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How To Install a Tile Backsplash

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Duration: 10+ Hours Over 2 Days
  • Print Version
 
Steps To Install a Tile Backsplash

A backsplash made with wall tile can transform your kitchen walls from drab to fab – creating a unique focal point between your cabinetry and countertop. From natural stone or glass, to porcelain or ceramic tile, there are a variety of textures, colors and patterns to choose from to make your backsplash stand out, and you can pull off the look with minimal effort.

 

Keep in mind exceptionally large, small or heavy types of tile may require different installation methods. Some tiles can be purchased individually while others are available on mesh-backed sheets, which are designed with a tile pattern that’s commonly 12 inches in size. This can help make the installation process quicker, since you wouldn’t have to mount the individual tiles one-by-one.

 

This video series demonstrates installation of natural stone mosaic tile. We use a traditional powdered thinset mortar, called FlexBond, which is recommended for bonding porcelain, ceramic, mosaic tiles and natural stones.


Preparation

 

• Assemble the tools and materials you'll need before you begin work. Double your backsplash measurements 
  to ensure you'll have sufficient quantities of mortar or mastic, grout and tile.

 

• Thinset mortars require mixing, which will add time and labor to your project compared to a premixed product
  like SimpleSet. Many thinset mortars have higher bond strengths and other performance benefits over 
  premixed products, so weigh your options.


• Place a layer of cardboard or heavy duty craft paper over your countertop to protect it from debris and 
  damage as you work on the backsplash.

 

• If you use light colored tile, select a white mortar, but read the packaging to ensure it is 
  compatible with your tile.

 

Safety

 

• Make sure to take all the necessary precautions and follow your manufacturer’s instructions by wearing 
  safety glasses and gloves. Be sure to use hearing protection if you use a tile saw when cutting your 
  backsplash tile to size.


• If you have any electrical outlets or light switches in your backsplash area, be sure to shut off power to 
  those circuits before you remove the cover plates and begin the tiling work.

 

Savings

 

• You can save time on a backsplash project using pre-mixed tile mastic and grout. Be sure to check the label 
  on these products to ensure suitability for your project and follow the manufacturer's instructions.


• Be sure to protect your tile backsplash investment by applying an appropriate tile and/or grout sealer after 
  the grout has fully cured.


WHAT YOU NEED FOR THIS JOB:

TOOLS:

MATERIALS:


Step 1: Measure your wall

To determine the amount of tile you need for your kitchen backsplash, calculate the wall space. If you only have one section to cover, simply multiply the width and height of the wall to get a square footage. The square footage determines how much tile you’ll need for the project. 

 

You should also include an additional 10 percent of tile to cover small gaps to use as replacements for any pieces that may get damaged. There’s a little more calculation involved when you have walls with disproportionate sections, such as the one we’re working on.  

 

Here you have four separate areas to measure. Section “a” is the space on the left side between the base of the cabinetry and countertop. Space “b” is the midsection of the wall. Space “c” is the space on the right side between the base of the cabinetry and countertop. And space “d” sits under the window.

 

Multiply the width and the height of each section, then add the sums of each section to get the total square footage of tile needed to complete the project. Remember to include 10 percent of the sum for spare tile pieces. 

  

Step 2: Prep your workspace

Before you start on your kitchen backsplash project, there are a few things you should do. Remove all appliances and cookware from the countertop.

 

You may need to move the stove slightly away from the wall so you can easily tile behind it. Disconnect the stove for added safety. Another option is to remove the stove completely out of the work area if your kitchen space allows. Follow your manufacturer’s instructions for handling the appliance.

 

Place a layer of cardboard or heavy duty craft paper over your countertop to protect it from debris. Tape off the existing countertop or backsplash as well as the underside of the cabinets to protect those surfaces.

 

Also, shut off the power to the electrical outlets or light switches in your work area, and remove all faceplates. 

  

Step 3: Prep the wall

It’s important that you inspect and repair your kitchen walls before you install your backsplash. This will prevent hidden damage from showing up later. Your walls should be clean and dry, and capable of holding the tile’s weight. Be sure to patch any holes with spackling compound and sand the area lightly to a smooth surface.

 

To clean your walls – use mild soap detergent and water for rinsing. Allow the surface to dry before installing the backsplash. Painted walls can be wiped down with tri-sodium phosphate and sanded gently. Glossy surfaces are typically sanded and deglossed. Wipe the wall with a soft cloth to ensure a clean, dry surface.

 

Check the wall behind the stove for any oil or grease stains. These should be cleaned with a degreaser or primer if you have tough stains. Wipe the surface and allow it to completely dry.

  

Step 4: Pre-lay the tile

Before you permanently tile your wall, consider doing a trial run so you’ll know what to expect.

