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Does your kitchen have a tile (or at least easy-to-clean) backsplash? If you’re a messy … I mean somewhat over-enthusiastic cook who tends to spread the food love to your surroundings, a backsplash is a necessity—and you guessed it, my husband and I are just such cooks. I don’t even know how some of this stuff gets out of the prep bowl!
Our last abode lacked a proper backsplash—the laminate countertop had a slight 3- to 4-inch wrap but that was it. I can’t tell you how many times I had to touch up paint around the stove and sink after scouring off the latest flavor explosion. (By the way, chili is nearly impossible to remove once it has a chance to concrete to the wall. I’m not pointing fingers—just saying that dish is not one of my specialties.)
With this in mind, I was super excited to plan a backsplash for the kitchen. To save a few bucks and create continuity throughout the house, I chose white subway tile—the same stuff going in our bathroom shower. I found them on sale at a nearby tile store and stocked up. To set it apart from the other tile job, I selected a glass and marble mosaic for the trim, getting more than one strip per square—cha-ching!
I’d hoped to use the same double-sided adhesive backing that we used in the bathrooms and even went so far as to put it on the wall before discovering that the ceramic subway tiles would not properly adhere. Apparently, the adhesive works best with smaller tiles that come on mesh backing. So I peeled off the backing and went with the old-school method of using tile mastic.
With the help of a friend, we started on one end of the countertop, using the countertop as our guide and a level to ensure accuracy, working up and across. We staggered the tile so that the seams of the bottom row intersected the center of each tile on the next row. This meant we needed to maintain a stair-step pattern as we worked our way up to avoid sandwiching the tiles and creating a bigger mess with the mastic.
Here’s where my accent-tile brilliance paid off: The window casing would have required that we rip each and every tile that went beneath it for proper fit; however, we applied that measurement to the mosaic, trimming it (an easy job with scissors) so that we would need to do fewer cuts on the subway tiles. As we worked our way around to the area behind the stove where the tile would come all the way up to meet the range hood, we added another accent row and once again adjusted the number of mosaics to suit our needs. (I love it when a plan comes together!)
The double-sided adhesive enables you to grout immediately following install, but most mastic brands recommend a drying and curing time of at least 24 hours. Once we were sure the tile was set, we got pumped to grout. Talk about an arm workout! Pushing the grout in and across the seams with the grout float is only the beginning. You need a damp sponge (as in ring out as much water as possible between wipes) to wipe off the first layer of grout, which I do as I go. Then you’ll need to go back over at least two more times to remove the residue.
Don’t get crazy with wiping on the first application, as you could pull the grout back out or introduce too much moisture, therefore weakening the grout. I waited about 30 to 60 minutes before attempting the second rinse—still with as little water as possible—and a couple hours after that for another swabbing. Don’t be surprised if you see residue the next day—and be prepared to scrub to get it off. (There are specialty abrasive pads with handles that come in handy for this endeavor—we destroyed a few hapless sponges before stumbling upon this gem.)
Once you’re happy with the result, cook up a deliciously messy meal, give the backsplash a quick wipe and enjoy the view—I know I will.