How to Install Backsplash Subway Tile Sheets

Installing backsplash subway tile sheets can transform the look of your kitchen or bathroom. Subway tiles are classic rectangular tiles that create a timeless, clean look. With some planning and the right materials, installing subway tile backsplash is a DIY-friendly weekend project. Follow these steps for a successful subway tile backsplash installation.

Choose Your Tile

Subway tiles come in different sizes, materials, and colors. Standard subway tiles are 3 x 6 inch rectangles, but you can find variations. Consider the following when selecting tile:

Tile Material

  • Ceramic: Classic option; durable and affordable
  • Porcelain: Less prone to moisture damage; durable and stain-resistant
  • Glass: Stylish, shiny option available in multiple colors
  • Stone: Natural material like marble; higher end option

Tile Size

  • Standard 3 x 6 inch size works well and creates classic look
  • Longer planks (3 x 12 inch) create modern, sleek look
  • Smaller mosaics can be used for accents

Tile Color

  • White or light gray for clean, timeless look
  • Bold colors (blue, green, black) for stylish accent
  • Neutral tones like beige for subtle style
  • Mix and match colors and patterns for eclectic style

Tile Finish

  • Glossy finish offers sheen and reflects light
  • Matte finish has a classic, subtle look
  • Textured or pebbled finishes for added dimension

Gather Supplies

Installing a subway tile backsplash requires some special supplies. Be sure to have the following on hand:

  • Tile (amount depends on project size)
  • Tile spacers
  • Tile adhesive (thinset mortar)
  • Grout
  • Grout float
  • Grout sealer
  • Trowel for spreading adhesive
  • Mixing bucket
  • Tile cutter (if cutting custom pieces)
  • Wet saw (for stone tile)
  • Tile nippers (for irregular cuts)
  • Sponge and bucket
  • Painter’s tape
  • Level
  • Utility knife
  • Carpenter’s square

Prepare the Surface

Proper prep work is crucial for a long-lasting backsplash installation.

  • Remove existing backsplash if there is one
  • Clean the wall surface thoroughly to remove dirt, oil and debris
  • Fill any holes or uneven spots with spackle; let dry and sand smooth
  • Prime the surface with primer if painting a different color
  • Apply painter’s tape around edges and where backsplash meets countertop

Plan Your Tile Layout

Take measurements and sketch out a plan for your tile layout. Consider the following:

  • Mark plumb line at center of installation area to keep tiles straight
  • Choose accent patterns or designs for focal points
  • Cut subway tiles to fit around outlets, windows, corners etc.
  • End tiles should be at least half a tile’s width to look balanced

Spread the Adhesive

  • Apply thinset mortar evenly to backsplash area using trowel
  • Use notched edge of trowel to create ridges for tile adhesion
  • Only spread small sections at a time so thinset doesn’t dry out

Install the Tile Sheets

  • Place the first sheet of tiles against your plumb line
  • Press tiles into thinset mortar and use level to ensure they are straight
  • Place tile spacers between each tile for consistent grout lines
  • Continue installing sheets row by row until backsplash area is filled
  • For partial sheets, use tile cutter to cut tiles to size
  • Clean any thinset from tile surface with damp sponge as you work

Apply the Grout

Once tiles are set, it’s time to grout.

  • Allow thinset to cure fully before grouting, usually 24-48 hours
  • Mix grout with water to creamy, toothpaste-like consistency
  • Use grout float to spread grout over tiles, pressing into joints
  • Wipe away excess grout with sponge and water
  • Clean haze from tiles with soft cloth once grout dries
  • Apply grout sealer for water protection if desired

Tips for Achieving a Professional Look

Follow these tips and tricks to get flawless, professional-looking results:

  • Use plastic tile spacers for consistent grout line width
  • Cut holes for outlets/switches with ceramic hole saw before tiling
  • Use leveling clips beneath tiles to keep rows perfectly straight
  • Tape off edges and surfaces for super sharp edges
  • Mix grout colors for custom look
  • Seal grout to protect from moisture and mildew
  • Use caulk between tile and counter/cabinets for clean transition

With the right materials and some patience, you can install a beautiful, on-trend subway tile backsplash that will enhance your space for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Subway Tile Backsplash

What tools do I need to install subway tile?

The essential tools you’ll need are a tile cutter, mixing buckets, trowels, grout float, sponges, tile spacers, tape measure, level, utility knife, caulk gun, and grout sealer. A wet saw is needed for cutting stone tiles.

What is the easiest way to cut subway tiles?

The best tool for cutting subway tile is a manual score and snap tile cutter. This allows you to measure and mark the cut line, score the tile’s face, and snap it evenly. For intricate cuts, use nippers or a wet saw with a diamond blade.

How do I get clean edges when installing subway tile?

Using painter’s tape to define edges gives you nice, straight grout lines. You can also use trim pieces like bullnose or pencil tile to create a finished edge. Carefully spreading thinset and using spacers gives clean results.

What thinset do I use for subway tile?

Use a polymer-modified thinset mortar suitable for wall installations. This will provide a strong bond on surfaces like cement board, plaster, painted drywall, etc. Check manufacturer’s guidelines.

How long does thinset take to dry before grouting?

Thinset adhesive needs 24-48 hours to fully cure before applying grout. Grouting too soon can weaken the thinset and cause tiles to loosen over time. Be patient for long-lasting results.

What color grout should I use with white subway tile?

White subway tiles look great with either white or gray grout. White has a crisp, clean look. Light gray is trendy and adds subtle contrast. Darker grout can also be striking with white tiles.

How do I keep subway tile straight during installation?

Mark a plumb line to align the first row of tiles. Check each row for level as you go using tile spacers to keep things even. Tile leveling clips also help keep tile flat and evenly spaced.


Installing subway tile backsplash can give your kitchen or bathroom a stylish, contemporary look with lots of character. With some careful planning and preparation, this is a DIY-friendly project for most homeowners. Focus on proper materials and technique for a long-lasting finish. The finished product will add artful impact and function to your home’s style.