How to Set Backsplash Tile

Installing a backsplash tile in your kitchen or bathroom can add style, beauty, and functionality to the space. With proper planning and preparation, you can create a gorgeous backsplash that enhances your home’s decor. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps for how to set backsplash tile successfully.


A backsplash protects the walls from water damage and splatters while cooking or using the sink. Tiling a backsplash yourself can save thousands of dollars compared to hiring a professional. While tiling requires some specialized tools, patience, and physical labor, it is an achievable project for an intermediate DIYer.

When approaching a tile project, careful planning is essential. You must consider the tile layout, purchase the right materials, properly prepare the surface, use appropriate tools, apply thinset mortar correctly, cut tiles precisely, grout tidily, and seal the tiles. Follow the instructions in this guide, work slowly and methodically, and you can install an eye-catching backsplash tile design in your home.

Benefits of Installing a Backsplash

  • Protects walls from water damage and stains
  • Creates an easy-to-clean, durable surface
  • Provides visual interest and upgrades kitchen or bathroom decor
  • Increases the value and appeal of your home
  • Opportunity for DIY home improvement and cost savings

Planning Your Backsplash Tile Project

Careful planning ensures your backsplash tile installation goes smoothly and you get the look you desire. Keep these key considerations in mind as you plan the project:

Choosing Your Tile

  • Ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone like granite or marble
  • Glossy or matte finish
  • Tile size, shape, and thickness
  • Color/pattern options
  • Complementing accent tiles like mosaics or listellos
  • Purchase 10-15% extra tiles for cuts and breakage

Layout and Design

  • Measure area to calculate tile needs
  • Make a layout for best use of materials and aesthetics
  • Consider border or accent tiles to enhance design
  • Use spacers for consistent grout lines
  • Plan tile pattern and orientation

Tools and Materials

  • Tiles, grout, thinset mortar, sealant
  • Tile saw, notched trowel, spacers, grout float
  • Mixing bucket, rubber mallet, sponges, towels

Surface Prep

  • Clean and dry the surface thoroughly
  • Remove existing backsplash if present
  • Address damage, flaws, or uneven areas on the wall

Proper planning sets your tiling project up for success.

What You Need to Set Backsplash Tile

These are the essential tools, materials, and supplies you will need for how to set backsplash tile:

Tiling Tools

  • Tile cutter – Cuts tiles cleanly and accurately
  • Wet saw – For detailed cuts and tiles that won’t snap
  • Notched trowel – Applies mortar evenly at proper depth
  • Grout float – Presses grout into tile joints
  • Rubber mallet – Sets tiles evenly into mortar
  • Spacers – Keep consistent spacing between tiles

Adhesives and Grout

  • Thinset mortar – Bonds tile to surface below
  • Grout – Fills joint space evenly between tiles
  • Sealant – Protects and waterproofs grout and tiles

Additional Supplies

  • Tile – Purchase 10-15% extra for cuts and breakage
  • Buckets – For mixing mortar and grout
  • Mixing paddle – Blends mortar thoroughly
  • Rags – Wipe up messes and excess grout
  • Sponges – Smooth and clean grout lines
  • Gloves – Protect hands from irritation
  • Safety glasses – Keep mortar and debris from eyes
  • Knee pads – Cushion knees when kneeling

Gather all materials and tools needed before starting your project for efficient workspace and workflow.

Preparing the Surface

Proper prep work ensures the tile bonds tightly and lasts long-term:

  • Remove existing backsplash if present using a putty knife or chisel.
  • Thoroughly clean the wall surface. Remove all grease, soap residue, and dirt.
  • Address any damaged areas. Fill holes and smooth uneven spots with drywall compound.
  • Prime painted walls for better adhesion using a bonding primer or scratch coat.
  • Ensure the wall is 100% dry before applying thinset mortar.
  • Mark the center point and height to start tiling for a symmetrical layout.

Take your time with surface prep for the best results.

How to Apply Thinset Mortar

Applying thinset mortar evenly is key for proper tile adhesion:

Mixing the Mortar

  • Add powdered thinset to a bucket of clean water per package directions.
  • Mix with a paddle until smooth with no lumps.
  • Allow mortar to slake for 10 minutes then remix before using.

Troweling on Thinset

  • Apply a thin layer of mortar to the wall using the notched edge of the trowel.
  • Hold the trowel at a 45° angle spreading in straight lines.
  • Press hard enough to scrape the mortar evenly onto the surface below.
  • Apply only as much mortar as can be tiled in 30 minutes before it dries.

Back-Buttering the Tiles

  • Spread a layer of thinset on the back of each tile before placing.
  • Use the trowel’s flat side to apply a thin, even coat.
  • Back-buttering provides maximum coverage and adhesion.

