Subway Tile Backsplash Tutorial

The final piece to our kitchen renovation puzzle was to install a subway tile back splash.  I’m not going to lie, the thought of tiling has always made me nervous, but in the end it was actually really easy, just time consuming.

I don’t know why it made me so nervous, but I will tell you this…it looked a lot more difficult than it was.  Subway tile is actually a very easy and inexpensive way to freshen up the kitchen.  I promise, it is not as scary as you may think.

This is how we did it…

First, you’ll need:

  • Subway Tile
  • Adhesive to set the tile
  • Notched Trowel
  • Wet Tile saw (this was a lifesaver)
  • Grout (we used Sanded, white grout)
  • Grout sponge
  • Tile float
  • Caulking

STEP 1: Turn off the electrical, remove the light switch and plug covers

We wrapped all of our outlets with plastic bags and taped them to keep them clean throughout the process.

STEP 2: Apply Adhesive to the wall using the Notched Trowel

Dip the trowel in the adhesive and go to town!  Use the flat side of the notched trowel to apply a thin amount of adhesive to the wall.  After the adhesive is in place, drag the notched side of the trowel through the adhesive .  This will help eliminate air pockets, making it easier to secure your tile to the wall.

STEP 3: Start tiling!

We started on the bottom row, in the center of the wall housing the sink, slowly working our way out there.

To start, we added a row of 1/8″ spacers to the top of the sink.  You do not want to butt your tile right up against the counter top, or sink ledge…at some point you may want to replace these items.  Replacing them will be much easier with a gap between the top of your counter top and the bottom of your tile.  Don’t worry you’ll fill in the gap later with caulking.

STEP 4: Continue to work your way around the room, applying the adhesive, and tile. Remember to take a step back to check your work once in awhile, you want to keep your spacing even and your tiles level.

Tiling does get a little tricky around the lighting and electrical outlets.  You will have to make some cuts to fit the tile properly around the outlets, take your time, measure your cuts and you’ll be fine.

The cuts around the outlets, windows and edges don’t have to be perfect.  You’ll be able to fix it when you’re finished with caulking…just get as close as you can.

Professionals at work, making the cuts :)

  Tiling around the electrical outlets



Now that you have applied the tile to your back splash area, it’s time to let the adhesive dry.  Give the adhesive 24 hours to dry, then you’ll be ready to grout.

All Dry and ready for Grout

STEP 7: Wipe down your tile before you start to grout.

STEP 8: Mix your Grout

We used a white, sanded grout for our backsplash.  There are two types of grout…sanded and unsanded.  Sanded grout has sand added to the cement making it more durable.  Unsanded grout is best for spacing less than 1/8″, while sanded grout is used in spacing 1/8″ or larger.

Since our spacing was 1/8″ we had a choice to make.  We chose the sanded grout because it is more forgiving and easier to apply (which is definitely a good thing when you’re working on your first tiling job).  For more information on sanded vs. unsanded grout, click here.

Just follow the directions on the box for mixing grout.  You don’t want it to too watery, you’re looking for a thick porridge like consistency.

STEP 9: Apply the Grout

Before you start applying the grout, I highly recommend protecting your work surface.  We forgot that step.  I was walking behind Alfred as he was applying grout, cleaning up the counter tops.

Apply the grout in an even manner with a float, holding it at about a 45 degree angle working the grout evenly into the spaces between tiles.  Slowly work your way around the backsplash in small sections, keeping your grout even throughout the process.

STEP 10: Sponge off the excess grout

Allow the grout to dry approximately 30-45 minutes.  Then go over the surface with a damp sponge removing the excess grout from the tiles, rinse your sponge often.

STEP 11: Caulk

After the grout has dried, approximately 24 hours. Go back and wipe down your tiles again to remove any leftover grout haze.  Apply caulking to the areas around your windows, outlets, bottom of your tile.

STEP 12: Seal your grout. 

STEP 13: Enjoy your fabulous new backsplash!

My counter top tutorial is being featured at Remodelaholics today! Thanks Cassity and Justin for the feature.

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  1. says

    I will never cease to be amazed by you and your projects, Elizabeth! That backsplash turned out absolutely amazing…that kitchen doesn’t even remotely resemble the one you moved in to! And you look adorable cutting tile (c:

  2. says

    It looks amazing and makes ALL the difference in your kitchen! The perfect finishing touch. Thanks for the step-by-step. I hope to be following your directions in my own kitchen in a few months!

  3. says

    That looks fantastic! And you look pretty “cool” cutting tile in your shades! :)
    I love subway tile and would love to add it in my own kitchen. Thanks for the easy to follow step by step!

  4. says

    I just love your choice in tile. I think the white grout was perfect. Super awesome Elizabeth! Thanks for sharing!
    xo Becca

  5. says

    You really do make this look easy but your directions are also so clear. I could do this (I think). We would need to get a wet saw but maybe we could borrow one. It looks so nice and clean.

  6. Ike says

    Very nice job. Can the tiles just butt up against each other without spacers? How did you finish off a line that didn’t end at a wall?

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  8. Saaima says

    Hi. You did a great job. I am installing marble subway tile in my kitchen with a light gray/silver grout, and I have been going back and forth between the size f spacer to use. I usually prefer thin thin thin grout lines. 1/8 seems big for my taste. Do you think you could have gotten away with 1/16 or even 1/32? I find even the thinnest spacer still shows the grout lines? thanks!

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  10. says

    The choice of subway tile suits the sink area perfectly. You’ve done a great job, well done! It looks fantastic :-)

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