What Do You Need to Do Backsplash? The Complete Guide

Installing a stylish and practical backsplash in your kitchen or bathroom can take the design to the next level. But before tiling your backsplash, there are some important steps to take and factors to consider. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to successfully do backsplash in your home.

Selecting Your Backsplash Tiles

Choosing the right backsplash tile is one of the most exciting and important decisions when planning your backsplash installation. With so many backsplash tile options to pick from, it can feel overwhelming to choose. Here are some tips for selecting the perfect backsplash tile for your space:


There are countless materials to choose from when selecting backsplash tiles. Consider which material best fits your design vision, lifestyle, and budget:

  • Ceramic or Porcelain: A classic option, ceramic and porcelain tiles are durable, easy to clean, and water-resistant. Choose glazed or unglazed finishes.
  • Glass: From sleek subway tiles to intricate mosaics, glass backsplash tiles make a gorgeous contemporary statement. Opt for opaque, translucent, or metallic glass.
  • Metal: From stainless steel to copper penny rounds, metal backsplashes infuse industrial flair. Go for real metal or porcelain imitations.
  • Stone: Marble, travertine, and granite backsplash tiles lend an elegant, timeless look. Natural stone has unique veining.
  • Mosaic: Tiny mosaic tiles allow for stunning artistic designs. Use mosaic sheets or mix patterns and textures.


Consider your general interior design style as you choose backsplash tile. Select a tile that enhances and complements your cabinets, counters, appliances, and overall aesthetic.

  • Modern: Bold patterns, geometric shapes, bright colors, or sleek metallics
  • Rustic: Earth tones, handmade terracotta, reclaimed wood, uneven surfaces
  • Farmhouse: Vintage inspired, like white subway tile, blue and white porcelain, stone
  • Transitional: A mix of modern and traditional, often with neutral palettes
  • Eclectic: A blend of varied textures, colors, shapes and styles


The color of your backsplash tile brings everything together. Choose a color that ties into your cabinetry, countertops, flooring, and wall paint.

  • Neutral: Creams, grays and soft whites for a subtle, welcoming look
  • Bold: Make a vibrant statement with emerald green or cobalt blue glossy tiles
  • Warm: Earthy reds, sunny yellows and inviting oranges create coziness
  • Cool: Greens, blues, and lavenders for a relaxing, spa-like vibe

Pattern and Shape

From subway to hexagon, field tile to penny round, the pattern possibilities are endless. Consider:

  • Subway: Classic rectangular tiles laid in a bricklike pattern
  • Herringbone: Rectangular tiles set on the diagonal in a V pattern
  • Hexagon: Six-sided tiles that interlock for visual impact
  • Octagon and dot: For a retro vibe, install 8-sided octagon tiles or round penny tiles
  • Moroccan fish scale: A mosaic of interlocking tiles in various colors and shapes
  • Hand-painted motifs: Choose tiles with painterly designs for Mediterranean flair
  • Geometric: Bold triangles, diamonds, chevrons and zigzags make a statement

Finish and Texture

The finish and texture of your tile impacts the overall look and feel. Consider:

  • Matte: Flat and velvety, a matte finish minimizes flaws
  • Glossy: High-shine reflective glazing, best for patterned tile
  • Textured: Adds depth and dimension with 3D or relief surfaces
  • Iridescent: Shifts colors, often between gold, green and red tones
  • Crackled: Distressed, weathered look with web-like cracked glazing
  • Hand-painted: Organic, artistic feel from painted designs


Tile size dramatically affects the look. Smaller tiles create busy patterns whereas larger tiles have a more seamless effect.

  • Mosaic: 1-inch square or hexagon tiles
  • Subway: 3-by-6-inch rectangular tiles
  • Standard: 4-inch squares or 6-by-6-inch hexagons
  • Oversized: 12-inch square, 8-by-16-inch rectangular
  • Ledger Panel: Long rectangular planks over 12 inches


Backsplash tile prices span a wide range. Take your budget into account when selecting tile:

  • $5-$10 per square foot: Ceramic, porcelain, low-end stone
  • $10-$50 per square foot: Mid-range stone, hand-painted ceramic
  • $50+ per square foot: High-end stone and marble, metal

With an endless array of styles, colors, shapes, textures and materials to pick from, you can find affordable backsplash tile to match any design taste and budget.

Preparing Your Backsplash Area

Once you’ve selected the perfect backsplash tile, the next step is preparing the backsplash installation area. Proper preparation ensures your backsplash tiles adhere properly for long-lasting beauty.

