How to Tile Over Laminate Counters

Tile Countertop

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When you have severely aging laminate counters, they either need to be removed and replaced or fixed. Unlike marble, soapstone, granite, wood, and even to some extent solid surface counters, laminate counters do not develop an attractive patina; they only get more scratched and chipped, with the top wear layer scuffing away and revealing the lower image and core layers.

One alternative to full countertop replacement is to tile over the laminate. If the laminate and substrate are in good condition, you can tile directly on top of the laminate. While not a perfect solution to all of your countertop woes, tiling over laminate just might be the fast, inexpensive solution you need to carry your kitchen through for a few more years or to aid in a house sale. Ceramic tile over laminate allows for maximum creativity. Plus, unlike large countertops slabs, you can easily carry and transport tile in all vehicles.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Fast completion
  • Inexpensive
  • Many style choices
  • Reduces waste
  • Easy to transport materials

Cons

  • Grout seams
  • Square-edge laminate only
  • Lower resale value
  • Use only on structurally sound counters

Project Limitations

Wrapped edge laminate is attractive and it better resists chipping than square edge laminate. Unfortunately, though, you cannot tile over wrapped edge laminate countertops. You will need squared-off, vertical edges to accept the tile.

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 6 hours (based on 16 square feet of countertop)
  • Total Time: 4 days
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Materials Cost: $100 to $250

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

  • Four-by-four ceramic tile
  • Bullnose or other profile 2-inch ceramic tile trim
  • Ceramic tile adhesive
  • Tile grout
  • Wet tile saw or rail tile cutter
  • Tile nipper
  • Tack cloth
  • Orbiting oscillating electric sander and sanding discs
  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
  • Tile spacers
  • Trowel: 3/16-inch to 5/32-inch V-notch
  • Rubber tile float

Instructions

Assess the Base for Structural Support

Laminate for countertops rests on a base of particleboard (medium-density fiberboard or MDF) which may fail over time, especially in contact with water. Assess this base for structural strength. If it is sagging or broken, it cannot be used as a base for tiling.

Remove Obstructions

Sink, faucet, cooktop, and all other items that cover the top and sides of the laminate counter must be removed.

Adhere Peeling Laminate

While the point of installing tile over laminate is to cover up the poor laminate, there is a limit as to how bad that laminate can be. If the countertop is delaminating in areas, the tile will not hold. Use contact cement to reapply the laminate so that it firmly sticks to the MDF.

Cover the Laminate (Optional)

If the laminate is peeling too much and cannot be repaired, cover it with a backer board layer. A cement backer board such as Durock screws directly onto the laminate. Tape up the seams with fiberglass mesh tape. This gives you a fail-proof surface on which to install your tile, and it eliminates sanding.

Roughen the Laminate Surface

Give the laminate surface a single pass with an orbital oscillating electric sander outfitted with 60 grit paper. The aim is not to sand deeply but to give the surface a sanding that covers it in a field of fine scratches. Avoid chipping the edges with the sander.

Thoroughly Clean the Laminate

For cleaning the laminate, use TSP rather than cleaning solutions which leave a residue. Afterward, use a tack cloth to remove the rest of the dust.

Plan Your Tile on the Countertop

Four-inch-square ceramic tile likely will not perfectly fit your countertop depth. So, you will want the uncut tile to be in the front, with cut tiles in back. If using a rail style tile cutter, you will want to position the ragged cut side against the wall to be later covered up with a backsplash.

Cut Tile According to Plan

In advance of mortaring, lay out all of your tiles on the countertop; this is called dry-fitting. Cut all of your tile to size either with a wet tile saw or a rail-type cutter.

Lay Down Mortar and Tiles

Sparingly lay down the mortar and trowel it out with the V-notch trowel. Keep the front and side tiles flush with the edge of the countertop. Use plastic spacers to maintain proper seam width. Around the sink and cooktop (if any), bring the tile up to 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch away from the edge of the cutouts. If you bring the tile too close, you risk narrowing down the space and making it difficult to re-install the sink or cooktop. If the tile is too far away, the sink and cooktop lips will not cover the tile.

Let the Tile Cure

With most ceramic tile adhesives, the full cure time is 24 to 72 hours. Consult the instructions on the adhesive. It is important to let the tile fully cure or the tiles may shift when grouting.

Grout the Tile

Grout the tiles with the rubber float, moving the float diagonally against the tiles and fully pressing the grout into the seams.

Add a Backsplash (Optional)

The backside of the tile, closest to the wall, will later need to be covered with a backsplash. A backsplash can be created with more of the same tiles that you used on the countertop or you may choose to use marble, copper, or peel-and-stick materials.