DIY Subway Tile Backsplash

Discover the art of creating a DIY subway tile backsplash on a budget. Go from dingy to sophisticated kitchen with less than $150.

A cottagecore kitchen reveal is shown with floating shelves, a new oven, and new lower cabinets in a sage green. A DIY subway tile backsplash is shown above an oven and cabinets.

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We began updating our kitchen slowly, weekend by weekend, in March. Fast forward to early July and we were finally beginning the DIY subway tile backsplash. I was so excited to add some interest to this newly renovated part of the kitchen.

We had just installed lower base cabinets with butcher block countertops (that we later added marble contact paper to) and fit a new slide-in oven range right in between. I spent a day or so adding my new favorite paint color to the cabinets (a beautiful sage green “Farm to Table” color you can find at Sherwin Williams). I was so ready to add some new tile behind it all to really highlight the space and bring it a little more life.

Subway tile is classic no matter the time or place. It has held its own battling other tile trends that have come and gone over the decades and always remains a top contender among home renovators, both professionals and DIYers. 

I was tempted to do something a little more dramatic and modern, but I’m so glad I stuck with this look. We ended up adding a little bit of fun character to the floors by painting them in a checkerboard effect, so it was truly the best decision to keep the tile backsplash more classic and simple.

I will say that this style lends the room an air of sophistication, though. 

Traditional subway tile is smaller and not textured. Many have a less glossy appearance than this particular type. I chose larger-sized subway tiles that were a bit more dramatic and have some texture that adds interest to the wall. The white color is highlighted with a high gloss shine I love here in this spot. It just fits. It feels like home. 

Today, I’m going to walk you through how I managed to tackle this DIY subway tile backsplash, all without losing my mind. 

Rustic floating shelves are decorated in a cottagecore kitchen. A DIY subway tile backsplash is shown above an oven and cabinets.

How long will this project take me?

I highly recommend doing this project over the course of 2 days. It requires several meticulous steps, and especially if you seal it (which I highly recommend), it will need time to cure in between steps. Give yourself a full weekend to complete the job and then you can enjoy this gorgeous backsplash for years.

What subway tiles work best?

Any subway tile YOU prefer and love is best for you and your kitchen. There are more subway tile styles than I realized. Believe me, once you start a search you’ll see what I mean. 

They come in different colors, sizes, and even textures. They also all vary in sheen. If you don’t have a particular preference and want something no-fuss that goes with practically anything you can go for a standard 3×6 inch tile in a matte or glossy white without any texture on them. You can order these in individual tiles or sheets. I actually prefer working with individual tiles for a backsplash, but that is just my preference. 

If you’re going for a more modern, trendy American Farmhouse look, pairing this with a high contrast charcoal grout is popular. If you’re like me and want a more classic, seamless look with the grout blending in a bit more go with a white grout. However, there are plenty of other grout colors in between too. 

Believe it or not, I’ve seen a recent trend of placing subway tile in a vertical pattern for an interesting design. If this is something you’re interested in, be sure to plan your layout accordingly.

DIY Subway Tile Backsplash

Supplies | diy subway tile backsplash

Grout float

Tile snapper (for straightforward cuts, like in half) OR wet saw (for more precise and trickier cuts)

Grout sponge


Mastic tile adhesive OR mortar 

Tile spacers

Subway tile of your choice (I used these HERE from Lowe’s)

Subway tile trim

Grout sealer


Cleaning rags 

Gloves, disposable

Medium-sized buckets (2)


Caulk gun


Drill mixer attachment

Vinegar-water in spray bottle (1:1 ratio)


Dry erase marker

Steps | diy subway tile backsplash

Clear area

Move everything away from your countertops and the area you’ll be working in. Be sure the power is cut off from outlets and remove both outlet covers and/or any switch plates you’ll be tiling around. Tape these areas off. Add a plastic drop cloth or plastic trash bags over countertops to protect them. Tape into place.

Countertops are covered in trash bags to protect them.

Install a ledger board

If you’ll be tiling in an area where tile won’t be supported underneath, add a small piece of lumber to temporarily hold the tiles up as the adhesive dries. You will remove this later once your project is complete.

Clean the wall

Clean the wall to remove any debris and check for imperfections such as dips, holes, or dents. Patch any necessary areas and let dry before proceeding to the next step. 

Layout tile

Decide how you want the tile design to look. Decide if you want the tile placed horizontally or vertically and also if you’d like tile trim around the edges which can give a cleaner look. 

You can either start from the center and work your way out or you can start from one of the bottom corners and work in small areas moving up and over. To do this, you may need to lay some tile out on a table first to see how far you want each tile to be staggered from one another. You can measure this to be precise and mark using a dry erase marker. Most subway tiles are staggered about halfway from the tile underneath it. Follow this pattern throughout. 

Remember in your layout to consider the spacing for grout. Most subway tiles look great with 1/16” joints. It’s difficult to create an entire layout over a wall since there is nothing to make it temporarily stick, but you can at least get a start on a nearby table or countertop just to get an idea on how many end piece tiles will need to be cut. Don’t forget to factor in tile trim around edges. After you get the idea of how it’ll look you can begin applying it to the wall.

