Where to Buy Subway Tile Backsplash

Subway tiles are a classic and popular choice for kitchen and bathroom backsplashes. Their rectangular shape and modest size make them ideal for installing in high-moisture areas. Subway tiles get their name from their resemblance to the white ceramic tiles that line many subway stations. They come glazed or unglazed, in a variety of colors, finishes, and sizes. Subway tile backsplashes can lend a kitchen or bathroom a clean, streamlined look. They pair well with any decor style from traditional to modern.

When planning a subway tile backsplash, one of the first decisions is where to purchase the tiles. Subway tiles are available from home improvement stores, tile specialty shops, and online retailers. Consider the pros, cons, and costs of buying subway tile at each type of retailer.

Purchasing Subway Tile at Home Improvement Stores

Home improvement big-box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s offer several advantages for buying subway tile:


The convenience factor of home improvement mega-stores is hard to beat. Shop for tiles and everything else needed for the project like grout, backerboard, and tile adhesive all in one place. Home improvement stores have numerous locations, so there is likely one conveniently close to home.


Large home improvement chains buy tiles directly from manufacturers in huge quantities. This allows them to pass the savings on to customers. While selection is more limited than a tile specialty store, the choices are still decent. Expect to find plenty of options for basic white, black, and grey groutless subway tiles starting around $5 per square foot.

Availability of Other Installation Products

In addition to the subway tiles, home improvement stores sell all the other supplies needed for a backsplash installation. Purchase backerboard, thinset mortar, grout, grout sealant, tile spacers, and tile cutters right alongside the tiles.

Option to Buy Online and Pick Up In-Store

Home improvement store websites allow customers to purchase tiles online for convenient in-store pickup. Browse the available choices online, order samples if desired, and then pick up the subway tile and other necessary installation products at the local store. This saves time and ensures all items are in stock before starting the project.

While home improvement stores offer speed and convenience for buying subway tile, here are some downsides to consider:

Limited Selection

A typical home improvement store carries 10-20 subway tile color and finish options. Special sizes like anything other than 3×6 inches are unlikely. Shoppers looking for unique colors, shapes, decorative finishes, or mosaics will have better luck at a tile specialty store.

No Customization Options

What you see is what you get when shopping big box home improvement stores. There are no custom color or sizing options. Special order fulfillment may take several weeks. Shoppers needing customized subway tiles should check with an independent tile shop.

Limited Expertise

Large home improvement stores employ general sales associates rather than tile installation experts. Advice is limited, especially for questions about advanced installations like subway tile patterns or niche design. Independent tile shops have seasoned pros well-versed in all aspects of tile selection and installation.

Purchasing Subway Tile at Tile Specialty Shops

Tile specialty retailers cater specifically to tile with a wide selection and customized services. Here are some pros of purchasing subway tile at a tile specialty store:

Expansive Selection

Tile shops offer an incredible range of sizes, colors, materials, finishes, and patterns beyond basic subway tile. Browse unique colors and finishes like metallic, iridescent, and crackled glazes unavailable at home improvement stores. Specialty stores also stock many sizes of subway tile starting from tiny mosaics up to 12×24 inches.

Custom Design Services

Work one-on-one with an expert design consultant to create a customized backsplash. Choose from tiles in the store or order exactly what you want. The designer can create renderings to help visualize the finished project. Take advantage of value-added services like sample checkouts to see tiles at home before purchasing.

Special Order Capabilities

Tile shop professionals have connections with vendors across the globe. If you don’t see what you want in-store, there’s a good chance they can special order it. Be prepared to wait several weeks or longer for unique custom tiles.

Knowledgeable Sales Associates

Tile specialty stores employ highly-trained tile installation experts, not general salespeople. Trust their recommendations for products like setting materials and grout based on the specifics of your project. Take advantage of their expertise to avoid rookie tile setting mistakes.

While tile specialty shops provide superb selection and services, there are a few potential drawbacks:

No One-Stop Shopping

Most tile specialty stores only sell tile and tile installation materials. Purchase backerboard, grout, and tools at a separate big box home improvement retailer. Make an additional trip or have the other items delivered.

Higher Prices

The expansive options and customized services come at a cost. Expect to pay $8-15 per square foot or more for specialty subway tile. Basic products may be pricey as well. Set a sufficient budget and remember that higher initial investment can mean better long-term durability and aesthetics.

Potential for Sales Pressure

Some tile store sales associates work on commission and may recommend products based on profit rather than suitability for the project. Do your own research beforehand so you can make informed decisions and not overspend.

Purchasing Subway Tile Online

Purchasing subway tile online offers unique pros and cons compared to in-store buying. Consider the following when buying subway tile online for backsplash projects:

Huge Selection

Online tile retailers have a nearly limitless assortment since they are not restricted by physical shelf space. Browse subway tiles in every imaginable color, finish, material, and size. Order standard variations or one-of-a-kind specialty tile directly to your home.


