What to Use to Install Backsplash

Backsplashes are an important design element in any kitchen. Not only do they provide protection for the walls from splashes and spills, they can also be a decorative focal point that brings the whole room together. When it comes time to install a new backsplash, there are several material options to consider and steps to take for a successful DIY project. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about what to use to install a beautiful, functional backsplash in your kitchen.

Materials for Backsplashes

There are a wide variety of materials available for kitchen backsplashes today, ranging from traditional tiles to modern glass mosaics. Choosing the right material requires considering factors like your budget, kitchen style, and how easy the material will be to clean and maintain. Here are some of the most popular backsplash materials to consider:

Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

  • Pros: Ceramic and porcelain tiles are affordable, easy to clean, durable, and come in a huge range of colors, shapes, and styles. The colors are fade resistant and porcelain is more resistant to moisture than regular ceramic tile.
  • Cons: The grout lines between tiles can trap dirt and need to be sealed regularly. The tiles can chip if subjected to a hard impact.

Natural Stone Tile

  • Pros: Stone tiles like marble, travertine, granite, and slate have beautiful natural patterns and work well in upscale, elegant kitchens. Stone tiles are durable, naturally stain and water resistant.
  • Cons: Stone tiles are more expensive than ceramic or porcelain. They may need to be sealed periodically. Some stones can stain or etch when exposed to acid (like lemon juice).

Glass Tile or Mosaic

  • Pros: Glass tiles and mosaics come in shimmering colors, styles, and textures that make a dramatic design statement. The glass is easy to wipe clean and won’t need regular sealing like natural stone.
  • Cons: Glass tiles can be more expensive than ceramic. The installation is trickier and they may need special cutting tools. Glass is not as durable as other materials and could crack or chip.

Metal Tile

  • Pros: Metal tiles like stainless steel, tin, or copper provide an industrial modern look. They are durable, easy to clean, and naturally moisture and stain resistant.
  • Cons: Metal tiles dent if subjected to blunt force. They can be expensive and tricky for a DIY installation. Cut edges may be sharp and need smoothing.

Peel-and-Stick Tile

  • Pros: Peel-and-stick tiles have an adhesive backing so they go up quickly and easily without grout or mess. They are affordable and come in many materials like vinyl, ceramic, or glass.
  • Cons: Adhesive can fail over time, especially near heat sources like ovens. Groutless finish reduces durability and easily traps dirt. Limited style selection.

Preparing and Planning for Installation

Careful planning and preparation is key to a successful backsplash installation. Follow these steps before starting your project:

Calculate How Much Tile is Needed

Measure the total square footage of the backsplash area and add an extra 10-15% to account for tile cuts and waste. If using a pattern, do a quick layout with poster board templates to visualize tile placement and spacing.

Gather Your Materials and Tools

You will need tile, grout, mortar or adhesive, spacers, grout sealer, grout float, mixing trays and buckets, trowel, tile cutter, sponges, safety gear, and more. Don’t forget anything!

Clean the Surface Thoroughly

Use a degreaser to fully clean the wall surface so the tile adhesive adheres properly. Remove any old backsplash material, paint, or wallpaper. Fill any holes or imperfections with spackling compound.

Start with a Level Surface

Use a level tool to check that the wall is plumb and even. Grind down any high points or fill in low areas if needed to create a flat surface.

Plan the Tile Layout

Figure out the best layout pattern. Draw reference lines on the wall to guide the first row of tile so it is level and positioned correctly. Leave room for the grout lines between tiles.

Consider Electrical and Plumbing

Take note of any outlets, switches, lights, or plumbing fixtures in the backsplash area. These may need tile cutouts or special treatment to remain accessible once tiled over.

Step-by-Step Installation Guide

Now that your prep work is complete, it’s time to start installing the new backsplash tile. Follow these key steps:

1. Apply the Tile Mortar or Adhesive

Mix up a batch of thinset mortar adhesive according to the product directions. Use a notched trowel to spread it evenly across the wall area to be tiled. Spread only enough that tiles can be set before the mortar dries.

