What Type of Trowel for Backsplash Tile?

Installing a beautiful backsplash tile can transform the look of your kitchen or bathroom. However, properly applying the tile adhesive is key to getting those professional-looking results. Choosing the right trowel for your backsplash tile project is an important first step. Here is a guide to selecting the best trowel for your backsplash tile installation.

What is a Tile Trowel?

A tile trowel is a hand tool used to spread tile adhesive onto surfaces before setting tile. It consists of a flat, rectangular metal blade with a handle. The trowel blade is notched with teeth or ridges that create grooves for the adhesive. These grooves determine how much adhesive is applied to the surface and promote optimal contact between the tile and substrate.

Using the right trowel ensures you apply the proper amount of adhesive for the tile you are installing. Too little adhesive can cause tiles to loosen over time. Too much adhesive is wasteful and makes it harder to achieve straight, even tile lines.

Trowel Features to Consider

When selecting a trowel, here are some key features to consider:

  • Blade size – The width of the trowel blade determines how much area can be covered with each pass. Wider trowels spread adhesive more quickly over large surfaces.
  • Blade shape – Square or rectangular blades provide the best coverage for most tile projects. U-shaped blades work well for tile around bullnose edges.
  • Tooth shape – V-shaped notches are common for basic applications. For maximum adhesive coverage, look for U-shaped teeth.
  • Tooth size – This refers to the depth and spacing between notches. Larger notches provide thicker adhesive layers.
  • Handle – Look for a comfortable grip that prevents hand fatigue during prolonged use.

Trowel Size for Backsplash Tile

For a backsplash, a trowel with a 4 to 6 inch blade width is ideal. The most common options include:

  • 4 inch square notch trowel – Best for subway tile, mosaics, and smaller format tile.
  • 6 inch square notch trowel – Recommended for 4 x 4 inch tiles and larger formats. Provides better coverage.
  • 1/4 x 3/8 inch V-notch – For mosaics and thinner adhesive layers.
  • 1/4 x 1/4 inch square notch – For the thinnest backsplashes and mosaics.

A 4 or 6 inch trowel with 1/4 x 3/8 inch U-notches is a good all-purpose choice for most backsplash tile projects.

Type of Tile Adhesive

The type of tile adhesive you use is another factor in trowel selection:

  • Thinset mortar – Modified or polymer-fortified thinset requires a trowel with deeper notches to achieve the proper adhesive thickness.
  • Mastics – Pre-mixed mastic adhesives are formulated for thinner applications using a 3/16 inch square or V-notch trowel.

Consult the adhesive manufacturer’s recommendations and choose the right trowel notch size accordingly.

Trowel Tips for Backsplashes

When troweling adhesive for backsplash tile, follow these guidelines:

  • Hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle to the surface for optimal adhesive coverage.
  • Apply even, straight rows of adhesive using the trowel’s side edge as a guide.
  • Maintain consistent adhesive depth by periodically scraping any build-up off the trowel.
  • For highly textured surfaces like concrete, use extra pressure to force adhesive into pores for a good bond.
  • Be sure the adhesive surface has vertical ridges to support each tile edge after setting.

Achieving Professional Results

Using the manufacturer-recommended trowel will help ensure proper adhesive coverage and consistency. Holding the trowel at the proper angle takes practice to get right. Imperfections can be smoothed over during final grouting. With the right trowel and technique, you can achieve stunning, professional-looking backsplash tile results.

Frequently Asked Questions

What size trowel do I need for 4×4 backsplash tile?

For 4×4 inch backsplash tiles, a 6 inch square notch trowel is recommended. The wider trowel makes applying adhesive quicker compared to a 4 inch trowel.

What size notch is best for backsplash tile?

A trowel with 1/4 x 3/8 inch U-shaped notches is an ideal all-purpose choice for most backsplash tiles. This size provides good adhesive coverage without being too thick or thin.

Can I use a drywall trowel for backsplash tile?

Drywall trowels have angled edges designed for smoothing joint compound. It is better to use a tile trowel with a flat edge and proper notches to ensure even adhesive application.

How thick should backsplash adhesive be?

Adhesive thickness depends on tile type but generally should be 1/8 to 3/16 inches for backsplash installations. Use a trowel notch size that produces ridges in that thickness range when applied.

What kind of trowel for subway tile backsplash?

A 4 inch square notch trowel is recommended for classic 3×6 inch subway tiles. Opt for 1/4 inch square or 3/16 inch V-notches for thinset coverage between 1/8 and 3/16 inches thick.


Choosing the right trowel makes achieving professional-looking backsplash tile results much easier. Look for a 4 to 6 inch rectangular trowel with U-shaped notches that match your tile and adhesive combination. Focus on proper troweling technique and consistency throughout the project. With the right trowel, you can create a stunning do-it-yourself backsplash you will enjoy for years to come.