Learn how to install kitchen backsplash tile step by step. We’re telling you everything you need to know plus great tips and clarifications before you start!
Do you want to update your kitchen fast? Try a stylish and functional backsplash. We’ll show you how. In this guide, we will break down the steps to make them easy to follow and walk you through how to install the kitchen backsplash of your dreams!
Also, you will find some valuable tips to help you easily manage the task on your own, no matter of the size of your kitchen.
And rest assured you CAN do this, even if you’re a beginner who has never tiled before. We have tiled backsplashes in several kitchens (and bathrooms + showers) and honestly, IMHO I can do a better job than a professional AND I’ll teach you how to tile like a pro (and better!)
(How do I know I can do better than a pro? It’s a sensitive subject still… We had our current kitchen professionally tiled to save time, and I am saddened by the tile spacing mess-ups EVERY DAY. I would never have allowed things to get so off, if I were doing it myself, because having a little bit of perfectionism is really helpful here.)
How to Install Kitchen Backsplash Tile DIY
Tools and Materials You’ll Need
Here is the complete list of tools and materials you will need to install the kitchen backsplash.
Optional additional helps:
- drill with ceramic drill bit
- Straight ledge wood -if your floor or counter etc is uneven, OR even behind the oven consider using a straight edge ledge (like an MDF 1×4, screwed temporarily to the wall as support for installing the first row of tile). Remove once dry.
For the project to go smoothly, it’s best that you have all of these before you start the task to avoid any obstacles. Cuz we all know the curse of having to run back to Home Depot 39 times.
The basics of DIY tiling I’m showing here will also help if you’re tiling a bathroom backsplash, a tile shower (with the appropriate shower board), or a tile floor. Since each of these tile applications needs slightly different surface preparation, though, here are some links with more info:
Step #1: Wall Preparation
First, you have to prepare the wall before you start the backsplash tile installation process. Follow these steps to prepare the wall for tile:
Clean The Wall
If this is a kitchen and if you bake or cook often, naturally the walls can get greasy and or splattered with food. To ensure that the tile backsplash properly adheres to the wall, you need to thoroughly clean it.
Carefully remove any dirt, grease, food and/or dust from the area where you want to install the backsplash. Consider a degreaser like TSP or Krud Kutter, but be sure not to leave soap residue either, so rinse with water and allow to dry thoroughly.
Smooth The Surface
Fill any holes or gouges or heavy texture on the drywall. Depending on what you are using to attach the tile (see step 3), the wall may need to be primed, because the powdery substance of plaster is not going to bond well to the double sided sticky tile mat for example.
Mark and Measure
Measuring and marking the area is important to ensure the alignment of the tiles. So, measure the height and width of the backsplash area and mark the center or highly visible spots that you want to make sure are correct for your reference.
Protect the Countertop
Before you begin installing tile, lay a protective barrier on your countertops (and the floor!), such as plastic or cardboard. You don’t want to have to clean up thin-set mortar or grout from the flooring or counter after.
Step #2: Plan Tile Layout
This is the most important step. Please do not skip it. You can tell a good tile job from a bad tile job primarily from the layout and how the cuts sit on the wall. It is the tiny details, so take your time.
Visualize the layout before you start fitting the tiles. This helps in smooth execution. A laser level is highly recommended to ensure that tiles stay straight!
You can try dry-fitting the tiles on the counter to plan the layout and determine if any cuts will be needed, or that cuts are equal on ends and properly centered. Don’t forget to use spacers to really get it as close as possible.
Some points to consider:
- If you will be tiling from wall to wall, consider having evenly cut tile on each end. Find the center point of the wall and the center point of a tile, and work out from there.
- Look at the spots that will show the most. Do you have a tricky window above your sink? Should you center the tile there?
- Is there an end wall that is REALLY obvious? Should you consider that your starting point to make it nice and clean looking?
- The bottom of your backsplash (right above the countertop) will be the most visible so make your tile cuts at the top of the wall, not the bottom. Begin at the counter and work up.
- Consider where you can hide a cut tile and where a cut tile would look out of place.
If you want your tile to look its best, symmetry matters. Please don’t skip this step, take your time and think through any strange shapes, edges or areas.
Tip: Tile Around Trim
If you have a window frame, door frame, or other trim that would require an intricate tile cut, use a multi-tool (with piece of wood or tile as a fence) to cut the trim instead, like we did on our white subway tile backsplash. Then you can make a square cut instead and slide the tile beneath the trim.
Step #3: Apply the Adhesive
There are three main options for tile adhesives that work well for DIYers.
**Be sure when spreading on the adhesive that you consider the notch size of the trowel you are using. The notches will get bigger with bigger tiles, and smaller with small tiles. There are stickers on the trowel when you buy them that explain the size of tile it works for. **
Option 1: Thinset Mortar
- Thinset mortar is a dry powder you mix in small batches as you work.
