How to tile a backsplash: a 10-step DIY to install gorgeous tiles in your kitchen

Knowing how to tile a backsplash like a pro makes all the difference with this DIY. Here's our advice.

White tiled kitchen splashback on blue walls with white pendant lamp
(Image credit: Topps Tiles)

Learning how to tile a backsplash might seem intimidating if you've never done it, but it's actually a pretty straightforward job. If you've got some extra time on your hands and have been inspired by gorgeous tile ideas then it's an easy(ish) weekend project that is totally worth trying out. 

Enticed by the idea of saving money on labor costs, and the satisfaction of a beautifully installed tile backsplash? Use our video and step-by-step guide (with advice from industry experts) to nail this home improvement job.

Phillip Ash, the founder of Pro Paint Corner – a small business that specializes in paint resources and home design – reminds us when tiling a backsplash, to have fun with tile choice.  "Tile backsplashes are so great as they make for easier clean up from messes and protect the wall ... They also help to reinforce the style of a room. There are tons of great design choices but if you want to be on trend, stay away from rectangular subway tiles and opt for something in a slightly more fun shape, like hexagon, or fish scale. You can also opt for peel and stick tile which is a much cheaper option, and requires a lot less effort to install.' 

Where do you start when tiling a backsplash?

"Measurements are key," says Ash. "Tiling your own backsplash is definitely a job you can DIY but you don't want to cut any corners or you'll end up with a less than stellar job. The first thing you want to do is to make sure you have the materials you need to properly measure the space. These include: a tape measure, pencil, and a 48 inch spirit level. Ensure you have these before beginning your DIY job.' 

Mike Katona from the ShabbyChicHouse DIY & Home project adds, 'Each and every tile project is different. Before you begin a tile project you should plan out where you'll start the tile, where you'll be placing partial tiles and how the tiles will terminate along the edges. If it's a backsplash - typically it's best to start at the countertop and work your way up. This is because you'll want a full tile butting up to your countertop and typically you can hide a cut/partial tile under your cabinets.'

Complete materials list for tiling a backsplash:

1. Prepare the wall for tiling

As with all tiling projects, taking the time to prepare is vital, so make sure to clean your wall area with soap and water and cover your kitchen countertops with plastic sheeting.

Wait for the surface to dry before going any further. You may need to prime your wall and, in wet areas, you may need a waterproof adhesive, but check with the tile manufacturer for what’s recommended.

Remember to think about the wall type you're dealing with also. "You can tile over painted drywall but you'll want to make sure to sand it first," says Ash. "An orbital sander is an ideal tool for the job, though you can always work by hand. Purchase 80 to 120 grit sandpaper for this job and get to work removing the shine or finish from your paint. Roughing up the surface of your wall will allow the mortar for the tile to adhere better."

Katona adds, "You can tile on a painted or unpainted wall. The biggest factor is ensuring that you have a level surface to work with. I had an instance in my mirrored subway tile project in which I had to taper my walls with drywall mud to eliminate some small and unsightly gaps." 

2. Measure for tiling

Using a tape measure and a level, mark a horizontal and vertical plumb line at your starting point to ensure the tile is level.  

If the area you’re tiling has a plug socket or switch on it, you’ll need to measure where this sits on the tiles before you start laying and make the cuts as necessary using a tile cutter.

3. Mix the mortar or tile adhesive

Make sure to select an adhesive to suit your tile choice. You can use either a ready-mixed or a cement-based adhesive, which you’ll make up yourself according to the packaging instructions.

Remember to use a waterproof adhesive for wet areas by sinks.

4. Carefully apply the tile adhesive

Starting at the bottom of the wall, apply the adhesive using a notched trowel. Apply a generous layer and create grooves, or notches, in the same direction, which will help the tiles to stick.

Make sure to do a small area at a time – no more than a square meter– as the adhesive will set quite quickly.

white neutral split mosaic tile backsplash in a white kitchen with wood countertops and natural wood cooking utensils

(Image credit: Tile Mountain)

5. Lay the first tiles

Carefully push the tile into the adhesive and place a tile spacer along each edge. If you’re using mosaic sheets that are designed to fit together, you won’t need any spacers.

Repeat the steps until you’ve covered the backsplash area and wipe the surface to remove any glue residue, using a clean cloth or sponge, as you go.

6. Make the necessary cuts to the tiles for the edges

Once you reach the edge, you may need to cut the tiles using a specialist cutter. A tile scribe can be used on thin tiles, but you may need an electric cutter or wet saw for thicker or more complex cuts, such as right angles or curves.

'When your tile terminates mid-wall adding a piece of bullnose tile, quarter round tile or pencil tile creates a frame or border that gives your tile project a finished and professional look.' Advises Katona.

How to cut tiles

The type of cut and style of tiles you're using will influence the style of cutter you require. In general, the following rules apply:

  • A manual cutter is used to achieve straight lines.
  • When dealing with thinner tiles, it's often best to use a tile scribe.
  • To achieve right angles, curved edges and to cut through thicker tiles – for example, porcelain or natural stone – you'll want to use an electric cutter.

7. Wait for the tile adhesive to dry

Leave the tiles for a few hours – or even overnight – to set and then you’ll be ready to apply the grout.

8. Prepare the grout

Mix the correct type of grout for your tile type in a bucket. It’s best to do a little at a time, as the grout sets quickly. Leave the mixed grout for two to three minutes and then mix again before applying.

9. Apply the tile grout

Once mixed to a good, thick consistency, scoop the grout onto a grout float and press it into the gaps by holding the float at a 45 degree angle and slowly, but firmly spreading it onto the surface.

Wipe the tiles with a clean, damp sponge regularly to remove excess. Take care not to over wet the tile at this point, which can weaken the finished grout.

10. Clean the tiles and admire the results

After you’ve covered the whole area, leave it for about an hour and wipe it down again to ensure a clean finish. You can then apply sealant along the edges to make sure your new surface is watertight before admiring your beautiful new tiled feature.

Splash away!

Emily Shaw
Emily Shaw

Emily first (temporarily) joined the Real Homes team while interning on her summer break from university. After graduating, she worked on several publications before joining Real Homes as Staff Writer full time in mid-2018. She loves a second-hand bargain and sourcing unique finds to make her rented flat reflect her personality.

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