How to Start Tile Backsplash – The Complete DIY Guide

Installing a tile backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom can totally transform the look and feel of the space. Not only do tile backsplashes provide an easy-to-clean and stylish covering for your wall, but they also allow you to add personality with design, textures, colors and patterns. Learning how to start tile backsplash installation may seem intimidating, but with proper planning and preparation, you can achieve beautiful results as a DIYer. This complete guide will walk you through all the steps and considerations for successfully tiling your backsplash from start to finish.

Choose Your Tile

The tile you select for your backsplash will set the tone for your whole design, so take the time to consider all the options. Here are some tips for choosing tile:


  • Ceramic or Porcelain: Classic and affordable choices that are available in endless shapes, colors, sizes and textures. Durable and water-resistant.
  • Glass: Adds a glossy, sleek contemporary look. Translucent options available. Less prone to staining. Vulnerable to chipping.
  • Metal: For modern industrial edge. Often made from real metals like copper, stainless steel or aluminum. Durable and heat-resistant.
  • Natural Stone: Elegant Old World charm. Options like marble, travertine, granite and slate. Higher maintenance.


  • Mosaics: Small tiles (less than 4 inches) in mesh sheets for efficient installation. Great for intricate patterns.
  • Standard tiles: 4 inches to 12 inches. Versatile sizing for variety of designs.
  • Large format: Over 12 inches. Create contemporary linear look. Quick to install.
  • Multi-sized: Mix of sizes for interest and to create patterns.


  • Subway: Classic rectangular shape. Timeless and versatile.
  • Hexagons: For trendy honeycomb pattern. Intricate designs.
  • Penny rounds: Retro circular discs. Cottage chic style.
  • Octagons and squares: For geometric pop. Works with variety of decors.
  • Patterned or handpainted: To make a statement. From Moroccan motifs to floral designs.


  • Single color: Simple and clean. Allows other elements to stand out.
  • Multicolor: For bold patchwork effect. Combine complementary hues.
  • Neutral palette: Provides versatile backdrop. Easiest to match existing decor.
  • Vivid colors: Make it a focal point. Primary shades most eye-catching.

Calculate How Much Tile You Need

Once you’ve chosen your specific tile, determine how much you need to purchase. Measure the surface area of the walls you’ll be tiling and calculate square footage. For mosaics mounted on sheets, simply count full sheets. For other tiles, measure width and height, then multiply to get square footage of each wall. Add up totals.

Don’t forget to account for uneven areas, niches or outlets you’ll need to cut around. Add at least 10% extra for these specialty shapes. You’ll also need extra tiles in case of breakage or future repairs. Depending on the tile style, purchase 10-20% over the total square footage.

Gather Your Materials

In addition to the tile itself, installing a backsplash requires various tools and materials. Be sure to have all equipment and supplies on hand before starting. Here’s what you’ll need:

Essential Tools

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Level
  • Tile cutter (snap cutter or wet saw)
  • Notched trowel for spreading adhesive
  • Rubber grout float
  • Sponges
  • Buckets
  • Safety gear (gloves, goggles, knee pads)

Additional Tools/Material For Specialty Tiles

  • Nippers for cutting mosaic sheets
  • Glass cutter for glass tiles
  • Metal snips for metal tiles
  • Stone cutting tools like diamond-studded blades


  • Backerboard (cement, fiber cement, or fiberglass)
  • Thinset mortar adhesive
  • Grout (sanded for joints wider than 1/8”, unsanded for thinner)
  • Grout sealer
  • Tile spacers
  • Caulk/silicone sealant

Prepare Your Backsplash Area

To ensure your tile adheres properly for the long haul, take time to prepare the surface of your backsplash area before installation. Follow these key steps:

Clean Surface

Thoroughly clean the wall you’ll be tiling with an all-purpose cleaner or grease-cutting degreaser. This removes built-up grime, oils and any soapy residues from existing wall paints or finishes. Rinse well and let dry fully.

Remove Obstacles

Take out any existing backsplash tile, wallpaper or other coverings. Remove switch plates and outlet covers. Take down curtains, sconces or other wall-mounted items.

Fill Holes/Imperfections

Examine the wall and fill any holes, cracks or uneven areas with spackling paste. Let dry completely and sand smooth.

Install Backerboard

Cut cement, fiber cement or fiberglass backerboard to fit your wall space. Seal seams with mesh tape and thinset mortar. Fasten with backerboard screws every 8 inches.

Lay Out Your Tile

Before mixing up adhesives and laying tile, do a dry layout to map out your design. This helps ensure you have enough materials and achieve the desired placement.

Map the Center

Find the center point of your backsplash area and mark a vertical line with a level. Mark a horizontal line crossing it. This guides the layout.

Do a Dry Run

Start in the center and place tiles against the wall in your chosen pattern without any adhesive. See how your design will look and make any adjustments.

