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How to Tile A Kitchen Backsplash

Home repairs and improvements are great projects as do-it-yourself projects, but sometimes projects can be a little intimidating. This is particularly true. The skills needed are outside of your skillset.

Tiling is one such skill that not many beginner DIY repairers have in their knowledge toolbox. Tiling a kitchen backsplash is the perfect project to dabble in tilling and learn the skills necessary for tiling.

To tile, your kitchen backsplash, start by planning, selecting, and buying tiles, adhesive, and grout—layout pencil guidelines to work to. Apply tile adhesive to the walls, lay the tiles, and tap into place, ensuring they are level. Grout the gaps between the tiles and silicone the outer edges.

Tiling can be a daunting task if you have no experience on the subject, and the problem is that if you get it wrong, the mistakes are quite noticeable. Planning the backsplash tiling project carefully and following our guide will help you achieve a good finish and learn a new skill simultaneously.

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Planning Your Kitchen Backsplash

As with any project in your home that you want to undertake, planning is the first and most crucial step that many people gloss over and then pay the price when things don’t quite work out how they envisioned them.

Take your time in planning your kitchen backsplash and do a thorough job of the planning stage. It will pay dividends in the smooth execution of the project and the outcome of the quality of the completed job.

Here are some ideas that you should consider including in your planning for your new kitchen backsplash.

  • The wall. Will you be tiling on a blank wall, or is there an existing tile backsplash that you need to remove? Removing old tiles can be a time-consuming and messy job. It always takes longer than you expect, so treat it as a separate project that may take a weekend by itself.
  • Measure the area. Measure the area carefully that you will be tiling and make notes of the shape of the area and its dimensions. This will help you in ordering the right amount of tiles to cover the area as well as the amount of tile cement that you will need.
  • Choosing the tiles. Choose a tile that suits the décor of your kitchen. This is not only the color and image on the tile but also the texture if you are looking for a textured finish and also the size of the tile. The size is important so that it fits in with surrounding elements in your kitchen as well. Once you have chosen your tiles, consult your wife, and then go with the ones that she chooses!
  • Wall fixtures. Establish if there are any obstacles on the wall where you intend to place your backsplash, such as electrical outlets. You may need a tile cutter to cut shapes into tiles to fit around these obstacles.

This is the planning phase done, but one word of advice when choosing the type of tile for a kitchen backsplash is to choose one that cleans easily, will not be damaged by hot liquids or corrosive materials, or liquids that have the potential to stain. After all, the point of the backsplash is to protect the wall surface from this kind of abuse, so the tile has to be able to withstand these situations.

Tip: When you buy your tiles, ask the supplier for the right adhesive and grout on the tiles you have chosen and on the type of wall surface in your kitchen.

Tools Needed For Tiling A Kitchen Backsplash

When embarking on a tiling project in your kitchen, you will need a basic set of tools that you will probably already own. However, you will also need some tools specific to tiling that you may not own!

While it is generally not much of a hardship for a man to go shopping for tools, you will need a list to take along with you to the hardware store.

If you remove old tiles from the area before you lay new tiles, you will need the following tools.

  • A masonry chisel. This is a large chisel that is normally used by bricklayers to chop bricks in half. It does a great job of removing tiles from a wall.
  • A robust hammer. A small hammer is not going to work well for this application. Something in the range of a small 5-pound hammer will be best for this application.
  • Wall filler. You may need an appropriate wall filler for your type of wall to fill any holes or indentations resulting from removing the old tiles.
  • Abrasives. You will need to sand down the wall to make it as smooth and flat as possible for the new tiles.

For laying the new tiles, you will need the following tools.

  • Angle grinder.  An angle grinder with a ceramic cutting disc is great for cutting tiles to size. A cheaper option if you do not have an angle grinder would be a manual tile cutter.
  • A spirit level. A small spirit level is needed to make sure the tiles are straight and level with other tiles.
  • A marking pencil. To mark lines where the tiles should be located.
  • A rubber mallet. This is used to tap the tiles into place.
  • Notched trowel. This is to spread the tile adhesive, which is sometimes called mastic.
  • A grout float. You will use this tool to spread the grout in the tile gaps.
  • A bucket. This is to mix the grout before applying it to the tiles.
  • Tile spacers. These are handy to make sure the gaps between the tiles are evenly spaced.
  • Silicone and a caulking gun. This is to seal the line where the tile meets the countertop as well as the top edge of the upper row of tiles.

