Adhesive Tile Mat Backsplash Review: Pros and Cons

Are adhesive tile mat backsplashes right for you?

Kitchen backsplash

 

djedzura / Getty Images

Installing ceramic tile on any vertical surface can be tricky, and backsplashes are no exception. Whether it is individual tiles or sheets of mosaic tiles, wall tiles are generally installed with the same thin-set adhesives used on floors and other horizontal surfaces. Vertical tile sometimes refuses to adhere to the wall long enough for the thin-set adhesive to dry, leading to no small amount of frustration for DIYers.

A possible solution to this problem is offered by self-adhesive tile mats, which are especially popular for backsplash applications behind countertops in kitchens and bathrooms. Adhesive mats are akin to large sheets of double-stick tape. Sold in rolls, the mats have adhesive applied to both sides, with peel-off paper protecting both surfaces. One side of the mat sticks to the wall, with the exposed side providing a surface for sticking the ceramic tiles in place. Adhesive mats are considerably more expensive than thin-set adhesive, and while they can be used for full-wall tile jobs it is more common to use them for limited applications, such as backsplashes.

In theory, this is an innovation that has many advantages—and in many cases it works as promised. But in practice, adhesive mats provide a less durable bond than traditional thin-set adhesives, and they are not a great choice for applying large tiles or for installing mesh-backed mosaic tile sheets, which tend to detach from the mats over time.

Pros
  • Easy tile installation

  • No adhesive cure time

  • Tiles don't slide

  • Leisurely installation

Cons
  • Tiles may loosen over time

  • Expensive

  • Limited holding power

Adhesive Tile Mat Cost

The convenience offered by adhesive tile mats come at a price, since they will cost you about four times what traditional thin-set adhesives cost. This is not an enormous sum when compared to the cost of the tile itself, but budget-conscious DIYers may want to consider this. Expect to pay about $2 to $3 per square foot for an adhesive tile mat.

Maintenance and Repair

Maintenance and repair of the tile itself is the same whether the tiles have been applied with thin-set adhesives or adhesive tile mats. Grout lines need to be kept sealed, and the joints may need to be periodically re-grouted. Re-grouting can be somewhat complicated because scraping out old grout can cause the tiles to loosen from the adhesive mat. If tiles come loose from the wall, the best strategy is to thoroughly clean the wall where the tile was located, then install a replacement tile, using either a small piece of new adhesive mat, or with traditional thin-set adhesive.

Design

Adhesive mats work adequately for many types of ceramic tile, but you are somewhat limited in your choice. Adhesive mats have a holding power of about 7 pounds per square foot, which means that large, heavy tiles are usually not practical. And adhesive mats do not work well with mesh-backed mosaic sheets; because so many great glass and porcelain tiles so popular for backsplashes are mosaics, this can greatly limit your design choices.

Adhesive Tile Mat Installation

The process for installing backsplash tile using adhesive tile mats is fairly straightforward. Unroll the adhesive mat and cut it to fit the backsplash space, using utility scissors or a utility knife. Remove the protective film from one side and stick the mat to the wall, pressing and smoothing the surface to achieve a good bond. Then, peel away the outer protective film and begin installing the tile.

The actual tile application is much the same as for thin-set adhesive installation, but with adhesive mats you don't have to hurry the installation due to fear that that thin-set adhesive will dry. Nor do you have to worry about tiles sliding on the walls; they generally stick exactly where you press them against the mat. As with any tile installation, you do need to use spacers to maintain uniform joints between tiles.

Grouting the tile is done exactly the same as for any other ceramic tile installation.

Adhesive tile mats are very well-suited for DIY installation. In fact, they are better suited for DIYers than for pros, who generally avoid this product due to concerns about call-backs to repair failed tile jobs.

Top Brands of Adhesive Tile Mat

The adhesive mats best suited for backsplash use will be labeled to indicate that they are waterproof. There are three well-known manufactures of adhesive tile mat:

  • Bondera: Starting in 2009, W.R. Grace's Bondera was the first major tile mat to hit the consumer market. It is available from online retailers, as well as Home Depot stores. Both 12- and 16-inch wide rolls are available, which are ideal for backsplash application.
  • MusselBound: U.S.-made MusselBound is Lowe's current adhesive tile mat. It is also available from online retailers. The product is sold in 12-inch-wide rolls.
  • SimpleMatProduced 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. SimpleMat is sold in 9-inch wide rolls.

Adhesive Tile Mats vs. Peel-and-Stick Tile Sheets

Another alternative for an easy tile backsplash installation is to use peel-and-stick mosaic tiles, which are now carried in dozens of styles at big-box home improvement centers, tile shops, and online retailers. Installation is similar to using adhesive mats, except in this case the self-adhesive mat material has been pre-attached to the mosaic sheets. While the selection with peel-and-stick tile sheets is more limited (with adhesive mats, you can use nearly any style of tile you want), peel-and-stick mosaic sheets are even easier to use. However, as with adhesive tile mats, some users report that peel-and-stick tile sheets can also loose their holding power over time.

Is an Adhesive Tile Mat Backsplash Right for You?

Creating a tile backsplash using adhesive tile mats is a recommended option for anyone who might have trouble installing ceramic tiles on vertical surfaces. This is an extremely easy method for installing backsplash tile, especially for novice DIYers. But be aware that this method is usually avoided by professionals, who prefer the more time-proven method of installing tile using thin-set adhesives.