How to Install a Tile Backsplash
Time Required: Over 1 day
One of the best places for updating your kitchen is between your cabinetry and countertop. Tile a kitchen backsplash and create an instant focal point. Installing a tile backsplash can add timeless beauty to your home.
While it will take some time on your part, you don’t have to be a professional to learn how to install a backsplash. Even DIY-ers with intermediate skills can learn the basics of installing a tile backsplash with proper planning. Use the following steps and learn how to install a backsplash correctly.
The square footage determines how much tile is necessary for tiling a backsplash in a kitchen. Proper measurements will help keep tile installation costs down.
- Measure your wall to determine the amount of tile you need. If you only have one section to cover, multiply the width and height of the wall to get the square footage.
- Be aware of outlets and switches when tiling, making sure to take them into account.
- Include an additional 10 percent of tile to fill any small gaps or use as replacements for damaged pieces. More calculation is required if you have walls with disproportionate sections, like the one shown in this guide.
- You have four separate areas to measure. Label section “A” as 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. Space “D” sits under the window.
- Multiply the width and height of each section, then add the sums of each to get the total square footage of tile needed to complete the project. Remember to include 10 percent of the sum for spare pieces. Make sure you have enough mortar, mastic and grout.
Tip: Determining the amount of materials you need to tile a backsplash can be tricky. Our tile calculator can help you find exact measurements so you get the supplies you need all at once.
- Remove all appliances and cookware from your countertop before you start to tile a backsplash. You may need to move the stove slightly away from the wall so you can easily place tile behind it. Disconnect the stove for added safety.
- 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 and the underside of the cabinets to protect those surfaces.
- Shut off power to any nearby electrical outlets or light switches, then remove the cover plates.
- Patch any holes with spackling paste and use sandpaper to lightly smooth the surface of your work area.
- Use mild soap and water to clean your walls and allow the surface to dry. 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.
- Painted walls can be wiped down with tri-sodium phosphate and sanded gently.
- Glossy surfaces are typically sanded and de-glossed. Wipe the wall with a soft cloth or damp sponge to ensure a clean, dry surface.
- Place the tile across the wall and mark your starting and end points. Your starting point depends on the most viewable area of the wall.
- Work your way outward and upward from there. A straightedge or level can help you keep the tile even.
- You may need to cut tiles to properly fill your backsplash area. Use a tile cutter for porcelain or ceramic tile. Use a tile nipper for any circular incisions. Use a wet tile saw if you are cutting natural stone to prevent chipping or breaking.
- To prepare powdered thin-set mortar for natural stone and mosaic tile, fill your bucket with water in the amount listed on the package. Gradually add the thin-set powder, mixing it thoroughly.
- Let the mixture stand for 5 to 10 minutes, then mix it again without adding more water.
- When you’re finished mixing, you’ll have a limited time to use it. Flex-type mortar can generally be used up to 4 hours after it’s been mixed.
- If you’re looking to save time, use a tile setting mat. Tile setting mats adhere to the wall so that you can tile immediately and move on to grouting.
Tip: Thin-set mortars require mixing, which will add time and labor to your project compared to a premixed product. Many thin-set mortars have higher bond strengths and other benefits versus premixed products. If you use light-colored tile, select a white mortar, but read the packaging to ensure it is compatible with your tile.
- Begin with a 2-foot section. Apply the mortar to the wall, spreading a thin layer with the flat side of the trowel.
- Press at a 45-degree angle. This will ensure the mortar fully adheres to the wall.
- Using the notched edge, add a little extra mortar onto the trowel. 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 1/4-inch x 1/4-inch in size.
Tip: Work in small sections to prevent the mortar from drying or forming a skin. Clean any excess mortar off the face of the tile with a sponge.
- Place the mosaic sheets or tiles along the wall. Add tile spacers for help keeping the tile pieces lined up. Follow the lines 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. 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 the gap is smaller, consider installing a piece of moulding to hide it.
- Allow the mortar and tile to dry completely, following the manufacturer’s recommendations. This usually takes 24 hours, but it depends on the mortar used and the temperature of your home.
- Use pre-sealer for natural stone at least three hours before you apply the grout. Pre-sealer helps protect the stone from staining.
- Consider using 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 unsanded grout.
- Wipe the tiles clean with water and remove all spacers 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 and mix thoroughly.
- Let the mixture stand for 5 to 10 minutes, then re-mix it without additional water. Periodically re-mix the grout to maintain the consistency.
- 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 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.
- Once the grout is fully dry, usually 24 hours to three days later, apply grout sealer 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. Restore the power to your electrical outlets.
- To maintain your backsplash, wipe it down occasionally with a non-acidic kitchen or glass cleaner.
Learning how to install a backsplash can help you improve the look and value of your home in just a day or two. Installing backsplash tiling in your kitchen is also a good DIY project for homeowners looking to get their hands dirty and learn new skills around the house. Browse through trends and gather ideas for your own do-it-yourself backsplash.
Shop the latest natural stone tiles, glass or ceramic tiles. And if you need tools for cutting your tile, consider tool rental from The Home Depot. Not interested in a DIY upgrade? Contact our Kitchen Remodel Services team to get help with design, materials and tile installation services.