How to Install Subway Tile Backsplash in Kitchen

Installing a subway tile backsplash in your kitchen can add a classic, timeless look while also being an affordable and easy DIY project. With some planning and preparation, you can transform your kitchen with a beautiful new backsplash in a weekend. Here is a step-by-step guide to installing a subway tile backsplash in your kitchen.

Supplies Needed

  • Subway tiles
  • Tile adhesive (thinset mortar)
  • Grout
  • Trowel
  • Grout float
  • Sponge
  • Tile spacers
  • Tile cutter
  • Safety gear (gloves, goggles, mask)


Before starting installation, make sure to:

  • Clear the counter and remove anything on the walls where the backsplash will be installed.
  • Clean the surface thoroughly and fill any holes or imperfections with spackle.
  • Plan the tile layout and arrange the tiles on the countertop to determine the best placement and any cuts that will need to be made.
  • Mix the thinset mortar according to directions on the package. Let it slake for 10 minutes before use.

Step-by-Step Installation

Step 1: Apply Thinset to the Wall

Apply a layer of thinset adhesive to the wall using a notched trowel. Apply only as much as can be tiled in 30 minutes.

Step 2: Place the Tiles

Place the tiles on the wall, using spacers between each tile for consistent grout lines. Press each tile firmly into the thinset.

Step 3: Cut Tiles to Fit

Measure and mark tiles that need to be cut to fit. Use a wet saw or tile cutter to cut the tiles.

Step 4: Let Tiles Set

Allow tiles to set for 24 hours before grouting. Remove spacers and check for any tiles that need to be reapplied.

Step 5: Apply Grout

Apply grout using a grout float. Spread it across the tiles and work it into the grout lines.

Step 6: Clean Excess Grout

Let grout sit for 10-15 minutes. Use a damp sponge to clean off excess grout. Rinse sponge frequently.

Step 7: Seal Grout

Once grout is dry, seal it with a grout sealer according to package directions. This will protect it from moisture and stains.

Tips for Installation

  • Stagger tiles so the grout lines don’t line up. This creates a more seamless look.
  • Wipe away excess thinset as you work to keep the tiles clean and prevent buildup.
  • Use a level and chalk line to ensure your tiles are perfectly straight.
  • Mix tiles from several boxes together to evenly distribute color variation.
  • Cut tiles with the rough side facing out for exposed edges.
  • Apply caulk along the edges and corners for a waterproof finish.
  • Consider a decorative accent strip for additional detail.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take for thinset mortar to dry?

Thinset typically takes 24 hours to fully cure before grouting. Check package directions as drying times can vary.

What color grout should I choose?

White or light gray matches any color scheme. Bold grout brings attention to the lines, so consider a darker color if you want it as a focal point.

How do I cut subway tiles?

Mark the tile where you need to cut it, then score it with a cutter. Place the tile face up in the cutter tray and press down firmly and evenly until it snaps.

What kind of tile backer board should I use?

Cement, fiber-cement, or water-resistant drywall are common backer board options. Consult building codes for kitchen requirements.

Can I install a subway tile backsplash directly over drywall?

No, drywall alone does not provide enough support. A backer board should be installed first to prevent sagging or water damage.


Adding a subway tile backsplash is an easy weekend project that can make a big impact in your kitchen’s style. With the right tools and preparation, you can achieve a professional-looking result. Just take your time, carefully follow each step, and don’t be afraid to cut tiles for a perfect custom fit. The finished product will provide a beautiful, classic backdrop that is easy to maintain for years to come. With some creativity, subway tiles can be adapted to fit any design aesthetic.