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The Link Between Kitchen Backsplash Tile and Subway Tile

If you’ve been staring at the same piece of lime green linoleum or white tile while slicing tomatoes on your kitchen counter, you may have thought about replacing that worn-out backsplash. Like most other areas of the kitchen today, there are many new options and things you can do with your backsplash today that weren’t common 10 years ago.

First, the variety of mosaics today is almost endless. These include ceramic, porcelain, terracotta, marble (mostly polished for the backsplash), and even small tin “ceiling tiles” used in the kitchen. There is even more variety in tile size and the old 6 x 6 or 4 x 4 ceramic tile has a lot of company now.
One of the most popular looks today is subway tile, while options for Spanish or Mediterranean looking tiles are dwindling. Subway tile is rectangular and typically measures 3 inches by 6 inches. It gets its name from, yes, you guessed it, the tile that was used to line the interior of many subway stations from the 1920s to the 1960s.

If you’ve been on the New York City subway system, it might not be very appealing to think about using these tiles for your kitchen countertop backsplash. Unlike old Chicago bricks and other recycled items from old buildings and factories, we can assure you that the subway tiles you’ll buy are freshly baked and fresh. Even with this not-so-pleasant image, subway tile is the most popular choice today.
Most subway tile has a smooth porcelain finish, and the grout will usually match the tile without much contrast. Tumbled marble subway tiles used as a backsplash are also very popular. Polished marble is highly porous and has the “ancient Rome” look.

One problem with tumbled marble is laitance. It’s very tricky because using a grout trowel to push the grout all over the place will fill in the holes and cracks in the tile that give the tile its unique characteristics. If the tile is expensive enough and has this unique vintage look, we’ve seen various techniques used so that the grout doesn’t ruin the look of the tile. These include using a small grout bag to get the grout into the seams and not the face of the tile, taping the face of the tile, pushing the grout into the seams, and then removing the tape. Both of these techniques are time consuming, but if you plan on maintaining your backsplash for many years, what’s an extra hour of work to get it right?

With polished marble, always seal the tile with a marble or stone sealer (two coats) before grouting.

If you go for plain subway tile to give your kitchen a modern feel, grouting is much easier and let’s not forget why we install these things called “backsplashes.” We don’t paint behind the kitchen counter very often because you’ll find spaghetti sauce, red wine, and food bits. When a blender sprays 300 red drops all over your backsplash, that’s when you’ll love smooth subway tiles the most. Cleaning will be a damp paper towel. Hey, that’s why they used them on the subway in the past!

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