How to Tile a Backsplash

Here you'll learn how to tile a backsplash - a fast and easy way to get a new look for your kitchen!

This is a DIY project you can do over a weekend, and it costs very little (depending on the tile you choose).

The kitchen backsplash design on this page was done using 12" x 12" squares of 3/4" glass tiles.

I'll show you how to tile a backsplash and you can create your own backsplash design by choosing from the rainbow colors available in glass tile.

The cheapest prices I've found in stores for 12" squares of glass tiles are $5 - $10 each at Home Depot...

...and you don't need a bunch for most backsplash areas! 21 tiles were used for the backsplash on this page. Accent tiles like the beach theme ones shown can be more expensive, but you only need a few.

Choices may be somewhat limited for inexpensive glass tiles - you might find you'll be happier spending a bit more money to get the exact ones you really like.

TIP! Though these instructions for kitchen wall tile installation are for GLASS TILES, you can apply the basic techniques for 4" square glazed ceramic tiles - for how-to-help on 4" square tiles, see Tiling Countertops - or other tile sizes and types.

NOTE: If you use natural stone tile, you'll need to seal stone tiles first. See How to Tile a Floor for instruction on pre-sealing tile.

There are literally thousands of different kitchen backsplash design ideas - use your imagination and create a unique one for your kitchen!

What You'll Need

  • 12x12 squares of 3/4 glass tiles on mesh backing (buy 10% more than you'll need)
  • 1/4" cement board
  • thinset
  • unsanded grout
  • power drill
  • mixing tool
  • utility knife
  • 2 five-gallon buckets
  • 3/16" notched trowel
  • grout trowel
  • grout sponge
  • plastic sheeting
  • blue painters tape
  • 1/8" tile spacers
  • 1-1/4" drywall screws
  • rented tile saw
  • OPTIONAL: circular saw with diamond blade

How to Tile a Backsplash - Prep

Remove outlet and switch plate covers.

To find wall studs for attaching the cement board, look in your kitchen cabinets to see where they're screwed into the wall. Follow their position down to the backsplash area and hammer a nail into the wall to make sure you've found a stud.

Studs are normally 16" on center - if you can't find them all using cabinet screws as your guide, find one and measure 16" along the wall. Hammer in a nail to see if you hit a stud, then repeat the process every 16" on center.

Place strips of painter's tape onto the countertop to mark each stud's location.

Measure the space and cut cement board to the sizes you need using a circular saw with a diamond blade (very dusty! Cut it outside and wear safety goggles and dust mask!). Or score the board with a utiity knife and snap it, then clean up the jagged edge (more work but less messy).

Screw the cement board to the wall using the tape to find studs.

Cut cement board so each piece ends halfway over the stud. Adjoining pieces have to share the stud for screwing in.

Wipe off and cover the countertop with plastic and tape down the edges about 1/2" to 3/4" from wall. This ensures your tile isn't sitting on the tape and you'll have room for a grout line where the tile and counter meet.

Pull out the stove - you'll want to tile down behind it about 3" below countertop height.

How to Tile a Backsplash - Tiling

Mix thinset per package instructions, using a mixing tool like this drill bit. Stirring by hand doesn't work - thinset and grout have to be thoroughly mixed to do their job.

Apply thinset by blobbing some on the wall, then spread with 3/16" notched trowel, moving in different directions to get good coverage.

Spread enough thinset for 2 or 3 tiles.

TIP! If any thinset gets on the countertop, wipe it off immediately. Same goes for grout.

Place your first tile, pressing it in place to make sure it's stuck to the wall.

Start at countertop level and go all the way across the backsplash area with the 12" squares. Then come back, spread thinset above the first row of tile and do the next level.

As you lay the second tile, place the 1/8" spacers between it and the first so the grout lines will be even.

To cut out tiles to go around an outlet or switch, hold the tile up to the area and cut out the tiles for the hole using a utility knife to cut the mesh backing.

TIP! If it takes you a while to cut around things, scrape off the old thinset and apply new. It can be tossed back in the bucket and mixed back in if it's still wet. If it's skinned over or dry or you're just not sure, throw it away.

Wipe along the counter where the tiles meet it to remove any thinset there. Do this while the thinset is still wet, taking care not to disturb the tiles.

Now you're ready for the second row of tiles. Spread more thinset and after you press the tile in place add 1/8" spacers for a perfect grout line where the tiles meet.

