How to Install a Subway Tile Backsplash

Installed a subway tile backsplash between the countertop and cabinets in your kitchen makes a great DIY project. Here’s how to go about it.

Installing a Subway Tile Backsplash:

  • Move appliances out of the way and cover the surrounding area to protect adjacent surfaces.
  • Establish the perimeter of the area you’ll cover, and apply painter’s tape to the walls to mark the edges.
  • Apply thin-set tile adhesive to the wall using a notched trowel.
  • Install any border tile first, then position the sheets of subway tile on the wall and press them in place.
  • Use a tile saw to cut any tile needed to size or around electrical outlets.
  • After the adhesive has dried overnight, apply grout to the tile using a rubber float.

Use a damp sponge to remove any excess grout and any grout haze.

Watch this video to find out more.

Further Information

Danny Lipford: Before you begin installing a backsplash, cover the surrounding area to protect adjacent surfaces. Move appliances, like stoves, out of the way; and remove outlet and switch covers. Next, establish the perimeter of the area you’ll cover. The bottom is usually the countertop and the ends should align with either the edge of the counter or the cabinets above.

Begin applying thin-set adhesive, or mastic, to the wall with a notched trowel tilted at about a 45-degree angle. The size and spacing of these notches is determined by the adhesive and tile being used. The object is to create consistent ridges of the adhesive on the wall. Only apply as much adhesive as you can cover in 10 or 15 minutes, so it doesn’t dry before the tiles are installed.

Subway tiles mounted in a mat will speed up installation and ensure a more consistent pattern. If you are using a border tile, apply it first along the edge. This homeowner didn’t tell me she had a border until after I installed the first section of tile, so I simply slid it down a bit.

As you install each piece, be sure it aligns with the previous section and with the bottom edge. If you are using tiles set it in a mat, just be sure to match the spacing used there.

When cuts are required you can mark them freehand with the mat laid over the obstacle, or apply lipstick to the surface of the obstacle and press the mat over it to create an outline on the back.

Cuts are best made with a tile saw, especially “L” or “U” shaped cuts. As the tiles go in, remove any excess adhesive between them and on the edges.

When the tile is dry, usually at least overnight, you can begin applying the grout. With a rubber grout float, press the grout against the tile and push it across the surface. The float should be at a 45-degree angle to the surface and should move in a direction that is at a 45-degree angle to the grout lines. This prevents the edges from catching in the grooves and digging out the grout.

As the grout dries, clean the tile surface with a sponge and clean water. Repeat this process until all the haze is removed from the surface.


  1. Good Morning.

    I watch and enjoy your show every Sunday. I am planning doing backsplash for my kitchen with subway tiles. Just watch your video. I am planning doing with a Simple Mat. What is you expert opinion about Simple Mat?

    Katarina Lennartz

    • Hi, Lois!

      We always refer to the adhesive package, which usually displays the recommended type of trowel.

      Good luck,

  2. Im going to have a hard time spreading mastic and grout behind the kitchen sink faucet. Iv seen the small square plastic trowels . Where can l purchase one of them at 3/16×5/32? Thanks

    • Hi, Richard, features home improvement advice from the nationally syndicated TV show “Today’s Homeowner” and its experts.
      We don’t sell construction products on this website, but we encourage checking your local home center for these materials.
      Good luck!


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