Learn how to install your own subway tile backsplash with this easy to follow step-by-step guide. Plus, watch the accompanying video for even more tips.
I’m Tackling My First Tiling Job Which Is This Subway Tile Backsplash In My Kitchen
Like every process, there are some things to know before jumping into this project but overall I was shocked at how straight forward and easy this project was. Let me show you what I learned incase you’re looking to do subway tile backsplash of your own.
In preparation for this project, I painted my wall down to the lower cabinet area. I killed the breaker for these outlets then unscrewed them from the wall and left them protruding.
If you missed my last video, I actually took this opportunity to install under cabinet lighting and to switch out the outlets from beige to white. Check out that video HERE if you want to watch that process.
To start tiling, the first thing I did was hold up a sheet of my tiles on the far left, right, and roughly center of my area. Then made a mark at the top.
I made sure to leave a space at the bottom here that matched the tiles contrasting grout color line. Now I could measure up from my counter top back splash and get a gauge on how level everything is to start.
I got lucky and only had about an 1/8th difference. Next I used a chalk line to pop a top line across the space.
When getting to the microwave, I used the second tile of the sheet to make a mark on both the left and right of the unit so that a separate line could be chalked for this space.
The success of this project mostly comes down to straight lines and a chalk line will always be a straighter reference than any counter top. I ended up still using mostly my counter top but it’s better to have too many lines and not use them.
Ok and now for the step that fluctuates the most from job to job because it’s based on your exact setup….where to start. A lot of people say to find your center point and work out from there. For my kitchen subway tile backsplash, the center of my window makes the most sense as my starting point. Be sure to watch the video above for more information on why I chose this point.
Since I chose my window as the starting point, I used a piece of tape on the sill to mark exact center.
I then dropped this line down to the dry wall so that I could hold up my first sheet, center the contrasting grout color lines to my pencil mark, then stick it in place.
….well that wasn’t hard. : ) Lets continue.
There are a few things to pay attention to, so let me just rattle them off. Keeping the pattern. The pattern is very simple, and these sheets makes it really easy to lay multiples at once. Use a box blade to simple cut off whatever tiles don’t fit within the space. Or cut off any tiles in the sheet that will need to be cut in order to fit.
On this sheet I cut off the tiles that would hit the sill, the outlet to the left, and the tiles that would terminate into the window. This way I could lay all the whole tiles before filling in the patches.
Spacing: When placing your next sheet or next tile, pay attention to the spacing and try to match the pre determined spacing of the sheet you bought. Note: they make spacers you can buy and use to take all the thinking out of this job, but I chose to do it by eye instead.
Make sure to also leave an even space at the bottom of the tile instead of resting it on the counter. This will later be a caulk joint instead of grout so if you have some compensating to do for keeping things level then you have some room here to play.
When working around outlets, remember that a face plate will later be installed so you don’t have to get these lines perfect. With that, place the factory edge out, in the visible area, and the cut line in where it will be covered up.
Now lets talk about cutting. You can get fancy with tools here but I used a $40 snap cutter which is perfect for most jobs unless you’re using special material or have really small tiles. There is no dust, very little noise, and doesn’t require water.
A second tool is nippers. These are handy for tidying up lines the snap cutter isn’t able to cut cleanly, such as inside corners. So if investing in expensive tools for one job is stopping you from doing this project, know there are alternatives.
David here gave me the run down on what to do and two) acted as my cut person so I could just mark and stick. Having a two person set up for this job really keeps it moving along.
I’m sure you can figure out marking on your own but I would simply hold up a tile to the area it needed to go and mark the obstacle that needed to be cut out. Make sure to compensate for the contrasting grout color line. Also a spare tile itself is a wonderful marking tool instead of having to pull in a square.
I skipped over talking about how to stick the tiles to the wall because I wanted to wait until I got to this open area to show you more clearly. But now that I’m here, lets talk about mastic. This is the adhesive I went with to stick the tiles to my wall.
I first apply it to the area by just slopping it on, going heavy is just fine because the next step is to use a trowel to remove the excess. I use the notched side at a steep angle to scrap across and create lines.
Once there are no heavy spots, you’re ready to start sticking tile to it. You want to push the tile in strongly so that it seats evenly which smushes the rows of mastic into an even coating on the back. Mastic is easily cleaned up with water, so if you make a mess along the way, use a sponge, rag, or even a foam brush to do some quick clean up.
