Today, I’ll lay out my first DIY backsplash tile job to show you how easy it can be to do yourself! While you do need some special tools to accomplish the job, you can complete this project without prior experience and still have a great end result (if I don’t say so myself!). Lets get started!
Materials You’ll Need For a Subway Tile Backsplash Install:
- We used a whisper white subway tile backsplash
- Tape measure
- Framing square
- Marking pencil or Sharpie
- Drill and mixing paddle
- Spray bottle
- Tile trowel (Click here to see the size you should use for your tile)
- Sponges (for grout)
- Spacers – We used 1/8 size
- Mortar – I like premixed
- Grout – (Click here to learn if you will need sanded or un-sanded) We used Montana Grey from North American Adhesive found at Builders Surplus
- Carpenter’s triangle
- Safety glasses
- Manual tile cutter (depending on type of tile)
- Wet tile saw (depending on type of tile – click to see how to use) – This is what we used.
Now, I’ll assume you’ve measured your space and have the appropriate number of tile for your square footage. If not, you need to measure the length x width and multiply the two together. This will give you your square footage.
Your first step is to make sure that you have a level line to start with. While you may assume that starting on the ledge of the countertops and going straight across is the best way to go, you may find yourself with rows that are crooked, due to a floor or cabinets that are not level. After using the level on my countertops, I saw that they were level, but here is what you can do if yours aren’t. In the event that you cant follow the line of the countertops, you’ll want to measure the height of half of your tile, which in our case is 1.5″ since our subway tile is 3″ in height. Now, use your level to make a line all the way across. This will give you an even line to follow. You can either build a small wooden ledge on that line to ensure that your tiles don’t slip, or you can make a point to check that they’re not sliding as you work, and adjust them if they are. When your wall is tiled to the top of your space, you’ll then go back and make cuts for this last half row on the bottom, next to your countertop. If you have a slight angle, that is something you can cut into the tile if needed. This way, the bottom of the tile may be angled ever so slightly on the edge of the countertop, but the row itself will be straight.
Time to Tile:
Now, it was time to tile. Because my tile was level, I started in the left and moved to the right. Some people may tell you to do it in sections instead of row by row, but I found this way to be fairly easy. My husband, who does have tiling experience, was not home when I decided to tackle this project, and since I was not experienced with a tile saw, I found a solution. I decided to leave all my cuts for the end of my project, which may or may not have been the best way to do it, but it turned out fine in the end and made it easy for me! Here was the space prior to backsplash. We have two other areas of splash but I will just focus on how we did this wall, as the others were more simple versions of this wall. My first step was to lay a layer of premixed tile mastic on the wall. I did it to right above the outlet because I didn’t want it to dry before I could tile it. I started with my first tile, added my spacer to the right, and continued until the first row was done. The most important thing you can do with any tile job is butter the back. This makes the bond strong and makes sure you won’t have loose tiles. All you do is spread a thin coat of mastic on the back of your tile before sticking it to the wall. For my second row, I started it in the middle of the first tile on the bottom row. Because I was not making any cuts, I just placed that tile and did my row. I would cut that piece later. After stepping back and looking at my first two rows, I noticed that I had a few tiles that I needed to adjust for my second row to be perfectly straight. This was very important I found, because what looks straight up close may not actually be. Things can be tilted and still technically line up with the tiles that follow. Every few rows, step back to check your work. I kept going until I hit the outlet. When I got the the outlet, I came as close as I could. I then measured the space and included the space for my tile spacers on either side of the tile. I make a mark and I skipped over that area. I would do it later when I made all my cuts. I did make sure to clear off the mastic because if it dried that way, I wouldn’t be able to get my tile even when I went back to lay it. I continued this way until I hit the top. I left spaces on either side of my row where cuts would need to go. When all the non cut pieces were complete, we wanted to make cuts all at one time, so we measured all the spots at once. Then, I wrote down all of the numbers on a piece of paper, and measured each one, writing it down as I went, making sure I left room for my spacers. When cutting, its always best to cut it a little long than short. You can always trim it down if needed. We then made our cuts (I actually learned how to use the tile saw!) and we went to work placing each piece in it’s designated slot. Luckily, it worked out perfectly for us! While it may not have been perfect, I was very proud of my first time doing a tile backsplash. Make sure that you remember to get bullnose tile for your edges. This will be a smooth curve to end your tile at the corners which will look much better than the regular edge of a tile. You can get them with the curve on the long edge or the short edge. We chose long edge and cut them like this (shown below).
Grouting your Backsplash:
When grouting backsplash tile, decide if you’re using premixed grout or you’re mixing it yourself. If you are mixing yourself, make sure you only mix enough that you can use in a 1-2 hr time period. I mixed half my bag, then the other half. I used Montana Grey to give my bright white subway tile the extra pop I was looking for. Remove tile spacers and make sure that your tile surface is thoroughly cleaned. If you have mastic on your tile faces like I did, get a bucket of very hot water and a sponge, soft bristled scrub brush, or wash cloth. The hot water takes it off fairly quickly.
After you mix (directions will be on the grout), make sure you have a bucket of clean water and a grout sponge ready. Spread grout on the tile surface, use a rubber grout float or a squeegee to force it down into the joints. I used an un-sanded grout from North American Adhesive because of the size of my tile and grout lines (see link above to determine yours).
Tilt the float at a 45-degree angle and with the edge of the float, remove the excess grout from the surface immediately. Now tilt the float at a 90-degree angle and scrape it diagonally across the tiles. After you’ve done an area, use your wet sponge and wipe the surface clean. See if any areas need extra grout. Rinse out sponge and repeat. Change water as needed. Continue this process until your tile is grouted. There may be some areas that you need to use a finger to get the grout in, like around tight corners.
Polish with a soft cloth when the grout has dried and a haze forms on the tile surface. Rinse again with sponge and clean water if necessary. Give your newly grouted a good look and yourself a pat on the back for a job well done!
I still need to give it one last scrub down. Some of the areas have a bit of extra grout on the tile, but it should come right off with hot water and a sponge. I hope this helps you in your own DIY backsplash journey and I can’t wait to hear about how it turns out! Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Builders Surplus is a full service renovation company with locations in Louisville, Kentucky, and Newport, Kentucky, which also serves Cincinnati, Ohio. We are one of the leading providers of ceramic, porcelain, and large format tiles in Louisville, Newport, and Cincinnati. We specialize in interior design, kitchen design, bathroom remodel, building materials, and home improvement. Interior Design and measurements come as a free service to our clients. We sell building materials ranging in every price point, from unfinished kitchen cabinets to top of the line Wellborn cabinets. In addition to interior design, we also offer installation services. If you have any questions or would like to set up a free design consultation with one of our interior designers, we would encourage you to do so. We love sharing our knowledge with clients & potential home renovators. We write about interior design, home decor, decorating ideas, and home improvement. We hope you’ll check back in for our next article! Happy Renovation!