How to Install Tile Backsplash Step by Step

Put the finishing touches on your kitchen with a backsplash that’s to die for

Kristin Luna
Written by Kristin Luna
Updated May 11, 2022
Pregnant mother washing vegetables at sink
Photo: Thomas Barwick / DigitalVision / Getty Images
Difficulty

Simple

Flex your DIY muscles.

Time to complete

72 hours

2 to 3 days, including dry time.

Cost

$100–$500

Doing the labor yourself goes a long way.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.

What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Tile saw
  • Grout float
  • Notched trowel
  • Level
  • Vacuum

SUPPLIES

  • Tile
  • Tile spacers
  • Tape measure
  • Chalk line and reel
  • Pencil or Sharpie
  • Safety glasses
  • Earplugs
  • Mastic
  • Bucket
  • Rags
  • Sponge
  • Drop cloth or tarp
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Painter’s tape
  • Sandpaper (optional)
  • Primer (optional)
  • Schluter trim (optional)

Remodeling a kitchen can be a fun opportunity to completely overhaul the vibe of your space. Maybe you plan to upgrade your appliances, or perhaps you simply want to add fresh paint to the cabinets and install new countertops. 

No matter if you do a full-on kitchen gut job or simply make some minor aesthetic improvements, the cherry on the top, inevitably, will be your backsplash. And if you’re handy with tools, you can easily attempt this tile backsplash installation on your own. Here’s how.

Prepping to Install Tile Backsplash

Choosing your tile is the first step you’ll need to take when preparing to install a backsplash. What backsplash material you choose is up to personal taste and your budget. (You might prefer a stone tile, but your bank account may be leaning more toward a glass tile backsplash). The cost to install a backsplash can vary dramatically depending on which product you pick.

Before you get started laying out your backsplash, you’ll first need to prepare the walls. This means either putting on a concrete backer board or removing the old tile. If you’re working with drywall, you could also prepare the surface simply by applying a quality primer. At this point, you’ll want to patch and sand any holes in the wall to create as smooth a surface for tile as possible.

Using the brush attachment, vacuum the wall you’re going to tile, as well as all the cracks and grooves around it so you don’t kick up dust when you start. A tile backsplash installation is messy work, so it’s important that you cover your countertops to protect them against the mastic glue, as well as tarp off the floors to keep the rest of your house clean.

Lastly, set up a workstation outside near a water source to use your tile saw; you’ll need a place where you can fill the water tank and use the saw safely without flooding your house or dripping chalky water from the newly cut tile onto carpet or hardwood flooring.

9 Steps to Install Tile Backsplash

 A renovated modern kitchen
Photo: Cavan Images / Cavan / Getty Images

Now that your walls are prepped, it’s time to tile.

  1. Figure Out Your Design

    If you’re going for a traditional subway tile backsplash or even mosaic tile, there’s more than one way you can lay out the pieces. You’ll want to carefully map out in which direction you plan to lay the tiles—maybe you want a vertical line framing in the window or perhaps a chevron pattern to create a fun visual element in your kitchen—before you get started making cuts.

  2. Calculate Your Tile Measurements

    Before you get to work with the tile saw, lay out all your pieces to figure out where you’re going to need to make cuts. Take special care to make sure you don’t end up with any slivers of tile that will be difficult to cut and finish and that you account for laying tile around the kitchen window, too, if you have one (in which case you may start your layout in the middle of the wall and work your way outward). 

    If you’re going to put in floating shelves or electrical outlets, you’ll want to do that at this point before the tile is set, as well as install any switches, garbage disposals, or GFCI plugs for your appliances.

    Use a pencil or Sharpie to mark where to make your cuts on the tile or snap a chalk line if you’re making a straight cut all the way across the length or width of the piece of tile. 

  3. Determine Your Grout Line

    As you’re laying out your tile, you’ll want to determine how much grout you want to show in the finished design. A standard grout line is 3/16 inch, whereas a really fine grout line is 1/16 inch. 

  4. Cut the Tiles

    You’ll need a tile saw for making cuts. You can rent a tile saw from your local equipment rental store. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of renting a power tool, you can try making the cuts manually with a tile cutter that doesn’t require electrical connections or water, but know that this tool breaks the tile rather than cutting it—and it’s difficult to master. 

  5. Lay the Tiles

    Process of tiling the tiles
    Photo: artursfoto / Adobe Stock

    Using the notched trowel, spread the mastic in small sections before affixing each individual tile, piece by piece, to the surface of your wall. Use spacers in between each tile to ensure a straight line. Routinely use your level to make sure you’re not veering off course.

    Once all of the tiles are down, let the surface cure for a day before moving on to the next step. You could also consider using a two-sided adhesive mat instead of mastic as an alternate method.

  6. Grout the Surface

    The following day once the tile has cured, you’ll return to your tile surface and float in an even layer of grout between the tiles. Using a grout float (which is essentially a rubberized flat sponge), work in sections and try to shape the grout.

  7. Wipe Off the Excess Grout

    Once the grout has dried, you’ll take a large sponge to the tile surface and wipe off all the excess grout. Use grout sealer to help prevent mold and to protect the grout lines. 

  8. Caulk the Edges (optional)

    Depending on how you interface the tile with the area around the sink, you’ll probably want to make sure that you seal up the edges with a high-quality silicone caulking to prevent water from getting behind the countertop. 

  9. Install Schluter (optional)

    Your finished tile line won’t actually touch your countertops; rather, you’ll have a thin layer of grout separating the two and visually breaking up the space. However, if you want to take your kitchen tile backsplash up a notch, using a brass schluter as trim is one way to create a clean transition between the countertops, cabinets, and tile. 

DIY Installing a Tile Backsplash vs. Hiring a Pro

If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty and sacrificing a couple days of your life, a DIY tile backsplash is definitely doable. Learning how to install your own tile backsplash isn’t difficult so much as it is time-consuming. It can be a trickier project for a DIYer when you’ve got multiple endpoints that the backsplash needs to frame in perfectly, in which case you’ll want to call a professional tile installer near you. Likewise, if you’re removing old tile, which can be both challenging and messy, you might want to bring in a pro.

If you’re installing electrical at the same time as doing your backsplash, you need to hire a local electrician as the circuit will need to be GFCI-protected and you’ll be dealing with the hazard of power around a major water source.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.