what do i need for tile backsplash: The Complete Guide

Installing a tile backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom can transform the space, adding visual interest, easy-to-clean surfaces, and stunning beauty. However, successful tile backsplash installation requires careful planning and preparation. There are several key things you need to consider when taking on a tile backsplash project.

Selecting Your Tile

Choosing the right tile is one of the most important decisions when installing a backsplash. With so many tile options on the market, it can feel overwhelming to pick the right one but considering the following factors can help narrow your selection:


Common backsplash tile materials include:

  • Ceramic – A classic option, ceramic tiles are made from clay and come in a wide variety of styles, sizes, colors, and patterns. They are budget-friendly, easy to install, and durable.
  • Porcelain – Denser and less porous than ceramic tile, porcelain is more stain and water-resistant. It offers greater durability for heavy use areas.
  • Glass – Elegant and shimmery, glass tile can make a dramatic style statement. Opt for tempered glass tile which is safer and less prone to chipping.
  • Metal – From stainless steel to copper, metal tiles lend an industrial vibe. Consider tin ceiling tiles or penny round tiles for a vintage appeal.
  • Stone – Marble, granite, and other stone tiles provide natural beauty. Use stone sparingly on backsplashes due to the material’s higher cost.
  • Mosaic – Tiny mosaic tiles let you create artistic, intricate patterns. Mosaic sheets make installation easier.


Smaller tiles, around 2 inches or smaller, are commonly used on backsplashes and provide a cohesive, seamless look. Large format tiles over 4 inches can also work but require precise installation to keep grout lines minimal.


Consider the existing elements in your space when selecting tile color and design. For example, pick up on countertop or cabinetry tones. Neutral colored tiles offer versatility, while bold or colorful tiles make a statement. Patterns and texture provide visual interest.


Tile pricing varies greatly based on material, size, color, and design. Set a budget beforehand taking material costs, specialized tools, adhesives, grout, and labor into account. Ceramic, mosaic, and some stone tiles provide affordable options.


Consider how much use, moisture, and exposure to heat the tiles will undergo. High traffic kitchens benefit from more durable and seamless materials like porcelain. Glass tile is prone to chipping and may not suit backsplashes adjoining stovetops.


Traditional kitchens suit classic subway tile, ceramic patterns, or mosaic backsplashes. Contemporary spaces call for sleek metal or uniform glass tiles. Play up old world charm with penny rounds or carnival glass tile. Ultimately choose a style aligning with your overall aesthetic.

Gathering Your Tile Backsplash Supplies

Once you’ve selected your ideal tile, gather the essential supplies you’ll need for installation success:

  • Tile adhesive – Choose a flexible adhesive suited for wall installation. Latex or polymer modified thinset mortar works for most tile types.
  • Grout – Water-resistant epoxy grout is great for kitchens. Match grout color to your tile color. Contrasting grout can be a stylish choice as well.
  • Trowel – Use a notched trowel suitable for spreading wall tile adhesive. Check adhesive specs for ideal notch size.
  • Tile spacers – Tiny plastic crosses maintain even grout line spacing between tiles as they set.
  • Grout float – This tool, featuring a soft rubber edge, assists in pushing grout into tile gaps.
  • Grout sealer – Protect grout from stains by sealing it after installation. Use a water-based acrylic sealer.
  • Tile cutter – Essential for custom cutting border tiles and other specialty pieces.
  • Wet saw – For more precise cuts, a hand-held wet saw with a diamond blade ensures accuracy.
  • Mixing bucket – Useful for blending up adhesive, grout, and other pre-mixed substances.

Having all materials ready beforehand makes the installation process go smoothly. Don’t forget safety gear like gloves and eye protection too.

