Where to Start a Tile Backsplash

A tile backsplash can be an elegant and practical addition to any kitchen or bathroom. The choice of tile, attention to proper installation, and the positioning of the backsplash all impact the final result. When considering where to start a tile backsplash, careful planning and preparation are key for a successful outcome.

Selecting Tile Material and Style

The type of tile you select sets the tone for your entire backsplash design. Consider the look you want to achieve as well as practical factors like budget and ease of cleaning.

Ceramic or Porcelain

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are very common choices for backsplashes. They come in a huge range of colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. Both are durable, water-resistant, and relatively affordable. Porcelain is denser and even more resistant to moisture.


Glass tiles can provide a shiny, elegant accent. Available in an array of colors, they have a transparent quality that makes them great for achieving a modern or contemporary style. However, they can be more expensive and prone to chipping.

Natural Stone

Backsplashes made from granite, marble, travertine, or other natural stones have a timeless, luxurious look. But they tend to be more expensive. Natural stone often requires extra sealing.


Metal backsplashes are contemporary, industrial options. Stainless steel, copper, bronze, and pewter/tin tiles can create bold metallic focal points. Enameled metal tiles blend the appeal of metal with colorful finishes.


Tiles assembled in mosaic patterns add visual interest and a sense of artistry. Made from glass, ceramic, stone, or metal, mosaics come in infinite combinations of shapes, sizes, and colors.

Once you decide on tile types and styles, purchase 10-15% extra to allow for breakage, cutting, and future repairs.

Selecting the Area to Cover

The dimensions of your backsplash depend on your goals, kitchen layout, and budget. Typical coverage areas include:

  • Partial: Just behind the cooktop or range. Good for a decorative accent that fits smaller budgets.
  • Full: Covering the entire wall between the countertops and cabinets. Provides a polished, seamless look.
  • L-shaped: Wrapping around a corner to extend the backsplash. Adds extra visual appeal.
  • Perimeter: Encircling all countertops in the kitchen or bathroom. Provides complete protection from splashes and stains.

Measure the space carefully before purchasing tile to buy the right amount. Experts recommend layout planning before tile purchase. Draw the backsplash to scale on graph paper, marking decor elements like a window or vent hood. This allows you to determine the precise tile layout and account for partial tiles on the edges.

Preparing the Surface

Proper preparation is crucial for the tiles to adhere correctly to the wall surface. Follow these steps:

Clean Thoroughly

Eliminate any oils, dust, or soap scum on walls before tiling. Wash with an ammonia-based cleaner and rinse any residue. Let dry completely.

Repair Any Damage

Inspect the surface and repair cracks, holes, and uneven areas. Use a patching compound if needed then sand smooth.


Priming creates a uniform surface for the thinset mortar to grip. Use a primer made for tile rather than standard drywall primer. Apply an even coat and let dry.

Mark Out Area

After priming, use painter’s tape to mark off the perimeter of the backsplash area. This guides tile placement for a straight, level application.

With the prep work complete, you’re ready to start tiling.

Setting the Bottom Row

Laying the first row establishes the base of your backsplash design. All other rows will build off the position and levelness of the starting row. Follow these best practices:

Dry Fit Tiles

Lay tiles loosely in place without any adhesive to test the planned layout. Adjust spacing as needed before permanent setting.

Align With Countertop

The bottom row should align evenly with the counter edge. This line will be visible so precision is important.

Mix Thinset

Mix tile adhesive mortar, also called thinset, following package directions. Use a notched trowel to evenly spread a layer on the wall surface area where the first tiles will be set.

Apply Tiles

Firmly press tiles into the thinset one at a time. Use tile spacers between each one for uniform 1/8-inch grout lines. Carefully check alignments and levelness as you go.

Let Dry

Allow thinset adhesive to cure fully (24-48 hours) before proceeding. This ensures a strong bond between the tiles and wall before adding weight above them.

With the foundation set, it’s time to fill in the rest of the backsplash design upward.

Setting Subsequent Rows

Build upon the bottom row of tiles using the following tips for efficient tiling:

Plan Staggered Joints

Tiles in each row should be offset at 50% joints for a brickwork pattern. This creates greater stability and visual appeal than tiles stacked vertically over the joints.

Work in Small Sections

Only thinset and tile a small workable area at one time, about 2-3 square feet. Thinset dries quickly so spreading it in batches prevents waste.

Use Leveling Spacers

Plastic spacers will help maintain even grout line spacing. Place them strategically to keep tile edges aligned and level as you lay each piece.

Check Level Frequently

Use a carpenter’s level tool often to test for straight, plumb rows. Adjust as needed while thinset is still pliable.

Cut Edge Pieces

Measure and cut partial tiles using a wet saw for precise fitting against walls or around outlets. Grind cut edges smooth.

Let Dry Again

Allow thinset to cure fully before grouting. This provides the strongest bond between tiles and surface. Be patient for best results.

