Install Tile Backsplash in Kitchen

Back in June it seemed completely absurd to think I would install the tile backsplash in our kitchen before our new baby boy was due to show up in mid August.  I was well over half-way through my pregnancy, my belly was HUGE, and I found myself spending more and more time sitting on the sofa and putting cartoons on for our toddler.  But then it hit me, if I didn’t install the tile backsplash in the kitchen BEFORE the baby showed up, I sure as heck wasn’t going to get it done afterwards! So, at 35 weeks pregnant, with very little knowledge or experience and a whole lot of hope and desperation, I embarked on the extremely daunting task of installing a tile backsplash in our kitchen.

In my usual style, like the time I let someone rip out the kitchen while Matt was hunting, I waited till my husband was sleeping and dove in deep enough into the project that he would be forced to let me continue and finish by the time he found out.  Here’s  my tutorial on installing a tile backsplash in the kitchen and our final reveal photos.

This is me after I finished my first night of work on this project. I was a MESS and look at that giant belly! Gosh I don’t miss being pregnant!

Steps to Install Tile Backsplash in Kitchen

Determine Tile Layout

The first step to install a tile backsplash in the kitchen is actually to determine the layout of the tile because this may determine the exact dimensions of the area you prep for the tile substrate.  For instance, maybe you want to do some weirdness like the stair step effect in the picture below.

Address the Substrate

The next step to install a tile backsplash in your kitchen is to address the substrate. Our kitchen never had a “real” backsplash.  It had stick-on vinyl floor tiles over sheetrock.  I removed the tiles and then used a utility knife to cut out the sheetrock in the areas I intended to put tile.  This might be just the areas around your stove and sink or it might be the entire length of the counter top. Make sure you turn off the power to the outlets in the area you are working in so that you do not accidentally shock yourself!

Cut out sheetrock to install tile backsplash in kitchen
Cut out sheetrock to install proper substrate for tile backsplash in kitchen

tip: Cut the sheetrock opening so that the vertical edges are halfway through the width of one stud so that you can secure the tile backer board edges directly to the studs.

After I cut out the sheetrock, I cut the tile backer to size and screwed it into the opening.  I finally enlisted the hubs to help me finish this step.  Tile backer is heavy and the angle was very awkward with my giant stomach so he stepped in and hung the boards over the stove.

Gather Supplies and Protect Surrounding Areas

At this stage it is almost time to start applying thinset and attaching your tiles.  First though, your countertop, walls, and even the bottoms of your cabinets need to be covered and protected from the thin-set.  Applying thinnest, especially for a novice, can be fairly messy and since it is an abrasive substance, it can easily damage things when you try to clean it up.  I used masking tape and brown contractor paper to cover my countertops and surrounding areas.

For supplies, you will need:

  • Trowel
  • Tile Saw
  • Water Spray Bottle
  • Gloves
  • Thinset

Trowels come with grooves of many different sizes that correspond to the size of the tiles you are adhering.  Make sure you read the description on the trowel label closely and select the right one.  Applying the thinset too thickly can make it hard to keep your tiles even and in the same plane where as applying it to thin can mean they might fall off.

Apply Thinset and Adhere Tiles

This is where the fun starts!  Use the trowel to apply thinset to the backer board.  I found it easiest to spread an area of approximately 2 feet by 1 foot using the smooth edge of the trowel.  After I had spread it over that area, I would flip the trowel to the groove side and re-run the same area to remove the excess. The trick here is to spread enough at once that you can attach several tiles but not so much that it begins to set before you get to it.  This balance is further complicated by the need to cut tiles as you go in many cases.  I used the water spray bottle to keep the thinset moist as I worked and cut tiles.  Though not a perfect solution, this did seem to give me more time while working.

After you have some thinset on, gently press the tiles into the thinset.  Keeping the tiles straight and square is very important at this step. The sheets of mosaic tiles really really helped with keeping things aligned correctly.


The last step to install a tile backsplash in the kitchen was the hardest for me.  The first hurdle is to select your grout color and type.  Sanded and Non-Sanded grouts are available and they come pre-mixed or mix-on-site.  My first mistake in this step was selecting a sanded grout instead of unwanted.  The general guideline is to use sanded for joints over 1/8″ and non-sanded for points smaller than 1/8.  Of course, the joints of my tile were almost exactly 1/8″ so I wasn’t sure which way to go.  If you find yourself in the same position, go with unsanded.  The smooth finish will be easier to wipe clean in the kitchen.

Grouting Supplies:

Prepare the grout exactly per the instructions on the bag.  It is a chemical reaction so it is especially important that the water to grout-mix is correct.  It is not simply a “get it wet and let it dry” type deal.  Use the drill and mixer arm to mix the grout thoroughly.

After the grout is mixed and ready, get ready and get going as quickly as possible. The grout is starting to cure as soon as it is mixed. If possible, enlist a second person to help with this step.  The best and fastest process, for newbies at least, is to have one person applying the grout into the joints while the other person is wiping up the excess from the tiles with the sponge.  A spray bottle with water is helpful in this step too to help extend the curing time.

I, of course, was working while everyone slept and so I tried to do it all by myself.  Inevitably, I waited too long to clean some areas and ended up with grout that was cured onto my tiles.  I nearly ruined my entire backsplash.

Grout install for tile backsplash in kitchen
At this stage I was nearly positive I had ruined everything!

If you find yourself with rock hard grout all over your tiles like I did, don’t panic, it may be fixable.  I used a razor blade scraper and a mix of warm water and vinegar sprayed onto the tiles and was able to oh-so-slowly remove all the excess from my tiles.  I’m fairly certain that some softer natural stone tiles would have been completely ruined by this process though.  Praise the Lord that my tiles were very hard and did not scratch!

Seal the Grout

Your tiles most likely came from the factory pre-sealed but that is not the case for the grout. The grout needs to be sealed so that it is water proof and stain proof.  I can’t remember which sealant we used but it was just something common from Home Depot or Lowes and it has worked great so far.  Sealant is clear and about the consistency of water and you can just use a cheap paint brush to paint it on.

Final Reveal Pictures

Want to see more about our DIY kitchen remodel?  Check these out:

Old Kitchen Renovation: 8 Low Cost, Big Impact Solutions
DIY Ikea Kitchen: How Hard is it Really?
The Kitchen is Functional!
How to Demo a Kitchen the Easy Way
1970’s Kitchen Reno Tips
Kitchen Renovation: Oh No! We Need a New Kitchen


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