How to Retile a Backsplash

Retiling a backsplash can completely transform the look and feel of your kitchen. Whether you want to update old, dated tile or need to replace damaged or missing tiles, retiling a backsplash is a do-it-yourself project that can make a big impact. With some planning, the right materials, and proper technique, you can achieve stunning results. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process of retiling a backsplash from start to finish.

What You Need to Retile a Backsplash

Before starting any retiling project, it’s important to ensure you have all the necessary materials and tools on hand. Retiling a backsplash requires:


  • Ceramic, porcelain, glass, or stone tiles – Choose the size, texture, pattern and colors that fit your design aesthetic. Purchase 10-20% extra to account for breakage and cuts.
  • Tile adhesive – Select polymer-modified thinset for walls. Make sure it is suitable for your tile type.
  • Grout – Choose a grout color that complements your tile. Unsanded grout works best for narrow tile joints.
  • Tile sealant – Required to seal porous tiles like natural stone before grouting.


  • Tape measure
  • Tile cutter – Manual cutter for straight cuts or wet saw for curves and holes.
  • Trowel – Notched trowel for spreading tile adhesive.
  • Grout float – For applying grout between tile joints.
  • Sponge – For cleaning excess grout.
  • Bucket – For mixing adhesive and grout.
  • Tile spacers – For consistent tile spacing.
  • Safety gear – Gloves, goggles, knee pads, etc.

Other Supplies

  • Drop cloths – Protect surfaces from debris and adhesive.
  • Rags – For wiping away excess adhesive and grout.
  • Grout sealer – To protect grout lines from stains.
  • Caulk – For sealing gaps between tile and walls or countertops.
  • Cleaning products – For cleaning tile surface before and after installation.

Preparing the Surface

Proper prep work is crucial for a long-lasting installation. Follow these steps to prepare the surface:

Clean the Surface

  • Remove existing tile if retiling over old tile. Use a putty knife to scrape off old adhesive.
  • Clean the surface thoroughly with soap and water to remove grease, oils and dirt.
  • Rinse well and let the surface dry completely.

Repair Any Damage

  • Inspect for damage behind existing tile. Repair holes or flaws in drywall.
  • Use spackle or joint compound to patch cracks wider than 1/16 inch.
  • Sand repaired areas smooth when dried.

Create a Smooth Surface

  • Skim coat the entire surface with a thin layer of drywall mud if needed to smooth any imperfections.
  • Let the mud dry completely and sand smooth.
  • Vacuum away all dust and debris after sanding.

Proper prep ensures the tile adhesive bonds tightly to the surface beneath it. Taking the time to correctly prepare the surface will lead to better results.

How to Layout Your Tile

Before applying any adhesive, it’s important to map out your tile layout. This will ensure you don’t end up with uneven or skinny cut tiles around the perimeter.

Measure the Space

  • Measure the height and width of the backsplash area.
  • For best results, start tiling in the center and work outwards. Measure to find the center point.

Determine Your Pattern

  • Decide on a pattern – bricklay, subway, herringbone, etc.
  • Dry lay tiles on the countertop to preview the pattern.

Calculate Required Cuts

  • Measure and mark your center point on the wall.
  • Dry lay tiles, starting at the center and working outwards.
  • Mark tiles that need cutting to fit the edges.

Snap Reference Lines

  • Use a level and pencil to mark straight horizontal and vertical reference lines on the wall.
  • These help ensure your tiles are aligned during installation.

Taking time to properly layout the tiles means you can avoiding surprises or misaligned tiles later on.

How to Cut Tile for a Backsplash

Most retiling projects require some tile cutting around the edges or to fit around outlets and switches. Cutting tile takes some practice, but the right tools make accurate cuts easier.

Mark Tiles to Be Cut

  • Based on your dry layout, mark the tiles that need cutting with a pencil. Mark the cut line.

Cut with a Wet Saw (Recommended)

  • A wet saw uses water to cool the blade while cutting to minimize chipping.
  • Work slowly and steadily to make straight cuts. Let the blade do the work.

Cut with a Tile Cutter

  • A manual tile cutter scores the glaze before snapping the tile.
  • Position the cutter over your mark and press down firmly. Snap upwards.

Cut Holes with a Drill

  • Use a carbide-tipped drill bit to drill multiple holes for outlets or pipes.
  • Tap the center point out from behind to finish the cut.

Cut tile outdoors or lay a tarp to contain water drips and debris. Wear safety goggles and gloves when cutting. Make cuts gradually by repeating shallow passes.

How to Apply Tile Adhesive on a Backsplash

Applying the tile adhesive properly ensures maximum strength and adhesion. Follow these steps:

Choose the Correct Trowel

  • Use a notched trowel suitable for wall installation. The trowel notch size should match the tile thickness.

