DIY: Subway Tile Backsplash Tutorial

It’s DIY Friday! Is that a thing? If not, it should be. I posted our kitchen before and after pictures earlier this week and now I’m ready to reveal the super-complicated-very hard tutorial for the tile back splash. Not really. It was so easy, friends. Just a little patience and a lot of tile and mess will give your kitchen an updated look.

Project Cost: $210 (yours may vary based off of tile choice and kitchen size)

Total Time: 14 hours including set up and clean up

What We Used (and how much):
1. Speed Square
2. Wet Tile Saw (saw not included in project cost)
3. Measuring Tape
4. Tile Spacers (1/8″ for subway tile)
5. Pre-Mixed Grout (1 Gallon, various colors)
6. Ceramic Tile Adhesive (1 Gallon)
7. Subway Tile (2″x4″ in our case, various colors)
8. V Notch Wall Trowel (3/16″ x 5/32″) (aka Adhesive Spreader)
9. Red Rubber Grout Float (9.5″x4″)
10. Grout Sponge (3)
11. Microfiber Sponge (1)
12: Ceramic Tile Caulk (1 tube)
13. Scrub Daddy (for cleaning!)

How We Did It:

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First, we lined up our tile, starting in the corner, and measured (remembering to account for grout space) each piece we would need to cut to get started.

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Then we measure using this handy dandy tool (aka Speed Square) and made a mark (with a crayon!) to guide us while using the wet saw.

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We didn’t have a stand or table for the wet saw so it looked like we were doing beginner yoga poses as we bent over the saw trying to make straight cuts. I was a little intimidated by the wet saw but it turns out wet-sawing is super easy. You just guide it along patiently making sure not to push it through too quickly. Calvin cut most of my pieces because I enjoy being the “project manager.”

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We aren’t big fans of mixing stuff (seen too many HGTV fails) and I was hoping for less mess and less work so I spent a few more dollars and bought the pre-mixed versions of tile adhesive and grout. There are so many great grout colors now! I counted 17 alone at Home Depot. Our grout color is called Earth.

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With our tile pieces cut to size and my adhesive spreader in hand I began the project. I did lightly sand the wall before applying. You simply spread the adhesive onto the wall with the smooth side of the trowel and then makes grooves in the adhesive with the notched side of the trowel. It looks very pretty. Then carefully stick the tile onto the wall and press with a clean grout float. This helps the tile adhere evenly. As you can see, we removed the outlet covers (make sure you turn the breakers off, too) and tiled right around them. Make sure to tile around the screws so that you can loosen and remove the outlets if you ever need to. In order to put the outlet covers back on, flush with the tile, you will likely have to loosen the outlet boxes and pull them forward a bit.

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So much messiness here. Don’t worry, it all comes off the tile. As you can see, we placed grout spacers under the bottom row as we went. This creates a space for the grout and caulk along the bottom. We also used tile spacers when we cut tiles or tiled around the outlets. You want to make sure the spacing and pattern stays the same throughout. Pay attention to your pattern and lay things out on the counter as you go to avoid pattern mistakes. You’ll also notice that there is a line on the right side. I used a level to draw a line where the tile needed to end. It was like my little finish line. At this point we measured and cut the tile that would complete this row.

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Notice the bottom row beneath the outlet covers. We cut the tile slightly to fit around the screws. Don’t tile over the screws. Trust us.

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After the tile is up, looking pretty, use a damp sponge to wipe off the excess tile adhesive. Don’t scrub, the tiles can still shift if the adhesive hasn’t dried. Save the scrubbing for later when everything has set. The tile needs to set for 24-48 hours before grouting. We waited about 30 hours and then went to work.

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Remove all spacers from the tile before grouting. Then, holding the float at a 45 degree angle spread the grout and press it into the spaces between the tiles. You need to clean as you go. So do a small section, then wipe the grout away with water and a sponge. You’ll need a large bucket of water to continually rinse and ring out your sponge. We, unfortunately, don’t have pictures of the grout cleaning… because it was wet and messy and iPhones don’t jive with that scene. I promise, just get your wet sponge and wipe over the tile in a circular motion. The grout will stay in the cracks but come off of the tile. Once everything has been grouted double check to ensure that all cracks, lines etc. are properly filled. Then the grout will need to set about 4 hours before removing the grout haze. They make grout haze removers but we used water and white vinegar and it worked perfectly.

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After everything was clean and dry we used Ceramic Tile Caulk on the ends of the tile rows and bottom, where the tile area meets the counters. You could also use sanded tile caulk as well. This will need to set for several hours again, so order take out for the third time and you’ll be set.

I had a great time with this project and it made such a big change in our kitchen. If you’ve been procrastinating just go for it! It’s a great, inexpensive change to start out the New Year.

Are you planning a back splash project? I would love to hear about it or see pictures! I’ve already got a stack of tile I found on closeout waiting in the upstairs bathroom, we can tile along together.

About the author

Erica

Erica is an advocate for simplicity, family time, making a cozy home and loving others well. She is the community coordinator for One Orphan, the orphan care ministry of America World Adoption Association. Erica and Calvin have four young children; Elliott, Charlotte, Lola and Liam. They currently reside in Nashville, TN.

2 Comments

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  • Hey Erica and Calvin, your project turned out great! One thing I learned from working in construction, in order to get your switches and receptacles to sit out even with the tile, you can pull out the screws from the receptacle or switch and place small washers around them . Just use as many washers as you need to hold them out flush with the tile. Then your receptacles and cover plates will sit even again. I don’t know if Candace told you or not but we are building a house and I am general contracting it myself. We could really use some interior design help if you are willing – you definitely have a talent for it. We both really enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work.

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