Preparing the Surface

Installing tile over existing wall surfaces often requires extra preparation to ensure proper adhesion. Follow these tips to get your backsplash area ready for tile:

  • Clean thoroughly – Eliminate all grease, soap residue, dust and grime from the installation area using proper cleaning solutions. Rinse and let dry completely.
  • Remove old wallpaper or paint – Chemical strippers or sanding may be necessary to remove stubborn existing wallpaper or paint. Smooth away adhesive residue.
  • Check for damage – Address any water damage, holes, protruding screws or other imperfections. Use filler products to patch minor flaws.
  • Prime painted walls – Unpainted drywall requires priming before tiling. Previously painted walls should be sanded down and reprimed as paint can impede adhesion.
  • Fill any gaps – Use caulk to fill where countertops or cabinets meet walls to prevent moisture penetration behind tiles.

Take time to address underlying issues to achieve a smooth, uniform surface for a seamless finished look.

Planning Your Tile Layout

Carefully mapping out your backsplash tile layout is crucial for success. Keep these planning tips in mind:

  • Make a grid – Map your design on paper to visualize spacing.Include all backsplash dimensions along with measurements of cabinets, windows, outlets and other fixtures.
  • Determine tile arrangement – Decide on your desired pattern. Offset bricklay patterns add interest. Subway tile layouts keep things classic.
  • Choose focal points – Use special shaped or decorative tiles at focal points like around a window or framing a stove backguard.
  • Calculate amounts – Use your grid and tile dimensions to determine how many full tiles and border/specialty pieces you’ll need. Include extras to allow for damaged or improperly cut tiles.
  • Establish level lines – Mark perfectly horizontal and vertical layout lines on your backsplash area to align tiles against. Use a level tool to avoid sloping.

Take time at this planning stage to create a thoughtful, cohesive layout suited to the specific parameters of your kitchen or bath.

Setting Your Tiles

With your prep work completed, you’re ready for the satisfying step of setting the tiles. Follow these tips for proper installation:

Apply adhesive

  • Work in small sections – Spread adhesive only where you can set tiles before it dries, generally in 2-3 square foot sections.
  • Use proper technique – Spread on adhesive using trowel notches at a 45 degree angle, scraping off any excess.
  • Follow directions – Closely adhere to adhesive product instructions including prep, set times, and spacing of tiles.

Place tiles

  • Set bottom row first – Ensure this absolutely level starter row is perfectly positioned as it guides rows above.
  • Work upwards-tile out each section row by row moving upwards gradually.
  • Apply spacers – Place tile spacers between each tile to control spacing and alignment.
  • Keep aligned – Check tiles frequently for level and plumb. Adjust as needed.
  • Fill in carefully – Cut specialty border and filler tiles to fit edges and gaps. Use tile nippers for small nips.
  • Allow to set – Let tile adhesive cure fully before moving on to grouting, usually around 24 hours.

Stay organized, work methodically, and frequently double check your process to end up with a flawlessly installed tile backsplash.

Grouting Your Tile

Grout fills the spaces between tiles, seals the installation, and adds a polished finished look. Follow these grouting guidelines:

  • Wait for proper cure time – Don’t rush the grouting step. Make sure your tile adhesive has cured completely to prevent tiles shifting when applying grout.
  • Apply grout float technique – Use a rubber grout float to spread grout over the surface, pressing firmly into joints between tiles.
  • Clean excess – Wipe any remaining grout residue off the tile surface using a damp sponge and clean water before it dries.
  • Shape and smooth – Once grout dries slightly, polish it with a damp sponge cut into a narrow edge to shape and contour grout lines.
  • Multiple passes – Repeat grout application and polishing steps to ensure joints are filled evenly without gaps or depressions.
  • Remove haze – Buff tiles once more with a soft cloth to eliminate any remaining grout haze or film from the tile surface.
  • Seal grout – After grout has cured fully, apply grout sealer as a protective barrier against stains.

Proper grouting pulls your tile installation together, so don’t rush the process. Letting grout cure completely before sealing maximizes stain protection.