Applying the Grout

Grout fills the joints between tiles with a waterproof material to finish the backsplash. For best results:

Select Grout Type

Sanded grout is suitable for joints 1/8-inch or larger. Unsanded works well in narrow grout lines under 1/8-inch. Choose a color that complements the tiles.

Prepare Grout

Mix powdered grout with water per package instructions until a smooth, thick consistency is reached. Let the mixture slake, or hydrate, for 5-10 minutes.

Apply Grout

Holding a rubber grout float at a 45° angle, force grout diagonally into joints with firm downward pressure. Completely fill joints and remove excess grout from tile faces.

Clean Grout Haze

Once grout becomes firm, polish tile faces with a damp sponge in a circular motion. Rinse sponge and wipe off residual grout haze. Buff tiles until clear.

Allow Drying

Let grout dry 72 hours before use. Avoid getting the backsplash wet during this crucial curing time.

When done correctly, grout will fill joints evenly and neatly for clean, finished results.


Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about starting a tile backsplash project:

How high should the backsplash extend up the wall?

The typical backsplash height is 4-6 inches above the countertop. But you can customize based on your preferences and tile style. Some extend the backsplash all the way to the underside of wall cabinets at 18-20 inches high for a full wall application.

What tools will I need?

Basic tools include a tape measure, carpenter’s level, marker, tile cutter, mixing buckets, notched trowel, grout float, sponges, towels, grout sealer, safety glasses, and work gloves. A wet saw is also extremely helpful for precise tile cutting.

What type of thinset mortar should I use?

Use white or gray thinset made specifically for wall tile rather than floor tile thinset. It will provide better adhesion on vertical surfaces. Consult manufacturer guidelines for appropriate options.

How soon can I grout after tiling?

It’s best to wait 24-48 hours after placing tiles to let thinset cure completely. This prevents tiles from shifting when force is applied during grouting. But you can often grout after 8-12 hours if using epoxy or rapid-set thinset.

Should my backsplash match the kitchen countertop?

The backsplash presents an opportunity to use a different material that complements your countertop. But matching the countertop can help extend the work surface visually. Consider your overall kitchen design aesthetic when deciding.

Can I install a backsplash on textured or uneven walls?

To adhere properly, tiles require a smooth, uniform surface. Textured or heavily damaged walls may need skim coating with joint compound to smooth imperfections before tiling can begin.


Installing a beautiful, functional backsplash is very achievable with proper planning, materials, tools, and techniques. Focus on creating a strong foundation row, taking a methodical approach to setting subsequent tiles, and carefully applying grout for a professional finish. With patience and persistence, you can gain the immense satisfaction of completing this impactful DIY kitchen upgrade.

How to Choose the Right Tile for a Backsplash

Selecting the perfect tile makes all the difference for a backsplash with style and visual appeal. Consider the following factors when evaluating tile options:


Porcelain, ceramic, glass, and natural stone tiles all have their own aesthetic and functional characteristics:

Porcelain – Very dense and impervious to moisture. Wide range of quality looks.

Ceramic – Budget-friendly and very diverse styles. Prone to some water absorption.

Glass – Sleek, shiny, and modern. Can be fragile and requires special cutters.

Natural Stone – Elegant and timeless. Needs sealing. Can stain. Expensive.

Metal – Durable and contemporary. Enameled metal adds bold colors. Tend to be expensive.


Smaller tiles like mosaics create busy patterns. Larger tiles up to 4×4 size have a lower visual profile. Choose based on your design goals and the scale of the space.


Matte, gloss, polished, crackled—finish impacts the texture and light reflection. Gloss and polished tiles add depth but show more imperfections.


Neutrals like white and beige keep the look light and subtle. Bold colors and interesting patterns enliven the space. Accent colors on partial backsplashes can be very striking.

Complement the Countertop

Keep backsplash and counters cohesive by matching tile with countertop materials like granite. Or use the backsplash as a creative contrast to the counters.

Ease of Maintenance

Larger grout lines, polished or glossy tile, and smooth materials require less maintenance and are easier to keep clean.


Materials, special shapes, intricate patterns, and detailed mosaic designs increase cost. Set a realistic budget and look for sales on quality tiles.

By taking stock of your goals, tastes, and kitchen setup, you can zero in on the ideal tiles. Always inspect them thoroughly before purchase for cracking, chippage, or irregularities. With smart tile selection, your backsplash is sure to be a stunning focal feature.

How to Clean and Care for a Tile Backsplash

A lovely tile backsplash can easily maintain its beauty with proper regular cleaning and care. Follow these tips:

Daily Cleanup

Wipe down the backsplash with a microfiber cloth and warm, soapy water daily to remove grease and cooking residue. Rinse and dry with a squeegee.

Address Stains Quickly

Spot clean any stains like coffee or oil splatters right away. Letting them sit can lead to absorption and permanent discoloration.

Clean Grout

Use a specialized grout brush and grout cleaner to scrub the grout lines and keep them free of dirt buildup. White grout shows staining the most.

