Ceramic Tile Backsplash Project

Completed tile backsplash.
Danny Lipford examining the completed tile backsplash.

The space between your kitchen countertops and the bottom of your cabinets is small but often the hardest to keep clean. A ceramic tile backsplash is a great solution that can be applied over almost any wall surface.

A tile backsplash is easier to keep clean than a painted or wallpapered surface and can add a great decorator touch to a kitchen. If you plan your project carefully and choose tiles that compliment the existing décor, you may find that you appreciate the new look as much as the improved function.

  1. Planning the Backsplash

    Begin by determining the area you want to cover with tile. This will usually begin right above the existing backsplash. You may want the tile to cover the whole space up to the cabinet bottom or just a part of it.

    Lay out the space and make careful measurements to determine what size tiles will work best and how many it will take. The bottom edge will adjoin the existing backsplash but the top and side edges may be exposed. In these areas you may want to consider using border tiles sometimes called bullnose tiles. These tiles will give a finished appearance to the edge of the tile surface.

  2. Choosing Tile

    Set aside plenty of time to choose your tile because there are so many options this can be overwhelming. Tiles are designed for specific uses and the tile salesperson should be able to direct you to the ones designed for use on walls. These will be thinner and lighter than floor tiles for example.

    Most of them will also have small spacer bumps built into the edges so you can simply butt them up to the surrounding tiles. Four-inch square tiles are the most common for the backsplash application most stores will have lots of color and style options in this size.

  3. Laying Out the Tile

    Adjusting your layout and the tile size may help reduce or even eliminate the need for cutting tiles. When your plan is complete and your tiles are purchased, lay them out in the space before applying any adhesive to the wall. This will help you determine where your cuts, if any, will need to be made.

    Try to avoid putting cut tiles in the more visible areas or leaving small slivers of tile on the end of rows. You can rent a tile cutter from a rental center for straight cuts. If you mark out your cuts on the tiles, some home centers will even make the cuts for you, right in the store, for a small fee.

Installing mosaic tile backsplash.
Installing the mosaic tile in the backsplash.
  1. Installing the Tile

    The tiles are glued to the wall using an adhesive or mastic that is specially designed for this purpose. When you buy the adhesive you’ll also want to pick up a notched trowel to apply it. This is the fun part. Much like spreading cake frosting you drag the adhesive across the wall with the trowel at about a forty-five degree angle. The notches will create ridges in the adhesive as you press the trowel tight to the wall.

    The important thing is that the ridges are consistent and the whole surface is covered. Long horizontal strokes often deliver the best results. Begin placing tiles from the bottom up so they support each other’s weight. Press each tile into the adhesive with a slight twist to ensure that it sticks.

  2. Grouting the Tile

    After the appropriate drying time (this may vary by product so consult the label) you can begin to apply the grout to fill the gaps between tiles. The grout is spread over the entire surface using a rubber float at a forty-five degree angle to the surface.

    Once the grout has set for a few minutes begin cleaning the excess off of the tile surfaces with a wet rag or sponge. Be careful not to dig the wet grout out of the joints as you clean the tiles. If you want to seal the grout to protect it from staining, consult the grout package to find out how long it should dry before you apply the sealer.

See our Ceramic Tile Backsplash Video to find out more.