How to Tile a Backsplash

I love tiling. It’s like putting together a SUPER easy life size puzzle. Only, it’s way more fun. I’m going to show you how to tile a backsplash in today’s post 🙂

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I’ve tiled a few things in my day…several backsplashes, a shower, some flooring. And while I’m definitely not an expert, I’ve learned a few things that I can certainly share with you.

Laundry Room with cabinet and backsplash tile

I recently tiled the backsplash in my own little laundry nook (above) AND in my sisters new kitchen (below) and decided to put together a tutorial to show you some basics and how to get started.

Kitchen with corner backsplash tile

Keep in mind that every space is a little different and you may encounter some challenges not mentioned in this post. This post is meant to give you some general information and basic ideas so that if and when you face that challenge, you may be able to figure out your own solution. It’s also intended for backsplashes only…tiling floors and showers require a few extra steps or different materials. But, if you’re good with that, let’s get started.

Shara tiling kitchen backsplash wall

First, obviously you have to pick out your backsplash tile. If you’ve never done any tiling before, I highly recommend starting with something simple like a subway tile or larger rectangles as opposed to the smaller tiles that come in sheets. They’re just a little easier to work with.

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Once you’ve got your tile, you need to pick up a few more items, then, you’re ready to go. I’ve got a quick video for you below and the materials list and step by step after that 🙂 This post contains affiliate links. See policies.

Tools and materials:

Level

Square

Backsplash tile (shown here in this tutorial is Jeffrey Court Tundra Grey Tile; shown in my sister’s kitchen is Jeffrey Court Casablanco)

Mastic

Trowel

Spacers

Tile saw

Painter’s Tape

Plastic or Trash Bags

Grout

Water

Mixing bucket

Clean bucket

Grout float

Grout sponge

Caulk

Step 1: Lay Out Your Backsplash Tile Design

When tiling a backsplash, the first thing to do is decide on a particular design and layout.  Then, figure out the best way to start that pattern.  If you are doing a straight wall—like my laundry nook, it’s best to start at the center and work your way outward. 

Woodshop Diaries Laundry Nook Straight wall tile from center out

However, if you are doing a corner, it’s better to start in the corner and work your way out.

Corner wall tile from corner out

But, if you have a large window AND a corner OR a straight wall like this kitchen, you may want to start in the center of the window and work your way out. That way your tile spacing will be even on both sides of the window since it’s likely the focal point. Either way, you need to figure out how will look best to lay out your tiles in your particular space.

wall with window tile from center of window out

So first, I laid out a few tiles (or sheets if you are doing a backsplash that comes in sheets) and made sure my spacing and everything looked good.  In my case here in my laundry nook, I started at the center.  So I measured and marked the centerline of the area. 

Marking centerline of area to tile backsplash

Step 2: Prepare the Materials to Tile a Backsplash

I borrowed Danny’s uncle’s tile saw for this (and every other I’ve ever done haha) tiling project.  It’s a wet saw with a diamond blade and it’s SO MUCH FUN TO USE. (Here’s me using it for our kitchen backsplash while we were building our house.)

Trimming backsplash tiles on tile saw

I set it up outside on some sawhorses and poured water into the reservoir.  Then I plugged her in and she was ready to go.  Keep in mind, you will get wet while using the saw.  It’s a WET SAW after all 😉

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There are other tile cutting options as well, but I like the wet saw the best. Then I headed back inside and taped off the countertop with trash bags to protect it from the mastic and grout from the tiling.

Step 3: Begin With the Bottom Row

When installing tile on a vertical surface, start with the bottom row.  The key is to get the bottom row level, then build on top of it.

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So I applied mastic (it’s just a tile adhesive—you can mix it yourself, or buy it premixed.  I buy mine premixed) to the back of the tile with the trowel.  You can also apply this directly to the wall, but I think applying it to the tile is cleaner.  It’s important to get plenty on the back, but evenly spread it.  After a few, you’ll get the hang of it. 

apply mastic to back side of tiles for backsplash

Too much mastic and you’ll have a bunch of squeeze out and too little and your tile could fall off the wall, or break.

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NOTE: this mastic is NOT FOR WET LOCATIONS.  If you are tiling a shower, this is NOT what you want to use.  For that, you want to use a tile adhesive appropriate for wet locations–like a mortar.  And you’d also need to take a few extra steps to prepare the wall to take the tile…like a cement board backer, possibly a waterproof membrane, etc.  We are just talking backsplash in this post.

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Then, I stuck the tile to the wall to line up with my markings and pressed firmly. I continued placing tiles along the bottom row using tile spacers below and in between the tiles.  I used 1/8″ spacers for this.

level bottom row of backsplash tiles

PS I’ve been told this isn’t the correct way to use spacers.  As long as you have the same space between the tiles, it doesn’t really matter and this method allows me to remove them easily and reuse them.

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Once the bottom row was in place, I checked for level (see image above).  This is the most important part of this entire process.  I shimmed up as needed using spacers and painters tape to get this row as level as possible all the way across. 

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The second most important part is to remove any mastic squeeze out before it dries on the tiles.  I’ll be grouting between the tiles, so I removed excess mastic from between them as I went.  (Side note: I picked a grout color similar to my mastic color—white—so if I happen to miss any squeeze out, it will blend in with my grout.)