Seal Grout

Applying grout sealer annually will help grout repel stains. Follow product instructions carefully for application and drying time.

Avoid Harsh Chemicals

Do not clean the tile with products containing bleach, ammonia, acids, or other damaging compounds. Stick to gentle dish soap or tile cleaners.

Spot Seal Natural Stone

Sealing porous natural stone tiles during installation makes caring for them easier. But spot sealing any unsealed areas ongoing will add protection.

Check for Damage

Inspect for cracked, chipped, or missing grout and repair promptly to prevent moisture issues and additional damage.

Rinse Thoroughly

Always rinse the entire backsplash fully with clean water to eliminate any soap film residue. Wipe the tiles dry with a towel.

With careful cleaning habits and prompt attention to any issues, your lovely backsplash will maintain its beauty over the years. The small effort required is well worth preserving this focal feature.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Installing a Tile Backsplash

Installing tile backsplashes often go smoothly, but mistakes do happen. Avoid common pitfalls with these pro tips:

Not Prepping the Surface – Skipping surface preparation risks poor adhesion and tiles detaching from the wall later on. Proper cleaning, repair, and priming are a must.

Choosing the Wrong Thinset – Thinset made for floors will not bond well on walls. Use a wall tile thinset for best results. Consult manufacturer guidelines.

Applying Thinset Incorrectly – Spread thinset evenly in small sections. If it skins over or thickens before tiles are applied, remove and reapply fresh thinset before proceeding.

Not Letting Thinset Cure – Allow 24 hours or the recommended time for thinset to cure before grouting or the tiles may shift and crack. Absorbent tiles like natural stone require longer curing time.

Improper Tile Layout – Plan the layout so tiles align across rows and perpendicular joints are staggered in a brickwork pattern for stability.

Failing to Use Spacers – Spacers keep rows straight and tile spacing consistent. Remember to remove them before grouting.

Incorrect Grout Usage – Match grout type to the tile joints for proper performance. Sanded for wider joints, unsanded for narrow.

Rushing Grout Cleanup – Allow grout 10-15 minutes to firm up enough for optimum cleanup. Wipe gently to avoid pulling grout from joints.

Not Sealing Grout – Seal grout annually to resist staining. Apply a penetrating sealant after installation and reapply yearly.

Avoiding these common mistakes takes a little extra care and patience upfront, but the end result will be a quality backsplash installation you can enjoy for years.

Backsplash Ideas to Match Different Kitchen Styles

The backsplash provides a prime opportunity to complement your kitchen’s design. Consider these backsplash ideas tailored to popular kitchen styles:

Contemporary Kitchens

Glass mosaics – Sleek and shiny for modern style

Metal tiles – Stainless steel, copper, or multi-colored metals

Subway tiles – Classic 3×6 white tiles create clean lines

Stone slabs – Large slabs of granite, marble, or other natural stones

Bold patterns – Eye-catching graphic patterns in black/white or bright colors

Rustic Kitchens

Handmade subway tiles – Imperfect edges and varied tones for character

Stone mosaic – Rough natural stones like travertine in earthy hues

Wood planks – Natural and rustic but requires sealing

Brick – Classic material with traditional aged charm

Mix and match – Eclectic blend of different rustic-style tiles

Farmhouse Style Kitchens

White subway – Iconic simple rectangular white tiles

Penny tiles – Vintage vibe from small round tiles

Wavy tiles – Adds subtle pattern with shaped edges

Wooden beams – Faux beams across backsplash for rustic flair

Open shelves – Shelves on some sections rather than full backsplash

Transitional Style Kitchens

Beveled subway tiles – White tiles with light shadow lines

Stacked stone – Elegant thin strips create texture

Marble hexagons – Shape and veining add subtle pattern

3D tiles – Dimensional wavy tiles for modern appeal

Mixed metals – Combine gold, silver, bronze for sleek elegance

The right backsplash can take your kitchen design to the next level. Evaluate how the texture, color, and shape of your backsplash tile can best complement your existing kitchen style.

How to Measure for a Tile Backsplash

Carefully measuring the backsplash installation area ensures you purchase enough tiles to complete the project with minimal cuts and waste. Follow these steps:

1. Sketch the Space

Draw the wall space and mark any breaks, windows, or outlets that need to be accounted for.

2. Measure Height

Determine desired height from the counter to bottom of wall cabinets. Standard backsplash height is 4-6 inches.

3. Measure Length

Measure total horizontal length of the backsplash area in inches across all sections. Convert to feet by dividing by 12.

4. Measure Depth

Depth is determined by cabinet protrusion from the wall. Check depth between wall and inside cabinet edge.

5. Calculate Square Footage

Multiply height in feet by length in feet to obtain the square footage area.

6. Add for Cuts

Add 10-15% extra to square footage to allow for miscuts and edge spacers.

7. Check Tile Size

Look at the tile size specs. Adjust square footage up if using large