2. Set the First Row of Tiles

Starting at your reference line, press tiles firmly into the mortar. Use spacers between tiles for consistent alignment. Check with a level often to keep tiles straight. Allow the mortar to dry overnight before grouting.

3. Cut Any Custom Tiles Needed

Measure and mark tiles that need cutting to fit around outlets, corners, or edges. Score and snap with tile cutters or use wet saws for specialty tile shapes. Smooth any sharp edges. Set custom tiles as you go.

4. Apply Grout Between the Tile Joints

Mix up grout and firmly pack it into the joints between tiles using a rubber grout float. Wipe away excess grout with a damp sponge and smooth the joints. Allow grout to fully cure per product instructions.

5. Seal the Grout

Once fully cured, use a silicone or acrylic-based grout sealer to seal the grout lines according to the manufacturer’s directions. This will waterproof and protect the grout from stains.

6. Finish Edges and Corners

For a clean finish, install matching bullnose tiles or specialized wall trim pieces along any exposed side or top edges. Use caulk if needed between tile and countertops or cabinets.

FAQs about Installing Backsplash Tile

What is the best tile adhesive to use?

For wall tile projects, use a polymer-modified thinset mortar which is more durable and water-resistant once cured. Refer to the tile manufacturer’s recommendations.

How are outlets dealt with when tiling a backsplash?

Carefully measure and cut tile pieces to fit around receptacles and switches. Turn off power at the breaker. Remove cover plates and outlets to feed tiles behind. Be sure not to cover wired connections.

What tools do I need for a backsplash install?

Standard tools include a tape measure, pencil, tile cutter, mixing trays and buckets, notched trowel, grout float, sponges, safety gear like glasses and gloves, and more. Rent specialty wet saws for cutting specialty tile shapes.

How do I cut tile around pipes and fixtures?

Measure carefully, then use a rotary tool or oscillating tool to cut custom notches or holes in tiles for plumbing fixtures. Smooth sharp edges before setting cut tiles.

How long does tile adhesive take to dry before grouting?

Adhesive drying times vary, but most standard thinset mortars take 24-48 hours to fully cure before grouting tile joints. Follow product instructions for proper cure times.

Should sanded or unsanded grout be used for backsplashes?

For joints 1/8 inch or less, use unsanded grout. It will create a smoother finished look. For wider grout lines, use sanded grout which helps fill and strengthen the wider joints.

Is sealing the grout mandatory?

Yes! Sealing the grout makes it waterproof and stain resistant. Both cement and epoxy-based grout need to be sealed for backsplashes, especially near sinks and stoves where exposure to grease, water and other contaminants is high.

Mistakes to Avoid When Installing a Backsplash

Not Leveling the Wall Surface

Uneven walls will lead to cracking grout and a sloppy finished look. Take time to level the surface before tiling. Grind down high points or fill in any low spots.

Improper Tile Spacing

Consistent spacing is important visually. Use plastic tile spacers between each tile to maintain even grout line widths within the whole installation.

Forgetting the Grout Sealer

Don’t skip this important final step! Sealing the grout makes it stain proof and water-repellent. Grout without sealer will absorb stains and moisture.

Using the Wrong Tile Adhesive

Choose an adhesive suitable for wall tile projects. Standard thinset mortars offer more flexibility and strength than basic multipurpose adhesives. Consult manufacturer guidelines.

Not Giving Adhesives Enough Cure Time

Rushing the installation can undermine the integrity of the tile job. Allow adhesives to fully cure overnight before grouting or applying weight to tiles. This prevents loosening over time.

Poor Planning for Outlets and Plumbing

Take time to carefully measure and mark the locations of any outlets, switches or plumbing. Cut tiles to fit neatly around these elements for a cohesive look.


