Skill Level: Intermediate
Time: 1+ days
Cost: Several hundred dollars+
- Wet saw or manual tile nipper (depends on the type of tile)
- Putty knife/utility knife
- Notched trowel
- Grout float
- Tape measure
- Painter’s tape
- Wire brush
- Hammer & chisel
- Safety glasses
- Protective gloves
- New tiles
- Tile adhesive (or mortar)
- Tile spacers
- Schluter strip (optional)
- Backer board (optional
- Fiberglass mesh tape (optional)
How To Install A Tile Backsplash In Your Kitchen
Are you looking to add a fresh look and personality to your kitchen with a new tile backsplash? Are you wondering how to start this kitchen upgrade project? Installing a tile backsplash in your kitchen is an easy, affordable way to add style and character to the room.
This step-by-step guide will walk you through the entire process, from prepping your work area to cleaning off the finished tiles. By the time you finish this tutorial, you should be able to install a kitchen backsplash with confidence, whether it’s made from subway tile, natural stone, or patterned tiles.
1. Prepare The Work Area
The first step in any home improvement project is to prepare your work area for safety and efficiency. This begins by removing everything from the countertops and walls nearby where you will work, as well as clearing out any furniture from the room.
Then cover any surfaces near the installation site with a dropcloth or plastic sheeting for protection. You should also confirm that you have all the necessary tools and materials and that they are within arm’s reach of your workspace.
2. Measure The Area
Measure the area carefully to determine how many tiles you need to buy. To determine the area of your kitchen backsplash, measure its length and width before multiplying these figures to obtain the total square footage.
When measuring, round up rather than down to ensure that you have enough material after making cuts. Also, consider whether you will need any extra accent tiles to cut to shape around light switches, power outlets, or any other obstacles on the wall.
Once you have calculated the total square footage of your kitchen backsplash, add an extra 10% for extra tiles to account for mistakes. This is the minimum amount of wall tile necessary for your project.
3. Remove Old Tile
If there is existing tile on the wall behind your countertop or stove area that needs replacing before installing a new tile kitchen backsplash, use a hammer and chisel to remove them. Be sure to wear safety glasses and work gloves when you do this–broken pieces of tile can be extremely sharp! Use a wire brush to remove any stubborn pieces of adhesive behind the old tile, taking care not to damage the drywall underneath.
4. Clean Wall
When it comes to installing tile, it’s crucial that you start with a clean slate. Begin by wiping down the area where you will be installing the kitchen backsplash with warm water and some mild soap. Alternatively, you can also use a mild all-purpose cleaner or a vinegar and water solution. This will help ensure that the new tiles will adhere properly. Wipe dry with a clean towel when finished.
5. Repair, Patch, And Smooth The Surface
After cleaning the wall, inspect it for any imperfections. If there are any cracks or holes in the wall, these must be patched and repaired before continuing with the installation of the kitchen backsplash. Start by smoothing out any uneven areas in the wall using a spackling compound until it is totally smooth. Allow this patching material to dry completely before moving on to the next step.
6. Backer Board Installation (Optional)
This step is completely optional but may be recommended if your wall is textured or has another issue that makes it difficult for the tiles to stick properly to the wall. If that is the case with your wall, consider adding a backer board. A backer board is made of cement and sand sandwiched between a fiberglass mesh. It is designed to resist moisture and bonds extremely well with tile adhesive.
Here’s how to install a backer board for a tile backsplash:
- Start by removing the existing drywall.
- Insert the backer board in the space where you removed the drywall.
- Make sure to match the thickness of the existing kitchen drywall for a seamless transition.
- Secure each backer board panel onto the wall studs with drywall screws and leave a small gap of about 1/8 inch between them.
- Fill in those gaps with silicone tile caulk and place fiberglass mesh tape across all seams.
Now you can proceed with the next step in this kitchen backsplash installation guide.
7. Draw A Center Point And Measuring Lines
Next, you will determine the center point of your tile backsplash. Keep in mind that the center point of your tile backsplash may not be the same as the center point of the wall itself. Instead, you want the center point to be where you want the focal point to be.
First, draw two perpendicular lines on the wall using a straight edge as a guide. From there, measure off equal sections along each line and mark where their intersection would be. That point will be the center point of your backsplash.
Use the center point as a reference point for where to line up your tiles. Setting up this grid will help keep even spacing and make it easier to maintain an organized layout for where each tile should go.
8. Attach A Ledger To The Wall (Optional)
If there are no lower kitchen cabinets to help support the tile installation, or if you are installing heavier stone or ceramic tiles, you may want to consider using a ledger board. A ledger board helps support the weight of the tiles and keeps them level as they are installed.
Here’s how to install a ledger board for a tile backsplash:
- Measure out the length of the wall that needs tiling and cut a piece of wood accordingly.
- Place the board right below where you want your first (lowest) row of tiling to go.
- Use a level to verify the board is straight.
- Attach it securely to the wall using anchors and screws.
9. Pre-Lay Tile To Ensure Fit
Now it’s time to pre-lay your tiles so that you can ensure they fit properly in their designated spots before you start gluing them down. Start from the center point you drew earlier, working from the lowest point outward in both directions until all tiles are laid out for inspection. Make any adjustments if necessary before moving on to installation.
10. Install Schluter Strip (Optional)
A Schluter strip is not required for all types of tiles, but they do offer several benefits. This strip is installed around the perimeter of your tiled area and helps create an even transition between the wall and the tile, safeguarding the tiles from any potential chips. They are recommended if your tile is especially thick.