Caring for Your Tile Backsplash

Follow these maintenance tips to keep your new backsplash looking like new:

  • Seal periodically – Reapply grout sealer every 1-2 years to maintain maximum stain resistance.
  • Clean routinely – Use gentle dish soap and water regularly to keep tile and grout residue-free. Avoid harsh cleaners.
  • Address stains quickly – Clean up spills promptly to minimize staining. Check grout manufacturer instructions for stain removal guidance.
  • Use caution – Exercise care when cleaning to avoid scratching natural stone surfaces or damaging delicate tile finishes.
  • Monitor issues – Repair any cracked, loose or missing grout or caulk right away to prevent moisture damage.

With regular cleaning and sealing, your well-installed backsplash tile should maintain its beauty and function for many years before needing replacement.

FAQs about Installing Tile Backsplash

What tools do I need to install a tile backsplash?

Essential tools include a notched trowel, grout float, spacers, mixing bucket, tile cutter, wet saw, grout sealer, safety gear, and a level. Specialized cutting tools depend on your tile material. Always use the adhesive and grout products recommended for your specific tile type.

What’s the best tile for kitchen backsplash?

The best kitchen backsplash tiles are moisture-resistant materials like ceramic, porcelain, or glass. Opt for smooth, shiny finishes to enable easy wiping of splatters and stains. Small format tiles around 2 inches or smaller create seamless patterns.

How do I cut tiles for an outlet?

Carefully measure and mark tiles to fit electrical outlets and switches. Cut tile edges with a wet saw. Use a tile nibbler to remove small fragments around screw holes or tighter areas. Turn off power when working around outlets.

Can I install tile backsplash over existing wall tile?

Installing over existing wall tile is not generally recommended. Removing old tile allows you to inspect the wall condition, fix any damages, and start fresh with proper preparation for best adhesion.

How long does a tile backsplash take to install?

A experienced DIYer can install an average sized tile backsplash in 1-2 days. Planning the layout, preparing the surface thoroughly, having all tools ready, and methodically applying tiles and grout will streamline the process. Rushing can lead to uneven or weak tile adhesion.

Enhancing Your Home with a Stunning Tile Backsplash

Installing a kitchen or bathroom backsplash tile transforms these important spaces, lending beauty, durability, and ease of maintenance. With proper planning, careful preparation, high quality materials, and attention to detail, you can achieve stunning results and better enjoy your remodeled space for decades to come. Take things slowly, follow tile installation best practices, and your new backsplash is sure to exceed your expectations both visually and functionally.

Selecting the Perfect Tile for Your Backsplash

The tile you select for your backsplash plays a huge role in the overall look, quality, and functionality of the finished project. With an endless array of colors, materials, finishes, and designs to pick from, choosing that perfect tile may seem overwhelming. Keep the following key factors in mind as you assess your many options:


The material influences appearance, durability, and pricing.

  • Ceramic – Budget-friendly, easy to install and cut, resistant to heat and moisture. Classic, timeless option available in array of styles.
  • Porcelain – Dense, impervious surface resists staining and etching. Withstands heavy use. Easy to maintain.
  • Glass – Elegant, shiny finish. Tempered glass is durable and shatter-resistant. Great for modern spaces.
  • Metal – Stainless steel, tin, copper and more create industrial vibe. Durable but prone to scratching and denting.
  • Stone – Marble, granite, and others provide natural beauty. Softer than ceramic and porcelain so seal regularly.
  • Mosaic – Small glass or ceramic pieces create intricate patterns. Sheets simplify installation.


Common backsplash sizes range from 1 inch mosaics up to large format 12 x 24” tiles.

  • Small tile – 2 inches or smaller is frequently used. Provides lots of grout line patterns.
  • Large tile – Over 4 inches. Use larger grout lines and require level installation for clean look.
  • Mosaic sheets – Group tiny tiles together for easier installation of artistic designs.


Choose materials and patterns that align with your overall kitchen or bath aesthetic.