The convenience of shopping online is unmatched, especially for buyers without access to tile specialty stores nearby. Browse subway tiles at any hour without leaving home. Have tiles and other materials delivered directly to avoid transporting heavy tiles.

Competitive Pricing

Online-only tile sellers keep prices low by passing warehouse-direct savings onto customers. Find better deals on shipping costs as well since online retailers have special rates with carriers.

Ability to View Reviews

Check out customer reviews and ratings before purchasing subway tiles online. Past buyers describe product quality, appearance, shipping, and overall shopping experience. Reviews help determine reputable retailers upfront.

No Ability to See Tiles

The major disadvantage of online tile shopping is the inability to view tiles in person before purchasing. Color, finish, and quality variations are difficult to discern from photos. Order samples beforehand to get a better idea of products. Consider ordering extra tiles upfront in case some need to be returned.

Potential Shipping Delays or Damage

Receiving tiles by mail takes careful packing and handling. Make sure the retailer has a good returns process in place in case of shipping damage or errors. Order tiles with plenty of lead time in case replacements must be sent.

Where to Buy Subway Tile Backsplash

Now that you know the pros and cons of buying subway tile from various sources, where is the best place to purchase tiles for your upcoming backsplash installation?

Ultimately the right retailer depends on your specific backsplash tile needs, budget, project timeline, and convenience factors. Here are some top options to consider for where to buy subway tile backsplash:

Home Improvement Stores

If simply looking for basic and affordable white 3×6” groutless subway tile, home improvement mega-stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s are prime choices. Shop conveniently for tiles, backerboard, thinset, grout, and all other installation needs in one place.

Tile Specialty Stores

For specialty subway tiles in unique colors, shapes, and materials or completely customized designs, tile shops are best. Their expansive inventories and design services make it easy to create a one-of-a-kind backsplash.

Online Tile Retailers

Buying subway tile online works well forDIYers on a budget who wantdelivered directly. Take advantage of huge inventories, lower prices, and convenient home delivery. Just be prepared to order samples and extra tiles.

Direct from Manufacturer

Some subway tile brands sell direct online from their manufacturing warehouses. Costs are usually 20-30% less than big box stores. Check company websites like Daltile, American Olean, and Emser to find their direct retail programs.

Habitat for Humanity ReStore

For bargain hunters, check for leftover tiles at Habitat for Humanity ReStore locations. Stocks of surplus and discontinued subway tiles get donated frequently. Selection varies but with patience, scoring super cheap subway tile is possible.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Where to Purchase Subway Tile

Choosing the ideal retailer for subway tile backsplash projects depends on several factors:

Tile Variety Needed

If only basic white subway tile is desired, almost any home improvement store has them aplenty. Need specialty shapes, unique colors, or mosaics? Check tile shops or online instead.

Project Timeline

Only have a week before the scheduled installation? Grab readily available in-stock tiles at big box stores. For specialty pieces with long lead times, order online or from a shop 6-8 weeks out.

Convenience and Availability

Home improvement stores win for convenience thanks to numerous locations and everything needed for installation all under one roof. Online retailers ship tiles and materials right to your door.


Big box stores offer the best deals on standard subway tile starting around $5 per square foot. Specialty tiles at tile shops usually start at $8 per square foot. Set realistic expectations based on the project budget.

Customization Requirements

Large retailers provide no customization options. To select every aesthetic element like sizing and finish, visit a tile specialty store or design an online custom order.

DIY Skill Level

DIY beginners benefit from the broad product selection and expert advice at tile specialty stores. Experienced DIYers may appreciate the convenience and affordability of big box DIY centers.

By taking the time to weigh the pros, cons, and costs of all subway tile purchasing options, it becomes easier to determine the ideal retailer for your specific backsplash project requirements and constraints. Carefully comparing the various where to buy subway tile backsplash possibilities helps set your project up for success from the very first step!

How Much Does Subway Tile Cost?

The cost of subway tile ranges widely based on the factors listed below, but on average expect to pay:

  • $5-$15 per square foot for the tile
  • $3-$5 per square foot for thinset mortar and grout
  • $0.50-$1 per square foot for backerboard

In total, budget $10-$25 per square foot for a complete installed subway tile backsplash. Using premium tile upgrades can increase costs to $50 per square foot or beyond.

Price is determined by:

  • Tile dimensions – smaller mosaics cost more
  • Tile material – ceramic, porcelain, glass, metal, natural stone
  • Tile finish – glazed, unglazed, crackled, glossy, matte
  • Color and design – plain white is cheapest, multicolor costs more
  • Brand name – premium brands charge more
  • Quantity purchased – bulk orders usually save money
  • Location – costs vary by retailer type and geographic region

Ways to save money on subway tile backsplash include:

  • Shop sales and clearance sections
  • Buy in-stock tiles rather than special order
  • Choose smaller grout joints
  • Install yourself rather than hiring a pro
  • Use a white thinset mortar instead of a more expensive modified mortar

However, don’t sacrifice long-term durability solely for cost savings. Higher-quality installation materials and methods prevent problems down the road.

