How to Install Subway Backsplash in Kitchen

Adding a subway tile backsplash is a great way to update the look of your kitchen. Subway tiles are classic, timeless, and easy to install. With some planning and preparation, you can add this beautiful backsplash yourself. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to install subway tile backsplash in the kitchen.


A subway tile backsplash can completely transform the look and feel of your kitchen. The classic rectangular tiles arranged in a brickwork pattern add visual interest and texture. Subway tiles come in a range of colors like white, gray, blue and can be matched with any kitchen decor.

Installing a subway tile backsplash is a relativity easy DIY project that can be completed over a weekend. With proper planning and by following the right techniques, you can add this functional and stylish backsplash to your kitchen.

Benefits of Subway Tile Backsplash

Here are some of the benefits of adding subway tile backsplash:

  • Timeless and classic look that suits any kitchen style
  • Visual interest and texture with brickwork pattern
  • Easy to clean and maintain
  • Durable and long-lasting if properly installed
  • Affordable tile option available in range of colors
  • Easy DIY installation project for beginners

If you are looking to upgrade your kitchen’s visual appeal without a full remodel, installing subway tile backsplash is a perfect weekend project for you.

Things to Know Before Installation

Here are few things to take into account before starting the installation process:

Choose the Right Tile

Subway tiles are available in different material options like ceramic, glass, marble, and natural stone. Ceramic tiles are most common due to their affordability and durability. Consider factors like color, size, finish, and texture when choosing tile. Standard subway tiles are 3×6 inch, but you can opt for longer plank tiles too.

Calculate How Much Tile is Needed

Measure the backsplash area and calculate the square footage. Add a 10-15% extra for waste and cuts. You may need tiles for inside corners and the area around outlets and switches. Have extra tiles for future repairs and maintenance.

Gather the Right Tools

Tools needed are tile cutter, spacers, grout float, bucket, notched trowel, grout sealer, sponge, hammer, trim pieces, and caulking gun. Rent or buy tools if you don’t have them.

Prepare the Surface

The wall must be smooth, clean, and dry. Remove existing backsplash if any and fix any damage on the wall. Apply primer if needed before tiling.

With planning and proper tools, subway tile installation can be easy and quick.

Step-by-Step Guide to Install Subway Tile Backsplash

Follow these step-by-step instructions to install subway tile backsplash like a pro:

Step 1: Prepare the Work Surface

Clear the counters and protect them with drop cloths. Have all your tools and materials easily accessible. Turn off electricity to the switch boards if needed. Cover nearby surfaces with painter’s tape and plastic sheets.

Make sure the installation area is dust-free. Now you are ready to start the project.

Step 2: Install Backerboard

Most kitchen walls have drywall which can get damaged by moisture. So it’s recommended to install a water-resistant backerboard like cementboard as a substrate.

Measure and mark the backerboard location on the wall. Cut boards to size using a utility knife. Apply thinset mortar liberally on the wall using notched trowel. Place the backerboard on it and press firmly. Use backerboard screws to secure it to wall studs.

Do this process until the backsplash area is covered with backerboard. Let it dry completely.

Step 3: Apply Waterproof Membrane

Applying waterproofing membrane prevents moisture damage and water seepage. Use a trowel to apply thin, even layers of the membrane liquid. Extend it a bit above the backsplash area.

Let the membrane layers dry fully as per manufacturer’s directions before moving to next step. The wall is now ready for tile installation.

Step 4: Plan Tile Layout

A well-planned tile layout is key for proper installation. Dry fit a few tiles on the backerboard in the planned pattern. Check for straightness with a level. Mark the tile in the middle and draw reference lines through it.

Plan the tile layout so cut tiles are not too small and are evenly distributed. Account for focal areas around windows, cabinets, and corners. Avoid tiles smaller than half at edges. Adjust lines if required.

Step 5: Apply Adhesive and Set Tiles

Prepare thinset mortar adhesive according to package directions. Spread it on the backerboard using notched edge trowel. Apply only 1-2 square feet area at one time.

Place the first tile on the reference lines. Use tile spacers between tiles for even spacing. Continue setting tiles row by row using level to check straightness. Twist each tile clockwise while setting to get a good bond.

Step 6: Cut Tile Pieces as Needed

Measure and mark tiles that need cutting. Place tile on tile cutter and score with cutting wheel. Snap the tile upwards along the cut line. Use nippers on curved cuts. Save cut pieces for filling small gaps. Apply thinset and set cut tiles.

Check for evenness and straightness as you continue tiling. Clean excess thinset using damp sponge and bucket water. Let thinset dry completely.

Step 7: Apply Grout

Grout fills and seals the gaps between tiles. Apply grout float at a 45° angle pressing into joints. Spread it evenly ensuring gaps are completely filled.

Let grout sit for 5-10 mins until a haze appears on tile. Use a damp sponge in circular motion to clean excess grout. Rinse sponge in bucket water and wring often. Let tiles dry fully.

Step 8: Seal Grout

After 72 hours, use grout sealer and apply carefully on grout lines. This prevents grout from absorbing stains and makes cleaning easier. Let sealer dry completely before using backsplash.

Check for missing grout spots and patch if required. Your stylish and sleek subway tile backsplash is now ready to use!

Tips for Perfect Finish

Follow these additional tips for a flawless subway tile backsplash installation:

  • Use leveling clips for keeping tiles even if the wall is uneven
  • Be patient while applying grout and remove excess before drying
  • Use caulk between countertop and backsplash to prevent water seepage
  • Consider adding an accent strip for visual interest
  • Use grout color that complements tile color
  • Seal tiles after installation to prevent staining and mildew
  • Take time to properly clean and polish tiles after installation

Proper planning, using right tools and techniques along with attention to detail will ensure your backsplash looks professionally installed.


Here are some commonly asked questions about installing subway tile backsplash:

What kind of thinset mortar is best for the subway tile?

For subway tile, use white polymer modified thinset mortar which gives better adhesion and flexibility. This avoids cracking of grout.

What tools are absolutely necessary for installation?

Essential tools are tile cutter, notched trowel, tile spacers, grout float, sponges, buckets, grout sealer, caulking gun, gloves, knee pads, and safety glasses.

What is the proper grout line thickness for subway tiles?

The recommended grout line thickness is 1/8 inch. This width is ideal and allows for little adjustment during installation.

How soon can I use the backsplash after installing it?

It is best to wait at least 72 hours after grouting to let it cure properly. Avoid cleaning with harsh chemicals and limit water exposure during this time.

Should backerboard screws be removed before tiling?

The backerboard screws should be left in place as they provide extra stability and structure. The thinset mortar will embed over them providing a strong bond.

How do I cut subway tiles around electrical outlets?

Use a multi-tool or an oscillating tool to cut L-shaped groove around outlets. Position cut tile pieces and test for a proper fit before final installation.

Should I hire a contractor or can I do it myself?

If you are comfortable with basic tiling techniques, this is a DIY friendly project. Proper planning is vital for flawless results. Consider help for large or complex installations.


Installing a subway tile backsplash can take your kitchen from boring to beautiful. With a trendy yet timeless look, this easy upgrade adds visual interest and makes the space more stylish.

The brickwork herringbone pattern paired with your choice of subway tile color brings texture and elegance. By following the techniques outlined, you can have a stunning backsplash that suits your kitchen’s style.

Take time to properly prepare the surface, measure tiles, apply grout and use spacers. With some patience, the right tools and materials, you can install this focal point that makes cooking and entertaining more enjoyable.