How to Install a Subway Tile Kitchen Backsplash

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A trowel is used to apply tile mastic before setting tile.
A trowel is used to apply tile mastic before setting tile. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

A subway tile backsplash can add a clean and modern look to your kitchen. Subway tiles come in a wide variety of colors, and you can coordinate the backsplash with the rest of your design. Select a color to complement the cabinets, counter and floor. Standard subway tiles are rectangular and measure 3 inches tall and 6 inches wide, although you can choose from a variety of sizes. They became popular in bathrooms around the turn of the century but are now used in all areas of interiors. Subway tile is installed the same as any other tile backsplash, using a tile mastic for adhesive and grout to fill the joints between tiles.

Things You'll Need

  • Tile mastic
  • 3/16-inch notched trowel
  • Subway tile
  • Tile spacers
  • Grout
  • Grout float
  • Sponge
  • Bucket with water
  • Cloth rags

Apply a coat of tile mastic to the backsplash area of the wall with a notched trowel.

Starting in the bottom left corner of the backsplash area, set a row of tiles across the bottom. Insert tile spacers in the joints between the countertop and the bottom of each tile as well as in the joints where the tiles meet each other to create an evenly spaced layout.

Lay a second row of tile above the first row in the same manner. Continue until you have reached the bottom of the cabinets, filling the entire backsplash area. Remove the tile spacers once the mastic has hardened to the touch. Allow the mastic to set for at least 24 hours.

Pack grout into the joints between the tiles with a grout float. Hold the grout float at a slight angle and drag it across the joints to fill them with grout.

Allow the grout to form a haze over the tiles, which takes approximately 15 minutes. Dampen a sponge and wipe the haze off each tile. Rinse and repeat the process until the water wrung from the sponge is clear. Allow the grout to dry overnight before continuing.

Apply a thin bead of caulk around the perimeter of the tiled backsplash with a caulking gun. Run your finger across the caulk line to smooth it out and create a uniform bead of caulk.

Tips & Warnings

  • If your tiles appear to sag while the mastic dries, tape tiles together with a scrap of duct tape.
  • Wear eye and hand protection when working with tile mastic and grout.

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