  • Match cabinetry – Coordinate with tones found in existing cabinetry finishes for cohesive look.
  • Contrast cabinetry – Lighter tiles visually open up smaller kitchens. Darker tiles make a bold statement.
  • Neutral palette – Whites, grays, black and beige for versatile, timeless appeal.
  • Bold colors – Make the backsplash the focal point with vivid hues like navy, emerald, or saffron yellow.
  • Patterns – Horizontal stripes, mosaics, arabesque and others add visual interest.
  • Textures – Glossy, matte, crackled and pebble textures provide depth.


Prices vary based on material and other factors with lots of budget-friendly options.

  • Ceramic or mosaic – Starts around $5/sq. ft. Budget option many homeowners choose.
  • Stone or marble – Higher end choice from $50-100/sq. ft. Soviets luxurious aesthetic.
  • Installation – Factor $5-$25/sq. ft. for professional installation labor costs.
  • Other considerations – Adhesives, grout, backerboard, sealants add expenses. Include extra tile.


Select tiles suited for the amount of heat, moisture and traffic they will be exposed to based on backsplash location.

  • Kitchen – Requires moisture, grease and heat resistance. Smooth glazes clean easier.
  • Bathroom – Consider anti-slip finishes. Opt for water resistant grout and adhesive.
  • Tub/sink – Choose durable, non-porous tiles if area contacts water frequently.
  • Bar – Range of options work, focus on easy cleanability and style.


Let the tile backsplash enhance your existing kitchen or bath decor scheme or style.

  • Traditional – Classic subway tiles, mosaics, penny rounds embody old-world charm.
  • Contemporary – Sleek glass, stainless steel, uniform ceramic tiles project modern vibe.
  • Farmhouse – Warm rustic aesthetic with handmade style ceramic, crackled glazes.
  • Eclectic – Mix tile materials, colors, sizes, and shapes for unique customized look.

Spend time considering all these factors to select your perfect backsplash tiles before purchasing. Samples can help you visualize options. Combining materials can allow you to create a truly one-of-a-kind focal point. Take your time choosing what speaks to your personal taste and style.

Choosing the Right Grout for Your Tile

While tiles get all the glory, grout plays a subtle yet vital role in any tile installation. Grout fills the spaces between tiles, seals the installation, and adds a polished finished look. With many grout options to choose from, selecting the right product is key.

Portland Cement Grout

This common sanded grout contains Portland cement, sand, and color tint. The sand allows it to be used in wider joints. A budget-friendly option suitable for a range of environments.


  • Inexpensive compared to other grouts
  • Works well in joints 1/8” and wider
  • Long track record of proven performance


  • More prone to staining than epoxy or urethane grout
  • Requires sealing to prevent staining
  • Not ideal for polished stone tiles that can scratch

Best For

  • Ceramic, porcelain, and stone tiles with wide grout joints
  • Backsplashes, showers, floors

Epoxy Grout

This extremely durable grout is resistant to stains, chemicals, and harsh cleaners. It creates a waterproof seal. Use for joints 1/16”-1/2” wide.


  • Does not require sealing
  • Resistant to stains, moisture, mold, and mildew
  • Cleans up easily with little residue


  • More expensive that other grout
  • Have to work quickly as it sets up fast
  • Can be tricky for DIY installs

Best For

  • Kitchen backsplashes
  • Showers
  • Floors
  • Areas needing waterproofing

Urethane Grout

This grout contains urethane polymers, is highly flexible, and won’t scratch polished tiles. Use for joints 1/16”-1/2” wide.


  • Extremely durable and flexible
  • Won’t scratch polished tiles
  • Stain, mold and mildew resistant


  • Longer cure time – up to 72 hours
  • Higher cost than traditional grouts
  • Color uniformity can be tricky

Best For

  • Polished stone tiles
  • Floors
  • Heavy traffic areas
  • Wet areas like showers

Specialty Grouts

Unique grouts exist for specific needs like100% epoxy grout or furan grout for heating cables and cove heaters. These feature maximum durability and heat resistance.

Tips for Grout Success

  • Match grout color to your tile color or choose a contrasting shade