How to Tile a Backsplash Like a Pro

taping subway tile for placement
Photo: Carson Downing

Learn how to tile a kitchen backsplash in just one weekend. Follow our easy step-by-step instructions for this affordable project.

01 of 15

DIY Tile Backsplash

kitchen blue cabinets and white subway tile
Stacy Goldberg

Installing a backsplash is more than just a way to amp up your kitchen's style. If you've ever lifted your mixer out of a bowl of batter just a tad early, you know that an easy-to-clean backsplash makes practical sense. Even better, it's a quick home improvement project—the beauty and utility of a new tile backsplash can be yours in a single weekend. We'll show you how to cut, install, and grout ceramic tiles for a fresh kitchen finish.

02 of 15

What You Need to Tile a Backsplash

classic running bond pattern
Adam Albright

Before you begin installing a tile backsplash, gather the following tools and supplies:

  • Sander (optional)
  • Sponge
  • Bucket
  • Rags
  • Putty knife (optional)
  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
  • Tile
  • Painters tape
  • Utility knife
  • Pencil
  • Schluter strip (optional)
  • Thin-set mortar
  • Drop cloth
  • Notched trowel
  • Spacers
  • Level
  • Tape measure
  • Screwdriver or drill
  • Electrical box extender
  • Wet saw or tile cutter
  • Grout float
  • Non-sanded grout
  • Stirrer
  • Grout sealer
  • Caulk and caulk gun
03 of 15

Step 1: Clean the Walls

scrubbing wall with orange sponge
Jason Donnelly

Start by turning off the power to the kitchen and removing any switchplates or outlet covers. Tile can be applied to drywall, but remove any wallpaper or loose paint. Sand the wall of any imperfections, and for good adhesion, wipe away the dust. Use trisodium phosphate (TSP) to remove any tough grease stains or residue. Finish by wiping the walls clean with a damp rag and letting them dry thoroughly before starting to tile.

04 of 15

Step 2: Plan Tile Layout

taping subway tile for placement
Carson Downing

With the wall clean, tape your ceramic tile sheets in place to check your layout. Cut the sheets as needed, using a utility knife to cut the mesh from behind. Work out how you'll handle any gap between the tile and the bottom of the wall cabinets. Aim for a gap as close as possible to a half-tile. You can start your tiles without a grout line along the countertop, or leave a grout line to help close the gap above. Tape sheets in place all the way to the corner, again trying to achieve a gap no larger than a half-tile. Mark the location of the sheets with a pencil as you remove them.

05 of 15

Optional: Install Schluter Strip to Create Tile Edge

aligning edge of backsplash with cabinet
Carson Downing

If you plan to end the backsplash with a Schluter strip, measure, cut, and install the strip before tiling and incorporate it into your layout. Simply add the strip with thin-set mortar where you'd like your backsplash to end. You can also choose to end your backsplash with bullnose tiles, which provide a rounded-edge treatment. Bullnose tiles are installed once you've reached the end of your backsplash, not at the beginning.

06 of 15

Step 3: Apply Thin-Set

spreading mortar with tile trowel
Carson Downing

Tape a drop cloth to your countertop to protect the surface. Ladle thin-set mortar onto the wall, and carefully work it with a notched trowel to create smooth, even ridges. Check the manufacturer's specifications for the recommended trowel notch-size (1/8-inch is common).

07 of 15

Step 4: Install the Tile Backsplash

placing subway tile onto mortar
Carson Downing

Install the whole tile sheets first, lining them up with your reference marks (you'll just be able to see them through the thin-set mortar). Using tile spacers, keep the joints between the sheets consistent. Once the sheet's applied, pull it back to check for voids. Apply more thin-set mortar as needed.

08 of 15

Step 5: Install Tile Around Switches and Receptacles

placing electrical box in tile
Carson Downing

You'll likely run into at least one outlet or switch while installing a the backsplash. To tile around receptacles, make sure the power is switched off at the breaker panel, then unfasten the two screws holding the switch or receptacle, and gently pull it away from the wall. When tiling and grouting are complete, add a box extender. Because of the extra thickness of the tile, you might need longer screws.

09 of 15

Step 6: Continue Adding Tile Spacers

detail of spacers between tiles
Carson Downing

Use spacers throughout your installation, so your tile is aligned along the length and width of the wall. Without spacers, your tile will likely be crooked. Also, keep in mind that your walls might not be completely square. To account for this, you might have to cut some tiles to fit, or compensate with a larger grout line beneath the upper cabinets.

10 of 15

Step 7: Install the Last Row of Tile

tiled backsplash with spacers
Carson Downing

Once you've reached the Schluter strip, use a wet saw or tile cutter to cut the tiles to fit the end row. Smooth any uneven edges with a rubbing stone.

11 of 15

Step 8: Set the Tiles

pressing tile with grout float
Carson Downing

When all the tiles are in place, firmly press them onto the wall with your fingers or a clean grout float. Check that all the tiles are set evenly. Wipe off any excess thin-set mortar.

12 of 15

Step 9: Apply the Tile Grout

spreading grout between tile
Carson Downing

Allow the thin-set mortar to set (usually 12 hours), then mix the grout. Work the grout into all the joints by moving the grout float across the tiles vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. Fill all voids between the tiles with grout. There should be no holes, gaps, or air bubbles.

13 of 15

Step 10: Wipe Clean with a Sponge

washing tile and grout with sponge
Carson Downing

After you've finishing grouting your tile backsplash, wipe repeatedly with a damp (not wet) sponge to clean the excess grout off the tile.

14 of 15

Step 11: Wipe with Dry Towel

wiping tile and grout with rag
Carson Downing

Once the grout has dried, follow the manufacturer's instructions, and use a clean, dry cloth to remove any haze remaining on the tiles.

15 of 15

Step 12: Seal Tile Grout

applying sealer to grout
Carson Downing

For easy maintenance down the road, apply grout sealer. It will reduce the likelihood of staining. Caulk where the backsplash meets the upper cabinets to complete your tile installation.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles