking its best based on your lifestyle.

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

Use a carbide-tipped drill bit to drill a starter hole in the tile, inserting the blade point into the hole to start your cut. Use a jigsaw to cut the opening following your marked cutting lines, applying steady, even pressure as you cut. File the cut edges smooth. Check that the tile fits properly over the outlet box and make any adjustments needed to the opening.

What are some backsplash ideas for a small kitchen?

Opt for smaller-scale tile sizes like 1×4 inches or 4×4 inches to avoid overwhelming a small space. Add visual interest with an accent row of decorative or mosaic tiles. Limit backsplash tile to only a portion of the wall space between countertops and cabinets rather than the entire area. Use lighter grout colors to prevent dark grout from closing in the space.

How do I clean and maintain my tile backsplash?

Sweep or vacuum regularly to remove surface dirt. Mix dish soap with warm water and wipe down the backsplash with a soft sponge or cloth. For stubborn stains in the grout lines, make a baking soda paste. Let it sit for 5 minutes then scrub with a toothbrush. Rinse tile and dry thoroughly. Reapply grout sealer every 1-2 years to protect grout from damage.


Installing a kitchen backsplash tile project can give your space a stylish new look with just a weekend of work. With the right planning, materials, tools and techniques, you can achieve an eye-catching, functional backsplash you’ll love spending time in the kitchen admiring. Follow the steps for proper removal of old tile, meticulous surface prep, strategic tile layout, precise cutting, thinset adhesion and proper grouting. Add your own personal flair with a tile design that reflects your taste and complements your existing kitchen decor. With a little bit of patience, creativity and elbow grease, you’ll gain an impressive new backsplash that elevates your home’s style while also protecting your kitchen wall. Enjoy the process and results of DIYing this achievable kitchen upgrade.