After three years living in our house, we finally decided it was time to install a subway tile kitchen backsplash! Here’s how I installed this subway tile backsplash using matte white 3″ by 6″ tiles and ready mixed adhesive and grout. It took me about two days to complete, and cost less than $200.
A subway tile backslash is an affordable way to update your kitchen. You can easily get this project done in a weekend.
Our kitchen has dark stained maple shaker cabinets made by Vedder Woodworking, white quartz countertops, and pewter and black hardware. We decided to install a matte white subway tile because it is simple, classic, goes with everything, and is easy to install! Here is how to install a classic white subway tile backsplash in your kitchen.
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Tools and Materials
- 3″ by 6″ matte white subway tile
- Plastic drop sheet
- Wet tile saw
- Laser level
- Pre-mixed tile adhesive
- 1/4″ v notch trowel
- 1/16″ tile spacers
- Pre-mixed grout
- Grout float
- Oversized electrical plate covers
1. Prepare your kitchen for tile
The very first thing to do is to prepare your kitchen for tile. Remove everything from the counters and take off the electrical plate covers. If you’re not going to tile the entire wall behind your oven, screw a piece of wood to the wall in line with the counters to hold up the tile. Also protect your counters with some plastic or paper drop sheets.
*One thing I didn’t do, and I realized after I was finished tiling, was to loosen the electrical boxes from the wall. You’re supposed to tile behind the plugs, and not around them, so your standard electrical plate will still cover the tile*
2. Plan your tile placement
I like to plan my tiles before I start cutting them to make sure that they are centered either along the wall. You just want to make sure that you don’t end up with a small sliver of tile on one end of your wall. Our backsplash is pretty straight forward, and I decided to start with a half cut tile in the corner of the kitchen. When you buy your tile, plan to have about 10% extra to account for any tiles breaking.
I used a laser level to determine where the first row of tile would go. Kitchen cabinets are usually pretty level, but they could be out a smidge over the length of the whole kitchen. It’s not a big deal for the cabinets or the countertop, but if you use the line of your countertop for the tile your eyes would notice that it’s not level. Our kitchen was out a half inch from one end to the other, so I decided to split the difference between each end of the backsplash. I just had to make sure I placed the top of the first row of tile along the laser level line.
3. Install the subway tile
I did not take progress shots of the subway tile installation, but here’s a quick timelapse of the whole tiling process.
I started installing the subway tile the corner of the kitchen. I cut the first few tiles in half using a wet tile saw. Using a 1/4″ v notched trowel, apply the pre-mixed adhesive to the wall. Start by applying it from the bottom up, and the top down, and then spread it out horizontally with the notched end of your trowel at a 45 degree angle. Work about a foot at a time because the adhesive will dry very quickly once it’s on the wall.
Lay your first row of tiles and add spacers between. You don’t have to press very hard to adhere the tiles to the wall, and you also don’t need to backbutter. Just gently place the tiles on the adhesive. Work your way up the wall making sure all the tiles are straight and spaced evening. Try to keep your hands as clean as possible to keep the tiles relatively clean.
You can see in the pictures below that I tiled around the outlets – this is not the proper way to do it. You should loosen the electrical boxes from the wall and slide the tiles in behind. I was able to slide some tiny pieces of tile in behind, and then found some oversized outlet covers that still hide the tile edges.
The next day once the adhesive was dry, I removed all the spacers to get the tiles ready for grout. At this point you can clean out the grout lines to make sure there is no adhesive on the face of the tiles.
3. Grout and caulk your backsplash
I used a pre-mixed white grout for this backsplash. Use a grout float to spread the grout over the tiles and smush it into the grout lines. Once the grout is in the lines, use the float to scrape off any excess.
Don’t let the grout sit for too long, and then wipe it off with a damp sponge. With this type of grout, I found I had to wash it a few times to get it clean.
Once you’re done the grout, caulk the corners and along the counter with a matching color of caulk.
4. Clean the haze from the subway tile
I found this grout was pretty difficult to clean off, and it left a fair bit of haze on the tile. I used a scouring pad and my fingernail to clean the haze from each tile. It took a fair bit of effort, and I think this could have been avoided if I gave the grout another wash when it was still wet.
This type of pre-mixed grout does not need sealing, so that is it for this subway tile installation!
Classic white subway tile backsplash
Once I finished cleaning the tiles I removed the plastic from the counters and put the electrical plates back on. I also installed the valence under the upper cabinets. We still need to get some under cabinet lighting to totally finish the kitchen, but it looks a whole lot more finished now! What do you think? Have you ever installed your own backsplash? What type of tile would you choose for your kitchen?