How To Tile A Backsplash

How To Install a Tile Backsplash on Your Kitchen Or Bath Walls


finished kitchen tile backsplash

Installing a kitchen backsplash is a great way to add depth to your kitchen. Tile is often the material of choice for backsplashes because of its beauty, durability and ease of installation.

For the remainder of this article we will refer to stone, ceramic, and granite as "tile".

This article teaches you how to install a kitchen tile backsplash but the same technique is used to install a bathroom tile backsplash.

For some great tile backsplash find lots of pictures at our Tile Backsplash Ideas article

brief how to

  1. Measure How Much Tile Is Needed
  2. Layout the tile spacing and vertical lines
  3. Measure the square footage and add 10% for waste then buy the tile
  4. Set the Tile
  5. Install Grout
  6. Install Sealer


tools and materials

  • Tile
  • Pencil
  • Wall tile mastic
  • 1/4" notched trowell
  • Bucket for fresh water
  • Tile nippers if you are installing around a odd shapped object
  • Tile saw or cutter or both
  • Rubber gloves
  • Rubber mallet
  • Square
  • level, 8 inch
  • Spacers
  • Grout
  • Rubber trowel for grouting
  • Non sanded grout (it is common to use non sanded grout on walls)

step 1 Measure How Much Tile Is Needed

Using a pencil and level and tape measure mark on the wall where you want the tile to go. Usually it goes from the existing 4 inch backsplash or top of the kitchen or bath counter top up to the bottom of the cabinets or up a few tiles and then capped off with a decorative band. You will want to start with a full tile on top of the counter top or existing backsplash. The tile that is closest to the bottom of the cabinet will be cut, this tile is hardest to see because it is partially hidden by the upper cabinets.

measure tile backsplash


  1. Measure out the length times the height in feet and that is your square footage.
  2. Multiply this number by .10 which will give you 10% extra for waste. Add the sum to your first number.
  3. The result is how much tile to buy. Don't forget to purchase any special pieces you have planned like bull nose or special designs.

step 2 Buy The Tile, Decide On The Tile Layout

Buy Your Tile: Once you have the amount of tile needed you are ready to purchase the tile and other materials to install the wall tile backsplash.

Decide On The Tile Layout: Because you are setting on top of the counter and only going up the wall a short distance, you will not need to draw vertical lines to follow when setting tile. But you may do it to mark the starting and ending point of the tile.

There are two ways to layout wall tiles horizontally:

  • Center Outward: First if you are going to have a center piece such as a special tile design centered over a stove you will set this first enter and work toward the edges.
  • Full Tile At An End: Second is to start with a full tile at the end of the counter farthest away from a corner and set full tiles as you work toward the corner. At the corner you will cut the last tile.

step 2 Test Your Backsplash Layout

Test The Backsplash Tile Layout: In keeping with the old addage "measure twice, and cut once" it is a good idea to lay the tiles on the counter top with the same spacing you plan to have on the wall. This gives you an idea of how the finished layout will be. And it will help in setting the tile because you pick it up from the pattern on the counter and put it directly in its corresponding spot on the wall, this is especially helpful if you have a pattern or multi colored tile layout.

lay tile backsplash on counter

Step 4 Set The Tile

The first step in setting wall tile to create the tile backsplash is applying mastic to the wall and then the back side of the tile.

mastic and trowel wall tile

Start 1/2" back from the starting line if you are starting at an end or start on your center line if you are centering it.

apply mastic to wall tile

You will set the tile starting on the counter top or on top of the 4 inch backsplash. Set the tile directly on the existing counter top or backsplash. You do not need a grout joint here, the connection between the counter top and the tile will be finished with sanded and colored caulking.

Set the tiles all the way to the corner or end. The last tile will usually need to be cut. If you are using a bull nose you will need to figure in the spacing for that since they are usually a different size than the field tiles.

wall tile first course set

After the first course is done then continue up the wall to any outlets. If there are no outlets you can keep going up to your trim piece or If you are going to the bottom of the wall cabinets you will cut the last tiles on the top, this joint will also be finished with caulking.

step 5 Cut Tiles Around Outlets

To cut a tile around an outlet you will need to use a tile saw. Lay the tiles up to the outlet and then follow these steps:

Hold the tile to the side of the outlet and in line with the tile layout. Mark the horizontal cut location

backsplash horizontal cut tile marking

Hold the tile to be cut in its position below the outlet. Mark the vertical cut location.

backsplash mark outlet vertica

Make the cut using the appropriate cutting tool. If you have a "U" shaped cut around an outlet you will need to use a tile saw as shown in the picture.

  • Hold the tile up off the cutting table with the bottom edge supported by the cutting table and the upper edge pointing at the center of the tile cutting blade.
  • Cut the two side marks first
  • Make cuts about 1 blade width apart down to the cut line, it will look like a hair comb
  • Break the pieces off
  • Smooth out the line with the edge of the tile saw

cutting tile around outlet

Test fit the wall tile to make sure enough tile is cut away to fit around the outlet. The edge of the tile should go to the outside edge of the wall outlet or switch box so that the set screw can still tighten the switch or outlet on and so the plate cover will fit over the tile to hide the cuts. Put wall tile mastic on the back of the tile and set the tile in place.

wall tile around outlet

Cut and fit any trim pieces last. Do not put the outlets and switches on until after grouting.

backsplash with trim on

Let the tiles set over night so the thinset mastic hardens.

step 5 Grout The Tile

Grouting is very simple. The technique described here is a professional quick way to grout tile. Start by cleaning any mastic spots or smears on the tile, especially on the edges where the grout will be. If any mastic is showing thru the grout you will not be able to remove it later without scratching or chipping the grout. A utility knife works well to scrape mastic off the tile. Wipe the tile down to remove any dust or other foreign particles from the tile before grouting.

mix and spread: Mix the grout according to the instructions on the bag. Spread the grout over the joints using the rubber trowel. Trowel across the joints at a 45 degree angle to the joint, this help insure that the joint will be filled completely and reduce the chance of leaving voids. Don't be too worried about the look of the joint at this point, the next step with the sponge will fine tune the joint appearance. Just get the joints filled with the trowel during this step.

sponge: This is the part where you make it look good. Dip the sponge in the bucket of water, ring it out and wipe it across the grout joint one time. Flip it over and wipe the joint again if necessary or wipe another joint. DO NOT SCRUB BACK AND FORTH. Put the sponge back into the water and rinse it out. Repeat. Clean the water often.

tip: It is important that you do not "scrub" the grout joints to get them to look the way you want. Scrubbing does three things; first it removes the sand from the grout. Second it removes color from the grout, third it gets the tile dirty and causes more work in cleanup.

step 6 Seal The Grout (and tile)

Let the grout sit overnight and then wipe the tile down with a damp sponge. Let it dry and apply a grout sealer to seal the grout and tile. If you applied ceramic tile you will not neet to seal the tile, just the grout joints. If you are using a stone tile you will want to seal the whole tile. Sealing keeps the tile from soaking up staining liquids.

Stand back and admire your work.

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