Subway tile is cut in half to fit edges of a backsplash.
Subway tile is cut in half to fit edges of a backsplash.

Install tile

Using a trowel, scoop some tile adhesive and spread it evenly on the wall. When applying, swipe the adhesive across, then smooth it even in an upwards motion.  Spread the adhesive in larger patches and then apply several tiles alongside and on top of one another as you go. 

If you are starting from one side, be sure to add the tile trim first to the edge before adding the subway tiles. Press the tile firmly into place and work your way up and over to the other side (or outwards to the ends if you’ve started in the middle). Use tile spacers to ensure they are all equally spaced from one another. Make necessary cuts as you go. 

A tile backsplash is being added to a kitchen wall.
A subway tile backsplash is shown with spacers.

Apply grout

Once all your tiles and tile trim is up and dry it is time to grout. First remove all the tile spacers. Then mix the grout according to package instructions until it is about the consistency of toothpaste (3-5 minutes). 

Using the grout float, push grout into the joints (seams between each tile) at an angle. Work in sections and wipe excess away with the float as you go. Fill joints in downward strokes and then swipe the tiles across at 45º angle for working it into joints and wiping it clean. Continue until you’ve finished. 

Work quickly, as most grout has very specific setting times and will need to be cleaned in about 30 minutes or less. Use package instructions to determine when it’s been long enough for the grout to be cleaned away. Do not wait too long or it will be impossible to wipe excess grout off.

Subway is placed around edges of a backsplash.
Subway is placed around edges of a backsplash.
Grout is added to a subway tile backsplash.
Grout is added to a subway tile backsplash.
Grout is cleaned away from a subway tile backsplash.
Grout is cleaned away from a subway tile backsplash.

Clean grout

When time is up fill a bucket of clean, warm water and soak your grout sponge and then wring it out. Use the sponge to clean the grout off of the tiles in sections. Use different clean sides of the sponge to avoid having to clean it after every single swipe. Once it is dirty on all sides, dip it in the bucket of clean, warm water and wring out excess grout from the sponge. 

Repeat and clean the entirety of the backsplash. Let the grout set for the recommended amount of time (usually a few hours). You may need to clean the area a second time to ensure everything is perfectly clean. 

After drying, check for any imperfections (holes or bubbles) that need to be filled. Once it’s completely dry, polish the backsplash with a vinegar-water solution (1:1 ratio) to get it sparkling clean. You may need to do this a couple of times to get the grout haze off of it. 

Seal grout

Once the grout is completely dry and polished, it is time to seal the grout. I opted for a spray because it is much more efficient. Tape plastic covers over any appliances, shelves, cabinets, etc. before beginning. Then begin spraying about 6 inches away and soak the grout completely. Use paper towels to wipe any excess dripping sealer from tiles. Let it set for as long as recommended. 

Repeat this step again until the grout is completely sealed. 

To check, after drying flick some water on the grout lines. If it stays the same color it is sealed. If it darkens and appears wet then it hasn’t sealed completely and will need more applied. 
Outlet covers can now be replaced once the sealer has dried and cured.

A sealer spray is used to seal in grout to a backsplash.

Fill gaps with caulk 

Finally, seal any gaps around edges with a kitchen and bath waterproof caulk. Apply around cabinetry, countertops, and outlets for a seamless look. Let it cure before using the area again.

Every piece of decor was selected carefully with intent of functionality and aesthetics when purchasing. Some pieces are from online retailers while others were chosen and bought secondhand. All are shown around a DIY subway tile backsplash.

Tips for Success | diy subway tile backsplash

Due to the tile sticking out farther from the original wall, you will likely need to extend the outlets out using little outlet spacers. These can be stacked together to hold the screws in place and make the covers flush with the newly tiled wall.

If you’re using tile snappers instead of a wet saw, be aware that you can only really cut a nice clean line if you’re cutting the subway tile in half. You may have to get creative with spacing to make everything fit correctly. 

Cutting tile to fit around outlets can also be tricky. Always be sure to make cuts that line up with the other tiles above and below it for consistency. A wet saw is best for making trickier cuts for areas like this. Sometimes tile nippers can come in handy with trimming just a little bit off, too.

When mixing grout, mix it in a bucket using a drill mixer attachment. Always add the water to the bucket first to get the right consistency. Then add the powder to the water. 

Always seal a backsplash, especially if it has a lighter grout. Grout can stain and since it is essentially concrete, it can absorb moisture too. Backsplashes aren’t just aesthetic, they are meant to be easy to clean and prevent moisture and heat from damaging walls directly behind stoves. Take the time to complete this extra step. It is worth it in the long run.

Use a dry erase marker to mark measurements on tiles. They are very easy to wipe marks off of ceramic or porcelain tile. 

When filling imperfections in grout, make it obvious where you go back and fill. Make it a point to leave it a little messy. This way it is much easier to find and spot clean these areas when it’s time and you won’t have to reclean the entire wall again.

A pristine white DIY subway tile backsplash is shown in a galley kitchen.

More DIY Projects for Your Home 

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Cottagecore Kitchen Color Palette  

Easy DIY Floating Shelves  

How to Install Beadboard Paneling

Easy $2 DIY Ceiling Medallion

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