How to Install a Tile Backsplash Easily and Quickly

April 01, 2021

The quickest and easiest way to install tile (no mortar needed!).

The tile project I'm sharing today is one of my favorites I've ever done -- first of all because it was SO easy, thanks to this awesome product, and because it is beautiful

I fell hard last year for the square, slightly shimmery tile called Zellige. Turns out it was very trendy a couple of years usual I'm way behind on the trends. (And I'm fine with that.) 

It has a wavy texture that makes it look handmade...and usually it is! The real stuff is VERY expensive, but I really wanted to use it for the small backsplash in our laundry/mud room:
ceramic square shimmer tile

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You can install in a straight stacked look like this for a more modern look, or in a brick pattern for a more traditional look.

The thing is, authentic Zellige tile is handmade from clay and has an imperfect look that I don't always love. Also, it's usually installed very close with small grout lines (which adds to the imperfect look).

 I've always preferred the more uniform versions I've seen, with a bit of contrast with the grout. 

I did some research and found this ceramic version pictured above that still has the handmade look, but is very affordable! Plus each tile is uniform and the same size, but still has the pretty details that I loved about the real stuff. 

It went into my cart! I was even more pleased in person -- they were so lovely!

I had a couple hiccups in this tile process along the way (I told you this room has given me one problem after another), because I didn't order enough at first. I had to wait on backorders and then the second shipment was much shinier than the first. I was able to pick and choose out of the boxes to find some that matched better.

You may be able to avoid this by buying all you need at once so they are from the same lot!

But overall the install process was a breeze! I used a non-mortar install product that makes the tile installation SUPER quick and mess-free.

Before you start tiling, figure out the middle of the area you'll be working on. Since ours was the backsplash, I marked the middle and centered a tile on that: 
Centering tile before install

I then lined up the tiles each direction to make sure I wasn't going to have any tiny slivers at the ends. 

When I was sure of my layout, I pulled out the item that made the process go so quickly. It's a tile setting mat that you use instead of mortar: 

Easy way to install tile no mortar

Funny thing is, I got these adhesive mats as a gift YEARS ago...I'm talking probably ten years back. I didn't have any need for them then, and tucked them away in the garage where they sat. I forgot about them till we moved. 

I wasn't sure if they'd even still work, but I kept the mats hoping to try them one day. 

Thankfully they worked SO well and were crazy easy to use! They have a sticky back that you attach to the wall, and a strong adhesive that grips the tiles on the front. 

Simply stick the mat on the wall, and when you're ready, peel the paper off the sticky front: 
Using tile setting mat for installing tile

I used one and a half packages for the whole project. I'm really impressed with this product. 

I love that this mat makes it easier to work in sections. You can stick the mat to the wall and walk away from the project at any point. 

Your tile should include details that will help you determine what size tile spacers and grout joint size you'll need to use. This one suggested 1/16" grout lines. I thought about not using spacers at all, but decided in the end to use the them for a more uniform look. 

My countertop was level, but I made sure to check the tile as I was going to make sure it was level as well: 
Checking tile for level

I wanted a more traditional look, so I did a brick pattern -- this is also a bit more forgiving in my opinion. 

You have to be pretty meticulous so the lines match up perfectly with a straight stack tile layout:  
Brick pattern square tile

If you have outlets or switches to work around, you'll need to turn the power off at the breaker and take your outlet cover off to work around them:
Tile setting mat instead of mortar

Hold your tile mat up and trace where you'll need to cut before sticking it on the wall. You can use a utility knife or scissors to cut the mats. 

The mat is VERY sticky, but you can remove tile and rearrange it at first if needed. I'm not sure how that would work after it's been stuck for awhile. 

I've always used a wet saw when cutting tile, but because these were so small (and it was COLD in the garage the day I was installing), I went with a tile cutter instead. 

It is SO easy to use! You just line up your tile where the cut needs to be: 
Cutting tile with tile cutter

Then you roll the diamond blade along the tile with some pressure to score it. Make sure your pressure is consistent from start to finish. 

Just push down and it snaps the tile in a clean line: 
How to use tile cutter

It works so well and super fast. You can use these for larger tiles too -- just make sure the cutter you get will work for your tile. 

The only issue I had was cutting smaller slivers of tile. I found that if I scored it with the same pressure from the bottom to top, I could get pretty small cuts. 

Always order about 10 percent more tile than you'll need! 

My issue with not using the wet saw was cutting around outlets. With a tile saw you can tilt the tile toward the blade for complex cuts. There are other ways to do it too -- I was about to run out and buy a diamond blade for my Dremel tool when I noticed something as I was cutting with the tile cutter...

