What Size Subway Tile for Kitchen Backsplash

Choosing the perfect subway tile size for your kitchen backsplash can make a huge difference in the overall look and feel of your space. With so many sizes to choose from, it can be tricky to land on the right one for your design aesthetic and layout. This comprehensive guide covers all the factors to consider when selecting subway tile sizes for your backsplash, the pros and cons of different sizes, and provides useful tips and recommendations to help you make the best decision.

What is Subway Tile?

Subway tile refers to rectangular ceramic tiles typically 3 by 6 inches, though they come in a variety of sizes. The tiles have a glazed finish and are installed in an offset bricklay pattern, giving them their classic look. Subway tiles get their name from their use lining New York City subway stations in the early 1900s.

While subway tiles are a staple in many traditional and contemporary kitchens, they offer versatility through the many available colors, textures, sizes, and patterns. Their timeless, streamlined look complements many design styles.

Benefits of Using Subway Tile for Kitchen Backsplashes

Subway tile offers many benefits that make it a top choice for backsplashes:

  • Affordability – Subway tiles are an affordable backsplash material, especially when using lower priced ceramic tile. Their simple shape keeps manufacturing costs down.
  • Easy maintenance – The glazed surface of subway tile resists stains, moisture, and grime, making them easy to clean.
  • Durability – Subway tile is highly durable and able to withstand frequent use and cleaning. It’s harder and more stain resistant than materials like drywall.
  • Classic, versatile style – The neutral colors and understated look of subway tile fit well in both traditional and contemporary kitchens. They provide a clean, classic backdrop.
  • Design flexibility – Subway tiles offer immense flexibility in design through varied sizes, patterns, colors, and materials like glass or porcelain.
  • Easy installation – The small size and interlocking shape allow for straightforward do-it-yourself installation. No special tools or skills are required.

With proper installation and care, a subway tile backsplash can last for decades, providing great return on investment. The key is choosing the size and layout that best suits your specific kitchen.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Subway Tile Size

Subway tiles come in a surprising range of sizes, from tiny mosaics under an inch to jumbo tiles reaching 6 inches tall or wider. With so many options, keep these factors in mind when selecting size:

Your design style – Contemporary and modern kitchens tend to use larger subway tiles, often 3×12 inch or 4×12. More traditional kitchens use smaller sizes like 3×6.

Tile color/pattern – Larger tile sizes showcase bolder colors and patterns better. Intricate or busy patterns are best in smaller sizes.

Kitchen size – Small kitchens can feel cramped with large tiles. Standard 3×6 works well in most kitchens under 200 sq. ft.

Backsplash height – Backsplashes reaching higher than 18 inches look best with smaller tile sizes to avoid too much visible grout.

Grout lines – Narrow grout lines of 1/8 inch or less are recommended for larger tiles to keep the look cohesive. Wider grout on large tiles can appear disjointed.

Application area – Behind stoves, opt for fire-resistant and easy-to-clean glossy tiles at least 4×4 inches. Near outlets, select mosaic sheets for easy cutting.

Budget – Larger sized tiles have a higher material cost. Smaller mosaics cost less but require more grout. Factor total tile and installation cost.

Personal preference – Choose sizes you find most visually appealing for your kitchen goals. There are no set rules!

Evaluating these factors will guide you in determining the ideal subway tile sizes specific to your kitchen.

Standard Subway Tile Sizes

While subway tiles can come in any custom size, here are some of the most common options seen in kitchen backsplashes:

3×6 Inch

The 3×6 size is the original and still most widely used subway tile size. At 3 inches high and 6 inches long, these offer a classic, timeless backsplash look. The smaller scale provides many benefits:

  • Ideal for small to mid-sized kitchens
  • Allows for easy mixing and matching of colors/patterns
  • Versatile style works with any kitchen decor
  • More affordable than larger sizes
  • Easy DIY installation

The slim 3 inch height prevents the backsplash from feeling imposing or overwhelming. For most backsplash applications below 18 inches high, the 3×6 size provides ideal proportions.

4×8 Inch

Slightly larger than the standard size, the 4×8 inch subway tile offers a somewhat more modern, streamlined look:

  • Elongated shape creates a sleek, contemporary feel
  • Larger scale suits bigger kitchens
  • Showcases bold colors or designs
  • Grout lines less visible from a distance
  • Pricing comparable to 3×6

The longer shape highlights backsplashes behind wide stove tops or kitchen islands. The 4 inch height also better anchors backsplashes that extend above standard height.