Tiles can slide down when you're not looking, so insert one spacer on each end and several across the middle to make sure nothing sags.

TIP! As you go along, use a damp rag to carefully wipe off any little blobs of thinset on top of the tiles and any that has smeared onto cabinets and side walls. Make sure you don't accidentally move any of the tiles!

Finally, let the backsplash dry overnight. Thoroughly rinse out the thinset bucket.

How to Tile a Backsplash - Cutting Tiles

On a rented tile saw, the table moves to make the cut. There are grooves in the table so the sawblade doesn't hit it when cutting through a tile. 

Small glass tiles on mesh backing are too loosey-goosey to cut normally, and the mesh will fold into the grooves, making cutting where you want nearly impossible.

Place a piece of 1/4" cement board on top of the saw's table for a flat surface. You can adjust the blade so it just cuts into the cement board - the glass will then cut like a solid tile.

"Butter" the backs of your cut tiles with thinset and stick them on the wall. Add spacers or tape them to make sure they stay put.

How to Tile a Backsplash - Grouting

Gently chip off any dry thinset sticking up between tiles. Wipe the area to remove dust - dust can mix in with grout and actually change the grout color!

Mix the grout with the mixing tool per bag instructions.

Fill your second bucket with clean water for wiping off excess grout with the sponge.

TIP! Both the grout and sponge buckets must be CLEAN before using!

Scoop up and spread some grout with the grout trowel, working the grout into every nook and cranny.

Move the grout trowel in a diagonal motion if you can. Keep going over it to make sure all areas are filled.

Do an area about three feet square. Then wring out the sponge fairly well and wipe across the grouted surface.

Now you'll see any spots you missed - go back and regrout those areas. Inspect carefully for missed areas, bubbles or air holes. Let the regrouted area set up for a few minutes, then wipe with the sponge.

This is a tedious task when you're learning how to tile a backsplash, but with little bitty tiles and tons of grout lines, your detective work will pay off in the end!

TIP! Rinse your sponge often as you work, and change the water if it needs it.

Sponge the backsplash again one last time, inspecting carefully for any spots you need to regrout.

Using a damp rag, wipe grout off cabinets, light fixtures or anything else. Remove the plastic and wipe your counters to make sure there's no grout on them.

Let the backsplash dry overnight. The next day, do a final sponging to remove the haze on top of the tiles.

How to Tile a Backsplash - Bumping Out Outlets and Switches

Part of how to tile a backsplash is fixing the depth of your outlets and switches. Here's the easiest way to bump them out to fit flush with your new backsplash:

Buy a bag of "caterpillars" - spacers/shims made by Buchanan (Ideal) just for this purpose. (You can use them to tighten up any loose outlets around the house too.)

You'll also need a small bag of 2" 6/32 machine thread screws - to replace the now too-short screws of the outlets.

Turn off the power to the outlets and switches by switching off the breakers.

Remove the existing screws and pull out the outlet a bit.

Start with one strip of spacers, folding them over each other.

Stick them behind the outlet screw holes, pressing the outlet back into place to see if it's even with the backsplash surface. If not, fold a few more.

Once you've found the ideal number, tear the folded spacers off the rest of the strip and screw the outlet back in, using the longer screws. Then screw in the outlet covers.

TIP! The number of folded-over caterpillars you use in the first outlet should be the same for everything else you need to bump out on that wall.

If the outlet cover, once in place, still shows a small opening between the tile and the cover, add a little grout to fill in. Use the edge of a wood shim to push grout into the opening. Wipe around it with a damp rag.

A big payoff of learning how to tile a backsplash?

Bragging rights. "I did it myself!"

The first time I ever tiled anything, I had so much fun and was so happy with the results I wanted to find other things to tile!

Now that you know how to tile a backsplash, you might want to learn how to remove that old laminate and tile your countertops - or learn how to tile your kitchen floor!

How to Install Kitchen Cabinets     

How to Tile a Floor

How to Repair Drywall     

How to Install a Sink

Back to DIY Kitchen Remodeling

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Thinking of remodeling?

Keep a notebook or scrapbook of notes, clippings and ideas.

Kitchen magazines are expensive - look through them in the grocery checkout line. If you see pix of a kitchen you really like, buy that magazine.

Stop in at home centers and pick up any free cabinet manufacturers' catalogs.