What to Use to Put Up Backsplash – A Complete Guide

Backsplashes are an essential design element in any kitchen. Not only do they protect your walls from splashes and stains, they can also add visual interest and tie your whole kitchen decor together. When it comes time to install or replace your backsplash, you have many material options to consider from ceramic tile to metal and glass. Selecting the right material and properly installing your backsplash ensures it will last for years to come. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about choosing materials, prep work, installation, grouting, and sealing when putting up backsplash in your kitchen.

Selecting Backsplash Materials

The material you select for your backsplash will have a major impact on the overall look, durability, and cost of your project. Consider the following most popular options when deciding what to use for your new backsplash installation.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile is one of the most common choices for kitchen backsplashes. It comes in a vast array of colors, textures, sizes, and patterns allowing you to easily match your existing decor. Tile composed of natural stone materials like marble, granite, and travertine provide an elegant finish. Tile pros include:

  • Durable and resistant to heat, moisture, and stains
  • Easy to clean smooth surface
  • Many affordable options available
  • Can create custom patterns and designs
  • Variety of textures from glossy to matte

Be sure the grout matches the tile color for a seamless look. Allow extra time for cutting tiles around outlets and pipes.

Glass Tile

Glass tile backsplashes inject colorful, sleek style into any kitchen. These tiles contain recycled glass materials fused with pigments to create stunning colors and effects. An epoxy coating provides a protective, water-resistant finish. Benefits of glass tile include:

  • Reflective, shiny surface
  • Available in range of solid hues and multi-colored mosaics
  • Resilient to moisture, grease, and bacteria
  • Easy to wipe clean
  • More delicate than ceramic and prone to chipping if hit

Use care when cutting glass tiles as they can crack and shatter if not handled properly.

Metal Tile

Metal backsplash tiles lend an industrial vibe through materials like stainless steel, copper, tin, and aluminum. Stainless steel offers a modern, sleek look that pairs nicely with professional-grade appliances. Other metal choices like copper and tin develop a patina over time for an antiqued finish. Pros of metal tile consist of:

  • Extremely durable and dent-resistant surface
  • Rust and corrosion-resistant
  • Provides reflective surface
  • Easy to wipe down and keep clean
  • May dent if heavy pans or pots are dropped on them

Avoid using harsh cleaning chemicals that can damage the finish on metal tiles over time.

Stone Tile

Backsplashes created from natural stone like marble, travertine, and granite exude elegance with their unique veining and patterns. While stone offers unmatched beauty, it does require some special considerations during installation. Benefits of stone tile include:

  • Timeless, luxurious look
  • Available in range of natural colors and patterns
  • Durable, long-lasting material
  • Resistant to moisture and staining
  • Requires sealing to prevent staining
  • Prone to chipping and cracking if not handled with care

Take care to properly seal porous stone used around sinks and faucets to prevent water damage.

Peel and Stick Backsplash

Peel and stick backsplash tiles offer a budget-friendly and easy DIY-friendly option. These self-adhesive vinyl tiles come in materials like plastic and real ceramic or metal bonded to a sticky mesh backing. Just peel off the adhesive and press onto your wall. Consider peel and stick if you want:

  • Simple, fast installation
  • Low commitment temporary solution
  • Many colors and patterns to choose from
  • Easily change out designs down the road
  • Avoid messy construction projects
  • Prone to peeling over time if not properly installed

Be sure to prep and clean the surface thoroughly before applying these tiles for best adhesion.

Preparing Walls for Installation

Proper planning and wall preparation are key steps to ensuring your new backsplash looks and performs its best.

Selecting the Right Wall Surface

Backsplashes can be installed over a variety of wall surfaces including:

  • Drywall – Most common wall material can support backsplash tile using proper preparation and adhesive.
  • Greenboard – Moisture-resistant drywall designed for bathrooms also works well for kitchen tile.
  • Cement Board – Specialty substrate made from cement and sand ideal for wet areas like behind sinks.
  • Plywood – Can support backsplashes if primed and coated with thinset mortar first.
  • Plaster – Should be treated with bonding agent before tiling to create proper adhesion.

Prep Work

Taking time to properly prep walls will prevent issues like cracked tiles or tiles falling off down the road. Be sure to:

  • Fill any holes or imperfections with spackle and sand smooth.
  • Remove any wallpaper or old paint with chemicals and scrape walls smooth.
  • Clean off any dirt, oil, or soap residue with TSP cleaner and rinse.
  • Allow any freshly painted walls to fully cure for at least 24 hours before tiling.
  • Apply painter’s tape around the edges to protect countertops and ceilings.

Planning Your Layout

Carefully measure the space and create a layout plan for the most efficient use of materials. Avoid narrow tiles sizes under 1 inch which can crack more easily. Have extra tiles on hand in case you need to replace any down the road. Consider:

  • Centering tiles on focal walls or aligning with countertops.
  • Balancing cut tile pieces on outer edges.
  • Complementing any patterns or granite vein direction on countertops.
  • Leaving room for outlets, switches, lighting, and plumbing fixtures.
  • Accenting with decorative listello, trim, or mosaic tiles.

With proper planning and prep work, you can create a stunning, long-lasting backsplash design tailored to your kitchen’s style.

