How to Border With Subway Tile

Subway tile is named after the rectangular, tightly fitted white ceramic tiles originally used on the walls of the New York City subway system. Traditionally, subway tile is laid in a staggered, bricklike pattern. Its easily cleaned surface works well for tub surrounds, kitchen backsplashes and bathroom walls. Its long, narrow shape is well-suited for borders as well. The standard size is 3 inches by 6 inches, but modern interpretations include wide variations in both size and color.

Things You'll Need

  • Score-and-snap tile cutter
  • Tile adhesive such as thinset or mastic
  • Notched trowel
  • Tile spacers
  • Tile grout
  • Rubber grout float
  • Sponge


    • 1

      Lay the tiles out on the floor or hold them in place around your center tiles to make sure the pattern looks correct. If the tiles won't fit evenly around the edge, use a score-and-snap tile cutter to cut the corner tiles to size.

    • 2

      Apply adhesive such as thinset or mastic to the border area of your project. Spread the adhesive with a notched trowel, keeping the adhesive to a small work area so you can apply the tiles before the adhesive sets. Plan to work with no more than eight tiles at one time.

    • 3

      Press each tile firmly into the adhesive, beginning at one corner and working around the edge of the project. Leave the same amount of space between the subway tiles as you left between the central tiles of your project. Use spacers between tiles if necessary. When all of the tiles are laid, allow the adhesive to dry overnight.

    • 4

      Spread tile grout over the dried, set tiles with a rubber grout float. Move diagonally across the grout lines, packing the grout into the spaces between the tiles. Clean the excess grout from the surface of the tiles with a soft, damp sponge. Allow the grout to set completely.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you are working in a tight area, try applying the adhesive directly to the back of each tile before setting it in place rather than spreading it directly onto the wall.
  • If the adhesive on the wall begins to form a skin before you can place the tiles, scrape it from the wall and apply fresh adhesive before you continue tiling.
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  • Photo Credit Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images

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