Remove the Old Backsplash

If there is an existing backsplash, completely remove it prior to installation. Use a hammer and chisel to pry off ceramic or porcelain tiles. For laminate, use a utility knife or pull the whole sheet off at once. Removing old backsplash tiles fully preps the surface.

Deep Clean the Wall

Thoroughly clean your backsplash area once the old backsplash is removed. Use a degreasing cleaner and scrub brush to remove all dirt, dust, oil and grime from the wall surface. Rinse with clean water and let the wall dry fully. Proper cleaning lets the backsplash mortar and tiles adhere tightly.

Repair and Prep the Wall Surface

Inspect the wall and make any necessary repairs before tiling:

  • Fill holes and cracks with spackle compound. Let dry and sand smooth.
  • Fix uneven areas with joint compound. Coat with a primer when dry.
  • Remove outlet covers and old adhesive or grout residue.
  • Prime painted walls for better adhesion. Use an etching primer or dedicated tile primer.

Proper wall prep prevents future cracking and loose tiles, ensuring your backsplash installation lasts.

Pick Your Tile Layout

Map out the tile layout prior to installation day. Measure the space and create a planning grid to determine the best layout for full tiles and the fewest cuts. MARK THE LAYOUT ON THE WALL WITH A PENCIL. Common layouts include:

  • Brick pattern: Offsetting vertical rows like brickwork
  • Horizontal rows: Stacked rows with tile seams lining up
  • Diagonal: Installed on the bias for visual dynamism
  • Herringbone: Tiles joining at corners in a zigzag pattern
  • Mosaic: Small tiles mounted in decorative sheets
  • Geometric: Angled tiles creating polygons and starbursts

A thought-out tile layout creates a seamless professional backsplash design.

Installing the Backsplash Tile

Installation day has arrived! Now it’s time to put up your stunning new backsplash. Follow these steps for proper backsplash tile installation:

Gather Your Materials

Before starting, assemble all the necessary backsplash tiling materials:

  • Tile and grout: Your chosen backsplash tile and grout that coordinates in color
  • Thinset mortar: For adhering tile to the wall
  • Notched trowel: For spreading mortar evenly
  • Mixing bucket: For blending mortar
  • Spacers: For consistent tile spacing as you install
  • Wet tile saw: For precise tile cutting
  • Grout float: For forcing grout into tile seams
  • Sponge: For smoothing and cleaning excess grout
  • Sealer: For sealing porous grout and tile when finished

Prepare the Thinset Mortar

In a mixing bucket, blend the thinset mortar powder with water per package instructions. Stir to a smooth, paste-like consistency. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes, then remix before using. This “slake” time allows the mortar to fully absorb the water.

Apply Thinset and Install Tiles

Using your notched trowel, apply a layer of thinset to the wall, holding at a 45-degree angle. Apply only enough mortar that you can tile over in 30 minutes before it dries. Place the first tile in the corner of your planned layout and press firmly to adhere. Place spacer strips on each side to maintain even grout lines. Continue setting tiles in the thinset along your layout lines. Check for straightness and levelness as you go. Cut border and accent tiles to fit using the wet saw. Allow the thinset to cure fully before grouting.

Mix and Apply the Grout

Prepare grout by blending powdered grout with water in a bucket per package directions. Let stand briefly and remix to a smooth consistency. Holding the grout float at a 45-degree angle, firmly press it into the tile joints to fill completely. Wipe away excess grout with a damp sponge in diagonal motions. Rinse the sponge frequently. Allow grout to cure per manufacturer instructions, usually 24-48 hours.

Seal the Backsplash

Once grouted and cured, apply a penetrating sealer to your backsplash, especially for porous grout and natural stone. Use a foam brush to apply the sealer evenly, wiping away any excess liquid. Allow sealer to fully dry. The sealer prevents staining and damage from moisture.

With proper thinset mortar application, meticulous tile placement, smooth professional grouting, and a protective sealer, you can install an incredible backsplash that brings your whole kitchen or bathroom to life.

Backsplash Maintenance Tips

Once your stunning new backsplash is professionally installed, maintaining its beauty over time requires some simple care. Follow these backsplash maintenance guidelines:

Routine Cleaning

Clean the backsplash at least weekly using a soft sponge or microfiber cloth and a mild dish soap diluted in warm water. Avoid harsh cleaners like bleach that can react with grout and stain tiles. Rinse thoroughly with clear water and dry with a towel.