Mix the Adhesive

  • Mix powered thinset to a thick, creamy consistency in a bucket per manufacturer directions.
  • Let it slake for 10 minutes then remix before using.

Apply to the Wall

  • Hold the trowel at a 45° angle to spread adhesive evenly over a small section of the wall.
  • Apply in straight rows, scraping any excess adhesive off the trowel regularly.

Apply to the Tiles

  • Use the flat side of the trowel to apply a coat of adhesive to the back of each tile prior to placing them on the wall.

Work in Small Sections

  • Work in 3-4 square foot sections so the adhesive doesn’t dry out before tiles are set.

Take your time applying the adhesive using the notched trowel method. Consistent coverage is key for good adhesion.

How to Set the Tiles on the Backsplash

Setting the tiles into the adhesive correctly ensures they are aligned, level, and spaced evenly. Follow these tips:

Work From the Center Out

  • Start by setting tiles in your center reference lines. Work row by row outward from the center.

Use Tile Spacers

  • Place tile spacers between each tile to maintain even grout line spacing.

Align with Reference Lines

  • Use a level often to ensure tiles are plumb and aligned with your reference lines.

Press and Twist Tiles Into Place

  • Set tiles firmly into the adhesive and press them into place with a slight twisting motion.

Check Bond Periodically

  • Lift a tile periodically and inspect adhesive transfer to the tile back. Minimum 80% coverage is ideal.

Clean Up Excess Adhesive

  • Use a damp sponge to wipe away any adhesive that squeezes up between tiles.

Carefully setting each tile ensures straight, evenly spaced rows. Don’t rush through this important step.

How to Grout Tile

Grouting fills the joints between tiles, seals the seams, and pulls the whole design together. Follow these tips for flawless grout application:

Let Adhesive Cure

  • Allow tile adhesive to cure for at least 24 hours before grouting. This prevents tiles from shifting.

Mix the Grout

  • Mix grout per package directions. Let it slake for 10 minutes then remix to an even consistency.

Apply Grout with a Grout Float

  • Hold the float at a 45° angle and work it diagonally across the tiles to fill the joints.

Go Slow

  • Allow 20-30 minutes of open time so the grout can be smoothed into place before drying.

Clean Excess Grout

  • Use a lightly damp sponge in a circular motion to clean grout haze off the tile surface. Rinse the sponge frequently.

Final Cleaning

  • Use a soft cloth to polish the tiles once grout has dried to a haze. Check for missed spots.

Taking your time applying and cleaning the grout will produce clean, professional looking joints between tiles.

Tips for Achieving a Flawless Finish

Follow these additional tips and tricks throughout the installation to help ensure perfect results:

  • Use chalk lines and a level often to keep tiles aligned.
  • Plan an exit strategy when laying out tiles to avoid narrow cuts along edges or corners.
  • Let adhesive and grout dry thoroughly between steps. Don’t rush!
  • Clean up spills, splatters, and smears on tile immediately before drying.
  • Use painters tape instead of stickers on freshly installed tile.
  • Apply grout sealer to finished grout lines for added protection.
  • Seal porous natural stone tiles before grouting per manufacturer directions.
  • Caulk perimeter joints between the countertop, walls, and tile.
  • Take your time and don’t get frustrated by mistakes. Retiling offers a great second chance to get it right!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best tile for kitchen backsplashes?

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are most commonly used for backsplashes. Their durability, variety, and affordability make them an excellent choice. Natural stone can also make a beautiful, high-end backsplash but requires more maintenance.

How long does tile adhesive take to dry?

Tile adhesive dries quickly, but needs extended curing time to reach full strength. Allow 24 hours before grouting and 48-72 hours before using the backsplash. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions.

Should backsplash tile go all the way to the ceiling?

Tiling from counter to ceiling provides a seamless look. However, stopping 4-6 inches below the ceiling is common, and allows covering the upper gap with paint or coordinating wallpaper.

What color grout is best for the kitchen?

For a clean look, matching the grout color to the tile or going slightly lighter works well. White and light grey are popular modern choices. Dark grout shows less dirt, but forms a grid pattern on the wall.

How do you finish tile edges around a window?

Use a tile edge trim piece along the sides and bottom of the window frame for a clean finish. Silicone caulk seals the joint between the tile and trim.


Retiling a backsplash brings old, tired kitchens back to life with new color, style, and personality. By using the proper tools, materials, and installation techniques, you can achieve professional-looking results even working on your own. Approach the project one step at a time and don’t let minor setbacks derail you. Creating the backsplash design you’ve been dreaming about is within your DIY capabilities. With some perseverance and attention to detail, you’ll gain an attractive, durable, focal point that makes cooking and entertaining a true pleasure in your home.