Installing a subway tile backsplash in your kitchen can add visual interest and provide a clean, classic look. With some planning and preparation, you can achieve a beautiful, long-lasting backsplash that suits your style. Here is a step-by-step guide to putting up subway tile in your kitchen.
Planning Your Tile Layout
Before you begin installation, take time to plan the layout. Things to consider:
Choose Your Tile
- Classic 3×6 subway tiles are a popular option, available in glossy, matte, or textured finishes.
- Alternate tile sizes like 4×12 can create interest.
- Mixing tile shapes, colors, or materials can add depth.
- Choose a grout color that complements your tile.
- Measure the backsplash area and sketch your design.
- Account for outlets, switches, and fixtures.
- Purchase 10-15% extra tiles in case of cuts or breakage.
Pick the Right Materials
- Use backerboard not drywall as a base. Cement or fiber-cement boards are best.
- Choose an appropriate thinset mortar adhesive for the backerboard and tiles.
- Use unsanded grout for narrow tile joints.
- Select grout sealant to protect grout color and quality.
Prep the Area
Proper prep work ensures your backsplash lasts.
Remove Existing Materials
- Take down old backsplash by scraping off grout and pulling tiles gently to avoid damaging drywall.
- Sand any bumps or rough areas in the wall.
- Cut cement backerboard to fit the space.
- Attach boards with backerboard screws every 8-12 inches.
- Seal seams and screws with fiberglass mesh tape and thinset mortar.
Apply Waterproofing (Optional)
- For extra moisture protection, apply waterproofing membrane.
- Roll or trowel over entire backsplash area.
Install the Tiles
Now you’re ready for the fun part – putting up the tiles!
Plan Tile Layout
- Dry lay tiles on the counter to confirm layout spacing.
- Use a level to mark straight guide lines on the backerboard.
Mix Thinset Mortar
- Mix thinset mortar according to package directions.
- Apply to small sections of the wall at a time to prevent drying.
Mount Tiles Carefully
- Apply tiles firmly into thinset, using spacers for consistent grout lines.
- Work in rows, starting at the bottom. Level as you go.
- Cut edge and special fitting tiles using a wet saw or tile cutter.
Let Dry Completely
- Allow thinset mortar to dry for 24-48 hours before grouting.
- Remove spacers once tiles are fully set.
Apply Grout and Seal
Grout fills the joints and seals the tiles. Proper sealing protects your finished project.
Grout Tile Joints
- Mix and apply grout using a rubber grout float or squeegee.
- Push into joints firmly and remove excess grout.
- Clean any haze once dry using a soft, damp sponge.
Seal the Grout
- Allow grout to cure fully, generally 72 hours.
- Apply grout sealant evenly according to product directions.
- Wipe away any excess liquid.
Seal the Tiles (Recommended)
- For added protection, apply tile sealant to repel moisture.
- Use a sealant suited for your tile material.
Caring for Your Backsplash
Follow these tips to keep your new backsplash looking like new:
- Use a gentle cleaner suited for tile and grout.
- Re-seal grout every 1-2 years to prevent staining or erosion.
- Do not use abrasive scrubbers or harsh chemicals which can damage grout or etch tile.
- Immediately clean up spills to prevent stains.
With good planning and care, your subway tile backsplash can stay beautiful for years to come. The classic look dresses up any kitchen style from farmhouse to modern. Achieving a professional finished look is possible with patience and the right techniques.
Frequently Asked Questions
What tools do I need to install subway tile?
You’ll need basic equipment like a tape measure, level, spacers, cutters, mixing bucket, notched trowel, grout float, sponges, and clamps. Specialty tools like a wet saw make cutting easier but you can score and snap tiles with a cutter.
Should I hire a pro or can I do it myself?
An experienced DIYer can achieve professional-looking results. The project requires knowledge of proper installation techniques but is very manageable. Consider your skill level and time commitment.
How do I cut the subway tiles?
A wet saw with a diamond blade makes the cleanest cuts. A manual cutter can score and snap the tiles neatly too. Use a grinder for small notches needed around outlets.
What type of thinset mortar should I use?
Choose an adhesive formulated for wall tile and your backerboard type. Latex or polymer modified thinsets provide a stronger bond and flexibility.
How soon can I grout after installing the tiles?
Allow the thinset mortar to cure fully, generally 24-48 hours. Grouting too soon can lead to cracks as the mortar continues to dry and contract.
What’s the best way to apply grout?
Use a rubber grout float or squeegee to force grout deeply into the joints. Hold at a 45 degree angle and work in small sections to prevent drying. Then clean the excess haze.
Adding a subway tile backsplash provides a high-impact update for your kitchen. With thoughtful planning and preparation, you can achieve a stylish, durable backsplash. Focus on proper materials, careful tile-setting techniques, and deliberate grouting and sealing for best results. The effort pays off with a showstopping focal point that ties your space together beautifully.