Annual Grout Cleaning

Over time, oil and grime can build up in grout lines, making them appear darker and dingy. Once a year, deep clean the grout with a specialized grout cleaner or a paste of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Allow it to bubble, then scrub and rinse. Reseal grout annually too.

Re-caulk When Needed

If the caulk between the backsplash and countertop or around sinks appears cracked or peeling, carefully remove it and re-caulk those seam areas with a high-quality silicone caulk designed for kitchens and baths.

Watch for Cracked or Loose Tiles

Immediately replace any tiles that become damaged or detached. The longer they remain unfixed, the worse the problem becomes. Regrouting tiles early keeps your backsplash intact.

Consider Re-Sealing

For natural stone backsplashes, reapply sealer every 1-2 years as needed, especially for oil-prone areas near stoves. Resealing maintains water repellency and stain resistance.

With proper care and maintenance, your backsplash can stay as stylish, fresh, and vibrant as the day it was installed for years of enjoyment.

Backsplash Design Ideas

To inspire you for creating your dream kitchen or bathroom backsplash, here are some stunning and creative backsplash design ideas:

Modern Geometric

Make a contemporary statement with a cool black, white and gray geometric backsplash. Use varying shapes like diamonds, triangles, lines for visual punch. Clean white grout ties it together.

Modern geometric backsplash tile

Vintage Carnival Glass

Upcycle a collection of upcycled carnival-style glass pieces into a funky, artsy focal point backsplash. Use shards in multiple sizes for staggered rows. Dark grout accents each colorful shard.

Vintage carnival glass backsplash

Rustic Farmhouse Brick

Inviting farmhouse charm comes from a reclaimed brick backsplash surrounding a large porcelain apron sink. Variegated red brick tones and slightly uneven surfaces add antique appeal.

Rustic brick backsplash

Blue Moroccan Fish Scale

Intricate Moroccan fish scale tiles in vivid cobalt blue create movement and sparkle. Accent with pops of terra cotta, sea green and white ceramic. Warm wood shelving balances the cool tones.

Blue Moroccan fish scale backsplash

Graphic Kitchen Collage

Make an artistic statement by covering your kitchen backsplash in a graphic collage of printed photos, maps, wallpaper samples and pages from cookbooks relevant to you. Artsy yet bold!

Graphic collage backsplash

Sophisticated Gray Marble Herringbone

Beautiful polished marble subway tiles laid in a gorgeous herringbone pattern exude elegance. Mix gray and white marble for contrast. Use silver grout to complement the veining.

Gray marble herringbone backsplash

With limitless gorgeous and creative backsplash tile possibilities, you can design a stunning focal point that puts your personal style on display. The expert tile installation advice above will empower you to install it like a seasoned pro. So explore all the options and create your dream backsplash!

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about backsplash installation:

How much does a backsplash cost?

On average, expect to pay $30-$70 per square foot installed for backsplash tile, with more basic ceramic or vinyl tiles on the lower end and more premium materials like stone or mosaic on the high end. Labor, thinset and grout will be additional costs.

What tools do I need to install backsplash tile?

You’ll need a notched trowel, spacers, mixing bucket, wet saw, grout float, sponges, hammer, and chisel at minimum. The specific tools depend on your tile material and application method.

How do I cut backsplash tile?

The best tool for precisely cutting backsplash tiles to fit your space is a wet saw with an adjustable sliding table. For irregular cuts around outlets or pipes, use a mini grinder with a diamond blade.

Can backsplash tile be installed directly over old backsplash?

It’s not recommended. Old tile or laminate keeps the new tiles from properly adhering. Removing the existing backsplash ensures a smooth, clean surface for proper thinset mortar bonding.

What thinset mortar is best for backsplash tile?

Choose a polymer-modified thinset designed for walls and tile backsplash applications. This type of mortar has higher strength and adhesion than basic thinset. Refer to manufacturer instructions.

How long does it take for thinset mortar to dry before grouting?

Allow 24-48 hours for thinset mortar to fully cure before applying grout. This allows the mortar to reach its optimal bonding strength so tiles stay firmly adhered.

What color grout should I use with backsplash tile?

Pick grout close to your tile color for a seamless look or go contrasting for the grout lines to stand out. White and gray are common backsplash grout colors. Some prefer matching for subtlety; others want grout lines defined.

What sealer should I use on a backsplash?

For natural stone, a penetrating sealant formulated for that stone works best. On ceramic tile or grout, look for a water-based sealer approved for walls and countertops. Always check that any sealer is food-safe for kitchen back