how to install diy subway tile backsplash

17 January 2012

Previously, our backsplash was just your basic beige laminate. We googled installing a tile backsplash over laminate and the recommendations were mixed. Some said not to do it, others said you should be fine if the laminate was in good shape and you roughed it up real good. When our over-the-stove microwave was installed, we could see that the laminate went up quite a way behind the cabinets. We figured it was going nowhere. So..guess which one we went with?? We are DIY rebels.

1. Turn off the electricity to the outlets! Then double check to make sure they are off. Did you double and triple check? Okay, thank you.

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2. Then, we roughed up the backsplash with some heavy duty, 60 grit sandpaper to prepare the surface for the tile.

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Next comes the mastic. You just buy this in a bucket at your home improvement store.march 2011 010

Apply a layer with a notched trowel to get yourself some nice grooves.march 2011 013march 2011 014

And then start applying the tile. Watch a bunch of youtube video tutorials and you’ll get a good idea of what you’re going to do. It’s basically a big puzzle~we worked from the bottom middle up and you just go along placing your tiles with little spacers in between.

When you come to the outlets (are you SURE your power is off?? double check.) just unscrew them slightly so you can get the tiles behind the metal things on the top and bottom of the outlet.

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We bought this trusty little tile saw at the Home Depot over 4 years ago and it’s never let us down for our little tile jobs.march 2011 001

You’re going to run into some tricky cuts around outlets and corners, so this is how we do it: make the cut for both sides for where the outlet will gomarch 2011 017

then, make a bunch more cuts in between,march 2011 018

so they will be easier to break off with tile nippers (that’s what they’re really called!)march 2011 019

and there it fits. Those cuts don’t have to be perfect because the outlet cover will be hiding most of it.march 2011 021 1

and just keep moving down the line. Let the mastic dry overnight, then you can apply your grout. I like the look of unsanded grout better, but you’ll want to use sanded if your spaces are bigger. They also sell pre-mixed grout, so you don’t even have to worry about mixing it up.march 2011 016 (2)

I didn’t take pictures, but basically you apply the grout with a rubber float (look at Katie’s from Bower Power)

until you fill all of the tile joints, then you wipe the tiles with a sponge, smoothing over the grout.  Let it dry for about 20 minutes and when a haze forms on the tile, you polish the surface with the sponge, being careful not to rub the grout out of the joints.  It’s really not bad, I promise!

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Listen to Rocky.



  1. Thank you for the tutorial. I think I may have asked you about it. I want to try this project out. I think I will tackle it this weekend. cabinets are off white and my kitchen moulding and door is snow white. I saw both cream and white subway tile at hd. Any ideas? Im trying to envision both. I'm not sure the crisp white will flow with my cream cabs. Thanks!


  2. Can we say GORGEOUS!? I love it!

  3. Thanks for the tutorial, but no one EVER talks about have to finish up the edges!! Help!!!!!

  4. Betweenblueandyellow1/7/14, 10:53 PM

    I was wondering if you could tile over the laminate backsplash.  I really didn't want to have to rip that sucker off.  Mine moves a little though when you push on it. Did yours?

  5. Korrie@RedHenHome1/7/14, 10:53 PM

    Your work is lovely!  Tile is on my "to do" list of things I'd like to try...but it seems scary to me!

  6. David Parker1/7/14, 10:53 PM

    It's beautiful....I can't wait to subway tile my kitchen! I want to do a whole wall. ; ) But I'll probably just start with a backsplash.

  7. Love it, looks great!

  8. melissa*320 sycamore1/7/14, 10:53 PM

    Mmmm, ours was pretty solid. It didn't budge. We had to rip ours off in our last home and it wasn't too awful...

  9. Great job Melissa!  Love white subway tile!!

  10. Kristin@FavoritePaintColors1/7/14, 10:53 PM

    Love it Melissa! It's killing me seeing all these pictures, I think I seriously need a roadtrip to VA!

  11. Beautiful! You make it sound so simple. :-) We have ugly 3x3 cream tile for our backsplash, same tile used in all the bathrooms as well when the house was built. Ick. I am hoping one day I will be brave enough to give it a go.

  12. That looks WOW good!! We've done floor tile before, but never put it on the walls. It seems intimidating.

  13. Thanks so much!  This is our next DIY project and we've never done any tiling before.  This post is very helpful :)

  14. Queenchristinebell1/7/14, 10:56 PM

    Thanks!  That is so helpful.  This is on my list of projects for this year.  Have you ever installed beadboard?  I need to do that soon and would love a tutorial/pointers.

  15. Lori Bernstein1/7/14, 10:57 PM

    We have that same kind of backsplash so this is great to see that something pretty can be done to it. It looks so perfect - like it has always been there. Great work!!

  16. The Subway tiles are my all-time favorite and I hope to do the same in my kitchen or bathroom.  Your kitchen looks Gorgeous!

  17. This is definitely on my bucket list of things to do with our house.  Yours looks so nice!  Want to come do ours? : )  I'll make dinner :)

  18. If you have a small grout joint and are using a shiny tile, be sure to use non-sanded grout!  Sanded grout can scratch glazed tile.

  19. melissa*320 sycamore1/16/14, 10:42 PM

    We did beadboard under our kitchen bar. It wasn't too bad! :)

  20. melissa*320 sycamore1/16/14, 10:42 PM

    Sounds great! Do you provide baby-sitting as well?? :)


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