How to Hang Subway Tile Backsplash

Installing a subway tile backsplash can add a classic, timeless look to any kitchen or bathroom. With some planning and preparation, you can easily hang subway tiles on your wall to create a beautiful, functional backsplash. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to hang subway tile backsplash.

Select the Right Tile

When selecting subway tiles for your backsplash, consider the size, color, and finish. The classic subway tile size is 3×6 inch, but sizes range from 3×12 to 4×12 inches. Smaller tiles create more grout lines for a busier look. For color, white or light grey subway tiles are popular choices that fit with almost any decor. A glossy finish gives a sleek, contemporary vibe while matte is more classic. Make sure to get enough tiles for your project based on the area you are tiling.

Prepare the Surface

Proper surface preparation is crucial for a long-lasting backsplash. The wall surface must be clean, dry, and smooth. Remove any old backsplash or wall covering. Fill any holes or uneven spots with spackle and sand smooth. Clean the wall to remove grease, dirt, or soap residue which can impede adhesion. It’s recommended to apply a coat of primer before tiling. This helps the thinset adhere to the wall better.

Layout Your Tiles

Before applying any tiles, do a dry layout to map out your pattern. Most subway tile backsplashes use a basic offset “brickwork” pattern. Start by finding the center of your wall space. Level and mark a line down the center. Dry lay tiles from the center line out in both directions to determine the cut edges needed. This ensures equal spacing on both sides. Adjust the layout until you are pleased with the patterning.

Mix the Thinset Mortar

For optimal adhesion, subway tiles should be installed using a thinset mortar specially formulated for walls. Mix the powdered thinset with latex additive and water per the manufacturer’s instructions until blended to a thick, creamy consistency. Only mix what can be used in 30-45 minutes before it hardens. Use a notched trowel to spread a thin, even layer of thinset onto the wall making sure to scrape off any excess.

Apply the Tiles

Once the thinset is ready, it’s time to start setting the tiles. Begin laying tiles from the center line working outward using tile spacers for consistent grout lines. Press each tile firmly into the thinset and slide it back and forth slightly to collapse the trowel ridges and promote maximum contact. Periodically check the tiles are level and the layout is even. Allow the thinset to cure for at least 24 hours before grouting.

Cut Border Tiles

Measure and mark border and edge tiles that need cutting to fit around receptacles, corners, or edges using a straight edge and pencil. Score the glazed tile surface with a tile cutter. Using pliers, snap the tile along the scored line. For intricate cuts, use a wet saw. Smooth cut edges with sandpaper or a whetstone. Test each cut tile for proper fit before applying with thinset.

Apply the Grout

After tile thinset has cured, apply grout between the tile joints. Use a rubber grout float to spread grout over the tiles, pressing into joints. Holding the float at a 30° angle, scrape off excess grout diagonally. As grout starts to firm up, use a damp sponge to buff joints and remove grout haze. Allow grout to cure fully 72 hours before sealing or using the backsplash. Apply silicone caulk where the tiled wall meets the countertop or other surfaces.

Seal the Grout (Optional)

For better stain resistance applying a grout sealer is recommended. Use a penetrating sealer formulated for grout. Carefully apply sealer according to manufacturer’s directions, ensuring it penetrates into the grout lines. Buff off any excess sealer. Avoid applying sealer to the tile surfaces. Sealers can discolor and alter the look of the tiles. With proper sealing, your subway tile backsplash will stay looking new for years to come.

Installing a subway tile backsplash has many advantages beyond just aesthetics. The smooth surface is easy to clean and moisture resistant. The classic look matches with nearly any kitchen or bath decor from traditional to contemporary. With some simple tools, materials and patience, you can create your own beautiful and functional backsplash featuring classic subway tiles. The finished product will add charm and value to your home.

Frequently Asked Questions about Hanging Subway Tile Backsplash

What tools do I need to install subway tile backsplash?

The basic tools needed are a tape measure, level, pencil, tile cutter, mixing bucket, notched trowel, grout float, rubber gloves, sponges, and painters tape. A wet saw is recommended for intricate tile cuts.

What’s the best way to cut subway tiles?

The easiest way to cut subway tile is by scoring it with a tile cutter and snapping it off. For detailed cuts, use a wet saw fitted with a diamond blade. Make sure to wear safety goggles.

How long does thinset need to dry before grouting?

Thinset mortar needs 24 to 48 hours to cure before grouting can be done. This allows the thinset to form a strong bond between the tile and wall.

What color grout should I use with white subway tiles?

White or light grey grout is commonly used with white subway tiles. The light color keeps the grout lines subtle instead of standing out too boldly against the white tile.

Should subway tile backsplash go all the way to ceiling?

It’s common to install subway tiles from counter to ceiling for a full backsplash. But you can also do a shorter “mini” backsplash that ends a few inches above the countertop. This is an option if tiling the entire wall seems too busy.

How do I clean and maintain my subway tile backsplash?

Use a mild detergent and soft sponge or cloth to regularly clean tile surfaces. Reapply grout sealer yearly. Avoid abrasive cleaners or scrubbing that can dull the tiles or damage grout. Vinegar or hydrogen peroxide can remove soap scum buildup.


Installing a subway tile backsplash provides a timeless, classic look and a functional, easy-to-clean surface. By following the proper steps for preparing the wall, laying the tiles, grouting, and sealing, you can achieve professional-looking results. Subway tile backsplashes are an affordable option to boost style and value in your kitchen or bath. With some patience and effort, you can hang a beautiful subway tile backsplash to enhance your home’s decor.