 

Place the tile across the wall and mark your points so you’ll know how much tile to use and where to position them. Your starting point depends on the most viewable area of the wall. Then work your way outward and upward. A straight edge or level can help you keep the tile even along the wall.

 

You may need to cut the tiles on either end of the row to properly fill your backsplash area. Use a tile cutter for ceramic or porcelain tiles, and a tile nipper for any circular incisions. Use a wet saw if you are cutting natural stone. This will prevent the tile from chipping or breaking. 

 

And consider mixing up the tiles from different boxes. Sometimes they come in a variety of tones. By mixing them up, you’ll mix and match the variations – adding a uniformed pattern to your backsplash.

 

Step 5: Prepare the mortar

To prepare powdered thinset mortar for natural stone mosaic tile, fill your bucket with water as instructed by your manufacturer. Gradually add the thin-set powder – mixing it thoroughly. 

 

Let the mixture stand for 5-10 minutes, then mix it again without adding additional water.

 

When you’re finished mixing, you’ll have a limited time to use it. In many cases, FlexBond can be used up to 4 hours after it’s been mixed.

 

If you’re looking to save time on your project, consider using SimpleMat, which adheres to the wall so that you can tile immediately and prepare for grouting. 

 

  

Step 6: Pre-lay the tile

Next, begin with a 2-foot section and apply the mortar to the wall, spreading a thin, skim coat layer of the mortar with the flat side of the trowel. Press at a 45 degree angle. This will ensure that the mortar fully adheres to the wall. Then using the notched edge, add a little more mortar onto the trowel and comb even ridges in one direction.

 

Make sure your notch trowel corresponds with the tile you’re installing. Natural stone tile typically works well with a notch trowel that is a quarter inch by quarter inch in size.

 

Work in small sections to prevent the mortar from drying or forming a skin as you apply the tile. Clean any excess mortar off of the face of the tile with a sponge. 


Step 7: Lay the tile

Place the mosaic sheets along the wall. Add tile spacers if you need to keep the tile pieces lined up. Follow the lines that you made when the tiles were dry fit to the wall. Slightly rock the sheet up and down perpendicular to the trowel lines to collapse the ridges and help the tile settle into place. Also, flatten the tile with a grout float if necessary.

 

If the space between the top row of tiles and cabinetry is greater than an inch, cut your extra tile pieces to fit the space. If not, consider installing a piece of moulding to hide the gap.


Step 8: Dry and pre-seal the tile

Allow the mortar and tiles to dry completely following the manufacturer’s recommendations. This usually occurs within 24 hours, but the timing also depends on the mortar used and the temperature of your home.

 

You also want to use pre-sealer for natural stone at least three hours before you apply the grout. Pre-sealer helps protect the stone from staining.


 

Step 9: Clean the tile and prepare the grout

Wipe the tiles clean with water before you apply poly-blend sanded grout to natural stone mosaic tile. Carefully follow the preparation details on the package. Fill a bucket with the appropriate amount of water. Then, gradually add the grout powder. Mix it thoroughly. 

 

Let the mixture stand for 5-10 minutes, then re-mix it without additional water. Periodically re-mix the grout to keep its consistency.

 

We use a poly blend sanded grout, which is a cement based product. A sanded grout is great for joints 1/8 inch or greater. For grout joints smaller than 1/8 inch, use poly-blend non-sanded.


Step 10: Grout the tile

Once the grout is mixed, you’ll have a limited time to use it. Generally, poly blend can be used up to two hours after it is mixed. Work in sections, so that you can complete an area within 30 minutes. Apply the grout with the grout float at a 45 degree angle. Work diagonally. Wipe off any excess grout with the grout float held at a 90 degree angle.

 

Using a damp sponge, remove the grout from the face of the tiles in a circular motion and shape the grout joints fully. Rinse out the sponge in clean water frequently. Repeat this process several times. Limit the amount of water you use to avoid washing out the grout joints. After about 3 hours, you can remove the last haze of grout. Use a dampened cheesecloth or sponge to wipe down the face of the tiles.

 

Note: Grout fills up the tile spaces and gives the wall an overall finished look. You can mix your own grout, or use a pre-mixed product like SimpleGrout, which causes less of a mess. Another option for ease of use and stain resistance is fusion pro-single component grout. Each grout requires somewhat different installation techniques, so be sure to read the packaging.

 


Step 11: Seal the tile

Once the grout is fully dry, usually 24 hours to 3 days later, apply grout sealant to protect your backsplash from staining. After the sealer is dry, you can add a small amount of latex caulk to the base of your backsplash where it rests against your countertop.

 

Replace your appliances and cookware, and restore the power to your electrical outlets.To maintain your backsplash, wipe it down occasionally with a kitchen or glass non-acidic cleaner to keep it looking great.  

 

For more information and tips on improving your kitchen, visit your local Home Depot store or online at homedepot.com.