3×12 Inch

The 3×12 subway stretch tile has seen a surge in popularity for more contemporary kitchen designs:

  • Creates contemporary visual impact
  • Long proportion highlights high backsplashes
  • Allows using fewer tiles and less grout
  • Prices moderately higher than smaller sizes
  • Weighs more than smaller tiles; may require specialized installation

Use this elongated size to make a design statement or draw the eye upwards in modern kitchens. The minimal grout lines contribute to its sleekness.

Mosaic Sheets

Subway tile mosaics consist of 1 inch by 1 inch tiles mounted on 12×12 inch mesh sheets. The mini scale of the tiles creates unique effects:

  • Provides high visual interest and texture
  • Allows creating patterns and designs
  • Suits any kitchen style from traditional to modern
  • Affordable, with smaller material requirement than full tiles
  • Available in colors that complement standard subway sizes

Use these 1×1 mosaics sparingly as an accent or field tile for a less monotonous look compared to large tiles. Their versatility suits both backsplashes and countertops.

6×6 Inch

For a bolder, more contemporary scale without going oversized, the 6×6 inch subway offers impact:

  • Modern, sleek look similar to 4×8 or 3×12 stretch
  • Offers greater design flexibility than large rectangles
  • Enough size to make a statement but not overwhelm
  • Requires fewer tiles and less grout than 3×6
  • Fairly affordable and easy to install

The 6×6 can pair well with neutral cabinets and stainless steel appliances while making the backsplash the focal point. This size works best if you have at least 36 inches of backsplash space.

Jumbo (6×12 Inch or Larger)

Jumbo subway tiles exceeding 6×6 have emerged for dramatic backsplash aesthetics:

  • Makes maximum visual impact
  • Elongated sizes like 6×12 work well in contemporary kitchens
  • Large-scale pattern requires fewer grout lines
  • Prices higher than standard sizes
  • Heavy, often needs professional installation
  • Makes a bold style statement; not ideal for subtle or traditional looks

Limit jumbo subway use to backsplashes over 4 feet high to balance proportions. Pair with sleek cabinets and appliances.

Recommended Subway Tile Sizes

While you can’t go wrong with the versatile 3×6, here are some recommended subway tile sizes for common backsplash situations:

  • Small kitchens – Stick with 3×6 or 4×8. Avoid tiles over 6 inches tall or wide to prevent overwhelm.
  • Backsplash over sink – Use mosaic sheets for easy shaping around outlets and faucets. 4×4 or 6×6 sizes also allow a full tile beside the sinkhole.
  • Backsplashes over 4 feet high – Choose elongated sizes like 3×12 or 4×16. The longer scale prevents tall backsplashes from feeling imposing while adding modern appeal.
  • Behind stove – Minimum 4×4 inch tiles are recommended to reduce grout lines where cooking messes can collect. Easy-to-clean glossy porcelain or ceramic works best.
  • Kitchen island backsplash – Take advantage of the extra space with dramatic large-scale tiles like 6×12 jumbo size.
  • Contemporary kitchen – Oversized subway tiles help create a sleek, polished look. Stacked bonding adds modern flair.
  • Vintage/traditional kitchen – For a classic subway tile style, use 3×6 white matte ceramic tiles in a bricklay pattern.
  • Small/busy patterns – Use small mosaics or standard 3×6. Larger tiles overwhelm intricate designs.
  • Mixing multiple colors – Smaller tile sizes allow seamlessly combining colors. Larger tiles suit single solid colors or simple patterns.

Considering your kitchen’s existing elements helps determine ideal tile sizes to achieve your desired aesthetic.

Installation and Grouting Tips

Proper installation and grouting are key to achieving a cohesive backsplash with clean lines:

  • Use tile spacers between tiles for consistent grout line spacing. 1/8 inch lines work well.
  • On the vertical backsplash, use a level and install tiles in a bricklike offset pattern for the most seamless look.
  • For corner installations, miter cut edge tiles at 45 degree angles rather than using bullnose end tiles.
  • Use unsanded caulk instead of grout in corner joints and between tile and wall edges. This prevents cracking from movement.
  • Apply grout sealer after installation to maximize stain resistance and longevity. Reseal grout every 1-2 years.
  • Consider epoxy grout for backsplashes behind cooktops. Epoxy resists heat better than traditional cement grout.

