How to Retile Your Kitchen Backsplash

Retiling your kitchen backsplash can completely transform the look and feel of your kitchen. From subway tiles to glass mosaics, updating your backsplash is an easy way to add visual interest and give your kitchen a fresh new look. With some planning and the right materials, retiling a backsplash is a DIY project that most homeowners can tackle over a weekend. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to successfully retile your kitchen backsplash.

Choosing Your New Backsplash Tiles

The first step in any backsplash project is selecting your new tile. There are countless backsplash tile options to choose from, so take your time and consider the size, texture, color, and style that will work best for your kitchen. Here are some popular backsplash tile ideas to get you started:

Subway Tile

Classic white 3″ x 6″ subway tiles are a timeless and versatile choice that will match any kitchen decor. For added interest, opt for subway tiles in bold colors, varied sizes like 4″ x 12″, or with a fun pattern.

Glass Tile

Glass backsplash tiles are available in every color and finish imaginable. Whether you prefer opaque, transparent, or iridescent glass, the right glass backsplash can create a stylish focal point in your kitchen.

Stone Tile

Natural stone like marble, granite, or travertine brings elegance to a backsplash. Tumbled stone tiles in an array of neutral hues work well in both rustic and contemporary kitchens.

Mosaic Tile

Tiny mosaic tiles let you create a visual mosaic backsplash design. Mosaics come in ceramic, porcelain, or glass. Choose mosaic sheets for easier installation or individual tesserae for more pattern flexibility.

Metal Tile

Metal backsplashes make a seriously stylish, modern statement. Metal tile comes in stainless steel, copper, bronze, tin, and more. Consider combining metal with glass tile for added dimension.

Once you’ve settled on the material and look you like, be sure to buy 10-20% extra to account for breakage, cutting, and pattern matching.

Preparing Your Backsplash Area

Proper prep work is crucial for a successful backsplash installation. Follow these steps to get your backsplash area project-ready:

  • Clear Countertops and Remove Accessories – Clear everything off your countertops and walls around the backsplash. Take down any soffits, vents, or accessory pieces like shelves that are in the backsplash area.
  • Deep Clean Surfaces – Clean your backsplash area thoroughly to remove all grease, grime, and soap scum. Use a degreaser and scrub aggressively with a scouring pad. Rinse and let dry completely.
  • Remove Old Backsplash – If you have an existing backsplash, carefully pry off each tile using a putty knife or chisel. Scrape off all leftover thinset, grout, or adhesives.
  • Repair Walls – Before retiling, fill any holes or imperfections in your backsplash walls with spackle and sand smooth. Allow spackle to fully dry.
  • Plumb and Level – Check that your walls are plumb and level. Shims can be used to correct any issues. Tiling on uneven walls will lead to cracked grout and tiles over time.
  • Paint if Desired – If your walls need freshening up, apply fresh paint and primer before installing the new backsplash. Allow paint to cure fully before tiling.

Once prepped, cover countertops and floors with rosin paper or a drop cloth to protect from thinset, grout, and tile dust.

Gather Your Backsplash Tiling Supplies

Retiling a backsplash is an easy DIY project as long as you have the right tools and materials on hand. Here’s what you’ll need:

Tiling Tools

  • Wet saw – For accurately cutting tile
  • Tile spacers – To space tiles evenly
  • Tile cutter – Manual cutter for straight cuts
  • Mixing bucket – For mixing thinset mortar
  • Notched trowel – For spreading thinset adhesive
  • Grout float – For forcing grout into tile joints
  • Sponges – For wiping away excess grout
  • Tape measure – For measuring tile layout
  • Pencil & straight edge – For marking cuts
  • Safety gear – Gloves, goggles, mask


  • Thinset mortar – For setting tile
  • Grout – For filling in between tiles
  • Sealer – For sealing grout
  • Backer board – If needed to strengthen walls
  • Tile edging – Bullnose, chair rail, or other edging

Be sure all materials meet standards for kitchen backsplashes and are approved for use near food preparation areas. Purchase everything, including any specialty tile-cutting tools, well in advance of your project start date.

Planning Your Tile Layout

A well-thought-out tile layout is key to achieving the look you want with minimal cuts and waste. Here’s how to plan it out:

  • Make a Scale Drawing – Sketch your backsplash area with exact measurements. Draw tile locations to scale using graph paper.
  • Determine Pattern & Gaps – Decide on a precise tile pattern and size of gaps. Make the gaps consistent in your layout.
  • Mark Centering – Determine if you will center tiles or offset them partway. Offset layouts prevent obvious grout line repeats.
  • Note Cut Locations – Mark on your drawing where full, partial, and edge tiles will go. This minimizes confusing cuts.
  • Dry Lay a Test Area – To confirm, temporarily lay out tiles on the countertop based on your drawing. Adjust as needed.

