Tips For Laying Out Tiles in a Bathroom

tiling in a bathroom

The Spruce / Christopher Lee

Durable, waterproof, inexpensive, and beautiful, ceramic and porcelain tiles are perfect for bathroom walls and flooring. But easy-to-install is rarely a quality one would assign to tile. Professional tile workers spend years perfecting their craft.

Homeowners laying their own tile don't have this advantage. They need to get up to speed within the confines of a single project. But a few simple tips for laying out tile in a bathroom will let you see beautiful, professional results: as close as possible to the look of an established tile pro rather than that of a fledgling do-it-yourselfer.

Avoid or Minimize Tiles That Are Less Than Half-Size

Skinny tiles that are cut to half-size or less call attention to themselves since the eye is naturally drawn toward things that are out of the norm. Always try to use cut tiles that are between half- and full-size. Anything less than half-size will only look like a sliver in comparison to other, larger tiles.


One way to fix the problem of skinny tiles is to anticipate the amount of space you have left as you near a wall. If you are a couple of feet from the wall, you can slightly increase or decrease seam widths ever so slightly. The slight differences will be imperceptible to the eye but will bring you to a final row of half-size or greater tiles.

Employ Symmetry in the Bathroom Tile Layout

Symmetry pleases the eye and the brain, even on a subconscious level. When a bathroom tile layout is asymmetrical—or off-balance—the viewer often knows that something isn't right but cannot put a finger on what exactly the problem is.

If you are setting tile around a bathroom sink, for example, make sure that the tiles bordering the sink are all of the same sizes. Avoid having full-size tiles on one side and half-size tiles on the other side.


The same example applies to a bathroom floor. In this situation, you will want opposite-end wall tiles to be the same size. If one wall has 3/4-size tiles, the opposite wall should have tiles of the same size: also 3/4 size. If you're unable to do this, then rework the layout so that the thinner tiles are on the side of the bathroom that is less noticeable.

Minimize Your Tile-Cutting

Even though tile-cutting is an expected part of tiling, avoid it when you can. A great number of small tiles in the tile field can look jumbled and visually chaotic. The more full tiles you can use, the better.

Not only do you improve the look, but you also minimize your work. While using a wet tile saw does ease the burden of tile-cutting over using a rail tile-cutter, it is still a burden that is best minimized.

More importantly, though, minimizing tile-cutting is a good rule of thumb to force yourself to try to make full-size tiles work, if at all possible. Often, the inclination is to run the tile through the saw. But when you give it enough time and shift the tiles around, you begin to see solutions that you hadn't previously noticed.

Place Full Tiles in the Prominent Areas

If at all possible, be sure to tuck the cut tiles away in the less-noticeable areas such as near walls, borders, and under cabinetry overhangs. The center of a bathroom floor or bathroom counter is the worst place for a cut tile. Never place a tile that is less than full-size in the bathroom tile field. Only place it on the perimeter.

Use Grout to Your Creative Advantage

If you think of tile grout as merely a filler for tile seams, you might want to think again. Grout can be used to enhance the look of the tile.

Dark grout against lighter-colored tile gives the room a stark, imposing look. Grout that matches the color of the tile melts away invisibly. Or you might decide to install grout of the same color but slightly darker or lighter.


Mold and mildew stand out prominently on white grout. In bathrooms, choose grout that is tinted gray or another color.

Use Proper Underlayment

Your tile installation is only as good as the substrate below the tile. A subfloor that flexes or is otherwise unstable will quickly transfer to the tile. Installing cement board is typically a good choice before laying down the tile. Cement boards, each 3 feet wide by 5 feet long, form a solid base on top of the bathroom subfloor for tile and will not expand or contract.

Other acceptable tile underlayment materials include exterior-grade plywood, slab concrete, and even sheet vinyl flooring in good condition.

Avoid Purchasing Cheap, Low-Quality Tile

While cheap and low-quality don't always go together, they often do. Bargain and clearance tile found on end-aisle displays often is thin or poorly made. Should your sale tile begin to crack over time, one after another, you will find it difficult to remove and replace that tile on a piecemeal basis.

Tile is hard to replace. It's one thing to have to paint over poor-quality interior paint or to replace a bad ceiling light; it's quite another thing to find yourself in the position of deciding what to do about 250 square feet of failing tile. Should you keep fixing individual tiles or should you replace the entire floor?


To avoid buying poor tile, buy quality tile from reputable, established tile manufacturers and be sure to observe proper tile installation techniques. Research the tile thoroughly. Most manufacturers on their websites list tile specifications, along with ANSI and ASTM testing standards, which regulate tile strength.

Article Sources
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  1. ASTM Ceramic Tile Testing Standards Referenced in ANSI A137.1. American National Standards institute