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Can I dry stack kitchen backspash? (see photo)

Meg Weitz
January 10, 2019
last modified: January 10, 2019

Hi, I am looking for advice on a tiling technique for my kitchen backsplash. Is it a bad idea to vertically dry stack 2x6 subway tiles for my backsplash? (using just mortar and no grout in a herringbone pattern). Attached is an image of what I mean but in a bathroom. I am aware that there is the issue of splashing liquid going in to the spaces between the tiles when cooking. But, since I am not that in to cooking I was wondering if I could get away with it since I love the look? Any other reasons why it may not be best? TIA!



Comments (32)
  • PRO
    JAN MOYER

    What would be the point? It's tile, and it is best used with grout : ) Whether or not you think you will cook. Call it the blender of miniscule imperfections...............

  • Meg Weitz

    I know its best used with grout. I just loved the look of the zellige tile with no space or grout in between. I thought it was unique and fresh. But, understand that it may not be realistic!

  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    technically you could. these tiles are irregular, so you may get larger gaps. I don't see it being an issue w/a backsplash. you can always grout it later on if you think it would work better.

    (I love the Zellige too)

  • Meg Weitz

    That is music to my ears! Thank you!

  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    Meg, found a few examples. with and without grout

  • eam44

    So who’s going to scrape the edges of the tiles when the gaps fill with crud (dust, oil, crumbs, blender accident, ants)? Who’s going to clean the tiles, because if there’s no grout, you cannot wash them, and you don’t have one contiguous surface, you have uneven edges. Just think about that for a minute, you’re going to install tiles that you cannot wash (because water in the gaps will degrade the mortar). In a kitchen. Who’s going to rip out that tile when you realize no one wants to buy the house from you because you didn’t bother to grout the kitchen tile? If the answers are all you, and you’re fine with that, hey, it’s your house. If you’re thinking you can always grout it later, keep in mind that you will have to meticulously clean each tile edge and gap before you grout or the grout will not adhere. And you can’t use water...

    Beth H gave you three images. The middle one is grouted, believe it or not. The grout has been applied minimally, and there is also shrink back. It is also the same color as the tile. If you can live with that look I think that would be your most hygienic option. Save the image, and discuss this in advance with your tile guy.

  • missenigma

    @eam44 - All excellent points. I also scratch my head when people install all manner of high maintenance materials that are susceptible to staining for something who's primary purpose is utilitarian.

  • Fori

    I don't see a problem.

    I might want something else behind the cooktop, though. That area needs to be degreased once a year or so.

  • Hillside House

    I have my order of zellige tiles stacked in my workshop, just waiting to install in the kitchen. Like you, I LOVE the look of the dry stack, and am still considering installing it that way.

    The fronts are glazed, so the tiles can absolutely be cleaned. The issue I see would be where the edges are, and if dust/grime accumulated there. I think that, at this point, my husband and I are both leaning heavily to the dry stack.

    (We did install this in November in a bathroom shower, and we grouted there. It is gorgeous either way.)

    Yes, a kitchen is utilitarian, but we also live there. Unless any of the previous posters have a commercial-style kitchen that is all stainless steel, concrete floors, and open shelving, there’s not really room to talk. Wood cabinets are “high maintenance,” as are wood floors, and glass pendants, and marble countertops, and curtains, and even glass windows. They all require cleaning with certain products, and in certain ways, but they are the “acceptable” ones that everyone has, and they fit the social norms.

    For the record, my kitchen has had white painted drywall for over a year. I *maybe* have wiped it down once or twice. If that. And I have four messy kids who all cook and bake in my kitchen, so it’s not like it not being used. I’m not sure what people are doing in their kitchens that they must scrub backsplashes liberally with water, but it’s not that way for every house.

    I make design choices based on what I want, not what some random person may want down the road.

  • Hillside House

    I did mean to mention that this tile is so irregular in thickness, that, even with grouting, there are ridges and edges. There is also pitting, which could potentially collect grime.

    So, I’m not sure that grouting will necessarily make that significant of a difference.

  • tatts

    No, you CANNOT "grout it later on if you think it would work better. "

    Some of the joints will be so small that you cannot force grout in them at all.

    Some will be small enough that you might get a little bit in, but not enough to make a lasting seal nor get a grip on the sides of the tiles. The grout will fall out as it sets or afterward.

    Some of the tiles will abut others that aren't the same height.

    Most of the open joints will have accumulated a coating of grease and dust that will prevent the grout from bonding.

    There is a reason tile like this is grouted. Pay attention to it.

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    My wooden cabinets clean just fine with mild soap and water and after 20 years still look essentially new, so I don't see that as an apt comparison. I am the last person in the world that would be accused of maintaining a sterile kitchen, but what will you do when tomato sauce splashes up onto a crack? Or oil? Messy liquids will seep into ungrouted cracks, and that will in turn attract pests. I just can't imagine . . . ish! And with that rough a surface, what will you use to wipe it down? I have tiles which have a small amount of sand-like substance in the glaze, and it shreds most cleaning implements. I am with eam44 on this one. Yours is a somewhat impractical choice if grouted and will be disgusting within a few years without.

  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    oh brother. Tatts, come on. I didn't mean to say later as in 10 yrs from now. As for all that 'grease', it's a home kitchen, not a diner. I hardly think a month or two down the road is going to make a difference.

    Depending on how irregular the tiles are and how close they set them, will determine if unsanded grout can be added. even if you only get the larger, visible gaps, she could still do it. you can force the unsanded grout in gaps as little as 1/32". Completely doable.

    As for cleaning, you can use a damp cloth and something like Dawn to clean off the fronts of the tile without 'compromising' the mortar. (never heard such a thing anyway. it's a backsplash, not a shower). you could also use a soft toothbrush to get any grime out of the corners or joints.