Following manufacturer installation guidelines carefully will help your subway tiles look picture perfect for decades to come.

Subway Tile Patterns and Designs

Beyond choosing the right size, subway tiles offer endless options for cool patterns and designs:

Stacked Bond

Stacking subway tiles vertically rather than offsetting creates a modern, sleek look. This works best with larger rectangular sizes like 3×12 or 4×16.

White stacked bond subway tile backsplash

Stacked bonding subway tiles create a contemporary linear look

Chevron and Herringbone

For geometric impact, arrange subway tiles in chevron or herringbone layouts. Contrasting grout color highlights the shape.

Blue and white chevron subway tile backsplash

A chevron pattern adds visual dynamism

Subway Tile Inserts

Use mosaic tile inserts within a field of standard subway tiles to add color, texture, and charm:

Subway tile backsplash with decorative tile inserts

Decorative inserts provide visual interest

Shapes and Patterns

Subway tiles can form geometric shapes, diagonal designs, borders, or patterns when mixed with specialty decorative tiles.

Subway tile backsplash in geometric flower design

Mixing subway tiles with specialty tiles creates artistic designs

Contrasting Grout Color

Choose a contrasting grout color to add emphasis to the tile pattern and design. Black is popular for making colors pop.

Mixing Subway Tile Sizes

Using two or more complementary subway tile sizes can add dynamism to backsplashes. Mix different sizes randomly or in rows.

With smart planning and design, subway tiles offer nearly endless possibilities for customized, beautiful backsplashes that’ll stand the test of time.

Subway Tile Backsplash Maintenance

Subway tile backsplashes are highly durable and easy to maintain with proper care:

  • Use a pH neutral cleaner for regular upkeep. Avoid harsh acidic or alkaline cleaners.
  • Re-seal grout lines annually with grout sealer to prevent stains and damage.
  • For heavy stains, use a tile cleaner containing glycolic or phosphoric acid, testing first.
  • Avoid abrasive scouring pads or powders that can damage the tile surface over time.
  • In the kitchen, immediately wipe up oils, juices, wine, or cooking residue to prevent staining.
  • Use a grout pen to touch up any cracked or damaged grout lines as needed.
  • Repair any damaged or missing caulk in corners or edges to prevent moisture entering behind tiles.

With routine cleaning and sealing, subway tile backsplashes can maintain their like-new appearance for decades before needing replacement.


What size of subway tile is most popular?

The 3×6 inch size remains the most widely installed subway tile for backsplashes and walls. This classic size offers ideal proportions for blending into any kitchen style without dominating.

What size subway tile is best for small kitchens?

For kitchens under 150 square feet, the standard 3×6 inch size prevents the backsplash from feeling overpowering. Avoid jumbo tiles over 6 inches. Mosaics add visual interest without overwhelm in tight spaces.

Is 12×24 too big for a subway tile backsplash?

Stacked 12×24 inch subway tiles can feel overwhelming or disjointed on typical backsplash heights under 4 feet. Limit jumbo sizes like 12×24 to full height backsplashes to balance proportions. Or use sparingly mixed with smaller tiles.

What size subway tile is easiest to install?

The smaller 3×6 inch size offers the most DIY-friendly installation. The lighter tiles are simple to handle and cut as needed. Larger tiles over 6×6 inches grow heavy and may require professional assistance.

What size subway tile goes best with dark cabinets?

Dark cabinetry benefits from lighter subway tiles for contrast. A clean white 3×6 size keeps the look understated. Or make a bolder statement with bright glossy tiles or fun mosaic patterns.


Subway tiles remain a versatile, affordable, and classic backsplash choice that pairs beautifully with any cabinetry and decor. With an endless variety of sizes, colors, and patterns, selecting the perfect subway tile design comes down to your kitchen’s needs and style goals.

Keep proportions, application areas, and overall cohesiveness in mind when weighing subway tile sizes. For most kitchens, the crowd-pleasing 3×6 size satisfies. Size up to jumbo for contemporary flair, or size down for artsy mosaics. With proper installation and care, quality subway tiles can beautifully withstand decades of use.