Where to Start When Tiling a Backsplash

Installing a tile backsplash can transform the look and feel of your kitchen. But before you start tiling, there are some important steps to take to ensure success. Here is a detailed guide on where to start when tiling a backsplash.

Planning Your Backsplash Design

The first step is deciding on the design for your backsplash. Consider the following:

Choose Your Tiles

  • Ceramic, porcelain, glass, and stone tiles are popular options. Choose tiles that are appropriate for backsplash use.
  • Decide on tile size, texture, finish, and color that complements your kitchen decor.
  • Collect tile samples and lay them out to visualize how they will look.

Determine the Layout

  • Decide on the tile pattern – classic brick, herringbone, subway, etc.
  • Sketch your backsplash layout to scale to calculate the number of tiles needed.
  • Plan the grout line width based on tile size for the desired visual effect.

Select Products and Tools

  • Choose quality tile adhesive suitable for backsplash use. Consult manufacturer guidelines.
  • Select grout type and color to suit your tiles.
  • Gather tiling tools – notched trowel, grout float, sponges, buckets, tile cutter etc.

Preparing the Surface

Proper prep work ensures tiles adhere properly for the long term.

Clean and Dry the Surface

  • Clean the wall area thoroughly to remove all grease, grime and dust.
  • Allow the surface to dry completely as tiles won’t stick to damp walls.

Remove Existing Backsplash

  • Take down old backsplash completely if you have one. Scrape off all leftover adhesive.

Check for Damage

  • Inspect the surface for holes, cracks or uneven areas. Fill any holes and smooth uneven spots with spackle.
  • For highly damaged drywall, it may need replacement before tiling.

Prime the Surface

  • Prime the bare drywall with a quality primer to improve adhesion.
  • For painted walls, lightly sand and wipe clean before priming.
  • Allow the primer to dry fully before tiling.

Laying the Tile

Follow these steps closely when installing the tile:

Plan Your Tile Layout

  • Mark the center point on the wall and level a guide horizontal line at the bottom edge of the backsplash using a spirit level.
  • Dry lay the tile sheets on the floor to determine the optimal layout and make adjustments.

Apply the Adhesive

  • Apply the tile adhesive evenly on the wall using a notched trowel. Spread only as much as can be tiled within the adhesive’s open time.
  • Use the appropriate trowel size as specified by the manufacturer.
  • Apply additional coats if necessary for uneven surfaces.

Set the Tiles

  • Following your planned layout, set the tiles firmly into the adhesive starting at the bottom. Use tile spacers for consistent grout line spacing.
  • Press each tile firmly to ensure maximum adhesive contact and even faces.
  • Check periodically with a level that tiles align horizontally and vertically. Adjust as needed.
  • Allow the adhesive to cure completely before grouting. Check manufacturer instructions.

Grouting and Finishing

Grout application and finishing completes your backsplash installation.

Apply the Grout

  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions on proper grout curing time for the tile adhesive before grouting.
  • Apply grout using a rubber grout float working it into the grout lines. Spread diagonally avoiding removal of too much grout.
  • Allow grout to sit for the time specified before wiping off excess.

Clean and Polish

  • Wipe the tiles diagonally using minimal water to avoid pulling grout from the joints.
  • Use a soft cloth to polish and make the grout haze-free once dry.
  • Remove spacers gently after grouting. Avoid disturbing freshly grouted joints.
  • Allow the grout to cure completely before using the backsplash. Check manufacturer suggested time.

Tiling Tips and Tricks

Follow these additional tips for best results:

  • Plan plumbing at sink level before tiling to ensure your design accommodates faucets and fixtures.
  • Cut ceramic tiles with a wet saw. Use a glass cutter for glass.
  • Pre-seal porous natural stone before installation to avoid staining.
  • Use caulk between the countertop and backsplash and where the backsplash meets the wall.
  • Consider adding a decorative border trim for a finished edge.

With careful planning and preparation, you can install a tile backsplash that will be beautiful and functional for years to come. Take your time and don’t hesitate to call in a professional if uncertain. The key is starting with a solid foundation before undertaking the actual tiling.

Frequently Asked Questions

What tools do I need for tiling a backsplash?

You will need basic tools like a tape measure, spirit level, pencil, square, utility knife, mixing bucket, notched trowel, grout float, grout sponge, towels, tile nippers, wet saw or tile cutter, and safety gear like gloves and eye protection.

What tile adhesive should I use?

Choose a polymer-modified tile adhesive suitable for backsplash use. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for the appropriate adhesive for your tile material and wall surface.

How do I cut the tiles?

Ceramic and porcelain tiles can be cut using a wet saw. Glass tiles are best cut using a glass cutter. Make precise measurements and cuts to get professional results.

Should tiles go all the way to the ceiling?

It depends on personal preference, but typically backsplashes end around 4 inches from the bottom of upper cabinets. Going all the way creates a busier look.

How soon can I use the backsplash after installation?

Allow the tile adhesive and grout to cure fully before regular use, usually 24-48 hours. Handle the tiles gently during this time to avoid disturbing the joints.


Installing a tile backsplash enhances the beauty and function of your kitchen. With careful planning and preparation of the tiling surface, thoughtful design choices, proper tools and materials, and good installation technique, you can create a backsplash you will love that will last for decades. Pay close attention to details like centering, tile alignment, spacing, and grout application for impressive results. Take it slow, seek help when needed, and enjoy the process of DIY tiling.