Installing a kitchen backsplash tile project requires careful planning, measured tile layouts, proper adhesive use, and meticulous grouting and sealing. While the process takes some work, the final result can transform the look and function of your kitchen when done right. Arm yourself with the right information, materials, tools, and plenty of patience. Focus on good prep work like leveling and cleaning the surface before tiling. Follow the steps outlined here, and soon you will have a stunning new backsplash you can enjoy and be proud of. What tile material and design will you choose for your kitchen revamp? With this guide, you are ready to tackle this rewarding upgrade with confidence.

What Are the Best Materials to Use for a Kitchen Backsplash?

The kitchen backsplash is often a focal point that sets the tone for the overall kitchen design. There are many material options, each with their own look, feel, and functionality. Choosing the right backsplash material requires considering factors like your budget, kitchen style, ease of cleaning, and more. Here is an overview of some of the best materials to consider for your kitchen backsplash project.

Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

Ceramic or porcelain tile is one of the most common and affordable backsplash materials. The hard, protective glazed surface is easy to wipe clean of splatters and spills. The tiles come in a virtually endless array of colors, prints, shapes, and sizes to suit any kitchen’s decor. Grout lines provide texture and visual interest. Porcelain tiles are more durable and moisture-resistant than regular ceramic. The grout does need periodic sealing. Tile backsplashes have a timeless appeal that pairs well with most cabinetry styles from vintage to contemporary.

Cost: $$

Key Features: Durable, moisture-resistant, fade-resistant, huge variety of styles, easy DIY installation

Metal Tiles

For an edgy, industrial look, metal tiles are a unique backsplash option. Stainless steel, copper, tin, and aluminum tiles add glimmering shine. The durable material is naturally moisture and rust resistant. Metal backsplashes have a modern, cool look that pairs well with contemporary cabinetry. The metal tiles can be easily wiped clean and don’t require any ongoing sealing or special maintenance like stone or grout. Use metallic mosaics, geometric patterns, or solid sheets for different effects.

Cost: $$$

Key Features: Durable, easy to clean, moisture resistant, modern aesthetic

Glass Tile or Mosaic

Glass tile backsplashes provide brilliant shimmer and visual texture. The reflective, transparent quality and range of colors lend a dynamic, artistic element. Glass tiles are less porous than stone, so extra sealing isn’t required. The smooth surface also resists grime buildup. On the downside, glass can chip or crack under hard impact and requires special cutting tools. Use tiny glass mosaics or larger tiles for different unique looks.

Cost: $$$

Key Features: Shimmering color effects, artistic element, easy maintenance

Natural Stone Tile or Slabs

For elegant, timeless beauty, natural stone tiles like marble, travertine, granite, or slate bring unmatched visual interest and luxury. Every stone slab has distinct natural veining, swirls, and patterns, making a one-of-a-kind backsplash focal point. Stone materials are durable, naturally stain- and water-resistant. The porous surface does need occasional resealing. Stone tile brings a sophisticated look that fits well with upscale, traditional kitchen designs.

Cost: $$$$

Key Features: Elegant aesthetic, unique natural patterns, durability

Peel-and-Stick Backsplash Panels

Peel-and-stick backsplash panels or tiles, typically made from vinyl or ceramic, have adhesive backing so they go up seamlessly without mess or specialized tools. This makes it easy to transform the look of your backsplash yourself in a matter of hours. Peel-and-stick options are affordable, easy to cut to size, and come in many styles from ceramic mosaics to faux metal and subway tile patterns. On the downside, the adhesive can fail over time.

Cost: $

Key Features: Affordable, easy DIY installation, quick facelift

Painted or Wallpaper Backsplash

For a budget-friendly option, consider a painted or wallpaper backsplash using specialty paints or wallcoverings designed for kitchen use. This allows incorporating colorful patterns and designs without investing in pricier tile materials. Paint is prone to staining and requires careful prep and primer for a durable result. Wallpaper appliques are removable and replaceable but also risk moisture damage unless properly sealed.

