How to Do Subway Tile Backsplash in Kitchen

Installing a subway tile backsplash is a great way to add style and functionality to your kitchen. Subway tiles are classic, affordable, and easy to install. With some planning and prep, you can transform your kitchen with a beautiful new backsplash.


A subway tile backsplash can completely change the look and feel of your kitchen. The clean lines and simple pattern lend a timeless look. Subway tiles come in glossy ceramic as well as natural stone like marble. You can choose classic white tiles or opt for pops of color. Subway tiles are typically installed in a bricklaid pattern, but you can get creative with patterns like herringbone.

Installing a tile backsplash is a manageable DIY project for many homeowners. With the right tools, materials, and some patience, you can save significant money compared to hiring a professional. This guide will walk you through the entire process of installing a subway tile kitchen backsplash, from preparation to grouting and sealing. Follow these tips and you’ll have a stunning new backsplash in your kitchen.

Planning Your Subway Tile Backsplash

Before you head to the store to purchase supplies, take some time to plan your project. Proper planning prevents problems down the road.

Choose Your Tile

Subway tiles come in a range of sizes, materials, colors, and finishes. The most common size is 3×6 inch, but larger formats like 4×12 inch are gaining popularity. Consider the overall style you want for your kitchen backsplash and choose materials accordingly.

Glossy ceramic and natural stone like marble are most common. Ceramic tiles tend to be more affordable. If opting for stone, be sure it’s properly sealed.

White is the iconic subway tile color, but bright colors and mosaics patterns create a more dynamic look. You can also opt for an art deco look with bold black tiles.

Measure Your Space

Take detailed measurements of the entire backsplash area – height, width, windows, outlets, etc. This will allow you to purchase the correct amount of supplies. Remember that subway tiles are installed in a bricklaid pattern with staggered grout lines, so you may need up to 10% more tiles.

Create a Layout

Map out the tile layout on paper to determine the exact number of tiles and proper spacing needed. Mark the locations of outlets, sinks, and other fixtures that will impact your layout. This will help prevent surprises or costly mistakes during installation.

Purchase Supplies

With your measurements and layout in hand, you can calculate the required materials and make your purchases. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Subway tiles
  • Tile spacers
  • Thinset mortar
  • Grout
  • Grout sealer
  • Caulk
  • Tile cutter and blades
  • Mixing bucket
  • Tile trowel
  • Grout float
  • Grout sponge
  • Safety gear – gloves, goggles, mask

Buy a little extra of everything to account for breakage, mistakes, or changes down the road.

Preparing the Surface

Proper preparation is crucial for a long-lasting installation. Here are some tips for getting your surface ready:

  • Clean thoroughly – Use a degreaser to remove any dirt, grease, or soap residue on walls. Rinse well.
  • Remove existing backsplash – If installing over an existing backsplash, remove it completely along with any adhesive residue.
  • Fill any holes/imperfections – Use spackle or caulk to fill holes, cracks, or uneven spots. Let dry completely.
  • Prime – Apply primer to help the thinset adhere to the wall surface.
  • Mark your layout – Use a level and tape to mark tile locations, following your planned layout.

Take your time with prep to create the ideal surface for your subway tile backsplash.

Installing the Subway Tile Backsplash

Now comes the fun part – setting those beautiful new tiles! Follow these steps for proper installation:

Step 1: Mix Thinset

In a bucket, mix thinset mortar powder with water according to package directions. The consistency should be thick and pasty. Allow to slake for 5-10 minutes before using.

Step 2: Apply Thinset

Use the notched edge of your trowel to spread a thin layer of thinset on the wall, holding at a 45 degree angle. Apply only enough thinset for one or two tiles at a time.

Step 3: Set Tiles

Place the first subway tile against your layout line. Use spacers around all edges. Firmly press in place, sliding back and forth slightly to collapse any air pockets. Continue setting tiles row by row using spacers.

Step 4: Check Level & Alignment

Periodically check level and alignment of installed tiles. Make any necessary adjustments immediately – tiles will be difficult to move once thinset dries.

Step 5: Cut Tiles to Fit

Measure and mark tiles to fit around outlets, corners, or edges. Use the wet tile saw to make straight cuts. File edges smooth. Set cut tiles with thinset.

Step 6: Let Thinset Dry

Allow thinset to dry completely, generally 24 hours. This allows it to form a strong bond between the tile and wall surface. Avoid disturbing or cleaning tiles during this step.

Step 7: Grout Tile Joints

Use a grout float to spread grout over the entire tile surface, pressing into joints. Hold float at a 45 degree angle to prevent dragging grout out of joints. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.

Step 8: Clean Grout Haze

Wipe the entire tile surface with a damp grout sponge in a circular motion to remove excess grout. Rinse sponge frequently. Allow grout to dry 72 hours before sealing or using.

And that’s it – you have a stunning new backsplash! Be sure to seal grout and maintain your tiles properly. Take pride in your beautiful DIY subway tile backsplash.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much subway tile do I need?

Measure your space and add 10% more for a bricklaid pattern. For 3×6 inch tile, you’ll need about 10 tiles per square foot. Create a layout to determine exact quantities.

What kind of thinset mortar should I use?

Use white polymer fortified thinset. It has adhesive polymers for a stronger bond and flexibility. Unsanded thinset works for smooth tile like subway.

How soon can I clean the tiles after installing?

Wait 24 hours after setting tiles before cleaning or disturbing them. This allows thinset to fully harden and bond tiles to the wall.

How long does grout need to dry before sealing?

Wait a full 72 hours after grouting before applying any sealers or cleaners. This allows grout to fully cure for maximum stain resistance.

Do subway tile backsplashes need to be sealed?

Yes, apply grout sealer to protect porous grout from stains. Check manufacturer directions on sealing subway tiles themselves. Many ceramic tiles don’t require sealing.


Installing a subway tile backsplash boosts both the beauty and functionality of your kitchen. With the right tools and preparation, it can be an approachable DIY project that allows you to customize your space. Spend time planning your design, gather high-quality materials, and work carefully through each installation step. The end result will be a stunning, quality backsplash you can enjoy for years to come. With a bit of patience and elbow grease, you can save money and gain immense satisfaction tackling this project yourself.