Here’s how to install a Schluter strip for a tile backsplash:
- Cut the Schluter strip to size, taking care to slant your cuts at a 45-degree angle, so the adjoining strip fits it like a picture frame corner.
- Use a level to verify the Schluter strip is level.
- Be sure to attach it to the wall with adhesive, not nails. Nails can puncture the drywall or backer board and allow moisture to penetrate behind the tile. This also allows you to make adjustments to the strip after your tile installation if necessary.
11. Cut Tile
Depending on the type of tile you purchased, you will need to cut the tile with either a manual tile nipper or a wet saw. Generally speaking, porcelain tile or ceramic tile can be cut with a manual tile cutter, while stone tile will require a wet saw. If using a wet saw, remember to add plenty of water so that the tile dust doesn’t get airborne and inhaled.
Make sure that you measure and mark each tile with precision before cutting, as any mistakes cannot be corrected once they are made. If needed, you can smooth down the edges of any tile you cut with some sandpaper.
12. Prepare Adhesive (Or Mortar)
Once all of your tiles have been cut, it’s time to prepare the adhesive for installation.
Most tile adhesives or mortars come either powdered or pre-mixed, so make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions thoroughly and prepare them per their instructions.
We recommend using a light-colored adhesive or mortar when installing lighter-colored tiles and the opposite for darker tiles. This will ensure a seamless appearance to your installation.
13. Apply Adhesive
After preparing the adhesive per the manufacturer’s instructions, use a notched trowel to apply the adhesive in vertical strips approximately 1/4 inch thick. Smooth the adhesive out with the notched edge of the trowel or a putty knife to ensure there are no air bubbles. You may need to wait a few minutes before moving on to setting the tile (depending on the instructions for your particular brand of adhesive).
14. Set Tile
The next step is setting each tile into its designated place on the wall. Starting from the bottom and work your way up, placing each individual piece of tile onto the wall with its edge against the spacers. Press down firmly on each piece when setting it into place so that it sticks to the adhesive and is secure when cured. If you are creating an eye-catching backsplash with a chevron pattern, a mosaic, or other design elements for visual interest, take care to maintain the patterns you have selected as you lay the tile.
Now that you have successfully laid all the backsplash tiles use a grout float to firmly press against each tile to ensure they are correctly set. You can verify the tiles are lying flat by checking with a level.
Be careful not to get any excess mortar on other pieces or surfaces while doing so. Wipe off any excess mortar or spacer lines using a damp sponge if needed before leaving them alone for 24 hours so they can dry properly in place. Dry times will vary by manufacturer, but it typically takes 24 hours before you can start grouting or caulking.
15. Apply Grout And Seal Grout
Once your backsplash tile is secure on the wall, it’s time to add grout between each tile. Make sure that you’re using an appropriate grout for your specific tile type; there are a variety of different types of grouts available depending on where your tiles are located and what they are made from. We recommend using a grout color scheme that matches the tile for a more seamless appearance.
Begin by mixing up a batch of grout according to package directions. Apply it with a rubber grout float by moving it diagonally across the backsplash tiles. Use a back-and-forth motion to work the grout into all of the spaces between each backsplash tile.
Allow the grout to set for at least 15 minutes before using a damp sponge to remove any excess grout from the surface of each backsplash tile. Use a utility knife to carefully scrape away the excess grout from the inside of each corner and joint–this will give the tiles room to settle as the grout dries and prevent cracking.
Once everything has had time to dry and set properly, seal the grout with an appropriate sealer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
16. Seal The Tile
Depending on the type of tile you choose, you may also need to seal them with a clear sealer in order to keep moisture out and protect them against staining over time. Check with your local home improvement store or installation instructions for specific sealing recommendations based on your chosen material before applying any product.
Make sure that you read all label directions carefully before applying any product in order to ensure the best results. After the sealer has dried, use a damp sponge to remove any excess sealer from the tile surface. You can also use a putty knife to remove any stubborn sealer residue.
17. Caulk Expansion Gaps
To protect the tile backsplash from water damage, it’s critical to caulk the expansion gaps around its edges. Begin by cleaning the area with a damp sponge so that the caulk will adhere properly.
Next, apply a thin line of caulk along all the edges where two surfaces meet or near seams that could potentially let water seep through over time. This includes along kitchen countertops, behind sinks, and around windowsills. You can use your finger to create a smooth surface that is level with the tile.
Finally, allow the caulk to set before using the area. Once it’s set, your tile backsplash and kitchen walls will be protected from moisture damage.
18. Clean Off Tile
Finally, once everything has had adequate drying time (usually 24-48 hours), go back with a clean damp cloth and a mild cleaning solution and wipe off any excess dust or dirt that may have settled onto your newly installed tiles since the installation was completed. Avoid using harsh or abrasive cleaners since those can damage certain types of tiles.
Wise Choice Construction Can Bring Your Dream Kitchen To Life
With this step-by-step guide, you now know how easy it is to transform your modern kitchen with a new tile backsplash! Now that you have awakened your inner interior designer and upgraded your kitchen with a new backsplash, you may be thinking about making more substantial changes to your space.
If you’re ready to remodel your kitchen, or if you have other kitchen backsplash ideas you’d like to explore, we can help! And if you’re wondering how much a kitchen remodel costs in the Seattle area, check out our blog post on kitchen remodeling costs. Just fill out our contact form, and one of our experts will be happy to answer any questions you may have and help get your project off to a great start.