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A Step-by-Step Guide to Tiling a Backsplash

2.5″ x 9″ tile | faucet | pedestal bowl | hardware

Tiling a room adds instant impact and personality. From bold patterns to subtle backdrops, I’m willing to bet you’ll find tile that speaks to you at The Tile Shop. Do you want a room to feel soothing? Playful? Quirky? Tile can help you achieve that!

This post is in partnership with The Tile Shop. With over 100 retail locations, a full online shopping experience and samples of any piece your heart desires, they’ve got your tiling needs covered!

I often hear from my friends that tiling looks intimidating, and my goal is to help you feel confident to tackle your own tiling projects. I get it – tiling is messy, and that can feel overwhelming, but I’d like you to reframe it in this way: The wall (or floor) is your canvas, and you’re the artist! The mess is washed away throughout the process, and a wet saw is your super power.

Today, I’m going to show you how Scott and I tiled a kitchen backsplash! View the step-by-step video below, or keep reading for the blog tutorial.

Tools + Supplies Needed

  • 3 buckets + access to water
  • A marker
  • Scrap wood and drywall screws
  • Countertop protection 
  • Eye and ear protection
  • A level
  • Paper towels or a soft cloth
  • Your favorite Tile Shop tile! We used Color Market Patagonia ceramic tile

Step 1 | Prepare the workspace

Before we do anything, we need to prepare the workspace. This includes protecting your countertops, laying out your supplies, mixing tile batches and installing temporary ledger boards where needed.

  • Protect your countertops. We used kraft paper and painter’s tape to keep it in place.
  • Grab your mastic and trowel!
  • Since the look of tile can vary slightly from box to box, I opened and mixed them all together for a more consistent look when finished.
mixing batches of tile | via Yellow Brick Home
  • When using mastic, always install a temporary ledger board wherever there is a gap in the countertop. This gives the tile a place to rest while the adhesive cures. We used a scrap piece of wood and leveled it with the countertop on either side. A few drywall screws will hold it in place!
installing a ledger board for tile prep | via Yellow Brick Home

Step 2 | Plan your tile design

It’s important to determine where to lay the first tile, as opposed to starting on one end or the other. A good rule is to pick a focal point in the room – such as a stove – and then tile out and up from there! It can also be helpful to “dry lay” your tiles (seen below) to ensure there aren’t any too-small cuts on either end. A quick visual really helps!

dry laying tiles to determine best place to start | via Yellow Brick Home

Step 3 | Apply mastic and set the tile

Prep is half the job, but it’s crucial to take that time to set yourself up for success. Now, it’s time to tile! I applied this pre-mixed mastic on small sections at a time, troweling straight lines in the same direction and never applying more than I can tile in a 5 minute period.

using mastic to set tile | via Yellow Brick Home

It’s also helpful to apply mastic to the back of the tile – this is called ‘back buttering’ – before firmly pushing the tile into place. Between each tile, I used 1/16” spacers to create a neat, consistent result.

using 1/16" spacers while setting tile | via Yellow Brick Home

It’s also important to leave a small gap between the countertop and first row of tile to allow for movement. (But don’t worry, this will be caulked later.)

allowing for a small gap where the tile meets the countertop | via Yellow Brick Home

Don’t forget: Always check level along the way to ensure your lines aren’t running up or down hill!

leveling tile as you go! | via Yellow Brick Home

Step 4 | Make your cuts on the wet saw

I promise you, using a wet saw is really fun! You’ll simply use your marker to show where you need to make cuts, and the wet saw will naturally wash away the ink.

cutting tile on a wet saw | via Yellow Brick Home

Here’s how a wet saw works: There is a water reservoir with a small pump that keeps the diamond-tipped blade wet when the saw is running. To make a cut, simply adjust any guides on the tray and push the tile through.

A note on tricky cuts around outlets: There’s no need to get nervous when tiling around outlets. Simply hold the tile up to the outlet, make your marks, and go slowly with the wet saw. When deciding where to make the cut, keep in mind that you’ll want the ‘ears’ of the outlet over the tile, but you’ll want the screw hole exposed where it fastens to the outlet box. 

Step 5 | Frame your work

In most cases, you’ll reach a point where you’ll need to decide how to cover any raw tile edges. In our case, we used marble pencil tile to create a frame along the top and edge. Some tile collections have bullnose options, or choosing a metal or contrasting pencil can create a little pop! Here’s a finished photo to illustrate the point:

detail of marble pencil tile | via Yellow Brick Home

Step 6 | It’s time to grout!

It’s best to wait at least 24 hours before grouting, so give yourself a break while you wait for the mastic to cure! Grouting goes quickly, and it helps if you have a friend who can offer a second set of hands. You’ll also want to have your float and 3 buckets ready:

  • 1 bucket is for mixing your grout
  • 2 buckets are for fresh water and sponges

Follow the mixing instructions on the back of the grout bag. You’ll know it’s ready once the grout looks like a whipped frosting consistency.

grouting a subway tile backsplash | via Yellow Brick Home

When grouting, first press the grout in, then use the edge of the float as a squeegee at a 45 degree angle to the grout lines. It’s going to look messy, but don’t panic. In just a few moments, you’ll start to see this tile shine!