Cost: $

Key Features: Inexpensive, ability to add color, patterns and graphics

Wood or Laminate Panels

Wood backsplashes bring natural warmth and texture. Use real reclaimed barnwood planks or laminate panels that emulate the look of weathered wood, subway tile, or other designs. Wood easily fits rustic, farmhouse, or craftsman kitchen aesthetics. Keep in mind that wood requires extra sealing to withstand moisture and splatters. Clean spills promptly to maintain the attractive look.

Cost: $$

Key Features: Warm, natural look, textured appeal

What’s the Best Backsplash for Your Kitchen?

The “best” backsplash material depends on your kitchen’s existing features, overall decor and style, budget, and personal preferences. Here are a few key factors to help narrow down your options:

  • Kitchen Style: Modern, transitional, traditional, farmhouse? Choose a material that fits the overall aesthetic.
  • Color Scheme: Pick materials and tones that coordinate well with your current palette.
  • Durability Needs: Glass vs. metal vs. stone vs. tile provide varying durability. Assess your lifestyle.
  • DIY Abilities: Will you install yourself or hire a pro? Peel-and-stick is easiest for DIY.
  • Budget: What materials fit comfortably in your budget for the whole space? Get creative!

Take time to assess your kitchen’s needs and your design vision. Gather inspiration from home blogs, then choose a backsplash that brings it all to life within your budget. With an endless array of options, you can find the perfect material to make your backsplash dreams a reality.

How to Select Backsplash Tile Size and Patterns

Choosing the size and layout pattern for backsplash tiles makes a big impact on the overall visual effect. Standard sizes range from tiny 1-inch mosaics to wide 12-inch subway tiles and large format tiles of 18 inches or more. Arrangements can create different textures, geometry, or focal points through strategic use of varied shapes. Assess your room size, style and what impressions you want to achieve to guide your tile sizing and layout choices. Here are some top tips for selecting backsplash tile dimensions and designs:

Consider the Room Size

  • In a small space, stick to smaller tile sizes like mosaics or 4-inch tiles to avoid overwhelming the area.
  • Larger tiles and simple grid patterns give the illusion of expanded space in a smaller kitchen.
  • Big patterned tiles can make a large kitchen feel cozy and put a decorative focus on the backsplash.

Complement the Kitchen Style

  • Sleek modern spaces suit large minimalist tiles for a clean look.
  • For traditional kitchens, classic subway tiles in a brickwork pattern fit right in.
  • Fussy ornate tiles or mosaics complement ornate Victorian or farmhouse styles.
  • Rustic and Tuscan-style kitchens come to life with handmade artisan tiles.

Create Visual Interest

  • Use an accent row of mosaic tiles or interesting border tiles to draw the eye.
  • Combine differently sized tiles in pleasing ratios like 1/3-2/3 to add character.
  • Vary grout colors and tile orientations to form patterns within tile shapes.
  • Shape tiles creatively using multiples of one bold shape like circles, diamonds, or hexagons.

Consider Tile Material Limitations

  • Large format tiles are best for even wall surfaces. Irregularities will be exaggerated by bigger tiles.
  • Tiny mosaic sheets work on curved or uneven surfaces that would make large tiles crack.
  • Natural stone and glass tiles may require certain cuts only possible at standardized sizes.

Figure Out Visual Balance

  • Very tiny mosaics can create a busy effect. Anchor them with some larger tiles for balance.
  • Alternate glossy and matte tiles to prevent overly bold reflections in large expanses.
  • Use small tile shapes strategically to “frame” special architectural elements.

Embrace the Unexpected

  • Go for an imperfect handmade look with irregularly sized tiles in related tones.
  • Try a totally random patchwork arrangement of mismatched salvaged tiles.
  • Intentionally crack tiles like Moroccan zellige for artsy imperfections.

With some thoughtful planning and creative vision, you can use backsplash tile sizes and arrangements to bring character and visual interest that perfectly suits your unique kitchen style. Don’t be afraid