How to Prepare a Vinyl or Linoleum Floor for Ceramic Tile

tile over flooring illustration

The Spruce / Kelly Miller

Overview
  • Working Time: 8 hrs
  • Total Time: 24 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $100 to $500

Installing new flooring is a labor-intensive project, so any time-saving measures are welcome. So where feasible, it makes sense to install the new flooring directly over the old, without removing the old flooring. This isn't possible with every flooring material, but it's often possible to install ceramic, porcelain, or stone tile over resilient flooring, including standard sheet vinyl, vinyl tile, or linoleum.

Not every form of resilient flooring is suitable for receiving tile directly. The best candidate is fully adhered (glued down) sheet vinyl flooring. You can also tile over vinyl tiles that are glued down if none of the tiles are loose or curling up.

When Not to Tile Over Resilient Flooring

Even if the resilient flooring is suitable, the subfloor and joists making up the floor structure must also be in good condition and have minimal flexing and deflection. This ensures that the floor will hold up under the substantial weight of cement-board underlayment and ceramic tile. Soft, thin, or damaged subflooring or undersized joists can flex too much, can lead to cracked tile and grout joints. If the subflooring is thin and lacks stiffness, one remedy is to install a layer of new plywood subfloor over the resilient flooring, followed by a layer of thin cement board.

If removing the vinyl or linoleum before tiling appears to be an easy task, it may be better to do this rather than tiling over it. There are several reasons instances when it might be a bad idea to tile over resilient flooring:

The Floor May Be Too High

An additional layer of flooring applied directly over the old floor will make it thicker and raise the overall height of the flooring. Since vinyl flooring is so thin—12 mm at most—this is less of an issue than with laminate, engineered wood, or solid hardwood flooring. Still, even with vinyl flooring, the extra floor thickness can sometimes cause problems along the baseboard trim or at door frames.

The Resilient Flooring May Not Be Suitable

While standard sheet vinyl that is well bonded usually makes an acceptable base for ceramic tile, that's not true of all forms of resilient flooring. Loose-lay (perimeter-bond) sheet vinyl can shift beneath the tile installation, making it unsuitable as a base for ceramic tile. With vinyl tile, the possibility of shifting is also present. And no resilient flooring with a cushioned construction will work beneath ceramic tile.

Most luxury vinyl planks are not suitable for tiling over because this flooring typically is laid as a floating floor, with no adhesive. This means the flooring can possibly shift beneath the tile, likely causing damage to grout joints.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Bucket and mop
  • Breathing protection
  • Hearing protection
  • Eye protection
  • Oscillating sander
  • Utility knife
  • Circular saw
  • Cordless drill
  • Notched trowel
  • Drywall knife or smooth-edged trowel

Materials

  • Sandpaper
  • TSP cleaner
  • 1/4-inch-thick cement board panels
  • Cement board seam tape
  • Thin-set adhesive

Instructions

  1. Prepare the Floor

    If your vinyl meets the basic requirements, it requires some preparation before you lay ceramic or stone tile over it:

    First, make sure the subfloor and underlayment have a combined total thickness of at least 1 1/4 inches. Cement board, tile, and grout will add significant dead weight to your flooring system, which means you will need a hefty substrate that will have minimum deflection.

    Next, thoroughly clean the vinyl with plain water and let it dry. It must be free of dust, dirt, and any oily residue.

    Wearing breathing project and eye protection, lightly sand the vinyl flooring with an oscillating sander. This creates some texture for the thin-set adhesive to bond to. If the room is small enough and you do not mind getting on your knees, you don't need to rent a floor sander—you can use any power hand sander, such as a random-orbit sander.

    Warning

    Vinyl flooring manufactured before 1975 may have some amount of asbestos as part of its composition. This type of flooring should not be sanded.


    If you suspect asbestos, send off a small sample to a testing lab for evaluation. If the test comes back positive for asbestos, do not sand the flooring. The best solution in this circumstance is to cover over the asbestos flooring with a thin layer of plywood underlayment before putting down cement board and ceramic tile. Alternately, you can hire an asbestos-removal company to safely remove all the flooring.

    Finish the preparation by wiping down the vinyl with plain water again to remove all sanding dust.

  2. Clean and Repair the Floor

    Clean the vinyl floor thoroughly with TSP to remove dirt, soap, and oil residue. Check for protrusions such as nails, and pound them back into place. If any parts of the vinyl or linoleum flooring have begun to bulge up, slice out the bulge with as utility knife. The floor needs to be as smooth as possible to accept the thin-set adhesive and cement board underlayment

  3. Test-Fit Cement Board Panels

    Lay down 1/4-inch-thick cement board panels over the entire floor. Make sure to wear breathing protection and eye protection, as well as hearing protection, if you are cutting panels with a circular saw. (Panels can also be scored with a utility knife and snapped along the score lines.)

    Leave a 1/4-inch gap along the walls and between all cement board panels. When you have test-fit the entire floor, remove the panels and set them aside.

    Tip

    In most flooring installations, 1/2-inch-thick cement board panels are recommended as the underlayment for ceramic and stone tile. However, it's best to use 1/4-inch-thick panels when laying tile over an existing flooring material, due to the thickness of the floor

  4. Trowel on Thin-Set Adhesive

    Apply a layer of thin-set tile adhesive to the vinyl, using a notched trowel. To do this, scoop a small amount of thin-set adhesive onto the floor, then drag the edge of the trowel over it to cover the floor. Exposed areas between ridges of adhesive should expose the vinyl flooring. These ridges will flatten out and fill gaps when the cement board panels are pressed down onto the adhesive.

    You will need to work quickly when installing the panels, since thin-set adhesive dries quickly.

  5. Install Cement Board Panels

    Lay cement board panels into the thin-set adhesive with a 1/4-inch gap between sheets and along the walls. Anchor the panels to the subfloor with1 1/4-inch cement board screws driven at 8-inch intervals along the seams and throughout the field. Make sure the screw heads are flush with the surface of the cement board panels.

  6. Tape the Joints

    Cover the joints between the cement board sheets with self-adhesive cement board joint tape (do not use standard drywall joint tape). Use a drywall knife or smooth trowel to apply a layer of thin-set adhesive over the taped joints, filling in the gaps between panels.

    Let the thin-set adhesive dry fully before laying ceramic tile.