Guide for Kitchen Tile Backsplash Removal and Installation

Removing tile is a lot easier than installing tile, but we’ll go over both here. You’ll get an overview of the work involved that will help you to do the job yourself or at very least discuss the work with a contractor.

backsplash installation

Removing Old Backsplashes

Your current backsplash might be fastened with glue, screws, mortar or a combination of them. The key is to minimize damage to the wall above the backsplash.

The drywall or board behind the backsplash will likely be replaced because it will probably be damaged removing the old backsplash and because the best base for tile is a cement board designed to adhere to tile mastic.

Some tilers will install a backsplash over drywall, since it doesn’t take a load the way a tile countertop or floor does. However, if you’re going to stick tile to drywall, the drywall must be primed first. A couple of coats of primer are best. They prevent the drywall from absorbing the tile adhesive and weakening the hold.

Before you start the demolition, turn off power to the outlets in the area of the backsplash.

These steps to removing backsplash will get the job done.

Step 1: Remove any outlet covers on the backsplash.

Step 2: With a utility knife, cut along the top of the old backsplash into the drywall about 1/8”. This will prevent the drywall paper above the cut line from tearing when you remove the old backsplash.

Step 3: Use a pry bar to loosen the old backsplash. It might be helpful to start inside an outlet. If you start at the top of the backsplash, be careful not to damage the drywall above it.

Step 4: Pry away the entire backsplash.

Note: It’s very difficult if not impossible to remove the old backsplash without ruining any drywall that might be behind it. No worries. Replacing the drywall is cheap and easy, and the tile contractor you select will likely prefer using cement backer board anyway.

Installing a Tile Backsplash

Many homeowners tell cautionary tales of DIY tile installation. It seems like it should be easy to get the tile rows straight, but it isn’t. If you attempt to do it yourself, buy extra tile. You might install a few rows and see they’re crooked. Removing them to start afresh might damage some of them. Have the attitude that “practice makes perfect,” and if you don’t ruin too many of them, you’ll still be money ahead over hiring a tile setter.

However, if you don’t have the time or patience for the work, there are tile contractors in your area that will do a fantastic job.

Here’s your tool and supply list for tile backsplash installation:

  • Cement backer board to hold the tile
  • Tape measure
  • Glue and screws to attach the board to wall studs
  • Drill or driver to install backer board screws
  • Construction glue for the backer board
  • Utility knife or hand saw to cut backer board
  • Level for keeping lines straight
  • Carpenter’s square to check
  • Snap chalk line to create a straight line to work off of
  • Straight edge to check if you’re keeping rows straight
  • Notched trowel to apply thinset to open spaces
  • Narrow trowel for applying thinset to tight spaces
  • Carbide-tip tile cutter for scoring tiles for cutting
  • Tile nipper to complete the cut of the tile
  • Disposable tile spacers to keep tiles the right distance apart
  • Thinset / tile adhesive
  • Grout – talk to the tile retailer about the right grout
  • Grout float to force grout between tiles
  • Silicone sponge for removing excess grout
  • Coarse dry sponge to remove grout residue

Step by Step Tile Backsplash Installation

Here is how it is done.

Step 1: Install the cement backer board by gluing and screwing it to the wall studs. Use the utility knife and hand saw to create holes for outlets.

Step 2: Apply glue to wall studs, and install the backer board. Install a screw every 18 inches to hold the board securely.

Step 3: Use the bubble level and chalk line to create a straight vertical line and a straight horizontal line above the countertop to serve as guides. Double check the lines with the level to make sure they’re perfectly vertical and horizontal. The horizontal line should be 1/8” above the countertop. Then, use the same method to create a grid.

Tip: Remember to take into account the height and width of the tile plus the width of the spaces between tiles. Grout lines vary from 1/16” to 1/4″, and 3/16” is a good standard to use. Generally, the larger the tiles are, the wider the grout line.

Step 4: Cover a section about 2’x2’ with the thinset mortar recommended by your tile retailer.

Step 5: Begin pressing tiles into the thinset. Rotate them slightly side to side as you press to assure good adhesion.

Step 6: Straighten each tile, and add a spacer to each corner to keep tiles a uniform distance apart. If you keep setting tiles straight and use spacers, you’ll get true, straight lines and a good-looking tile field.

Step 7: Add more thinset as needed, and continue installing the tile field.

Step 8: When you come to outlets, cabinets, walls or ceilings, measure the size tile you need. Score the tile with the carbide tip and use the nippers to snap it. Here’s where you might ruin a few tiles while getting the hang of it. That’s normal.

Step 9: When the tiles are installed, give the thinset 24 hours to harden before adding grout.

Step 10: Read the grout instructions carefully, and follow them! You’ll typically make small batches of grout that can be applied before it hardens.

Step 11: Remove the tile spacers.

Step 12: Apply a cup or so of grout to your grout float. Hold the float so that it faces upward at a 45-degree angle. Use it to force grout into the spaces between tiles. Push firmly without being too aggressive.

Step 13: After about 20 minutes to allow the grout to begin to harden, use the float and then a damp sponge to remove the excess from the surface of the tile. Again, don’t be so aggressive that you remove grout from between tiles.

Step 14: Mix and apply grout batches and remove excess grout until the entire tile field is grouted.

Step 15: Remove grout residue from tile surfaces with a dry sponge. After 48 hours, you can gently wash the tile and grout with water to give it a final cleaning.

Step 16: The tile grout must then be sealed to make it resistant to water and stains.

Tile Kitchen Backsplash FAQ

These are the common questions we receive about kitchen backsplash installation with tile.

How much do the tools and supplies cost to install a tile backsplash?

Expect to pay $150 to $250 for your tools and supplies depending on the quality of the tools you choose.

How much can be saved with DIY tile backsplash installation?

The range is from $5 per square foot if you hire a handyman for the work to $15psf for the best tile setters. An average is about $10 per square foot.

How long does it take to install a tile backsplash?

It takes a few hours to two days to install the tile, depending on how extensive the backsplash area is. Then, you’ll have to wait a day to install the grout. After a couple more days, you can give the backsplash a final cleanup. The larger the tile you use, the quicker the job goes.

What are mosaic tile backsplashes?

These are sections of backsplash made of small tiles already affixed to a mesh. The entire section is installed using thinset, and grout is then applied. The advantage is that you get a backsplash with very small tile without having to install each tile individually.

How long does a tile backsplash last?

If installed properly, a kitchen tile backsplashes will last for many decades. It’s likely you will want to update the kitchen long before the tile backsplashes deteriorates.

Related Content in this Series

View other guides in this series which you may find useful.