Installing Your Backsplash Tile

When ready to start the installation, be sure you have all the necessary tools and materials assembled including:

  • Tile adhesivemortar
  • Grout
  • Spacers
  • Tile cutter
  • Trowel
  • Grout float
  • Sponge
  • Buckets
  • Painter’s tape
  • Rags

Follow these steps for professional tile installation:

Step 1 – Apply Thinset Mortar

Mix up thinset mortar adhesive according to package directions. Apply a layer evenly across the wall using a notched trowel held at 45 degree angle. Spread only about 1-2 square feet at a time to prevent drying before adding tile.

Step 2 – Place Tiles

Beginning at the center point, press tiles firmly into the mortar. Use spacers between tiles for consistent grout lines. Check tiles periodically to ensure they are flat and fully embedded without gaps. Cut border and accent tiles to fit around edges and fixtures using tile cutters.

Step 3 – Allow Tile to Set

Let tile set for 24-48 hours without disturbance. This allows mortar to fully cure so tiles are firmly attached. Remove any spacer pieces once dry. Wipe away excess mortar with damp rag before it dries completely.

Step 4 – Apply Grout

Mix up grout with water or latex additive to manufacturer instructions. Apply over tile joints using a rubber grout float. Hold float at 45 degree angle pressing grout deeply into gaps. Wipe away excess grout with damp sponge. Allow to dry 24 hours.

Step 5 – Seal Grout

Once grout is fully dry, apply grout sealer following product directions. This provides an invisible seal preventing stains or moisture from penetrating the grout lines. Allow to cure fully before using your new backsplash.

With proper thinset mortar and grouting techniques, your tile backsplash will provide a stunning focal point in your kitchen for years to come. Be sure to use care when cleaning to prevent damaging grout or tile surfaces.

Common Backsplash Installation Questions

Installing a backsplash tile project often brings up many questions for DIYers. Here are some frequently asked questions with answers on completing a successful backsplash installation.

How do I cut tile around outlets and pipes?

Use a tile wet saw or angle grinder with diamond blade to carefully cut L-shaped notches in tile edges to fit snugly around outlets and plumbing. Turn off power at breaker when working around electrical.

What thinset mortar is best for kitchen backsplash?

Choose polymer-modified thinset for kitchens which offers strength, flexibility, and water-resistance for high-moisture areas. White mortar provides clean results with glass or stone. Gray works with most other tiles.

How do I achieve perfectly straight grout lines?

Use plastic tile spacers placed between tiles to create even grout line spacing. Choose a width between 1/8-inch and 1/4-inch based on tile size. Remove spacers before grouting once tiles are firmly set.

Should I grout before or after sealing tile?

Always apply grout before sealing tiles. Sealing first can prevent grout from bonding properly to tiles. Use grout sealant after installation to protect grout from stains.

What color grout should I choose?

Select grout close to the tile color for minimal contrast between tile and grout lines. For light tiles, use white or off-white grout. With dark tiles, match with gray or black. Contrasting grout can get dirty looking easily.

How long does backsplash tile installation take?

Allow 2-3 days start to finish for most small kitchen backsplash projects. Day 1 for preparing walls and applying tile. Day 2 for setting tile and clean up. Day 3 for grouting and sealing. Larger projects may require additional time.

What height should a backsplash be installed?

Standard backsplash height is 4 inches above the countertop surface. Full-height backsplashes extending to below upper cabinets offer greater protection on busy cooks. Building codes limit tile around electrical outlets to cover just the bottom half.

With the right tools, materials, and techniques, you can achieve beautiful backsplash tile results! Just be sure to thoroughly plan the layout, properly prep and level wall surfaces, allow adequate drying time, and apply grout and sealers carefully by following all product instructions. Reach out to a professional tile installer if tackling large projects or dealing with challenging wall layouts for best results. With a well-installed backsplash, you’ll add functionality, easy cleanability, and stylish impact to your kitchen design.

Maintaining and Cleaning Tile Backsplashes

Follow proper care and maintenance practices to keep your new backsplash looking its best.

Grout Maintenance

Grout acts as a sealant, helping keep moisture from seeping behind tiles. Check for cracks or deterioration annually and re-apply grout sealant as needed.

Cleaning Tips

  • Use mild dish soap and warm water applied with soft sponge or non-abrasive cloth. Avoid harsh cleansers.
  • Rinse thoroughly after cleaning and wipe dry with soft towel to prevent water spots.
  • For tough stains like grease, use baking soda paste scrubbed gently with soft brush.
  • Clean up spills immediately before they have a chance to soak in and stain.

Replacing Damaged Tiles

With care, backsplash tiles can last indefinitely. If a tile chip or cracks, remove old grout around tile with grout saw. Carefully pry up tile and scrape away old adhesive. Apply new thinset mortar, position replacement tile, and apply new grout around seams. Wipe away excess and seal fully before using.


Installing a backsplash tile project brings your dream design to life while also protecting your walls from inevitable kitchen splatters. Planning the layout, prepping your walls, carefully laying tile, properly grouting, and maintaining the finished project will lead to successful results. With so many beautiful backsplash tile materials and accents to choose from like metal, glass, stone, and ceramic, you can find the perfect match to your existing kitchen decor. Aim for maximum functionality and ease of cleaning by avoiding narrow grout lines, sealing porous materials, and using durable surfaces that hold up over time. Follow this guide and you’ll gain the confidence to DIY your own elegant, on-trend backsplash that becomes a focal point of your cooking space.