Tiling The Kitchen Backsplash

If you need to remove old tiles first, then the first few steps are for you, but if you are tiling straight onto a smooth, clean wall, you can jump ahead to the tilling process.

Removing Old Tiles

Removing the old tiles is as simple as placing the chisel where the tiles start on the wall, with the chisel as flat against the wall as possible.

Gently hammer the chisel to penetrate the gap between the wall and the old tile. Some tiles will lift off in one piece, but most will break, and they will need to be chiseled off piece by piece.

Holding the chisel as flat to the wall as possible will not only lift the tiles easier but will prevent the chisel from gouging chunks out of the wall that will need to be filled with filler – work smarter, not harder.

After the tiles are removed, you may need to chip off chunks of the old adhesive with the chisel—sand down the surface with an appropriate sandpaper or other abrasive. You will then need to fill any divots or dents in the wall with a filler, and once dry, sand those spots down again.

Tiling Your Kitchen Backsplash

Make sure your wall is clean and dust-free before starting the process of laying your new tiles. The second step is to plan the actual layout of the tiles on the wall.

Use your pencil, a measuring tape or ruler, and your spirit level to mark the start and finish lines of the section you will be making your backsplash.

Tip: work from the bottom, closest to the kitchen countertop, and work your way up to the top level or under any kitchen cupboards.

This will make sure the tiles are level with your countertop, which is more visible. Draw some lines on the wall to give you an indicator line for the first row of tiles.

  • Lay the bottom row of tiles first. Laying the bottom row will make sure that the tiles are all straight and parallel to the kitchen countertop and will give you a reference for the second row.
  • Apply the tile adhesive. Use the notched trowel to add adhesive to an area on the wall to cover the area for two tiles. This will give you time to lay the tiles before the adhesive or mastic dries too quickly.
  • Make sure the tile is straight and level. Place the spirit level on top of the tile to make sure it is straight and level and also across the face of the tile to make sure the tile is flat on the wall, and one side is not further away from the wall than the others.
  • Tap the tile in place. Using the rubber mallet, gently tap the tile into place or to adust the level and placement. Do not hit the tile too hard, or you may crack it.
  • Use tile spacers. Use tile spacers between the tiles to make sure that the spaces are all the same. These can be removed before grouting.

Repeat this process of laying the tiles until the tiles have all been laid. If you need to cut tiles, take careful measurements, and cut slowly to avoid breaking too many tiles.

Let the tiles and the adhesive cure overnight before applying any grout to the tiles; otherwise, you may push tiles out of place while applying the grout.

Mixing the grout and applying it to your tiled backsplash is the next step.

Mix the tile grout in a bucket according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Some tile grouts come pre-colored, and you can add color to others. The main standard colors are grey or white.

Remove the tile spacers in the area where you are going to start grouting. Be careful not to lift any tiles off while you remove the spacers. 

Once the grout is mixed, scoop some grout mixture onto the grout float. Spread the grout across the tiles, forcing the mixture into the gaps between the tiles. Make sure that the gaps are completely filled. Scoop up some more grout mixture and do the same on the adjacent area.

Once you have put grout on the adjacent tiles, go back to the first area and run your finger across the grout lines to smooth them out, or you can use a specialized tool for this. Using a slightly damp cloth, wipe the excess grout off the face of the tiles.

Repeat this process until the entire tiled area has been grouted. It is unnecessary to grout the top edge of the last row of tiles or the bottom edge of the bottom tiles at the countertop. You will be using silicone here.

Finally, use the silicone in the caulking gun and run a bead across the top edge of the countertop to meet the first row of tiles. Do the same along the top edge of the top row of tiles to seal the gap.

Give the grout and the silicone 24 hours to dry, and then clean the tiled surface with a damp cloth.

Conclusion

Tiling a kitchen backsplash is not a difficult DIY project, and it is gratifying to stand back and admire your handiwork and know that you did it all on your own. It provides a level of satisfaction and accomplishment and provides an outlet for your need to build or create something.

Now you have a new DIY skill that you can add to your toolbelt in the home, and you will have the confidence to take on larger tiling projects!