Kitchen Backsplash – Mastic Vs Thinset

By Todd Fratzel on Kitchens

Choosing Mastic or Thinset for A Kitchen Backsplash

As I pointed out recently we’re writing a series of articles over the new couple of weeks on How To Tile a Kitchen Backsplash. We’ve already discussed selecting backsplash tile and how to layout tile backsplashes so this article will focus on the use of mastic vs thinset when you install the actual tiles.Thinset and Mastic Choices Kitchen Backsplash   Mastic Vs Thinset

What’s The Difference Between Mastic and Thinset?

Before having a conversation about selecting mastic or thinset for your kitchen backsplash you first need to understand the difference in the two products.

  • Tile Mastic Kitchen Backsplash   Mastic Vs ThinsetMastic – Mastic is an acrylic product that can be thought of as an adhesive similar to a glue. Mastic is a non-cementitious material that exhibits some pros and cons compared to thinset. The advantage of mastic compared to thinset is the setting time and “stickiness” which helps make tile installation much quicker and easier. The downfall of mastic is the fact that it’s not appropriate in situations with water (bathrooms and floors). However, mastic is a great choice for kitchen walls where little to no water will be applied to the tile.
  • Thinset – Thinset is a cementitious product that requires water to create a chemical reaction much like concrete. Thinset is much stronger structurally than thinset and a waterproof product that will not lose strength when exposed to water. Thinset is the only product that I recommend be used in showers, bathrooms and even floors. Thinset is much harder to work with especially on vertical and overhead surfaces because it’s not as “sticky” as mastic.

Pros and Cons – Mastic Vs Thinset

In a perfect world all tile jobs would be done with thinset. Thinset is ultimately stronger and unaffected by water. Having said that thinset is much harder to work with especially in vertical and overhead applications. When installing tile on walls thinset will not be able to support the weight of each tile so each tile much support the tile above it and so forth. This can be very time consuming and prone to “sagging” before the thinset develops it’s full strength. Thinset must be mixed just prior to installation and it’s very important that the proper amount of water be used.

Mastic is much easier to work with when installing tiles on vertical surfaces. Mastic is very sticky and able to typically support the weight of a tile with no support from below. This benefit makes installing the tiles much quicker and less likely to sag. Mastic comes pre-mixed and ready to go. Tiling kitchen walls is one of the very few applications where mastic is appropriate in my opinion. For this project we’ll be using mastic which should really speed up the installation.

Final Thoughts on Mastic Vs Thinset

While there are some people that will disagree on this debate most reputable tile installers will agree. Mastic has very few applications that are appropriate when it comes to tile work. Kitchen backsplashes are one of those applications where it’s use is appropriate so long as there will be no significant water exposure.

If you’re having a bathroom shower or floor installed please be sure your installer uses an appropriate thinset material. Mastic should NEVER be used in bathrooms in my opinion. Using mastic in bathrooms is a poor choice and typically a choice by a contractor cutting corners.

This article is part of a series on how to install a tile backsplash. If you’d like to see the final pictures of our new backsplash along with a summary of all the backsplash articles then visit our complete guide on how to install a kitchen backsplash.

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2 Comments

  1. Timothy says:

    Interesting debate. Would you ever consider a product like Bondera which is an adhesive and doesn’t require the time or have the mess that mastic does?

    • Todd says:

      Timothy,

      It is an interesting conversation. When you talk to die hard tile setters they all say the same thing, thinset or nothing. However, I can see a few projects where other products are acceptable like doing a kitchen backsplash. The Bondera product certainly is intriguing but I’ve never had experience with it so it’s hard to say how it would perform. I’m pretty skeptical that it can develop sufficient shear strength to be used on floors but it might be worth trying on a backsplash.

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