Introduction: Portable Backsplash for Renters

Picture of Portable Backsplash for Renters

Do you have vertical slat blinds, beige carpet, and white walls? Are you renting in a place with a significant chunk of your savings tied up in your security deposit? Do you watch HGTV and salivate over the kitchen remodels while steadfastly refusing to even glance at your own bland room that happens to have an oven in it because, let's be honest here, you hesitate to even call it a kitchen? Even my landlord, a man who is generally open to my DIY plumbing and electrical work, would balk at a kitchen project. But I think there are some folks out there who would love to add a dash of evanescent personality to their kitchen with an inexpensive and easy tile backsplash for the wall behind the stovetop or the sink.

Because the walls in my building are cinder blocks (fancy, huh?), it's a nightmare attaching anything to a wall, so I need my backsplash to be three things: First, it's gotta be a lean-to, because I can't glue or screw it to the wall; Second, it needs to be a close fit where it meets the hood so it blends into the kitchen without looking conspicuously like an add-on; Third, it needs to be easy (a problem solved by replacing thinset with Loctite Power Grab). Luckily, I noticed that my oven unit has several holes in the back where I managed to use some extra pegboard hangers (those little wire clips that hold tools) to support the completed backsplash. Those clips, plus the tight fit at the top and the inch or so of stove supporting the base, should hold the backsplash pretty nicely. If it starts to come away at the top, using some of that sticky 3M poster gunk should hold it in place without putting any holes in the wall or ripping off the paint.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the backsplash needs to look good. It needs to add panache to an otherwise ho-hum area of the wall. It needs to match with our hand towels and the generic tile floor, maybe serve as a visual transition from the beige carpet into a kitchen with a bit of color. It needs to shout Tuscan villa, mid-century modern, and cozy cottage all at the same time. It will serve as the beacon of originality in a The Giver-type dystopia of dullitude and blandification. Reasonable expectations, obviously. A philosophical framework to support you when the caulking gun starts to give your hand blisters and you realize that one of the tiles is obviously larger than the other ones. This is not just a fight for your kitchen, it is a fight for creativity against the blight of apathy and laziness, this is a fight for ALL the kitchens. So suck it up, buttercup, we're making a backsplash.

Step 1: Gather Materials

Picture of Gather Materials
Supplies: Tools:
  • caulk gun
  • retractable razor blade
  • metal ruler
  • measuring tape
  • pencil
  • margin float
  • dual-sided 3M sponge

*I initially wanted to mount my tile onto some concrete backerboard because it's water- and rot-proof. Turns out, that stuff is difficult to work with, a little messy, and doesn't look particularly good in this implementation. It's also way too heavy to be supported by my back-of-the-oven-clipping method. I figure that the stovetop location should be good to avoid any nastiness that the concrete board would have addressed, so MDF it is.

Step 2: Size Things Up

Picture of Size Things Up

Take an accurate measurement of the space where you want to put your backsplash. Because my area includes about an inch that would be covered by the top of the stove, I made sure to include that in my measurement.

Using the dimensions you got from your measurement on the wall, measure out your rectangle on the MDF. Draw or snap a straight line along your measurements, then carefully cut along the pencil line with the razor. Make your first cuts cleanly so you can easily run the blade along the gap as you make several passes. It'll take a few cuts to get the board to a point where you can break it off cleanly along your scored lines, so be patient. (I hurried on mine and ended up having to rasp off the jagged edge where the board failed to break cleanly.)

Now that you've cut out your section of MDF, rough up one side with some sandpaper so the Loctite has a surface to grab ahold of. While you've got the sandpaper, you can smooth out the edges of your MDF if you want to even it up a bit.

Step 3: Tesselate and Glue

Picture of Tesselate and Glue

Open up your tile and start laying it out on the board in the pattern you want. Because I didn't have a tile saw, I chose to avoid any pattern where I'd have to use half a tile, so classic brick-style was out. Herringbone didn't look right, and pairs of offset squares looked tacky. So I went with a straight grid pattern. Use the spacers to get a sense of what the tile will look like on the board, then start gluing each tile down with the caulking gun.

Working with the Power Grab should be like spraying EZ Cheez on a cracker, don't overdo it. The size of a dime on the back of each tile should be good, enough to stick it down nicely but not so much that it squeezes up the sides and interferes with the grout. You don't want white chunks polluting the sea of alabaster grout.