Blend Shades

For natural stone or glass tile, lay tiles out and ensure any color/shade variations are evenly distributed for most natural look.

Cut Borders

Do a dry layout first for borders at the edges or around niches/outlets to calculate any custom cuts needed. Mark where borders or focal points will go.

Install the Tile

Once your design is mapped out, mix up thinset mortar adhesive and use a notched trowel to spread it onto the backerboard where your first tiles will go. Follow these tips for proper installation:

Apply Thinset

Use the proper trowel size to apply adhesive thin enough that tile edges don’t sink in too deep. Hold trowel at 45 degree angle.

Embed Tiles

Press tiles into the mortar with a slight twisting motion to embed fully. Use spacers between. Check level often.

Work in Sections

Install in small sections starting at the center lines. Let adhesive dry before moving on so tiles don’t slide out of place.

Cut Accents and Borders

Measure and cut border tiles after doing filled sections. Use nippers on mosaics and a wet saw or glass cutter for specialty tiles.

Address Tricky Spots

Around outlets, niches or uneven areas, cut tiles to fit or build out with thinset to maintain an even surface.

Seal the Deal

Once the thinset has dried (24-48 hours), mix grout and apply over the tile joints. Let set slightly then wipe clean. Caulk perimeter edges.

Finish It Up Beautifully

After allowing time for the grout and caulk to fully cure, finish off your backsplash so it looks professionally installed.

Seal the Grout

Apply grout sealant evenly over all grouted areas according to manufacturer directions. This prevents staining.

Buff Away Haze

Use a soft cloth to gently buff off any remaining grout haze or cloudiness once sealant has dried.

Re-install Fixtures

Replace switch plate covers, sconces, curtains and other fixtures previously removed from the backsplash area.

Stand Back and Admire!

Congratulations on your new, professionally finished backsplash! Enjoy this gorgeous focal point that adds style, personality and easy-clean functionality.

Frequently Asked Questions About Starting a Tile Backsplash

Installing a tile backsplash for the first time can seem daunting, but have no fear! Here are answers to some of the most common questions DIYers have about how to start a tile backsplash project.

What tools do I need to install a tile backsplash?

You’ll need basic equipment like a tape measure, pencil, level, notched trowel, tile cutter, buckets, and grout float. For specialty tile like glass or metal, you may need special cutting tools. Safety gear like gloves and goggles is a must.

What type of tile is best for backsplashes?

Ceramic and porcelain are classic choices, providing endless options. Glass tiles add sleek, contemporary appeal. Elegant natural stone like marble makes a statement. Metal tile offers an industrial vibe.

How are tiles mounted for backsplashes?

Tiles need a very secure base so they don’t detach from the wall. Cement, fiber cement or fiberglass backerboard is installed first. Tiles are adhered with a thinset mortar specially formulated for walls.

Should I use different tile for a focal point?

Definitely! Using an accent tile with a different color, material, shape or design draws the eye to a focal spot and adds interest. Common focal points are behind stoves or sinks.

How do I prep the wall for tile installation?

Thoroughly clean and sand the wall first. Fill any holes or imperfections for a level surface. Install cement backerboard across the entire area to be tiled to give tiles a permanent base.

Can I use leftover floor tile for a backsplash?

Floor and wall tiles have different safety ratings, so floor tile should only be used in dry areas away from water sources. Check manufacturer guidelines.

What order should I install the tiles?

Start by finding the center point and marking guide lines. Lay tiles in sections outward from the center, letting adhesive dry before moving on. Finish with border and accent tiles.

How do I cut the tiles to fit around outlets and edges?

Carefully measure and mark cuts needed. A wet saw with a tile blade is best for most materials. Use special tools for glass or metal tiles. Take time to make clean cuts.

How long does the tile adhesive take to dry?

Thinset mortar dries in 24-48 hours before applying grout. This keeps tiles from shifting. Don’t grout until adhesive has dried completely. Check directions.

Do I need special grout for small mosaic tiles?

For grout joints smaller than 1/8″, use non-sanded grout which can get into tighter spaces. For wider joints, sanded grout provides more durability.

What’s the final step once tiles are installed and grouted?

The finishing touch is sealing the grout, which prevents staining from moisture and grease. Let grout cure fully before applying sealant.

With the right materials and careful following of installation steps, you can achieve a picture-perfect backsplash. Just take your time and don’t be afraid to ask for help from an experienced DIYer or tile professional if needed. Happy tiling!


Installing tile backsplash can elevate the style of any kitchen or bath. With proper planning and preparation, a DIY backsplash project is totally achievable. Carefully choose your tile, gather supplies, thoroughly prep the wall surface and lay out your design. With some patience and technique, you can set the tiles into quality thinset adhesive and finish the joints with grout for a flawless look. The end result will be a stunning focal point you’ll enjoy for years to come. And the sense of accomplishment you’ll gain from mastering a new skill is priceless!