Take care to apply thinset mortar properly for a long-lasting installation.

How to Cut Tile for Your Backsplash

Measure carefully and use specialized tools to cut tile cleanly:

  • Use a tile cutter for straight cuts on most tile materials.
  • Mark the tile where you want to cut it. Align the cutting wheel on the mark.
  • Hold the cutter firmly and press the handle down in one smooth motion to score the tile.
  • Snap the pieces apart by hand along the scored line.
  • For curved cuts, use a wet saw. These electric saws have a water-cooled diamond blade.
  • Mark the shape on the tile and carefully feed the tile under the blade while wearing goggles.
  • Make precision cuts in tile for outlets, pipes, or around edges using the wet saw.

Save tile fragments to use for small fill-in spaces. Take your time cutting for clean edges.

How to Lay the Tile on the Wall

Use proper technique to set the tile neatly on the prepped surface:

  • Start in the center and work outward. Apply thinset and set one tile.
  • Place spacers around each tile edge. Spacers keep grout lines uniform.
  • Press and wiggle the next tile into the mortar until the spacer touches.
  • Gently tap tiles with a rubber mallet to flatten until level with adjacent tiles.
  • Check tiles frequently to ensure they are even. Remove and reapply if necessary.
  • Continue setting whole and cut tiles, working row by row using spacers for alignment.
  • Don’t walk or lean on the tiles until the thinset has cured, usually 24 hours.

Work slowly and methodically, checking often for level tiles and straight lines.

How to Grout Backsplash Tiles

Grout fills the joints, seals the tiles, and pulls the design together:

Mixing and Applying Grout

  • Prepare grout per package directions with clean water in a bucket.
  • Holding a grout float at a 45° angle, firmly press grout into the seams.
  • Remove excess grout by holding the float edge at 90° and scraping across tiles.
  • Wait 15-20 minutes for grout to firm up slightly before cleaning.

Cleaning and Finishing Grout

  • Wipe diagonally across the tiles with a damp sponge to clean grout residue.
  • Rinse sponge frequently and change cleaning water often.
  • Use minimal pressure to avoid pulling grout from joints.
  • Allow grout to cure 24 hours before polishing with a soft cloth.
  • Apply grout sealant 2-3 days later following product directions.

Take care cleaning grout to achieve neat finished lines between tiles.

Tips for Setting Backsplash Tiles Like a Pro

Follow these pro tips and techniques for stunning, professional-looking results:

  • Carefully plan the layout. Dry lay tiles on the floor first to visualize spacing.
  • Mix thinset and grout thoroughly for proper adhesion and smooth joints.
  • Use tile spacers for perfect alignment and straight grout lines.
  • Gently rotate and press tiles into mortar for maximum coverage and bonding.
  • Use a level often to check for flatness. Remove and reapply tiles as needed.
  • Cut tiles patiently with the right tools. Use wet saw for specialty cuts.
  • Grout cleanly without smearing onto tile faces. Wipe diagonally across joints.
  • Avoid walking on tiles and wait the full cure times for thinset and grout.
  • Seal grout lines to prevent staining and damage from moisture.

Patience and precision at each step will lead to a beautiful DIY backsplash you’ll love.

Common Questions about Setting Backsplash Tile

Get answers to frequently asked questions about this home improvement project.

Does the Wall Surface Need Any Special Prep for Tiling?

Yes, the wall must be clean, dry, and in good condition for the tile to adhere properly. Remove any existing backsplash. Fill holes, fix flaws, and prime or apply a scratch coat if needed.

What Type of Tile is Best for Kitchen Backsplashes?

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are most common due to durability, affordability, and design options. Natural stone can stain but provides a luxurious look. Mosaics are popular for accents.

How are Subway Tiles Oriented on a Backsplash?

Subway tiles are installed with the length horizontal and the short edges vertical. Offset seams for a brick pattern. Consider mixing with coordinating accent tiles.

What is the Best Grout Color Choice for White Subway Tiles?

White or very light grey grout complements classic white subway tiles best. Dark grout can look dirty over time. Match the grout color to your tile size for ideal lines.

How Soon Can I Use the Backsplash After Grouting?

Wait a full 24 hours for thinset to cure before applying grout. After grouting, wait another 24 hours minimum before exposing tiles to moisture or traffic.


Installing a tile backsplash boosts style and function in your kitchen or bath. With proper planning, materials, tools, and techniques, you can achieve professional-looking results and increase the value of your home. Focus on careful prep work, precise tile setting, and meticulous grouting for a flawless finish. The completed project will provide beauty, durability, and easier cleanup for years to come.