Use the 1/8" spacers around each tile so that every tile is equidistant from its neighbors. Your board will start to look like a tiny graveyard with all the crosses sticking up from between the tiles. After an hour or so, you can start to pull up the spacers gently without disrupting the positioning of your tiles. Once you're finished, take a break and do something fun. You're going to grout in 24 hours, so enjoy the downtime while the glue cures.

Step 4: Float Some Grout

Picture of Float Some Grout

Now that the tile is all laid out and stuck to the board, it's time to fill in the spaces between the tile with that pre-mixed grout. Have your float and a damp sponge ready, and make sure that enough time has elapsed since gluing.

To float on the grout, scoop some up with your margin float and spread it diagonally across the tiles while holding the float at a 45 degree angle. Once you've fully covered everything with grout, you can use the float at a 90 degree angle to clean up any extra grout that couldn't find a niche to occupy. When you're done, the cracks should all be evenly filled and there will be a grouty mess on the surfaces of the tiles. Now it's sponge time.

Using your damp (not wet) sponge, start gently wiping away the grout from the surface of your tiles. It might take several passes to get up all of the extra grout, so keep a bucket filled with water next to your work area or you will be making several journeys to the sink to rinse your sponge. When you're done, there might be a slight film over the top of your tiles. This is normal, and we can clean that off once the grout has had time to set properly.

Step 5: Touch Up

Picture of Touch Up

Now that everything has had a chance to dry, there might be some extra bits of schmutz along the edges of your tile or board not to mention the grout film that might still be on the tile faces.

For the edges where grout may have accumulated and dried, just scrape it off with your fingernails or a blade and use some sandpaper like an eraser to remove grout from areas where you don't want it. Because the left and right edges will be visible, I took some extra time to take off any grout that might pollute an otherwise gorgeous backsplash.

Using a damp sponge, you can get rid of the grout film on the tiles themselves. Just repeat the technique you used when you sponged off the grout the first time. Wipe it away with a damp sponge and you're done. (At this point, you could use a grout sealant to keep the grout protected from stains. I elected not to because I don't anticipate getting huge messes on my backsplash. If you're a big tomato sauce-splasher, maybe get some sealant just to be safe.)

Step 6: Mount

Picture of Mount

Now that we've done all of the hard parts, let's do something fun: Put up the backsplash! Yay!

Your method of attaching the backsplash to the wall may vary. For me, I am using those wire clips from my pegboard tool holder. Two of the 27 degree angled pieces hold the tile and board very nicely when hung from the holes in the back of the oven unit.

Pull the oven out a little ways to give yourself some room to work. Maybe do some cleaning as long as you're back there. Gently place the backsplash into the clips and lean it against the wall. Slowly push the oven back into place, and the backsplash should move neatly into position.

All done. Now invite some people over so they can look it. Don't tell them that's why they're coming over, though. Let them be surprised and delighted by your pretty pretty backsplash. So, anybody wanna come over to watch the NBA Playoffs? There will be refreshments strategically placed along the counter near the new kitchen addition. "Oh, you noticed? No big deal. It's a backsplash. It comes off."


Hestia Athena (author)2015-02-16

excellent idea about using the tile for a toe kick! My kitchen has no toe kicks, and te wood floor doesn't quite reach the edge. This might solve the problem stylishly!

mommywoman (author)2014-08-14

This was really helpful. Although I don't rent I've been wanting to make a tile board that will be on the small bland colored almond counter to add some interest. Even though mine will be temporary and set on the counter top this gave me some tips. My only addition will be something to cover the front piece, you know that skinny strip of formica on the front. I am thinking of eliminating that but that's what would help hold the tile countertop in place. Thanks for the tips on how to do this.

blackout drop (author)2014-06-09

So simple and smart! Gotta make my own

ccronkhite (author)2013-12-13

pretty cool idea. One suggestion, you don't have to settle for leaning it. I'm currently renting a house after owning one for that past five years.
I'm pretty sure our landlords wouldnt mind us putting nails in the wall but it's old plaster and honestly I don't trust it to hold most of our pictures.
We've been using the command velcro mounts to hang all our pictrues in the new place and I have to say they are pretty awesome.

