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How to Install a Tile Backsplash

Add life to your kitchen with a tile backsplash. There are many options, such as mosaics on mesh backing or peel-and-stick tile, for easy installation. Here's how to install tile over drywall with tile adhesive.

Tools & Materials

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Prepare the Walls for Tile

A tile backsplash in the kitchen may be applied over clean, level drywall since sinks are not considered wet areas, like showers, that require backer board. Before you begin, watch our video: What's Inside My Wall?

Step 1

Before kitchen - without a tile backsplash in place.

Turn off power to the kitchen, and remove outlet covers and switchplates in the area to be tiled. Tape off outlets, cabinets and the area where your countertops meet the walls. Move freestanding appliances away from the walls.

Step 2

Ledgerboard attached to pre-tile wall where counters are not present.

Using a level, attach a ledgerboard -- a sturdy piece of lumber attached for support. In this case, we are using a straight 1x4 board screwed to the wall studs where you want the bottom edge of the backsplash will be. A ledgerboard temporarily supports tiles until the adhesive cures, keeping them level where there is no countertop.

Step 3

Deglossing product to prepare walls prior to installing a tile backsplash.

Clean walls with a mixture of trisodium phosphate (TSP) and water according to the manufacturer's instructions. Sand or degloss glossy surfaces.

Step 4

Checking the flatness of the wall with a level prior to installing a tile backsplash.

Check the flatness and condition of the wall. Fill dents, dips and ripples more than 1/16 inch deep with joint compound. Let dry, sand smooth and prime.

Plan the Tile Layout

Tile backsplashes need a 1/8-inch expansion gap around the perimeter where the tile meets the cabinets and countertops.

Step 1

Find the center of the wall that best suits your tile selection and mark a vertical line. Some tile patterns work best when centered on a focal point, such as the faucet or stove.

Step 2

Dry lay tiles along countertop prior to installing on wall.

Dry-lay tiles horizontally on the countertop along the wall using spacers to check the ends. If cut tiles will be too narrow, adjust the layout to allow you to cut wider pieces at both sides.

 

Step 3

Find the lowest point of the countertop with a level across the top of the countertops.

Check the vertical layout. Cut tiles are best hidden under cabinets, but you may have to cut from the bottom if your countertop isn't level.

First, use a level to find the lowest point of the countertop. Hold a tile at this spot, accounting for a 1/8-inch expansion gap. Mark the wall at the top of the tile. Then, use a level to extend the line along the work area. This line serves as your cutting guide to fit tile along the counter.

To see where the tile will end at the top of the installation, make a jury stick: Mark a straight board using the tiles and spacers for the vertical layout. Hold it up to the wall to check. If you have tiny slivers of tile at the top, adjust the layout down and redraw your reference line.

Attach the Tile

Good to Know

Follow the manufacturer's instructions on mixing and drying times.

Step 1

Tile backsplash held into place with thinset on the wall.

Mix thinset, or your chosen tile adhesive, according to directions and spread on a small section of the wall with a drywall trowel. It's important to work in small sections because thinset and other tile adhesives dry quickly. Comb over it with a notched trowel.

Good to Know

Use white thinset / adhesive for glass tile since it may show through.

Good to Know

Peel-and-stick tile adhesive products are available to simplify tile installation.

Caution

Don't cover your layout reference lines with thinset / adhesive.

Step 2

Pressing tile backsplash into the thinset with a tile float.

Press the first piece of tile into the wall with a little twist, leaving a 1/8-inch expansion gap at the countertop. Press against it with a rubber float to seat it in the adhesive.

Step 3

Tile saw cutting piece of mosaic tile for backsplash.

Working in small sections, repeat the procedure with additional pieces using spacers to ensure even spacing. If you need to make a cut, mark the tile. For larger tile cuts, set the tile in a tile cutter mesh side up, and score the face. Break each piece along the line. For smaller tile cuts, use nippers.

Step 4

Bag of grout for finishing tile backsplash.

Let thinset / adhesive dry for 24 hours, then mix grout according to directions.

Good to Know

Use unsanded grout for gaps measuring less than 1/8 inch. Use sanded grout for gaps measuring more than 1/8 inch.

Step 5

Applying grout diagonally across tile backsplash.

Apply grout diagonally across tiles using a rubber float to press it into the joints. Wait 10 minutes, then wipe away excess with a sponge using a diagonal motion. Rinse your sponge often. A slight haze may form, but will clean away later with a haze remover you can buy separately.

Caution

Do not wipe the grout from the joints when cleaning away excess. Always use a diagonal motion to protect the grout lines and only apply light pressure.

Step 6

Container of grout sealer ready for safe application.

Allow grout to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions, then apply grout sealer according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Step 7

Filling expansion gap around the new tile backsplash with grout.

Fill the expansion gaps with caulk or silicone sealant.

Step 8

Installing box extenders to bring them level with the new tile backsplash.

Add box extenders to outlets and switches to bring them level with the new tile backsplash. Replace outlet covers.

Want to do more? Learn how to install a kitchen sink.