DIY Wall Tile Installation

Boise Jet Black 3x12 Ceramic Tile

Get The Look: Boise Jet Black 3x12 Ceramic Tile

Wall tile is a fantastic way to add visual interest to any room. Whether you’re putting up a backsplash or an accent wall, it’s important to install your wall tile correctly–and in today’s blog post, we’ll walk you through the process step-by-step.

What Sets Wall Tile Apart from Floor Tile?

You might be wondering if there’s really a difference between wall tile and floor tile. The main differentiator between the two is their thickness.

Floor tile has to be thick because it needs to stand up to the weight of foot traffic, furniture, appliances, and other items. Meanwhile, wall tile can be much thinner and more lightweight. In most cases, you can also use floor tile as wall tile, although if it is thicker, you may need to take extra steps to reinforce it.

Considering you’ll be attaching tile to the wall vertically rather than installing it horizontally on the floor, it’s important to get it right so that the tile stays firmly in place.

As always, be sure to buy at least 10% more tile than you think you need for the project at hand. This will ensure that you’re covered if you run into any tiles that have broken during shipping, and it’ll also give you some leeway for waste and future repairs.

Step 1: Install Cement Board

Plaster wall 

It’s technically possible to install wall tile on top of plaster or drywall, but the best way to install it is over cement board (also called backer board).

This is especially true if you’re installing wall tile in a room that gets wet, like the bathroom or kitchen. While cement board isn’t technically waterproof, it doesn’t break down like plaster and drywall do when they get wet.

To install cement board, start by planning out the placement. Then, apply thin-set mortar, lay your sheets of cement board, secure them with screws, and fill the joints with mortar.

Next, cover the mortared joints with fiberglass tape, apply another layer of mortar, and let it set for 24 to 48 hours.

Once you’ve installed your cement board, you’ll need to make sure that it’s flat, dry, clean, and smooth for the best results.

Step 2: Prepare the Area

You’re almost ready to jump into tile installation, but first, it’s important to protect any nearby surfaces, such as counters, floors, and fixtures. You can use builder’s paper and painter’s tape to do this.

Step 3: Plan Tile Placement

Tape measure 

With wall tile, you’ll want to avoid any thin pieces of cut tile located on the top, bottom, and sides of the wall. Take some time to plan the layout of your tiles and create layout lines. These will guide you as you install the tile; you’ll begin in the center of the wall and work your way out.

The tile should go on the most visible wall in the room. With a tape measure, determine the wall’s vertical and horizontal center point.

From this point, use a level to create intersecting horizontal and vertical layout lines that stretch from side to side and from floor to ceiling. Grab a tile and use it to further mark the lines, showing where each tile will go. Don’t forget to account for grout lines!

If there are many areas that will require thin slices of tile, you can move your starting point as needed. You may also wish to test-fit a full column and row along the lines you’ve created to see how everything fits together.

Step 4: Apply Adhesive


If your tile is going in a dry location, like a bedroom or living room, then premixed mastic adhesive is a good choice. For locations that are prone to more moisture, like the bathroom and kitchen, it’s better to go with cement-based thinset adhesive.

Mix your adhesive according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and then begin to apply it with the flat side of a trowel, starting at the center point.

Work in one small section at a time, as your adhesive will dry relatively quickly. As a general rule, only cover a section of the wall that you will be able to tile in less than a half hour.

Once you’ve applied the adhesive with a trowel, use the notched side to comb over it at a 45-degree angle, creating ridges. You should still be able to see the wall’s surface and your layout lines in the ridges.

Step 5: Lay the Tile

Man installing tile 

Position your first tile at the marked center point, being sure to align it perfectly with the vertical and horizontal lines you’ve created.

Firmly press the tile into the adhesive, twisting it slightly to embed it into the adhesive. This will cause the adhesive to flatten and fill the spaces where the trowel created ridges.

Once your first tile is in place, continue to lay tiles along your first horizontal row. Make sure to use plastic spacers to leave room for uniform grout lines. Only install your full-width tiles; if you have any smaller ones that will require cutting at the end of the row, skip them for now.

After completing the first row, use a level to check it. If it’s level, go ahead and start your next row. As you complete sections, use a rubber mallet and a short block of wood to lightly tap the tiled surface and set the adhesive.

Repeat the process until you’ve placed all of the full-width tiles.

Step 6: Remove Excess Adhesive


Wipe the faces of the tiles with a damp cloth or sponge to remove any adhesive. Do this as soon as possible, because it’s easy to remove adhesive when it’s still wet, but once it dries, it will be much more of a challenge.

Scrape away any excess adhesive on the untiled part of the wall to keep it from hardening as you cut the remaining tiles to size.

Take a close look at your grout lines to see if they’re filled with adhesive. If so, use a small screwdriver to clear the grout lines.

Step 7: Cut and Install the Remaining Tiles

Use a wet saw, manual snap cutter, or tile nipper to cut the partial tiles that will go on the sides or top and bottom of the wall.

It’s best to use a wet saw if you have thick tile, porcelain tile, or natural stone tile, or if you have a lot of tiles to cut. Always wear eye protection when cutting tile.

Rather than applying adhesive to the wall for these final tiles, butter the backs of the tiles. Then, score the adhesive using the notched side of a trowel, and push each tile into place. Always use plastic spacers.

Step 8: Apply Grout

White backsplash with light gray grout 

Inspect all of your grout lines for excess adhesive and scrape it out if necessary. Wait for 24 to 72 hours before you grout the tile so that your adhesive can fully dry.

You can remove the tile spacers if you’d like (be sure to do so before the adhesive has dried), but check the grout manufacturer’s instructions. Some types of grout can be applied on top of the spacers if they’re pushed all the way into the joints.

You’ll typically want to use non-sanded grout for lines ⅛” or smaller, or use sanded grout for joints larger than ⅛”. Apply your grout with a rubber float at a sharp angle, following the manufacturer’s instructions, and clean the excess grout from the faces of the tiles.

Once the grout dries, use a slightly damp sponge to remove the haze from the tiles. This may take several rounds of wiping with a sponge to remove completely.

Once your grout has cured, apply a sealer if needed.

Use 100% silicone caulk to fill empty gaps along floors, countertops, tubs, and shower bases.

Choose the Perfect Wall Tile at!

If you’re in search of the ideal tile for your next home renovation, be sure to click over to Our massive selection has tiles in every shape, size, color, and pattern made from ceramic, porcelain, glass, and natural stone. Click here to view all of the products we offer, or check out our blog for more DIY tips and design inspiration.

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