    It will be fine. you all must be some messy a*& cooks if you're worried about that much grease/grime. I wipe down my splash area every time after I cook so there is no build-up.

    NHbabs...they aren't a rough surface. they're glossy smooth, and these are about as big as most of the gaps will be. Unless she actually throws grease on these tiles or pours tomato sauce in the joints, they will be just fine.

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    "Pitting, ridges, and irregular" edges doesn't make for a glossy smooth surface, even if the glaze is smooth. I was just working from info posted by someone who has the tiles.

  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    The glaze is smooth, not rough. if they're that pitted, you can coat the surface w/a sealer and buff off. it will take care of any pits or crazing fissures. I have many samples of these tiles so I know what they look like.

    this is the 'pitting'. the tiny pin-points left from firing. topical sealer will take care of it

    she wanted the Zellige which are on the left. The glazed bricks on the right have more of the pitting. as stated, a sealer will take care of it

  • eam44

    Gosh, Beth, you wipe down your tiles every time you cook - good for you! Imagine doing it on an irregular surface with open edges. It’ll take the OP forever just to do that. And remember, the fronts of the tiles are glazed, the rest is not, so anything that splashes onto the rough part of an edge is going to stay there. You are correct, it is a bs not a shower, which means it’s going to be mounted on drywall not cement backer board. Drywall disintegrates if you get it wet enough. Clearly, I think this is a terrible idea, and I wanted to let the OP know why - but it’s not my house. Whatever she chooses to do, I hope she loves it and that she posts images for us all to enjoy.

  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    eam, the joints aren't going to be that wide. good lord. The tiles are set in the thinnest which covers the majority of the drywall. Unless she uses a garden hose for cleaning, a few wayward drops of water during cleaning isn't going to be enough to saturate the underlying surface. Heck, if that's an issue, she can apply Redgard on the drywall and make it waterproof. not a big deal.

    As for splashing, just how messy are you? I've never 'splashed' , even while cooking my huge pot of Italian sauce.

    Ok, why don't we let the OP decide what she wants to. She's armed w/the info, let her pick. Maybe she doesn't cook that often! Maybe she will decide to do 'half' grout, where it's just enough to seal off the joints. Maybe once she sets her tile, it will be flat and butt-jointed enough that she can get away w/o grouting.

    Whatever she chooses, i'm sure this tile won't be the death of her kitchen.

    Next dilemma?

    Meg Weitz thanked Beth H. :
  • eam44

    Beth, I know it can get confusing, but thinset mortar isn’t waterproof. As for the rest, you claim to wipe down your bs daily but you never splash. Good for you. This isn’t about you. We get it, you want to encourage. Repeatedly. I’m sure you mean well, but the OP should really pursue this further with a tile pro.

  • cleo07

    For the OP, my sister has had dry stack tîles for at least 20 years in her 250 year old house. Everything is perfectly fine. They wipe down easily and she has no complaints.


  • Meg Weitz

    Based on everyone's comments I think I am going with a "dryer" stack. Basically, using as little grout as possible. I really appreciate everyone's input and taking the time to provide their advice! I will post a picture of my backsplash to this thread once complete. In the mean time here is a picture of the tile we chose laid out on my table. Its called shattered pearl and I love it for its variation. Now, any grout color recommendations? Im thinking a tan/grey. I know this tile and style is not for everyone. But, I love combining "undone" with new. I think it will look great with our new cabinets and countertops once complete.


  • PRO
    Skippack Tile & Stone

    Hi Meg, may be I missed it, but what are the tiles you are using?

  • Meg Weitz

    Hi! I posted an image above (grey herringbone pattern). They are by cle tile in shattered pearl 2x6 inches.

  • Meg Weitz

    Hi! I posted an image above (grey herringbone pattern). They are by cle tile in shattered pearl 2x6 inches.

  • PRO
    Skippack Tile & Stone

    Be sure to use white thinset, and look at Mapei's grout colors like Frost and Alabaster.

  • gthigpen


    Meg Weitz - I got a sample from Cle of Shattered Pearl and I loved it too. It was probably my favorite of all my samples, but my DH didn't like it so to the bottom of the pile it went. I've live vicariously through you and can't wait to see your finished product. I think yours will look beautiful. I'd go with more of a tan grout to keep it in the warm tones.

  • Hillside House

    I love the shattered pearl, too, but since my cabinets are a pale blue-grey, I felt it was too close. Can't wait to see your finished backsplash!

  • felizlady
    Tile is meant to be grouted for a neat finish and water protection. Sorry, but your photo if ungrouted tile looks like the tile person quit without finishing the job.
  • Meg Weitz

    @felizlady It's a photo I found on the internet its not my tile. As I mentioned above I decided to use grout. Was just looking for some constructive conversation about this technique. Thanks for your opinion.

  • greenfish1234

    Following

  • B F

    that's a really pretty look! if you are doing "minimal grout", I'd go for something dark grey -- to mimic the look of no grout.

    I wonder if there is some other way? like a clear sealant over the whole thing that will fill the gaps and protect from grime? (I doubt it but just brainstorming.)

    Meg Weitz thanked B F
  • PRO
    Debbi Washburn

    I liked the idea of the dry stack. You know what you are getting into and if you love it then so be it. But if you are going to do a grout and wipe alot of it off so it looks like its not there, I would agree with BF and do something darker to mimic the look of it not being there...

    Good luck and post pictures - this will be great to see!

  • greenfish1234

    Sounds like you have a plan, but another thought-This would be a big job but would clear caulk work? I too get the heebie-jeebies when I think about the eventual ick in there. To me, tile is a very long-term choice,and any tiny crack will eventually get gross. I would want it as flush as possible while getting the look I want.

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