How to Install Ceramic Tile Flooring
Lay Ceramic Tile Like the Pros in 8 Easy Steps
Ceramic tile is a favored floor covering for bathrooms, kitchens, and hallways due to its superior water resistance, durability, and simplicity. While many homeowners hire professional tile-setters, ceramic floor tile installation also qualifies as a do-it-yourself project that homeowners can accomplish inexpensively and with relative ease.
With a solid substrate, a workable layout, and all of your tools and materials at hand, the process of laying ceramic floor tile with mortar and grout is relatively simple.
Before You Begin
The tile pattern will affect the number of tiles you need to purchase. A grid pattern is simple to plan and is easy to install because fewer tiles need to be cut. Diagonal tiles help visually open up smaller spaces, but cutting tiles on a diagonal can get complicated. Measure the room's area, then add 15 percent to account for wastage. Or arrive at an accurate total and experiment with tile designs by using an online tile calculator.
Ceramic floor tile comes in a vast array of styles and can range in price from about $2 per square foot to $20 per square foot or more for designer porcelain tiles. But your cost savings as a DIYer can be substantial, since professional installation can be pricey. Make sure you are buying tiles rated for floor use. Some tiles are manufactured for wall-use only, and are not thick enough to be durable for floor installations.
For added waterproofing measures, you can apply a roll-on waterproofing agent prior to tile installation.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Tile cutting tool: either a wet tile saw or a rail tile cutter, also known as a snap tile cutter
- Tile nipper
- Rubber tile float
- Notched tile trowel
- Flat margin trowel
- Rubber mallet
- Tile spacers
- Large sponges
- Tape measure
- Chalk line
- Bubble level
- 2x4 scrap lumber
- Framing square
- Safety glasses
- Rubber gloves
- Thinset mortar
- Tile grout
- Grout haze remover
- Grout sealer
- Cement backer board
- Fiberglass seam tape
- Stainless steel cement board screws (1.25" to 2.75")
How to Lay Ceramic Tile Flooring
Prepare the Substrate
Ceramic tile is fragile on its own but gains strength when laid on top of a firm, inflexible surface free of gaps and ridges. You can generally lay ceramic tile directly on a concrete slab subfloor as long as the concrete is in good condition and free of moisture. To lay ceramic tile on plywood subfloors, the recommended substrate is a layer of cement board.
Install the cement board panels by setting them onto a layer of thinset mortar and screwing them to the wood subfloor, with screws driven every 8 inches along the perimeters of the panels. Tape the seams with fiberglass seam tape, fill the seams with thinset, and let it fully cure.
What Is Cement Board?
Cement board, also known as a cementitious backer unit (CBU) and going under brand names such as Durock and HardieBacker, provides a rock-solid substrate that is perfect for ceramic tile installation.
Dry-Fit the Tiles
When laying ceramic tile, it's typically best to start in the middle by measuring all walls to determine the center point for each wall. Snap a chalk line between each of the two opposing walls to create a cross pattern. Without mortar or grout, lay out tiles and tile spacers in a line on each arm of the cross.
If you're dry-fitting the design to lay ceramic tiles in a bathroom, it's generally recommended to start at the center of the room. In smaller rooms, this ensures even cuts on both edges.
In larger areas like kitchens and living rooms, tile can be laid from the center or starting on one side depending on the size and how it fits. The idea is to avoid having small, cut tiles against a wall, as this can be visually jarring.
If needed, you can shift this cross-like assembly in any direction, so that any tile that borders a wall is as close as possible to being a half tile or larger. When you pick up the tile, carefully stack the pieces so that you can keep track of which tiles go where.
Spread the Mortar
Pick up a small batch of thinset mortar with your margin trowel or with the flat side of your notched trowel and deposit the thinset on the cement board. Holding the flat side of your notched tile trowel at a 45-degree angle, spread the mortar across the surface until it covers an area extending beyond the perimeter of a tile.
Switch to the notched side of the same trowel and, again holding it at a 45-degree angle and pressing firmly to the cement board, comb the thinset by pulling the trowel in straight lines. The notches in the trowel automatically regulate the amount of thinset deposited on the surface.
Lay the Tile
Gently press the tile into the wet thinset, twisting the tile back and forth to press it deeper into the thinset. Your aim is to collapse any ridges in the mortar and fill in gaps. Occasionally lift a tile and check the back to ensure full coverage. If your tiles aren't covered fully, you can back butter the tiles by adding mortar to the tile itself before placing it. As you progress from one tile to the next, place tile spacers at the corners to maintain consistent spacing.
Leave a 1/4-inch expansion gap along walls, cabinets, and other large room elements. Do not add mortar to these gaps.
Lay the bubble level across multiple tiles to check for both level and to eliminate lippage from one tile to the next. Lightly tap the tiles with the rubber mallet to level them.
Cut the Edge Tiles
For cutting only a few tiles, a rail tile cutter can inexpensively and effectively snap apart tiles. Place the uneven, snapped sides against the wall, where baseboards will cover them. Buy or rent a wet tile saw for perfectly straight cuts. Use the tile nipper only for cutting around pipes, toilet bases, and for other non-linear cuts. Always wear safety glasses with any mode of tile cutting to protect your eyes against flying shards. Allow the mortar to dry for at least 24 hours before applying grout.
Grout the Tile
After removing the tile spacers, use the rubber float to press the grout into the tile seams. Work in small sections. Then, holding the float at a 45-degree angle, firmly draw the long edge of the float across the tile seam. Move diagonally to avoid pulling grout out of the seam. Deposit excess grout back in the grout bucket.
After a section has cured for about an hour, follow up by soaking a sponge in clean water in a bucket and lightly wiping the grout lines in a circular motion to remove excess grout.
Remove the Grout Haze
A milky-white grout haze will remain on the tile surface. Remove the grout haze after the tile has fully cured by first wiping it down with a sponge and clean water. Next, add 3 ounces of haze cleaner per gallon of water, or as directed by the product instructions, and soak the sponge in this solution. Wipe down the tile surface with this solution until the haze has disappeared.
Seal the Grout
Cured tile grout will soak up water if it is not properly sealed. Seal the tile grout either by applying sealer to individual grout lines with a brush applicator or by spraying down the entire tile surface and wiping off the excess from the tile faces.
Follow manufacturer's recommendations for drying/curing time before you use the tile. This can range from a four hours to two days.
What do the arrows on the back of tile mean?
Patterned tiles include arrows on the back to tell the installer which direction the tile should be installed in. Check each tile's direction before laying it to complete the pattern as intended.
Are larger tiles harder to install?
Large tiles are easier to install than small tiles. Overall, your design will require fewer tiles, which means fewer measurements and cuts. Leveling the tiles is also much faster with a few large tiles instead of many small ones.
Why are my floor tiles not sticking?
Back-buttering your tiles during installation is a helpful way to make sure each tile sticks to the mortar. Tiles that won't stick may also be due to an uneven subfloor, humidity, improperly mixed mortar, or not enough mortar applied.
How thick should mortar be under tile?
It's recommended for tile mortar to be at least 3/16 of an inch thick below tiles, but at least 1/8 of an inch thick for larger tiles. In general, using 1/8 of an inch of mortar is best for most tile applications.