How to Install Subway Tile Backsplash around Outlets

Installing a subway tile backsplash can add a classic, timeless look to your kitchen or bathroom. However, working around electrical outlets and switches requires some careful planning and attention to detail. With the right materials and techniques, you can achieve a seamless, professional look.

Materials Needed

Before starting your project, ensure you have all the necessary materials on hand:

  • Subway tiles
  • Tile spacers
  • Tile adhesive (thinset mortar)
  • Grout
  • Grout sealer
  • Caulk
  • Tile cutter or wet saw
  • Trowel
  • Mixing bucket
  • Tile nippers
  • Sponge
  • Gloves and eye protection

Prepare the Outlets

  • Turn off power to the outlets at the circuit breaker before beginning work. Verify power is off by plugging in a tester or lamp.
  • Remove the cover plates from all outlets and switches in the area.
  • Carefully remove outlets and switches from the electrical boxes, being sure not to touch any wires or connections.
  • Pack any gaps around the boxes with insulation or foam backing rod to prevent thinset from oozing in.
  • Consider replacing old or damaged electrical boxes if needed. New rework boxes can adjust to fit different tile thicknesses.

Lay the Tile

  • Start by dry fitting tiles around the boxes, leaving a consistent gap for grout lines. Mark tiles that need cutting.
  • Use a wet saw to cut tiles to fit around outlets precisely. Cut tile edges should be smooth and straight.
  • Apply a layer of thinset mortar to the wall surface using a notched trowel. Spread only a workable area.
  • Press tiles into the mortar, using spacers for consistent grout spacing. Work in sections for easier installation.
  • Let tile adhesive fully cure per manufacturer instructions before continuing.

Install Outlets and Switches

  • Once tiles are firmly set, carefully reinstall outlets and switches in boxes, securing them with long screws.
  • Apply 100% silicone caulk around edges of electrical boxes to seal tiles. Tool the caulk for a smooth finish.
  • Connect wires to outlets and switches properly. Attach cover plate and hold it in place while caulking around edges.

Grouting and Finishing

  • Mix grout per package directions. Apply grout over tiles using a rubber grout float or squeegee. Push grout into joints.
  • Clean excess grout off tile faces using a damp sponge in a circular motion. Rinse sponge frequently.
  • Once grout has cured fully, apply grout sealer following label instructions to protect from moisture and stains.
  • Use caulk along the bottom edges, corners, and transitions to counter tops or cabinets for a watertight seal.
  • Turn circuit breakers back on once outlets are fully installed and grouted. Test outlets to ensure proper function.

Tips and Warnings

  • Turn off power at the breaker before replacing or moving any electrical components.
  • Wear eye and ear protection when cutting tiles with a wet saw.
  • Let thinset and grout fully cure before exposing them to water or moisture.
  • Match your grout color to the tile color for a seamless look. Contrasting grout can look busy.
  • Seal grout regularly to inhibit staining, mildew growth, and erosion.

With careful planning and attention to detail around outlets, you can install subway tile backsplash that looks professionally installed. Take time to properly prepare the electrical boxes, cut tiles precisely, apply caulk and grout thoroughly, and you’ll have a stunning backsplash to enjoy for years.

Frequently Asked Questions

What size subway tile should I use around outlets?

Standard 3×6 inch subway tile is a popular choice. Using these smaller tiles makes intricate cuts easier compared to larger formats. Opt for smaller mosaics or 1×4 inch tiles if the outlets are very close together.

How do I cut holes in tile for outlets?

Use a rotary tool or oscillating tool fitted with a tile cutting bit to cut precise circular openings in tiles around outlet boxes. Work slowly and carefully. Alternatively, you can notch tiles with nippers and shape as needed to fit tight around boxes.

Should outlet covers be caulked?

Yes, apply a thin bead of 100% silicone caulk around edges of outlet covers before attaching them. The caulk helps create a watertight seal to prevent moisture from getting behind the cover plate.

What is the minimum space between tile and an outlet?

The National Electrical Code requires at least 1/4 inch space between the tile and outlet. Do not allow tiles to overlap or touch outlets. The caulk will fill any small gaps within this clearance.

Should backsplash tile go behind outlets?

It is not required, but tiling behind outlets creates a more seamless, integrated look. Use an oscillating tool to cut out a space in the tile to slide outlets into position. Take care not to damage outlet connections.

Can I put outlets on top of tile backsplash?

Yes, outlets and switches can be surface mounted over existing backsplash tile. Secure the electrical box, apply caulk around it, and attach the cover plate. The outlet can sit flush on the tile.


Installing subway tile around existing outlets and switches involves careful prep work, precise tile cutting, and attention to detail when grouting, sealing, and applying caulk. With the right techniques and materials, you can achieve a flawless finish that looks professionally tiled. Taking the time to properly install outlets within the tile ensures your finished backsplash has a cohesive, integrated look.