Can Adhesive Tile Mats Replace Thinset Mortar?

White kitchen sink with decorative backsplash tiles

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What's the problem with the following weekend backsplash tiling project?

Starting Saturday morning, trowel wet mortar onto wall. Try to stick tiles to it (sometimes they slide). Add spacers. Wait two days–maybe even three days—for mortar to completely dry before grouting.

Give up? By the time you can grout, it's Sunday evening. Your weekend is over.

That describes the process of tiling a backsplash with conventional thinset mortar. Backsplash tiling shouldn't have to take a long time. But because thinset is loaded with water, and evaporation is part of thinset's curing process, you are at the mercy of the evaporation process. And it's not a process you can hurry up.

But a unique material called adhesive tile mat entirely removes thinset—and water—from the project.

  • 01 of 05

    What is Adhesive Tile Mat?

    SimpleMat 10 sq. ft. Tile Setting Mat

    HomeDepot.com

    Adhesive tile mat is an alternative to using thinset or tile adhesive to stick tile to the wall for backsplashes. This mat comes in rolls and is sticky on both sides. Unroll the mat, cut with scissors or utility knife, and remove the protective film from one side. Stick mat to the wall.  Remove the outer protective film. Stick tiles to the mat.

  • 02 of 05

    Brands

    Fitting kitchen wall tiles

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    There are three 3 predominant brands of adhesive mat.

    1. Bondera: Starting in 2009, W.R. Grace's Bondera was the first major tile mat to hit the consumer market. Originally available at 1,500 Lowe's stores, Bondera, a thin, gridded mat, has been dropped from the stores and is available only online.
    2. MusselBound: U.S.-made MusselBound is Lowe's current adhesive tile mat.
    3. SimpleMat: Produced by Custom Building Products and distributed through Home Depot stores, SimpleMat is a raised adhesive mat that allows you to press the tile in, much as you would do with mortar.
  • 03 of 05

    Advantages

    Laying ceramic wall tiles

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    • No Curing Time. You can grout immediately after the tiles are set. No waiting for thinset to dry, a process which can take 24-72 hours. The bigger the tile, the longer the curing time.
    • Reduced "Tile Slide". When sticking a tile to the wall with thinset, you have to contend with tiles sliding downward once you apply them. This is not an insurmountable task, but it is another complication. Tile mats are not wet, so slide is reduced but not eliminated.
    • No Race To Apply Tiles. The moment you trowel on thinset, you need to start laying tiles. Delaying means the possibility of the thinset "skinning over," in which case you need to scrape the thinset off and start again. Adhesive tile mats will not dry out, so you can take your time with setting tiles.
  • 04 of 05

    Costs Four Times More Than Thinset

    Installing red wall tile

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    All three brands cost roughly the same. 

    • Bondera: one foot x 10 feet (10 sq. ft) for $20. Price is $2 per square foot.
    • MusselBound: one foot x 15 feet (15 sq. ft.) for $27. Price is $1.80 per square foot.
    • SimpleMat: nine inches x 18 feet (10 sq. ft.) for $21. Price is $2.10 per square foot. Also available in nine-inch x 40-foot sizes.

    You definitely pay for the convenience of adhesive tile mats, as they cost 4 times as much as thinset mortar. Thinset cost is $0.44 per square foot. 

    This is based on the calculation that one gallon of SimpleSet Pre-Mixed Thin-Set Mortar at $22 per gallon covers as much as 50 square feet. This is the absolute maximum this product will cover, basing coverage on a V-trowel. 

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Limitations and Disadvantages

    Finishing installing red wall tile

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    All adhesive mats have built-in limits. Generally, tiles are limited to seven pounds per square foot or less. Large tiles (12" square or greater) cannot be used. Finally, while mesh-backed mosaics will work with tile mats, they are not the best material. Non-mesh tiles work better.

    While I would like to report that adhesive mats are a slam-dunk for backsplash tiling, nothing is perfect. The chief disadvantage is that some homeowners report tiles loosening and falling. As these incidents are self-reported, it is difficult to know if the mats and tiles were installed correctly in the first place.