How to Tile Your Kitchen Backsplash

November 20, 2019

Today I am sharing my step by step tutorial on how to install your kitchen backsplash. With this tutorial, you will get all of the tips and tricks I wish I had when I tackled my first tiling project! If you can master the skill of tiling, you will be saving big bucks! The materials to tile are generally inexpensive, it’s the labor that will cost the majority of your tiling budget.

Every tile project that I take on, I learn something new. My first attempt at tiling was in our basement bathroom at our home in Denver. I made so many mistakes and learned so much from that attempt, including what products NOT to use. My second tiling project I got a little smarter. I decided to hire a tile guy and ask to be his assistant so that I could learn how he completed tile projects. This was extremely helpful to learn how he measured the wall, cut tiles, etc. I also saved 2/3rds on the cost because I hired him just to install the tiles and I handled the grouting the next day. If you still don’t feel comfortable after this tutorial, apprenticing a tile expert is a great option to learn.

How to tile your kitchen backsplash
Tip: A great way to save money is to buy all of the materials for your contractor. Pick up the tiles, adhesive and grout that your contractor needs to complete the project.

As we began our major kitchen renovation, I finally felt comfortable completing a tile project on my own. It was a little intimidating considering the scale of our kitchen project, but I knew with careful planning I could pull it off.

DIY subway tile kitchen backsplash

Materials You Will Need:

Materials needed to install subway tile to your kitchen backsplash

Step 1: Measure Your Space and do the Math

This is one of the most important parts of the tutorial. You need to know how your tiles will align to avoid any weird cuts like a tiny sliver at the end of a row. Measure the height and width of the space with your tape measurer and then find the center point. This is where you will want to place your first tile. 

Here is an example of my math:

  • The space is 60″x60″ and I am using 3×6 subway tiles
  • The center of the space is is 30″
  • If I start with a tile in the center,, there will be 3″ on each half of the wall. Subtract that from the center point and then divide the answer by the width of the tile (6)
  • 30-3=27 How many full tiles will I need to complete this row?
  • 27/6=4.5 – So each side from the center tile will have 4.5 subway tiles
  • The .5 means that the tiles will be half of the full 6″ tile on the ends. What you want to avoid is something like 4.1 where the end tile is a tiny sliver and challenging to cut.

You also want to do the math for the tiles going up the wall to make sure the top tile is an appropriate size. You will take the total height of the wall and divide it by the height of the tile (3).

  • 60/3=20
  • Don’t forget to take into consideration the spacer between the first tile and countertop. Using a 1/8 spacer as an example, you will be shaving a hair off of the top tile and will look great!

Step 2: Make a center line on the wall

Use your level to make a straight line in the center of your wall.

Prepping the wall to install my kitchen backsplash
The line is faint but I have a center line where the tile will begin

Step 3: Begin Tiling

Your starting point is in the center of the wall. I use a marker to make a dash in the center of the first tile (3″) and line it up exactly with the mark you placed on your wall. Place your spacer on the counter under each tile and create your first row.

Tip: I like to back-butter the first tile to more easily align the center line I drew on the wall and the center of the tile.
Use your trowel to apply the tile adhesive

Place the tile adhesive on your square notch trowel and hold it at an angle as you apply it to your wall. You want there to be a good groove of adhesive on the wall to get a good suction between the tile and wall.

Every time I start a new row, I create a center mark on the tile and place it directly on a seam on the row below. I also back-butter tiles if I can’t get a good angle putting the adhesive on the wall.

Installing my subway tile kitchen backsplash
Back-buttering a tile with adhesive to place on the wall

Once you complete one or two rows, use you tiling float to press the tiles towards the wall. By pressing on multiple tiles you are ensuring that they are evenly pressed on the wall. Periodically check your rows on top with the level to make sure you are not going crooked.

Step 4: Cut Final Tiles

I prefer to wait until the end to make all of my end cuts with a tile saw. Once all of the full pieces have been installed on the walls, then I take the measurements and cut them with a tile saw.

Tip: Use a spare tile to check the spacing between rows that will need a final tile cut at the end. If you run into an issue where the final tile is too tight, shave a sliver off of the top of the tile to get it to fit.
Install complete tiles and then cut the edges
Tile installation before cutting end pieces

When cutting around outlets, take the measurements and cut small lines on the tile using your wet saw. Snap off the slivers of tile to create the perfect inset for the outlet.

Cutting tile around outlets

This is the most time consuming part of this project but it is important to take your time to get the cuts as accurate as possible. Instead of putting the adhesive on the the wall, you will back butter the tiles individually and place them in the appropriate spot. Use the tiling float to press the tile to the wall. This will ensure your tile aligns with the other tiles and is not sticking out or indented. When your tiles have all been installed, let the adhesive dry for 24 hours.

Step 5: Clean the seams

Use a putty knife to scrape out any seams that have adhesive smushing through. You want your grout to fill the seams and it can’t (obviously) if the cracks are already filled with adhesive.

Step 6: Apply the Grout

You can get pre-mixed grout or mix it yourself. I actually prefer pre-mixed grout but Home Depot did not offer any that was un-sanded. When you have tiny grout lines (I didn’t add any spacers), it is better to have un-sanded grout for a cleaner finish.

Tip: Before applying the grout, tape the walls and ceiling around the tile edges. This will prevent paint touch-ups once the grouting is complete.

Use your grout float to apply the grout to the tiles and spread it across the tiles. Work it fully into the seams to avoid any air pockets. Check your grout directions to see their recommended wait time to wipe off the grout on the tiles. Mine recommended 20 minutes.

Use your sponge and bucket of clean water to begin wiping down the tiles. Change your water often to keep it as clean as possible. This will help get the grout off of the tiles more quickly. 

Step 7: Remove Grout Haze

Wait 2 hours for the grout to cure and harden up. Next, use cheese cloth (I just used a old cloth towel) to clean the grout haze off of the tiles. I take this time to clean up any seams that look uneven or too thick. Usually by wiping them harder they start to look more cleaned up.

Tip: Once the grout has been wiped off with a wet sponge, I wait 20-30 minutes and then lightly wipe down the tiles again with a dry cheesecloth or rag. The grout has begun to harden and you can remove a lot of the haze with this extra step. After 2 hours I wipe the tiles again to remove remaining haze.
How to tile your kitchen backsplash

You just tiled your kitchen backsplash on your own! Every time you try a tile project you will feel a little more confident and make fewer mistakes, so don’t be afraid to try another project soon. Tiling a wall can be intimidating so congrats on your first project!

Don’t forget to pin this blog post to reference once you choose your next tiling project! Check out my pin below. 🙂

How to tile your kitchen backsplash

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