- Thinset can be used in wet or dry applications, such as backsplashes, showers, bathtubs, and floors.
- 🟢 PRO: Inexpensive and easy to find.
- 🟢 PRO: Can be used to even out uneven surface beneath the tile.
- 🔴 CON: Due to thinset setting time, tiles may sag on vertical application like a backsplash/shower wall- spacers will be imperative. (also maybe some additional setting/drying time between large sections of wall)
- 🔴 CON: If you are new to tiling, don’t mix too much at a time. Do small batches. That way it won’t get too dry before you are ready to use it.
TO USE THINSET MORTAR ON A BACKSPLASH:
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and mix the tile adhesive.
- Then, spread a thin mortar layer on the wall using a trowel in small sections. Thinset is really helpful if the wall is somewhat uneven, because you have more leeway to fill in a hole or depression.
- Optional: Apply a thin layer of mortar to the back of each tile before applying to the thinset. This is called “back buttering” and can help form a stronger bond – (usually more necessary with larger tile).
- Apply the tile with spacers, bottom to top. (See Step #4 for tips.)
- Be careful that you keep the grout lines clear and don’t let them fill up with thinset. scrap any out if it squeezes out between tiles, you need this to have clear gap to fill with grout. Wipe the grout lines clean as you work.
Option 2: Tile Mastic
- Tile mastic is a premixed “glue” adhesive.
- Mastic can only be used in dry (or damp) applications such as walls, tile wainscot, or dry backsplashes. NOT for use in a wet area like a shower.
- 🟢 PRO: Premixed makes it easy to use if you are working slowly in small sections.
- 🟢 PRO: Sets more quickly than thinset, reducing total project time.
- 🔴 CON: Not good for use in showers or where it may get wet.
TO USE mASTIC FOR A BACKSPLASH:
- Spread a thin mastic layer on the wall using a trowel.
- Optional: Apply a thin layer of mastic to the back of each tile before applying to the wall. This is called “backbuttering” and can help form a stronger bond.
- Apply the tile with spacers, bottom to top. (See Step #4 for tips.)
- Be careful that you keep the grout lines clear and don’t let them fill up with adhesive. Wipe the grout lines clean as you work.
Option 3: Adhesive Tile Mat ⭐ (Remodelaholic Choice)
- Adhesive tile mat (such as Musselbound or Bondera) is a double-sided adhesive sheet, like a double sided tape, that sticks to the wall and the tile.
- Can be used in wet or dry applications – check manufacturer’s specifications for your use. NOT for use on floors.
- Walls must be flat/level before installation (which is good practice anyway!)
- 🟢 PRO: Very easy for even beginners to use.
- 🟢 PRO: Can install a backsplash in a day since no adhesive set time.
- 🟠 CON: More expensive than thinset or mastic (but saves you time, so that’s a pro).
- 🔴 CON: Best for medium-size tiles — very small or large format tiles do not adhere as well.
- 🔴 CON: Very sticky, so it can be difficult to move a tile if needed. Be deliberate and careful when placing tiles.
Double sided adhesive mat is definitely the best of all options for DIYers. It is clean, no need to wait for the thinset to dry before, and can be used for both super quick projects and slow projects. **I recommend keeping the sticker cover on until you are ready to tile that area.**
TO USE ADHESIVE TILE MAT FOR A BACKSPLASH:
- Peel off the back of the adhesive mat and stick it carefully and firmly to the wall. Leave the top adhesive cover on.
- Working from the bottom to the top and from the center to the edges, remove the top cover as you place tile along the wall. (See Step #4 for tips.)
- Since the tiles are more difficult to adjust placement, I suggest placing a few tiles very lightly on the mat, then pressing more firmly for 5+ seconds when the placement is just right to ensure a firm hold.
I used an adhesive tile mat in my Texas house remodel when we installed our white subway tile backsplash with dark grout, and LOVED how easy it was. It can even be done with a child in your lap! (The adhesive mat was clear, but you can see a slight line above my fingers where it ends.)
Step #4: Tile Installation
Go slowly, don’t rush. Firmly press each tile into the adhesive with even pressure so it doesn’t accidentally get pushed in too far on one side and stick out on the other side.
Use your finger to check that it is even with the other tile and not to high or not pressed to far in. There are special tile spacers that help to keep the surface level.
Once on the wall, ensure even spacing with the help of spacers. Leave the spacers in place until dry. The more spacers the merrier — do not try to skimp on spacers!
Be sure you keep the spacers clear of the adhesive and the tile clean of thinset as you move along. You may need to scrape some out of the grout lines as you go, and wipe the top of the tile as you go if any gets on the front. Keep the tiles clean!
