Where to Start Backsplash – A Comprehensive Guide


Installing a backsplash is one of the most popular and cost-effective ways to upgrade any kitchen. Not only does a backsplash provide an additional layer of protection for your walls against moisture and stains, it can also completely transform the look and feel of the space. With so many backsplash tile options to choose from like glass, metal, stone and ceramic, it may feel overwhelming knowing where to start.

This comprehensive guide will walk you step-by-step through the entire process – from initial planning and preparation, to tile selection and installation. We’ll provide tips on choosing the right backsplash tile for your design aesthetic and budget. You’ll learn proper installation techniques to ensure your new backsplash looks professionally done. By the end, you’ll feel confident to DIY your kitchen backsplash project. So let’s get started!

Planning Your Backsplash

Before picking out any tile, the first step is planning for your backsplash installation. This involves taking accurate measurements of the space and assessing your current kitchen layout and style.

Measure the Area for Tiles

Grab a tape measure and calculate the exact square footage of the backsplash area. Don’t forget to account for any outlets, windows or appliances that intersect the backsplash. This will give you the right amount of tile you need to purchase.

To measure, start at one end and measure the length and height of the backsplash area. For example – if your backsplash will be installed in between your countertops to the underside of the upper cabinets, measure the length across those two points. Then measure from the countertop up to the cabinet bottom. Multiply the length x height to get the square footage.

Always add an extra 10-15% for tile cuts and potential breakages. It’s better to have leftover tiles than come up short halfway through your project.

Assess Your Kitchen’s Style

Take a look at your current kitchen layout and cabinets. Is your aesthetic modern and sleek or more traditional and homey? Granite countertops or stained wood? Stainless steel appliances or retro styling?

Keep the overall look and feel of your kitchen in mind when choosing backsplash tile. You’ll want something that complements the cabinets, counters, floors and appliances. The backsplash should enhance the existing design, not stick out like a sore thumb.

Also consider the size of your kitchen and backsplash area. Smaller kitchens appear even smaller with oversized tile. Opt for smaller sized tiles and simple patterns for a seamless flow. Larger and more elaborate tiles can make a statement in big, open kitchens.

Choose a Focal Point

Most backsplashes have one area that grabs your attention – around the cooktop, behind the sink or covering a section of countertop. This focal point allows you to get creative with colored, patterned or mosaic tiles.

But don’t make the entire backsplash the star of the show. Keep the remaining areas simple with neutral tile colors. This creates balance and allows the main design feature to shine.

Tile Material Options

Once you have the measurements and a vision for your kitchen’s look, it’s time to choose the backsplash tiles. Ceramic, porcelain, glass and stone tile are popular options, each with their own pros and cons. Consider the maintenance, durability, cost and design to pick the best material for you.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic is one of the most common backsplash tile options. It’s made from natural clay that is heated at high temperatures. There are endless colors, sizes, shapes, patterns and finishes to choose from.


  • Budget-friendly pricing
  • Easy to clean
  • Available in tons of styles
  • Fairly simple installation


  • Not as durable as other materials
  • Prone to chipping and cracks

Ceramic tiles are best for low-moisture areas like behind a cooktop. Use porcelain for sections that see more water splashes.

Porcelain Tile

Porcelain tiles are very similar to ceramic but are denser and more durable. The clay mixture used contains microscopically small granules for added strength.


  • More stain and water resistant
  • Low maintenance
  • Freeze/thaw resistant
  • Can mimic look of pricier tiles


  • Heavier than ceramic tiles
  • Difficult to cut without chipping

Porcelain is ideal for high-moisture zones near a sink or dishwasher. The durability also makes them good for accident-prone spaces.

Glass Tile

Glass backsplash tiles fuse colored glass with porcelain or cement. This creates gorgeous mosaic-like patterns perfect for a focal accent wall. Reflective glass varieties even give the illusion of depth and dimension.


  • Adds brilliant colors and shimmer
  • Easy to clean
  • Resists mildew and stains
  • Large selection of styles


  • Chips and cracks easily
  • Prone to breaking during installation
  • Grout can be difficult to clean

Use glass tile sparingly to prevent a dated look. Small shiny tiles can feel overwhelming. Accent a specific area or opt for larger formats.

Stone Tile

Natural stone like marble, travertine, slate, and granite make for stunning backsplashes. Each type has distinct veining, coloring, finish and texture for a one-of-a-kind look.


  • Timeless, classic appearance
  • Each piece is unique
  • More durability than ceramic or glass
  • Many finish options


  • Expensive
  • Heavy and difficult to install
  • Needs resealing over time

Save stone tile for a luxurious, high-end kitchen remodel. Use it minimally as an accent to get the look without maxing out your budget.

Metal Tile

Metal backsplashes offer sleek, contemporary style through materials like stainless steel, copper, tin, and aluminum. Various metal finishes like brushed, aged, or distressed are available.


  • Bold, modern look
  • Ultra-hygienic and easy to clean
  • Long-lasting durability
  • Endless finish options


  • Expensive
  • Prone to scratches
  • Difficult DIY installation
  • Can dent easily

Use metal sparingly and intentionally. Full walls can appear sterile and hospital-like. Mix metal with warm textures like wood or stone for contrast.

DIY Installation Tips

Once you’ve purchased your backsplash tile, it’s go time for installation. We’ll cover the complete DIY backsplash installation process step-by-step. Follow these tips and techniques for stunning, professional-looking results.