I realized the two pieces can be matched up perfectly after being cut. I got an idea -- I measured where I needed to cut for the outlet, then used the tile cutter to make those.

Then I used some Gorilla Glue, matched them back up and clamped them together for at least an hour: 
cut tile around outlet with no saw

It worked! I wasn't sure it would hold and was pleasantly surprised. 

It even worked when I had to cut the tile into three parts to work around an outlet: 
How to cut tile around outlet without saw

I did baby them a bit as I installed -- making sure not to push to hard. But they look great and you would never be able to tell that I cut them apart! That may help you as well if you don't have access to a wet saw.

Another great thing about using the tile setting mats is you can grout immediately, unlike mortar. I used this premixed, sanded grout to finish up this tile backsplash: 
Pre mixed cream grout

Make sure to protect your surfaces before starting! 

I LOVE these pre-taped plastic sheets for projects like this -- you stick the painter's tape on and then pull the plastic out. It sticks to any surface easily: 
Shiny square wavy tile

Mortar and grout aren't the most fun to install on a vertical surface -- you'll lose a lot to the floor or counter.  

I didn't have a grout float (mine was a mess and I had tossed it months ago) so I just used a plastic putty knife -- and I think it was even easier to use:
Grouting tile with putty trowel

Grouting isn't really hard -- just smush it in there. Fifteen to 30 minutes after, use a large damp sponge and a bucket of water and start wiping excess grout off the tile. 

If there are any spots you missed, you can usually move the it around and fill in with the grout sponge. 

You'll need to use clean water and wipe a few more times with the sponge to get any grout haze off of the tile. Grout will lighten as it dries, so don't freak out if it doesn't look right at first! 

If you are tiling a floor or a backsplash where that will get wear and tear, you'll want to use a grout sealer afterwards so it doesn't stain.

Not too bad right? The install went pretty quickly! 

To finish up that part of the wall, I made some quick "floating" shelves to hang between the cabinets: 
building a floating shelf

I used scrap luan and wood and then nailed them in from inside the cabinets. A little piece of trim across the front finished them off: 
floating shelves between cabinets

This tile is SO pretty!! It comes in cream, white, blue, gray and black. All are beautiful. 

I went with cream for many reasons, but mostly because our upper cabinets are not pure white. I worried the white tile would look off against them. 

I love the warmth of the cream tile and the contrast with the dark blue paint on the cabinets
tiling down wall by cabinets

By the way, if you have an outlet in an odd spot -- take your tile down the wall! It flows so much better than ending it awkwardly on the wall around an outlet. 

I LOVE this room!:
Laundry room with cream tile blue cabinets

Now it's time to address the area above the cabinets. That's for another day because this post is already crazy long! :) 

Here's where I started with this area: 
Folding table before

And this is how it looked with everything up to this point!: 
Dark blue cabinets, wood counter, cream shiny tile

If you've missed any of the projects so far, you can catch up here:
Butcher block countertop and where to get it.
The final mud and laundry combo reveal.

Here are the items I used for this DIY tile project: 
Tile setting mat instead of mortar 

wood plank backsplash

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  1. Fan-friggin'-tastic! My recent backsplash project used marble tiles which can't be cut with a tile cutter. That was a bummer. This looks great and makes me think my next project should use tiles that can be cut this way. The whole space came together beautifully!

  2. WOW! This is amazing. Easy to see why you love and are excited about it. You are sooooo talented!!!

  3. You shared many GAME CHANGERS in this post! Thank you!

  4. Looks great! You tiled down the left side of the cabinets. Did you tile to the top of the upper cabinets, too?
    By the way, where do you store your coats and jackets? - since your closet has cleaning and pet supplies. :)

  5. Wow! That's in your top 2% of best projects IMO, Sarah. Absolutely love it.

  6. That tile is stunning - reminds me of Mother of Pearl!

  7. It looks stunning! Love the tile against the blue.. hearts.
    I have the MOST amazing grout hack that I learned from my father. After the initial wipe and clean up, let the haze dry and then get BURLAP. Scub the tile with the burlap and it removes All haze and even polishes the tile. It is the single most brilliant hack I've learned over the years. Good Luck!! Hope you try it on your next tile project!

  8. This tile is exactly what I have been looking for to put above our kitchen sink. My husband and I have never tiled before but we are going to try your method. Thank you so much for posting this and all of the supplies and tutorial. It looks beautiful! Great Job!

  9. This turned out so amazing!! I have the same time and want to use the extra for my kitchen backsplash so this helped tremendously!


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