ccronkhite (author)ccronkhite2013-12-13

Ya know, why settle for just a backsplash? You could use this to make 1ft square pieces to tile your bathroom. Or use it with beadboard and moulding to add some waincoting to your place. That would be an interesting look, cyderblock and waincoting :)

New decorating trend... Modular Remodeling

wilgubeast (author)ccronkhite2013-12-13

Remodule! Velcro mounts is a great idea, but the lean-to has held up for a coupla years at this point.

narchibald (author)2012-11-21

Love this idea, I wanted to do something like to the apartment I am living in but if I move I would not be able to take it with me, but now with this, I can!!!! Keep the great ideas coming!!!!  LOL, this is what I really meant to say!!!!

narchibald (author)2012-11-21

Love this idea, I wanted to do something like to the apartment I am living in but if I move I would be able to take it with me, but now with this, I can!!!! Keep the great ideas coming!!!!

kathynv (author)2012-11-17

Terrific idea. This is perfect for making mosaic items and putting them in places all over the house, not just as a portable backsplash. It's also great as a backspash when you're like me and have changing tastes. It will be easy for me to remove and replace the panel(s) when I choose something different. Thank you!

porcupinemamma (author)2012-04-01

Very clever!

taria (author)2011-10-30

I do love this idea, but with me my tastes change quite a bit and having just one thing set wouldn't work for me. so I do it a different way. I use the stone colored contact paper and cut squares and use them to look like fake tiles on the walls. it loos good and I can change them up when I want something different. but I do love this idea, don't get me wrong.

shayhurs (author)2011-06-23

I did a similar thing using furnace plenum.

To create an edge, I took some scrap aluminum screen window frame, framed the plenum piece, and then glued it to the wall behind the oven.

The Big Box stores wanted $250 for the equivalent and I spend about $30 max. Only challenge was finding a piece of plenum that was not too scratched up (You can buff minor scratches out.).

whisperonthewind (author)2011-06-20

After buying a hot glue gun/glue sticks and having my original purpose NOT be successful, I'm wondering if hot glue would work here? Might have to try it... although we're allowed to put holes in the wall in my complex, so many people have done so over the years, it's hard to find original wall where I want it!

I like the look though. You could match any color setup!

I imagine that hot glue could work, as long as it doesn't lose grip with heat applied to it. The area behind the stove occasionally gets a little warm. Once you've applied your grout and sealed everything up, everything should stay in place. Hot glue is definitely not recommended for a real tile project, but this one is temporary and non-structural.

ejf (author)2011-06-19

Great instructable - I've been looking to tile in my own place. BUT the tile can be high buck. where can we get good looking cheap tile??

tn. (author)ejf2011-06-21

oh - and of course, there's your local freecycle dot org.

tn. (author)ejf2011-06-21

another idea would be to check your local stone mason - the one near where i used to live had dumpsters full of broken slab in the back they allowed me to pick through. free marble, slate, black granite, and on one happy day, a nice piece of jasper measuring about 2" by 5"!

wenoel (author)ejf2011-06-19

Most tile stores throw out old or discontinued tile and they often allow people to dumpster dive and take them for free. It can give you enough for a small project but you'll have to be creative so it won't look like a hodgepodge.

lvstrvl (author)ejf2011-06-19

Check your area for a ReStore or a building materials recycling store they resell materials taken from demolition and remodeling projects. Usually contractors will donate new materials leftover from a project. I have seen some beautiful glass tiles at my stores.

amyclark (author)2011-06-19

1. What is MDF?? Maybe it's somewhere in the text, but I couldn't find it. (Maybe it's something most people know??)
2. Those little spacers--I think they are shaped that way so you can put one at the corner of 4 tiles, laid flat--but your way would make them way easier to take out, it seems like!
3. What I love about your instructable is it's great for anyone, renters or owners--it is daunting to think about putting up permanent tile when you don't know what it will look like. I think it would work in other areas also!!
4. It also seems like it would be easier to work on the MDF (whatever it is!) on a flat surface, rather than on a wall.
5. Great instructable--thanks!!!

tn. (author)amyclark2011-06-21

1 - already addressed, just adding: MDF is a non-structural (meaning, don't use it for anything bearing any significant amount of weight) made out of wood fibres and a whole lotta glue.