How to Determine the Quantity of Subway Tile Needed

Measure the backsplash area carefully, calculate the tile layout, and add extra for cutting waste to determine how much subway tile to purchase.

Follow these steps to find the subway tile quantity needed:

1. Measure the Backsplash Area

Measure the height and length of the backsplash area and multiply to get the total square footage. Remember to calculate any separate sections like behind the stove or on multiple walls.

2. Decide on Grout Joint Size

Common grout joint sizes are 1/16”, 1/8”, and 3/16”. Narrow joints use less grout and tiles.

3. Determine Number of Tiles

Divide the total backsplash square footage by the size of your subway tile. A 3×6” tile has an area of 0.25 sq ft. Adjust the tile quantity by 10-15% extra to account for tile cuts and waste.

4. Calculate Thinset and Grout Needs

Multiply the total backsplash square footage by 1.1 to allow for thinset behind the tiles. Check grout coverage charts online based on tile size and grout joint width.

5. Order Backerboard

Buy moisture-resistant backerboard sized to cover the total backsplash area including joints. Cement board often comes in 3×5 ft sheets.

Always round up to order full boxes of tile rather than dealing with half boxes. Having spares ensures plenty of extras for repairs or additions down the road. Consider purchasing 5-10% more tiles than the final quantity needed to be safe.

Subway Tile Patterns and Designs

Beyond just color, the pattern and layout used for subway tiles make a huge impact on the overall aesthetic. Get design inspiration from these popular subway tile backsplash patterns:

Brick Pattern

Laying subway tile in an offset brick pattern has a classic look. Stagger tiles so the vertical seams do not align. Vary the grout joint thickness to create interest. This traditional pattern coordinates well in any kitchen.

Brick pattern subway tile backsplash

An offset brick pattern with subway tile. Image by Hunker.

Stacked Pattern

Stacking subway tiles vertically creates clean lines and visual height. For variation, alternate between tiles stacked vertically and horizontally. Mix grout colors within the same stack for a modern vibe.

Stacked pattern subway tile backsplash

Subway tiles in a stacked pattern. Image by Studio McGee.

Herringbone Pattern

The herringbone pattern has subway tiles set at a 45 or 30-degree angle in a V-shape. It works with any tile shape but looks striking with longer rectangular tiles. A herringbone backsplash makes a statement.

Herringbone pattern subway tile backsplash

Herringbone pattern subway tiles. Image by Charmean Neithart Interiors.

Geometric Patterns

Use squares, rectangles, hexagons, diamonds, and triangles to create a geometric subway tile design. Try tiling around electrical outlets or framing the outer border. Geometric patterns require cutting precision.

Geometric pattern subway tile backsplash

A geometric hexagon and triangle design. Image by Home Depot.

Subway Tile Inserts

Frame basic white subway tiles with specialty accent tiles like marble inserts, mesh sheets, or penny rounds. This adds eye-catching details without going overboard. Limit accent tiles to 30% or less of the backsplash.

Subway tile inserts

Marble inserts add interest to basic white subway tile. Image by Hunker.

How to Install a Subway Tile Backsplash

Installing a subway tile backsplash is an intermediate DIY project, but can be managed by a dedicated beginner willing to learn proper techniques. Follow these steps:

Supplies Needed

Tile, thinset mortar, grout, backerboard, backsplash edge trim, tape, spacers, grout sealer, mixing bucket, notched trowel, grout float, sponges, buckets, tile saw, safety gear

Step 1: Prepare the Work Surface

Remove existing backsplash. Clean and sand the area then apply painter’s tape along the edges. Ensure the wall is flat.

Step 2: Cut and Mount the Backerboard

Measure and cut cement backerboard panels to size. Dry fit pieces and make any adjustments. Apply thinset mortar to the wall and screw backerboard in place.

Step 3: Lay Out Tile Pattern

Dry lay a few rows of tile on the backerboard to visualize the pattern. Make adjustments before installing. Mix thinset in a bucket.

Step 4: Spread Thinset and Stick Tiles

Use a notched trowel to evenly spread thinset on the backerboard. Place tiles in the pattern and press gently but firmly to adhere.

Step 5: Finish Installing Tiles

Work row by row to install the remaining tiles. Use spacers to maintain even grout joint width. Cut border and accent tiles as needed with a tile saw.

Step 6: Allow Thinset to Cure

Let thinset mortar cure for at least 24 hours without disturbing tiles. Verify all tiles are flat and firmly stuck.

Step 7: Mix and Apply Grout

Prepare grout mix according to package directions. Use a grout float to spread grout over the entire tile surface, forcing it into joints.

Step 8: Clean Excess Grout

Let grout sit for a few minutes. Use a damp sponge to wipe diagonally across tiles to remove excess grout