Prepare the Surface Area

Start by thoroughly cleaning the installation area behind your countertop. Remove any dust, grease or debris so the tile adhesive adheres properly.

Fill any cracks or imperfections in the wall with patching compound and sand smooth. Prime painted walls for better adhesion.

Cover sections you won’t be tiling like the countertop or cabinets with painters tape and plastic sheeting. This keeps them protected from drips and spills.

Measure and Mark the Layout

Based on your focal point, design a layout for the tile arrangement. Mark the center point and work outward in each direction. Use a level to draw straight horizontal and vertical lines as guides.

Dry lay a few tiles to visualize placement and find the best balance. Try to avoid narrow slivers that are tough to cut. Adjust to keep most tiles a uniform size and shape.

Mark the outline of niche openings like outlets and fixtures. Cut tile around these areas last to get a precise fit.

Mix and Apply the Adhesive

Mix up a batch of thinset mortar adhesive according to instructions on the bag. Apply it evenly across a 3-4 foot wide section using a notched trowel at a 45 degree angle.

Only cover what you can tile in the next 20-30 minutes while the adhesive is still wet. Too much time will cause the thinset to dry and not stick properly.

Set the Tiles

Following your layout marks, carefully set each tile into the adhesive one section at a time. Use tile spacers between them for consistent grout line spacing.

Press down firmly to adhere the tile backing to the thinset. Tap gently with a rubber mallet to flatten completely. Check for evenness and remove any adhesive clumps.

Allow to set 24 hours without disturbance before grouting or light use. Prevent foot traffic or water exposure so tiles set properly.

Cut Edge Pieces

Measure and mark tiles needing custom cuts around outlets, corners or edges. Use a wet tile saw fitted with a diamond blade to make precision cuts.

Cut slowly and steadily for clean edges. Smooth any rough spots with an abrasive stone. Dry fit first to ensure an accurate custom fit.

Apply the Grout

After a full day of setting time, you’re ready to grout. Grout fills the joints between tiles with color and texture. Unsanded grout works for tiles spaced less than 1/8 inch. Wider gaps need sanded grout.

Mix the grout per package instructions to a thick, peanut butter-like consistency. Apply across the tile surface using a rubber grout float. Pack it deeply into joints, removing excess.

Let the grout dry slightly for 10-15 minutes. Then use a damp sponge to wipe the remaining grout haze off tile faces for a clean finish.

Allow the grout to fully cure 24-48 hours before light use. Avoid moisture contact for 72 hours. Apply a penetrating grout sealer for extra protection.

Maintenance Tips

Your gorgeous new backsplash is destined to become the focal point of your kitchen. Follow these maintenance tips to keep it looking like new for years to come:

  • Use cleaners and scrub pads specially formulated for your tile material. Harsh cleansers can scratch, dull or discolor tile.
  • Re-seal natural stone tiles every 1-2 years to prevent staining and increase water resistance.
  • Immediately clean spills, splatters and drips to prevent stubborn stains. Soap scum is especially tough to remove if left to set.
  • Avoid hanging wet dish towels or cloths directly on backsplash tile. The moisture can lead to mildew growth.
  • Run the exhaust fan when cooking to minimize grease splatters on the backsplash around cooking areas.
  • Use cut boards, trivets and appliance covers to prevent scratching, dulling or chipping the tile surface.
  • Check for cracked, loose or missing grout. Re-grouting annually helps prevent moisture issues.

With the right installation process and regular care, your kitchen backsplash tile will maintain its beauty and function for many years of cooking and cleaning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still have some lingering questions about backsplash design and installation? Here are answers to some of the most common queries:

How much does a kitchen backsplash cost?

Budget $10-40 per square foot for backsplash tile and installation. Simple ceramic tile runs $3-15 per square foot. Stone, glass or metal tiles cost $15-50+ per square foot. Factors like tile size, material and labor impact overall project cost.

What tile is easiest to install?

Ceramic, porcelain and mosaic sheets are the most DIY friendly. Their smaller sizes are manageable for beginners. Avoid large format tiles, natural stone or intricate patterns for easier first-time installation.

Should backsplash tile match countertops?

It doesn’t have to. Contrasting colors and textures create more visual interest. Just ensure the two surfaces complement each other. Grounding light countertops with dark backsplash tile prevents too much contrast.

How high should a backsplash be?

Standard backsplash height is 4 inches from the countertop. Full height backsplashes extend all the way up to the underside of wall cabinets for more protection. Choose height based on your budget, kitchen size and personal style.

Can backsplash tile get wet?

Yes! That’s one of its main purposes. Backsplash tile materials like ceramic, porcelain and glass are water and stain-resistant. Natural stone may need periodic resealing to prevent moisture damage. Ensure proper grout sealing as well.


Installing a kitchen backsplash tile upgrade is an easy, affordable way to revive your cooking space. With the right planning, preparation and tile selection, you can DIY a backsplash that suits your personal taste and complements your kitchen’s existing style.

Use this guide to help choose a backsplash tile material that fits both your budget and design aesthetic. Follow our tips for proper layout, installation and grouting technique. And don’t forget yearly maintenance like re-sealing and re-grouting to prevent damage and keep your new backsplash looking like new.

With the right know-how, even first-time DIY-ers can install a backsplash like the pros. So don’t be afraid to tackle this project and add a stunning focal point to your kitchen design.