Use a a Tile Backsplash to Refresh the Look of Your Kitchen

Learn the best ways to work with tile to ensure your next kitchen backsplash will look amazing.

By Craig Horvath


The rooms in your home that take the most time and attention (and money!) to refresh are your bathroom and your kitchen. Americans spend millions of dollars each year changing these rooms alone, yet many of the upgrades still leave homeowners feeling disappointed. Maybe the reality doesn’t live up to the hype: projects go over-budget, take more time than expected, or the outcome just isn’t what you hoped for. Whatever the reason, there’s no question that kitchen redesigns can be particularly challenging for homeowners who are not home improvement professionals. Here's how you can design and implement a tiled backsplash for your kitchen without spending a fortune or making a huge mess.


Tiles in kitchen


Think Materials

Before you even start sketching out what you want your kitchen backsplash to look like, decide on what kind of material suits your needs and overall style. While ceramic tile is the traditional choice and is very sturdy and relatively easy to work with, there are plenty of other options on the market today. Granite can make a real statement in your kitchen and is incredibly easy to maintain and is durable. The soft, natural look of granite works well with nearly any décor and can add a touch of luxury.

Glass countertops are very popular and are starting to be used in backsplashes as well. The material is practical, versatile, attractive, and incredibly easy to clean. Stainless steel countertops may feel a little industrial for larger installations like countertops, but adding a stainless backsplash may give you a pop of modern feel that really catches the eye. Finally, stone can provide you with a natural yet classic look. As long as you seal the stone, it will be very durable and provide you with a beautiful, lasting finish.


Tile samples


Cleaning Up

If you currently have a backsplash, you need to remove the tile that’s already there. Using a flat scraper, pull off any old tile and grout that is on the wall or sticky residue that is left over from previous projects. If this is the first time you’ve added a backsplash, clean the paint carefully to ensure that all of the grease and food splashes are gone so you’re starting with the cleanest surface possible to help the adhesive stick. Turn off the power in your kitchen and remove any switch plates from the area you will be working in. Clean your walls with a liquid deglosser to be sure you’ve removed every trace of shine.




Get Plotting

Many walls are not perfectly leveled, nor are the countertops that you’ll be working with. You should always check the level of your wall, fill in any dips or dents in the wall that are deeper than 1/16”, and let them dry fully before sanding them down. Any small ripples or dents in the wall could potentially cause the grout and adhesive not to stick, so you want to be very careful with this step. If needed, attach a ledgerboard or support piece to the wall so you’ll have something completely level on which to stack your tiles.




Plan Your Attack

Lay out your tiles on the counter in the design that you wish to apply. This allows you to see the space and assure that all of the tiles will fit as you expect them to. It will also show you the gaps you'll need for appliances or faucets. If you have to cut any tiles, be sure to cut the part downwards and not glaring upwards. An important tip to keep in mind is that you always need to leave a 1/8” expansion gap around your new tile backsplash. Mark the first line of tile and get ready to start attaching your tiles to the wall!


Ceramic floor tiles


Adding Tiles

Thinset is often the recommended adhesive based on your particular type of tile, so mix some up and spread a very thin layer of your adhesive of choice using a drywall trowel. These adhesives dry very quickly, so be sure you have everything ready before you start adding the glue to the walls. A notched trowel can help you create a combed effect in the adhesive, which can help it stick to the tile more effectively and ensure that you don’t have too much adhesive which can cause slippage. If the thought of adhesive is a little scary, there are options such as peel-and-stick tiles which can really help ensure that you get the right tiles placed appropriately.




The Final Product

While it will take up to 24 hours for the adhesive to dry completely, it’s a good idea to run a rubber float over the set tiles to ensure that everything tightens up and looks good before it gets completely set. This helps you pull together any tiny gaps that otherwise might be a problem.




The only thing left to work with is the grout which is easily applied using a rubber float across the surface. Wipe away any haze with a damp sponge.


Images used with permission, courtesy of and

Next: Why Modern Kitchen Cabinets Are a Must