2 - you'd think that's how those spacers are to be use but - speaking from experience - they're a royal pita to get out. you have to dig in there and pry them loose and then your tiles get all knocked askew.

3 - agreed - a kickplate is a great use for this idea, methinks; a decorative bit put at the bottom of my door where all the boot prints are from kicking the door open while holding bags of garbage, laundry, or groceries and the dinks from ramming it open with the stroller.

4 - tiling is a funny thing. generally speaking, you want to construct it how it lies. you could - and again, from experience - spend ages getting everyting just perfectly "so" while having it lying flat only to find it's just not looking right once it's upright.

Animama (author)amyclark2011-06-19

MDF stands for medium density fiberboard.

I rented for 11 years, and I would have LOVED this. I might make one for my friends who rent. This is brilliant!

mandolinible (author)2011-06-21

This is really great; just what I need right now; wouldn't have thought of it in a million years! Thanks.

emilygraceking (author)2011-06-20

You have exactly described me in the first paragraph, and this project is so great! Any way to spruce up the drabbest of apartment kitchens is a win in my book.

BtheBike (author)2011-06-19

Sweet ible . i might settle for a linoleum patch tho myself . grease is dang near impossible to get out of grout .=/

jack8559 (author)BtheBike2011-06-19

If you use a good sealant and use several coats to make sure that the grout is really sealed the grease will wipe away as easily as if it were on a countertop.

pigsnfish (author)2011-06-19

Great idea, even for homeowners! We have this marvelous Arts and Crafts home that we got on a foreclosure. However, we can only afford to do minimal damage to our checking account. We've been very reluctant to pull of the BRIGHT RED tiles on the backsplash of our kitchen counter because we're afraid of the mess we'll find under it, and that if we did pull it all off, that might lead to the old, "Well, we replaced the backsplash for a couple hundred dollars, we might as well replace the entire kitchen cupboards and crappy vinyl flooring while we're at it." (And that, of course, leads us into "Gee, the kitchen looks great except for all these old appliances and dated table and chairs." I know myself too well.)

So now I'm going to see if a temporarily permanent backsplash could be put over the old one. I could even have my kids help with the tiling...they love to do stuff like that. I may end up with mosaic like structures mounted all over my house thanks to your instructable.

Great idea and superbly written descriptions.

gaprilday (author)2011-06-19

Oh my! I love reading your commentary as much as following the steps of the instructable. I think this is one of the best sites on the internet and you certainly have done your part to make it so. Excellent 'how-to' with superb directions. I especially like the bit about the caulking gun blisters and odd sized tiles. You have obviously done more of these projects and know just when we are likely to start tearing out clumps of hair. Nicely done.

destructopop (author)2011-06-19

Oh, this is lovely! I can't wait to try my hand at spicing up our kitchen with this... It really is a remarkably sad and bland place to spend so much of my days. Thanks for the great instructable!

porcupinemamma (author)2011-06-18

ditto candida :0)

puzka (author)2011-06-16

Ha ha, thought this was an instructable for a Bidet. We call these a splashback in Australia

lfb123 (author)2011-06-16

WONDERFUL! Love this-I am preparing to tackle my backsplash, but not until I have a nice vacation first. THANKS for sharing and inspiring!

YellerKitty (author)2011-06-16

Well you did it again ... this is stupendous! I no longer have to rent, but my son and daughter both do, and this is just GREAT! What a terrific way to add one's own personal touch to an otherwise 'ho-hum' setting. Brilliant, simply, jaw-droppingly brilliant. Nicely done!

P.S. For renters who have built-in cooktops, another option might be to use the same concept in a 'picture frame' type setting, and attaching it to the wall with a couple of those 'big ape' type hangers that don't leave a discernable hole in the wall.

iminthebathroom (author)2011-04-26

Now this is truly awesome, haing done the rental thin in the past, i know that is like, is there a 6th star option !!!

commiejay (author)2011-04-26

I had this same idea a few years ago but never had the chance to implement it.

canida (author)2011-04-26

Nice! Makes your kitchen look remarkably classy.

scoochmaroo (author)2011-04-26

This is really genius. And looks like a lot of work. Well done!

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm an English teacher and former Instructables staff member.
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