How to Install Subway Tile Backsplash on Drywall

Installing a subway tile backsplash is a great way to add style and character to your kitchen or bathroom. Subway tiles are classic rectangular tiles that are arranged in a brick pattern for a clean, streamlined look. With some basic DIY skills and tools, you can install subway tile on drywall to create the backsplash of your dreams.

Planning Your Subway Tile Backsplash

Before starting your project, take the time to plan out your subway tile backsplash design. Here are some tips:

  • Decide on tile size: Standard subway tiles are 3 x 6 inches, but you can find trim pieces and decorative tiles to complement them. Mixing sizes can add visual interest.
  • Map out your layout: Figure out the dimensions of your backsplash area and sketch out tile patterns. Offset the grout lines for a more seamless look.
  • Choose grout color: Contrasting grout lines highlight the tile pattern. White grout blends in for a smoother appearance. Consider sealant for light grout near cooking areas.
  • Gather supplies: Buy enough tile for your project with an extra 10% as attic stock. Get adhesive, grout, grout sealer, and any specialty tiles and edging.
  • Prep the drywall: Fill any holes or imperfections; sand bumps smooth. Paint the drywall with primer before tiling.

Proper planning ensures you buy the right quantities of materials and achieve the backsplash layout you want.

How to Install Subway Tile on Drywall

Follow these steps for a successful subway tile backsplash installation:

Clean and Prepare the Surface

  • Remove any existing backsplash tile, wallpaper, or other materials from the installation area.
  • Fill any holes or imperfections in the drywall with spackle compound. Allow to dry completely and sand smooth.
  • Wipe away dust, then apply painter’s tape around the edges of the installation area.
  • Prime the drywall with a spray-on primer or use a paint roller and let dry completely.

Properly preparing the surface helps the tile and grout adhere securely.

Plan Your Tile Layout

  • Based on your measurements, calculate how many full tiles will fit in each row and how much tile edge will need to be cut.
  • Mix tile packages to disperse color variation evenly.
  • Dry lay tiles on the countertop to map out placement and look for obvious color differences. Adjust as needed.
  • Use tile spacers between dry laid tiles to set grout line width evenly.

A dry layout helps visualize the finished pattern and spacing. Adjust pattern and tile placement as needed before installing.

Install the Tile

  • Apply thinset mortar adhesive to the wall using a notched trowel, roughly 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick.
  • Press tiles into the adhesive starting at the center and working outwards. Use spacers between tiles for even grout line spacing.
  • Push tiles firmly into the thinset, then use a rubber grout float to back-butter and flatten each tile.
  • Check tiles are level and aligned as you go. Adjust as needed while thinset is still pliable.
  • Allow thinset to cure for 24-48 hours before grouting.

Carefully installing the tiles helps ensure they are firmly embedded in the adhesive.

Apply Grout and Finish

  • Mix grout according to package directions and apply to tile joints using a rubber grout float.
  • Push grout into joints firmly and scrape off excess grout. Clean grout haze with a damp sponge.
  • Allow grout to cure fully, then apply grout sealer if desired.
  • Remove painter’s tape and caulk edges if needed for a clean finish.

Proper grouting will fill the joints and prevent moisture issues. Sealing grout will make it water-resistant.

And that’s how you install a beautiful and functional subway tile backsplash on drywall! Let the thinset adhesive and grout fully cure before using your backsplash. With its simple maintenance, your subway tile backsplash will provide style in your kitchen or bath for years.

FAQs about Installing Subway Tile Backsplash on Drywall

What type of tile thinset should I use?

Use unmodified thinset adhesive for installing subway tile on drywall. It provides a strong bond without excessive flexing. White thinset blends in for a clean finish.

How do I get clean, straight grout lines?

Use tile spacers between tiles to set consistent grout line thickness. Apply grout carefully with a grout float, pressing firmly into joints. Clean excess grout before it dries using minimal water.

What are some tips for cutting subway tiles?

Use a wet saw for clean cuts through subway tiles. For small notches, a tile nipper plier works well. Smooth cut edges with fine grit sandpaper. Cut tiles face up for best results.

Should I seal my grout?

Sealing grout is optional but recommended for kitchen backsplashes. It prevents stains from water and cooking splatters and makes grout easier to clean. Use a water-based penetrating sealer.

How do I cut outlet holes in tile backsplash?

Trace the outlet shape on your tile. Use a rotary tool or small hammer and chisel to score the outline, then tap the cut tile piece out. Smooth the edges with sandpaper so outlets or switches will fit flush.

Can I install subway tile backsplash directly over drywall?

Yes, you can install subway tiles directly onto drywall as long as the surface is primed first. The thinset mortar will adhere the tile firmly, but take care not to overload drywall with heavy stone tiles.


Installing subway tile backsplash on drywall creates a stylish, easy-to-clean focal point in your kitchen or bathroom. With proper planning and careful installation of the tiles and grout, a DIY subway tile backsplash can be an achievable weekend project. The classic look of white subway tiles complements any decor, but don’t be afraid to add your own twist with bold grout, decorative accents, or a unique layout pattern. With the right preparation and materials, plus a little patience and creativity, you can enjoy the satisfaction of a job well-done once your beautiful new backsplash is complete.