In our case, I grouted while Scott was on water duty. He rotated out clean buckets of water (this is why it’s good to have 2 buckets – 1 for me, 1 being refilled with fresh water) while I sponged off the grout. The key is to remove as much water from the sponge as possible, and use the same 45 degree angle to swipe across the tile. After each swipe, turn the sponge over and use a clean side. Rinse, squeeze, and repeat. For the best results, start removing excess grout immediately after filling the grout lines.

wiping grout with a damp sponge | via Yellow Brick Home

Step 7 | Remove any grout haze

Grout haze can be stubborn if you don’t wipe it off soon after grouting. We wait about 45 minutes – 1 hour before removing haze. I’ve always found that a dry paper towel works wonders! A quick, gentle buff on each tile should do the trick.

Step 8 | Caulk + touch-up

For the final step – yes, the last step! – you’ll use caulk color-matched to your grout to fill along cabinet + wall edges, as well as the countertop gap. I also like to touch up any wall and/or cabinet paint so every edge is crispy, clean.

Note: You can paint over acrylic caulk, you cannot paint over silicone caulk. Use silicone caulk where the tile meets your countertop, and use acrylic caulk along any edges that need touch up paint (such as a wall or cabinet).

kitchen backsplash styled | via Yellow Brick Home
corner of kitchen styled with a ceramic tile backsplash. | via Yellow Brick Home
stools | vase | brass hardware

You can tile a backsplash, I know you can! It’s a great little trick to have up your sleeve. If you tackle your projects using this tutorial, we would love to see! Be sure to tag your posts with @yellowbrickhome and #YBHDIY!

Thank you for supporting the brands that support our small business. The Tile Shop is your one-stop shop for all things tile! For this project, we used Color Market Patagonia ceramic subway tile (it has a beautiful handmade look and matte finish) and unsanded grout in Antique White.

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  • Sabrina7.8.21 - 8:01 AM

    You make it look so easy! What if your wall is textured? Will the mastic fill in the gaps, or is there an additional step needed?ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.8.21 - 9:15 AM

      Hi Sabrina, great question! Mastic is very thick, and the back-buttering of the tile also adds some depth. If your walls are lightly textured, I would think you’d be fine to tile right over it – no problem! If someone with heavily textured walls wants to chime in, we’d love to know your thoughts!ReplyCancel

  • laura7.8.21 - 8:17 AM

    Sharing on the Weekend Edit. Great tutorial! Laura ReplyCancel

  • Sabrina7.8.21 - 8:48 AM

    You make it look so easy! What if your wall is textured? Will the mastic fill in the gaps, or is there another step needed to prep the surface?ReplyCancel

  • Julie Marquez7.8.21 - 9:58 AM

    I love the detail you did of extending the tile all the way down to the floor! We just did a tiling project and used the mastic with just back-buttering. We also used a rubber spatula to get the unsanded grout in all the small lines and it worked well. Your tile is such a soothing pretty color!ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.8.21 - 11:46 AM


      Also, whenever we have an opportunity to extend tile to the floor, we will. It feels much more luxe!ReplyCancel

  • Ashley7.8.21 - 11:09 AM

    This kitchen is looking like a million bucks! I love that you didn’t scrap the granite and brought it forward into a current, classic design. :) ReplyCancel

  • Erica7.8.21 - 11:38 AM

    Hi! Did you seal the grout? Do you have any recommendations on doing so and products you like? Thanks a bunch. ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.8.21 - 11:48 AM

      This type of grout doesn’t need to be sealed! The only grout we will go the extra mile to seal is floor tile, especially if it’s a lighter colored grout.ReplyCancel

  • Molly7.8.21 - 1:06 PM

    Thank you so much for the tutorial! When tiling he wall behind a stove, where there’s a gap in the counter, do you tile downwards at all lower than the countertops into the open space, or do you just stop at the same horizontal level of the counters? Your kitchen makeover is stunning!ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.8.21 - 2:12 PM

      I think that depends on your stove. If you can see beneath the line of the countertop, I would go down an extra row just to be safe!ReplyCancel

  • Kelli7.22.21 - 10:45 PM

    Hi Kim!   This tutorial came at just the right time as I am planning to tile our backsplash this weekend!  I was just wondering if you had to do any wall prep before using the mastic or is it fine to begin applying directly onto the painted wall?ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.23.21 - 3:19 PM

      You can start applying onto a painted wall!ReplyCancel

  • Erin10.22.21 - 11:12 AM

    Hi! Do you have any tips for cleanly grouting around outlets?ReplyCancel

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