FYI, some small tiles have built in spacers, they are like small rectangles that stick out of the edge but are not visible from the front. If you are using those, you may not need spacers.
Work Your Way Outwards and Cut Tiles To Fit
If you are starting from the center, you can continue installing the tiles outward. Keep a close eye on the spacing and alignment of the tiles and make sure they are level. You can keep making the necessary adjustments as you go.
You might also need to cut the tiles to fit them around the edges or the outlets. For this purpose, you can use a tile cutter or a wet saw.
how to cut tile using a wet saw
- Mark the tile cut as exactly as you can. It’s really helpful to have a wax pencil because even permanent marker just washes right off with the amount of water involved in making cuts.
- Wear proper safety gear (especially safety glasses) and clothes that can get wet/gross.
- Carefully guide the tile into the saw blade, making whichever straight cuts you need.
- To cut a curve, as pictured, make several straight cuts next to each other and then carefully break out the small bits to clean up the cut.
- Always orient the tile face-up to ensure the cut is accurate and clean on the front of the tile.
If you have an exposed tile edge, consider buying a Schluter tile edging system. This is an L shaped metal band that gives a nice clean edge. They come in different metal finishes, white and black.
You can also buy trim or bullnose tile with a curved or tapered edge for a beautiful finished edge to your tile.
If you have a porcelain tile that has the color through out the tile, you can consider grinding the edge (if it was cut) and leaving it exposed, but you are going to need to be super careful to keep the thinset from showing so you can grout the edge. This option may be a little trickier, but does work very well.
Sealing Backsplash Tile
Most ceramic and porcelain tiles do NOT need sealed. Stone tiles or any other porous materials WILL need sealed. Check the manufacturer instructions to know if your tile needs sealed, and be sure to seal before grouting if needed.
Step #5: Apply Grout After Adhesive is Set
After applying the tiles to the adhesive, you must give it sufficient time to dry/set. For best results, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which typically recommend a minimum of 4 hours.
Remove the tile spacers, then grout and caulk the tile backsplash.
If you’ve ever noticed in the tile aisle they have caulk tubes. These particular caulks are color matched to the grout they have (not all colors are available).
In order to keep water from sneaking behind your base cabinets, it is a good idea to seal the counter and tiles bottom space with caulk. In places like this, the grout itself tends to crack and may allow for leaking, so caulk is your best bet.
You may want to caulk the line between the tile and the countertop first before applying the rest of the grout to make sure it is properly filling the gap.
On the countertop you could add a strip of painters tape to make sure the line is clean. Remove when it is just set, but not completely dry. Just use a caulk gun and smooth the line with a wet finger. Allow the caulk to dry completely before continuing to grout.
Mix and Apply Grout
There are two types of grout: sanded and non-sanded.
- Non-sanded grout or unsanded grout is used for grout lines ⅛” and smaller.
- Sanded grout is used for larger spaces. The sand adds structural stability to the larger grout spaces.
Mix the grout using the provided instructions.
Just keep in mind, you must be careful about the grout’s consistency. It should be like a creamy peanut butter, not too watery, not too dry.
tIP: uSE A GROUT SEALANT ADDITIVE
If you want your grout to stay cleaner (maybe because you’re like me and I tend to be horrible about keeping up on sealing grout), I recommend using a sealant additive instead of water in your grout when mixing it.
This sealant additive adds the sealant into the whole mixture of the tile and not just a thin top layer that wears off and needs to be reapplied every six months.
Once your grout it mixed to the right consistency, use a rubber float to spread grout on the tiles at a 45-degree angle. Make sure that you fill all spaces in between the tiles with the grout and leave no gaps. Really work the grout into the cracks.
Gently wipe off excess grout with a damp sponge.
Step #6: Clean the Tiles and Seal the Grout
After you let the grout set for the recommended time (usually it is 15-30 minutes), clean the tiles using a wet sponge. Nevertheless, ensure that you avoid removing too much grout from the gaps.
In approximately 2 hours you can use a cheese cloth to remove the grout haze from the tile. Without adding water, just rub the tile with the cheese cloth and you will be shocked by how well this cleans up!
In the picture below I was grouting with black grout. I had already wiped with a sponge, but because of the dark pigment there was a lot of residue. It is amazing what the cheese cloth did to clean the tile, and surprisingly easily.
If you chose not to use the additive, once the grout dries (typically in 24 to 72 hours), apply a grout sealer to protect it from stains and moisture. For its application, you must follow the manufacturers’ instructions. And don’t forget this will need to be done periodically to keep the grout sealed.
Tile Tips to Keep in Mind
Adding a modern, sophisticated twist to your kitchen by installing DIY backsplash tiles can be an exciting project. But for best results, you should follow some tips and tricks we’ve learned the hard way in our years of experience.