An alternative to mastic is thin set. Thin set should be used for anything that will be around a lot of water, such as a shower or floor. You could use thin set for back splash but it has a shorter open time and for such a small area. Mastic is widely acceptable and much easier to work with.
Oh, getting to the stove area. I screwed a ledger board (just a scrap piece of wood) to the wall to keep the tile from slipping down.
Ok, and now lets talk about check ins. All along the way you want to be checking your lines. It’s very easy to get off slightly but it look ok from the front. Every few sheets you can hold a level up to your lines and easily see if you’re getting off and need to adjust.
Or another way is to look down the side, if your set up has one available. David would look down and call out which one needed to be adjusted and in which direction.
When getting to the end of the big sheets and patches, the last fill in were the slivers at the very top right under the cabinets.
I wanted to keep the fullest tiles at the most seen, which is the bottom and middle. The small slivers like these were stuck in place by applying the mastic directly to the back of the tile. Pros call this back buttering which I think is a fun term. So I would back butter the tile then insert it into position.
What a big difference that alone makes. Mastic has such a good long open time that you have a good amount of time to move things around, but once things are as you like, then that needs to sit over night to fully dry before moving on to the next step which is adding grout to the lines in between all the tiles.
Know that grout comes in different colors but the process is the same regardless. On grout, you can go cheap but I would recommend buying quality here.
The lower cost ones often have inconsistent coloring that will be very visible once you’re done and you don’t want to get this far and not love the final look. Also look for something that is stain resistant, especially if you’re going with a lighter color like me.
For the process it’s just a lot of smushing in then wiping away! I switched out my tool from a trowel which has a hard metal bottom to a rubber float which has a soft bottom.
You can scope out the grout after following the mixing instructions then smash it into the cracks and lines. You can go in any direction here, you just want to make sure to pack it in.
Once the lines are filled now you can use the float to wipe away the majority of grout on the face of the tiles. You don’t have to get it 100% here, but the more you remove with the float, the less you have to remove with the sponge. Which is the next step.
I bought these sponges in a pack of three and I recommend using them all. Dip the sponge in a bucket of water then wring it out as much as you can then start wiping. I would use both sides of the sponge for the clean up, and even the edges.
Then I would swipe to my second sponge and repeat before cleaning both and repeating again. If you have a second person then one can be cleaning sponges while one wipes and cleans the tile.
You want to work in small sections so to not get ahead of how quickly you can clean off the tiles. If you see runs of water on the wall when you’re wiping then your sponge is too wet. If you can’t wring it out enough by hand then use a towel to dry it slightly. Emptying out and refreshing your buckets of water will go a long way on this step.
Even after wiping really good, it’s common after letting it sit and dry to see a white haze develop on the surface. This is called Hazing, and if you don’t get it off now, it will be a nightmare later on.
To get it off, I used my third sponge that was untouched at this point and used fresh water to make several passes to wipe the faces once again. Then after letting that dry, I came back with a dry sponge to do a final pass.
This is a game of patience. I probably made 9 or 10 passes. Wipe clean then wait and watch and repeat. Just remember if you get frustrated that it’s part of the process and it will be worth it in the end.
After letting it dry and not seeing any haze develop, I started the final step of caulking.
When you purchase the grout for your tile, be sure to pick up the matching caulking color. All the major brands have a variety of colors in both. I recommend cutting a tiny hole and applying a thin line. You want to apply caulk anywhere you don’t have contrasting grout color. For me, this was all along the bottom where the tile meets the counter subway tile backsplash, around the window sill, and also on the top of the tile where it meets the bottom of the cabinet.
Ok, now I just screwed back on the faceplates, and called this project a wrap. Wow, what a difference! This is a project I’ve been meaning to do for years and now that I’ve finished, I can’t believe I waited this long. It was easy, it was fun, and I love how much it helped this space come to life.
I really hope this video helped you out if you have back splash on your to do list.
If you’re tackling kitchen subway tile backsplash projects then be sure to watch other videos I’ve made in this space such as the under cabinet lighting and even easy upgrades such as this live edge wine rack.
I’ll see you on whatever I’m working on next.
Things I Used in This Subway Tile Backsplash Project:
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