Backsplashes can be one of the most overlooked things when talking kitchens. Builder basic normally calls for a 4″ counter lip that’s installed on the wall as and counts that as “done,” which was the case in our house and every home we’ve lived in. Why settle for that when you can have something unique to your taste that adds a little extra pizzazz (and cleans up better!) for less than you’d probably expect? And is a very achievable DIY, even if it’s your first time tiling?
Even the simplest subway tile backsplash can have such a huge impact on a space, and tackling the project is an easy weekend project that will last for years to come. All you’ll need is the tile of your choice, a few tools, and you’re ready to go!
Here is everything you may need (with links*!) to get your DIY tile backsplash on:
First things first, is to clear off your counters and remove any 4″ backsplash that might be up with a hammer and crowbar. Just be careful not to damage your counters (old towels are great cushion to protect them if needed!) while you work. If there are any active outlets or switches where your tile is going, turn off the electrical, remove the plate covers and loosen the plugs/switches from the electrical box (you’ll need to loosen enough to slide a tile behind it).
To determine the amount of tile you’ll need, simply multiply the length of space and multiply it by the height from your counter to your upper cabinets/shelves. Depending on the pattern of your tile, you typically need 10-20% extra square footage to account for partial cuts around things like outlets and the upper cabinets, so multiply your final square footage by 1.1 or 1.2 to account for that. For the tile and pattern we chose, we actually needed about 50% extra square footage, because apparently we’re extra like that, but most are not that extreme.
I also like to lay out the pattern that we’re going to be using first as well, especially if the tiles are slightly irregular in color and to figure out spacing. This 5-10 minute step can save you from any mistakes later! And that’s all the prep work! Easy right? You’re ready to start tiling now!
There are two ways to get the tile up on the wall. Trowel the adhesive on the tile, or do a larger area on the wall. If you’re using a tile that’s on a mesh sheet, always apply on the wall. If you’re using individual tiles, then that part is complete preference! I like to do individual tiles (which does take a little bit longer) because there are times when a certain 2 year old needs something and I have to stop. Doing things tile by tile means nothing dries out for me during diaper/reading/milk runs, but again, total preference!
As you put up each tile, pay attention to how level your pattern is, and the spacing between each tile. I like to use the flat spacers between the tile and counter, and then the smallest tile spacers possible for the smallest grout lines. In order to get the most professional look, also make sure that the tiles are even or flat on the wall. If one sticks out significantly farther than the other, you’ll be able to see that more once you grout. All very easy things to keep track of!
The most complicated part of the project is cutting around obstacles, like outlets. This is where either your tile nipper, tile snapper or tile saw come in handy. If you’re doing a smaller tile like a penny tile, the nipper is perfect. The snapper is great for straight lines, and the saw is for the most professional looking finished product as it can cut out odd shapes. We typically use both the snapper and saw for each project, and the small upfront cost has saved us SO much in labor over the years that we 100% recommend it. When cutting around outlets, be sure to leave the screw hole areas free to secure the outlet back to the box, but enough tile that the outlet rests on the tile surface, not the drywall. That will ensure when you put the plate back on, everything looks flush. (There are tons of tutorials for this on Youtube, or consult a professional with anything electrical if you are unsure!)
After all of your tile is cut and laid, your edge pieces if necessary are on (either a matching bullnose or a metal schluter) now it’s time to let everything dry! Dry times can always be found on the mastic, and are generally around 24 hours.
Once everything is dry, take out all of the spacers and prep your grout! You’ll need a bucket of warm water, your float, sponge and grout. I love premixed because it takes the guess work out of it, but whatever you prefer is great! There are two types of grout depending on your tile and spacer size. Here is a general guideline to deciding which to purchase:
- Unsanded – Walls and smooth tile with spacing 1/8″ or less
- Sanded – Floors or walls with spacing greater than 1/8″
Take an ice cream scoop size of grout at a time on your float and simply press the grout into the tile! It’s best to work at an angle so you don’t dig any of the grout out accidentally when removing any excess with the float. The tile will not look perfectly clean here – some grout will remain, and that’s 100% okay! After 30 minutes or so when the grout has started to firm up, you’ll take that bucket of water and your giant sponge and clean everything up. This may take a few rounds, but it will all come off with a little scrubbing!
After everything has dried overnight again, put your outlets, switches and covers back (you may need longer screws now that you’ve added tile, totally normal!) put all of your pretty counter decor and appliances back, and you. are. done.
Not bad, right? I absolutely love the satisfaction of tackling a project ourselves and being a part of every detail, and I hope you now do too! If you have any questions about tiling a backsplash, be sure to leave a comment and I’ll update this post as the come in 🙂
*Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning at no cost to you, if you click through and purchase I earn a small commission to help keep this blog up and running.
**Please note: We are not professionals, but have simply installed a lot of tile and gotten tips from experts along the way. Per our disclaimers page, please don’t hurt yourself during this or any other project we share. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out or hire a professional if you’re not feeling confident/are insanely accident prone.