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Is a Subway Tile Backsplash Right for You?

A Subway
In the early 1900s, New York City began using rectangular, 3 x 6-inch ceramic tiles on the walls of its subway stations. They chose this material for its functionality; it was easy to clean and resistant to stains. Little did they know, they would be starting a trend that would last for more than a century.

Now known as subway tiles, these 3 x 6-inch tiles are now a popular choice for backsplashes in kitchens and bathrooms. Are subway tiles right for your kitchen backsplash? Consider these pros and cons to decide for yourself.

Pro: Subway Tiles Are Low-Maintenance

Subway tiles work well in kitchens for the same reason they work well in train stations. These ceramic tiles have a very smooth surface, so you can easily wipe off any food or debris that splashes onto them. Even densely pigmented substances, like tomato sauce and chocolate, won't stain the tile. Also, you can clean the tiles with most any all-purpose cleaner; you don’t have to buy a specialized product.

Pro: Subway Tiles Last for Decades

Subway tiles, along with the adhesives and grout used to attach them, can endure decades of heavy use. Especially on a backsplash, where they won't be stood on or have heavy items placed on them, they can continue looking new and fresh for many years.

Pro: Subway Tiles Coordinate With Many Architectural Styles

Homeowners can use subway tiles in rustic country kitchen designs, modern artistic designs, and even in Mediterranean-inspired spaces. If you ever decide to change the style of your kitchen, you can leave the tile backsplash in place, and it will still look like an intentional part of the design. This is especially true of plain white subway tiles — the most traditional choice.

Pro: Subway Tiles Now Come in Various Styles

Although the white, 3 x 6-inch tiles are the most common, homeowners' affinity for subway tiles has inspired tile companies to get more creative in their designs. You can now choose deep green subway tiles paired with white grout for a vibrant, artistic look, or install metallic subway tiles for a hint of glitz. You can also stick with plain, white subway tiles, but add a border of smaller colored tiles as an accent.

If 3 x 6-inch tiles does not seem quite right for your space, there are now 4 x 8-inch and 2 x 4-inch tiles, too. Technically speaking, any rectangular tile with a width twice its height is a subway tile.

Con: Subway Tiles Can Be Tough to Repair

Although they are very durable, subway tiles do occasionally chip or break. If this happens, you will need to hire a professional to remove and replace the damaged tile. You can also keep a few spare tiles on hand in case you need to replace one several decades down the road; this saves you from having to hunt for a matching tile.

Con: Subway Tiles May Increase the Noise Level

If you create a very tall backsplash and use a lot of ceramic tile in your kitchen, the sound quality may be left lacking. Subway tile tends to bounce sound back into the room, rather than absorb it. This effect is more pronounced in small kitchens. It should not be an issue in a larger kitchen or if you're careful to include plenty of softer materials like wood and cork in your design.

As long as you don't expect top sound quality and keep a few spare tiles on hand for repairs, subway tile is a very smart choice for a kitchen backsplash. It looks lovely with granite counters and is easy to customize with various borders and grout choices. If you'd like to install a tile backsplash in your kitchen, contact The Countertop Place. We offer custom designs using a wide array of materials, including tile, quartz, granite, and glass.