Having a detailed tile layout is the best way to know exactly how many tiles you will need and where challenging cuts will occur. Adjust paper plans until satisfied, then use as a guide during installation.

How to Install a Tile Backsplash

Once fully prepped and planned out, you’re ready to install your new backsplash tile. Follow these step-by-step instructions:

Step 1: Apply Thinset Mortar

Spread a layer of thinset adhesive on the lower portion of the backsplash using a notched trowel. Only cover enough area that tiles can be set before thinset dries.

Step 2: Set the First Row

Starting at the bottom, press tiles into the thinset and space evenly using temporary tile spacers. Check tiles are level and aligned with your layout.

Step 3: Continue Setting Tile Rows

Work row by row up the backsplash, applying fresh thinset and setting tiles along the way. Periodically remove a tile to check adhesive coverage behind tiles.

Step 4: Cut Edge & Partial Tiles

Measure and cut edge and partial tiles to fit using a wet saw or tile cutter. Grind cut edges smooth. Set cut tiles into place.

Step 5: Let Thinset Dry

Allow thinset mortar to fully cure behind tiles per manufacturer directions, usually 24-48 hours. Keep area dry during drying time.

Step 6: Apply Grout

Mix grout per package instructions and work it into tile joints using a rubber grout float. Diagonally sweep away excess grout.

Step 7: Clean Grout Haze

Once grout in joints becomes firm, wipe tiles clean with a damp sponge in a circular motion to remove haze and polish tiles. Rinse sponge frequently.

Step 8: Seal Grout

After grout dries fully, apply grout sealer using a small foam brush. Avoid applying sealer directly to tiles. Wipe any excess.

Check that your new backsplash is securely adhered and grout lines are all evenly filled. Make any final adjustments needed. Enjoy your stylish, updated kitchen!

Tips for a Successful Backsplash Project

Follow these top tips for superior results retiling your backsplash:

  • Stagger tile joints from row to row for added strength.
  • Use tile levelers often during install to prevent lippage between tiles.
  • Wipe away excess grout and haze within 20 minutes for easiest cleanup.
  • Use a bucket or kneeler board while working to save your knees.
  • Work in small sections for maximum thinset working time.
  • Roll up tiles in newspaper to carry safely without chipping edges.
  • Keep children and pets clear of the work area for their safety.
  • Work slowly and carefully – rushing leads to problematic mistakes.
  • Have a tile cutter on hand for quick and easy small adjustments.

Common Questions about Backsplash Installation

If you’re feeling uncertain about retiling your backsplash, here are answers to some frequently asked DIY questions:

Do I Need to Remove My Old Backsplash Before Retiling?

Yes, it’s important to fully remove your existing backsplash and scrape away all old adhesive before tiling a new backsplash. Installing right over an old backsplash often leads to problems down the road.

What Type of Backer Board Should I Use?

Cement board is the best backer board for kitchen backsplash areas since it’s waterproof. Fiber cement board is another good option. Use screws, not nails, to install backer board.

How Do I Cut Holes for Outlets and Switches?

Use a rotary tool or jigsaw to cut outlet, switch, and fixture holes in tiles before installing them. Cover boxes temporarily during tiling.

Should My Backsplash Go All the Way to the Ceiling?

Full height backsplashes prevent drips and splatters from getting behind the upper cabinets. But low backsplashes ending at cabinet tops work too.

What Type of Thinset Mortar is Best?

Use white thinset adhesive modified with latex polymers, which offers superior adhesion and resistance to moisture and shrinking.

How Long Does Thinset Take to Dry Before Grouting?

Allow thinset mortar to dry behind tiles for at least 24 hours before applying grout. Check manufacturer’s cure times.

How Do I Apply Grout on a Textured Tile?

Grout textured tiles like hand-molded ceramic vertically instead of horizontally so the grout float can compact grout fully into the crevices.

Retiling your outdated or damaged backsplash can give your kitchen a whole new look! With the right know-how and preparation, you can DIY a backsplash install over a weekend. Use these tips and techniques for stunning, professional-looking results.


Retiling a kitchen backsplash offers the exciting opportunity to give your cooking space a fresh facelift. With some careful planning, the right materials, and proper technique, you can achieve beautiful results and get the new backsplash style you desire. We hope these backsplash retiling tips empower you to take on this meaningful DIY project yourself. Transforming your tired backsplash into a showstopping focal point doesn’t have to be intimidating or expensive. Have fun with the process and enjoy enhancing your home and everyday life with your stunning new backsplash!