If you have been following me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, you’ve been bombarded with photos from my kitchen makeover reveal. While my kitchen has its own unique charm and character, I don’t pretend there aren’t hundreds of thousands of pictures of bright, renovated kitchens on social media. However, what stroke me as interesting was how a big majority of the people who commented said something along the lines of “I love subway tile!” or “the subway tiles are so pretty!” Although the subway tile is as simple as tile can be, it seems to be the most loved type of tile, especially when it comes to modern farmhouse kitchens.
Apart from the timeless and clean look of subway tile, one huuuuge advantage of choosing it is that it’s so easy to install without professional help! I can attest to that, as my husband and I were complete newbies at tiling. We literally had no experience of ever tiling anything – not on walls, not on floors, not anywhere. Heck, I didn’t know the difference between grout and thinset.
All that to say, it was so easy to DIY the subway tile backsplash for our kitchen. My husband and I did it ourselves; we started in the evening and finished the next afternoon!
In today’s post, I wanted to give a step-by-step overview of how we did it and the materials we used.
Materials & Tools Used
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- Daltile Finesse Bright White Subway Tiles
- Pre-Mixed Thinset Mortar
- Delorean Gray Simple Premium Grout
- Bright White Tile Caulk
- 1/16 Tile Spacers
Before we move on, I gotta say, the premixed mortar and grout from Custom really saved us time and stress. Instead of measuring materials and water, mixing it in another bucket, and making sure it’s the right consistency, all we had to do was open up the tub and we were good to go!
So are you ready to fall in love with your kitchen wall?
Step-by-step: How to Install a Subway Tile Backsplash
1. Prep the walls
Like with any project, you would want to prep your surface first. Make sure your walls are smooth and flat. If you have any holes, patch them and smooth out with sand paper. You basically don’t want anything protruding. Or else, the subway tiles will look rocky.
I cleaned the walls with some all-purpose cleaner and unscrewed all the outlet and switch covers.
Another thing you might want to do is to mark the outer boundaries of the tile installation area.
2. Apply mortar to the wall using the V-notch trowel, then stick the tile on the mortar bed by pressing it in.
How to apply mortar with the V-notch trowel: Scoop up some mortar with the trowel using the flat side -> spread the mortar evenly on the wall -> using the notched side, comb the mortar to form parallel lines.
Work in small sections. If you’re a beginner like we were, consider applying mortar to an area that would only fit 2-4 tiles at a time. For cuts, we used the
In order to make my cuts precise, I made a subway tile template that takes into account the 1/16 spacers! Get your copy at the end of the post!
- A useful tip is that standard subway tiles are 3″ X 6″. In other words, the short side is half the length of the long side! This is super helpful since you can use the short side as a ruler to mark the half-way point of the long side. This is a time-saver if you’re laying your tile in a brick pattern like we did and have to cut a lot of tiles in half :).
- For tight spaces where you can’t fit the V-trowel, apply the mortar directly on the back of the tile with the trowel. Make sure you put an even layer on the tile and not too much. You don’t want extra mortar oozing out the sides when you press the tile on the wall!
3. Place the spacers – 2 on each side
I found that you can still move around the tile a little bit immediately after you apply it to the mortar. I wiggled the tile to make sure the spacers fit snuggly in between the tiles. You can put 2 spacers per side to make sure everything is parallel.
Make sure you take the time to place the spacers on each side as you install each tile. The mortar dries quickly!
4. Wait for the mortar to dry.
We left it to dry overnight. Now is a good time to clean up any mortar that got on any unwanted surface!
5. Take out the spacers and wipe down the tiles to make sure there is no dust on the surface.
We used a microfiber cloth and some all-purpose cleaner to wipe down the tiles.
6. Apply grout!
I think this is the most fun part of the whole process. Grouting was quick and easy, especially since we bought the pre-mixed type. We went with gray grout against the white tile and the Delorean Gray color was a perfect in-between color that tied the white subway tiles in with the black/brown countertops.
To grout, scoop up some grout (a little goes a long way especially if you only have 1/16″ spaces) with the rubber float. Then, sweep the grout over the tile with the rubber float in a 45-degree angle. This will get the grout into the spaces. Go over the same area in different directions to make sure the grout is packed into all the spaces.
7. Clean the tiles with a large sponge.
I started cleaning the tiles about an hour after applying the grout. I filled a bucket with warm water and went back and forth between cleaning the grout and rinsing the sponge. You may need to go over the same area about 2-3 times to get all the haze.
8. Caulk where tile meets another surface.
We caulked where the tile meets the countertop and under the cabinet.
The easy way to caulk in a clean line: tape off the area that you don’t want caulk to get on, apply the caulk, go over it with your fingers or applicator tool. Then, before the caulk fully dries, remove the tape!
If you look closely, you’ll see a gray stain remaining on the subway tiles in the picture above. This is the leftover grout residue from wiping the tile with the sponges. We just took a clean, damp microfiber towel and buffed the surface to get all the residue as well as make our backsplash sparkling!
One thing I would do differently: We would use a disposable plastic drop cloth to protect our countertops.
We even bought the drop cloth but forgot to use it because we were so eager to dive into the project (that’s us!). Once the mortar dried, it was a pain to scrape it off the countertops!
Here’s an awesome time-saving tool that you can use for your next tiling or painting project: Pre-Taped drop cloth!
FREE Printable: Subway Tile Templates
When we were measuring the tiles to make the cuts around the switches and outlets, it was hard to accurately account for the 1/16 inch spacers. Multiple times, we would measure the tiles by awkwardly placing the tile on top of the outlet, only to find out that we needed to shift the entire cut area by a fraction of an inch. This resulted in a couple ruined tiles and many back-and-forth trips to the tile saw.
That’s why I created a subway tile template that accounts for the 1/16″ spacing in between the tiles for an easier and more precise cut!
Since completing my backsplash, I went back and improved the template, making the two lines more distinguishable by using different colors and adding a detailed instructions page.
Get your FREE copy of the Subway Tile Template by signing up below!
I hope my tutorial showed you how easily we were able to install a subway tile backplash in our modern farmhouse kitchen! I’m seriously in love with our subway tiles – we couldn’t have made a better choice! The fact that it was affordable and prefectly easy to install was a huuuuuge plus!
If you are inspired by this reveal and want to start making changes to your home, check out my free email course, “5 Days to Become a Fearless DIY and Craft Master“. It will teach you how to plan, execute, and stay on budget for your next DIY and Craft project. Just get started and you’ll end up exactly where you want to be!
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