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If I was using sheets of tile, the process is the same, just in sheets instead of individual tiles.  Place the bottom row first, and get it all level. And if starting in a corner, cut the corner tile or sheet in half (or cut across a line that makes it easy to piece together a pattern) and place those in the corner first. See how this pattern flows nicely across the corner? PS It’s not caulked yet, so ignore the gaps.

install clean pattern in corner of backsplash wall

Step 4: Cut End Pieces

Once I reached the edge of the backsplash, I had to cut pieces to fit.  So, I measured the distance from the wall to the edge of the closest tile and subtracted 2x the spacer thickness (I was using 1/8” spacers, so I subtracted ¼”).

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Then, I measured and marked that distance on the tile and placed painters tape along this line.  The tape helps prevent chipping and also gives me a high visibility line to cut across.

mark where to trim tiles with painters tape

I carefully cut along this line on the tile saw, then brought it back inside, applied mastic and stuck it to the wall.  Easy as that.

trim backsplash tile with tile saw
stick backsplash tile to the wall with mastic

Side note: You’ll notice above that I already laid a second row. I laid two full rows, then cut four end pieces at the same time just to save time. Once your bottom row is level, you can begin laying the next row.

Step 5: Repeat Tiling Backsplash

Once I had my bottom row in place, it’s level and cut, I simply built on top of it.  I made sure to keep spacers between all the tiles and periodically checked for level and for square and adjusted as needed.  I went with this super simple design, but you could also do other designs. The important thing with this particular design is to check often that things are square and you aren’t veering off one direction or another.

continue adding tiles to backsplash wall

In my little laundry nook, I didn’t have any outlets or anything to cut around.  BUT, if you come to an outlet or light switch or cabinet, etc, measure and mark where the tile needs to be cut and cut as needed. 

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Helpful hint: it’s easiest when you have to cut out a corner or just trim a tile length.  However, when you come to a tile that needs a notch, use the tile saw to cut straight into the tile along the sides of the notch, then cut this notch out in tiny strips.  You don’t actually cut along the middle line.  If you cut thin enough strips, they simply break off to give you your notch. Imagine in the image below that the black marks are the saw cuts to make the notch. The thin pieces should easily break off.

diagram of how to notch a tile

PS It’s better to cut too large than too small.  Make sure not to get too close to the outlet with your tiles.  You can purchase larger plates to cover any gaps if needed.  Also, once you tile a wall, you’ll have to install extenders on your outlets to compensate for the thickness so you can attach your plates back on.

Step 6: Finish Last Row of Tile

Once I got to the the top,I needed to trim the tile height to fit.  Just like cutting the sides, I measured between the last tile and the cabinet, subtracted 2x the spacer width, then measured, marked, and cut the tiles to fit.

measure for last row of backsplash tile
rip backsplash tile on tile saw

Then I stuck them in place.

Step 7: Grout Backsplash Tile

I let the tiles sit for a day or so, then removed the spacers from between the tiles.  And I was ready to grout.  I used sanded grout for this application.

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Note: sanded grout is for spacing 1/8” or larger and non sanded grout is for 1/8” and smaller.  Also be aware that some tiles can scratch easy and shouldn’t be used with sanded grout.  Refer to manufacturers recommendations.

mix sanded grout to apply to tiles

I mix my grout in a 1 gallon ice cream bucket if I have one (that size works well), but if not, any size bucket can work (even a milk jug cut in half haha).  I mixed my grout with water until it was about the consistency of cake batter.  Then, using a float, I scooped some grout out of the bucket and smeared it across the tiles.

apply grout to tiles diagonally

It’s best to smear it at an angle—it helps it get into all the cracks.  Basically, I’m trying to smush the grout into all the little cracks.  I smeared the grout one direction, then the other direction and tried to scrape off the excess as I went. 

closer view of applying grout to basksplash tiles

It’s best to work in kind of small sections.  I did as much as you could in approx. 15 minutes, then it was time to clean. 

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I grabbed a bucket of clean water and a grout sponge, wrung the sponge out well (you don’t want it dripping) and gently wiped the tiles to remove any excess grout. The key is not to just smear it around, but to WIPE IT OFF.

use grout sponge to clean backsplash tiles

I rinsed out my sponge and changed the dirty bucket water often.  And I just repeated the process until the whole area was grouted.

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I rinsed the tiles several times with clean water.  Any remaining residue will make the tiles look cloudy once dry. I removed the plastic I had laid down to protect the countertop and wiped everything well.

Step 8: Caulk Edges of Backsplash

The last step is caulking.  Once the grout was dry, I caulked the edges, corners, and where the tile meets cabinets, trim, or counter top with caulk that matched my grout color.

caulk edges of tile

And, done.  Check it out…we just tiled a backsplash!

DIY laundry nook refresh close up view of backsplash tile

See? It’s just like working a puzzle…only totally more fun 😉 I really love how a few tiles can transform a space and it’s really a pretty simple task to stick tiles on a wall and grout the gaps.

Laundry room with DIY backsplash tile

I hope this tutorial has been helpful and if you’re looking for some more laundry room (or any room, really) inspiration, be sure to check out the full reveal of this space here, and the butcher block countertop tutorial here.

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Thanks so much for following along and I’d love it if you’d pin this for later 🙂

How to Tile a Backsplash Pin Image Graphic

Until next time, friends, happy…uh, tiling?? We will get back to building soon, I promise 🙂 Stick around…

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