Choose the Tiles Carefully
You can find a variety of tile materials on the market, ranging from ceramic to porcelain, glass, and even natural stone. Among these, you must choose the material based on its durability, maintenance, and style in correspondence with your vision and lifestyle.
What Size Tile is Best?
For a backsplash, small to medium tiles typically look better and adhere better, up to 10-12″ tiles. For larger areas like a shower, full wall of tile, or a tile floor, larger tiles may be more appropriate (and less time to install and less grout up keep).
How Much Tile Do I Need?
Measure your square footage and add 10% more tile.
Be aware that tiles can break when making cuts so always order at least 10% more for cuts, waste and breaks. This matters especially if the space has a lot of cuts or zigs or zags, because there may be a decent amount of cut off tile that you cannot reuse. This way you have extra in the same lot color which can vary slightly.
Usually you can return extra tile – but I do suggest keeping some handy in case of emergency cracks in like one tile- you can replace just that one (this probably happens more with floor tile than backsplash tile).
- Stone Tile (such as slate, marble, sandstone) may need to be sealed before grouting. Please be sure to do your research on your specific stone before installing.
- Mosaic Tiles are generally very small tiles (or even bits or pieces of tile). They may come as tile sheets on a mesh backing in a 1 foot square piece, such as small hexagon tiles or penny tile. Be careful of spacing when placing on the wall especially if you are using a dark grout. You may want to include some spacers even in the portions that have the mesh backing, because not all spacing is perfect and may be noticeable when grouted.
- Glass Tile can be beautiful, but you need to consider the color of the thin-set you use for glass tile, because it can show through the tile. You will need white and not the average grey color.
- Concrete Tile comes in many beautiful designs, but these tiles are somewhat fragile,and they chip easily. Concrete tiles must be sealed before installing. Additionally, be careful of dark colored grout. It is not recommended as the concrete can pull the color into the tile and stain it.
- Subway Tile is tile that is usually rectangular in shape. Can be installed in dozens of different patterns, very versatile and also rather timeless.
- Porcelain Tile is made from a more dense, higher-quality clay than standard ceramic tile. This tile often is made where the color usually runs throughout the tile (not always, so check yours to be sure). This can be helpful when making cuts, as it shouldn’t be super obvious if an edge shows.
- Ceramic tile often has a finish on top of the tile and the clay of the tile maybe a different color. You will need Schluter edges to hide the clay portion of the tile on edges or specific edge pieces that have a finished edge. If you like the look of concrete tile patterns, but don’t want the upkeep- a ceramic version might be the perfect fit.
Whatever tile you choose, be sure to get the same lot or shade number for all the tiles you’ll need for the project. Especially if you’re using a handmade tile with natural variations, lay out ALL the tiles to visualize so you can adjust as needed for the variances in color.
Plan Your Layout Strategically
For best results, think through the tile layout and ensure the final design is balanced and visually appealing. Not to mention, you should keep in mind electrical outlets, windows, and corners to plan and cut the tiles accordingly.
Clean the Tiles During Installation
You have to be careful about keeping the tiles clean throughout the installation process. It’s important to remove any excess adhesive or grout from the tile surface, before the material hardens. Also, don’t forget to remove tile spacers before the grout application.
Be Patient and Allow It to Dry Properly
For a durable backsplash, avoid rushing the drying process. Give adequate time for the adhesive to dry before moving on to the next step. Similarly, let the grout dry fully before sealing it with a grout sealer.
People Also Ask
Can I install a tile backsplash on existing tiles?
Starting with a clean, flat surface produces the best results. However, you can install a tile backsplash on existing tiles if the surface is smooth and in good condition. The tile mat adhesive might be a good option for this scenario- but the surface must be very flat and again very clean.
You can also tile over the existing backsplash (and laminate countertops!) like Annie did in her kitchen makeover here.
How should I choose a grout color for my kitchen backsplash?
If you want a seamless look, use a matching grout color. On the other hand, a contrasting color creates visual interest and highlights individual tiles. Your choice will depend on the style you are trying to create in the space.
What should I do to maintain my kitchen tile backsplash?
Regularly cleaning the backsplash with a tile cleaner or mild soap and water will help you maintain its good condition. Avoid using abrasive cleaners that can damage the grout and the tile surface.
Re-seal the tile and grout yearly, or if you notice it is beginning to stain easily.
Installing a tile backsplash in your kitchen can be an exciting DIY project. Not to mention, it can help enhance the appearance of your kitchen. It is a fairly simple task if you follow every step carefully.
We have included the latest tips that will assist you in achieving a professional look and creating a backsplash that adds value to your kitchen. Now sit back and admire you new tile backsplash. Happy DIYing!
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