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How to Lay Tile Like a Pro

How to Lay Tile Like a Pro
November 29, 2021

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Laying your own tile can save you a huge amount of money, but many people are concerned about uneven, messy results. However, with the right tools and some careful planning, there’s no reason why you can’t learn to lay tile like a pro.

Tools and Materials

The basic materials you need are underlayment, adhesive, tiles, and grout. Underlayment is a substance you apply on the ground to prepare it for tiling. The two main types of underlayment are cement board or backer board, but you might have to use a different type depending on the type of subfloor in your home. An adhesive is a substance that you place on top of the underlayment. It’s also referred to as mortar or thinset and, essentially, it’s a combination of cement, water, and sand.

Thinset comes in different varieties, including dry-set and polymer-modified formulas. The one you need depends on your subflooring. For vinyl, laminate, and plywood subflooring, polymer-modified thinset offers a high bond strength. But, for most basic tile applications, dry-set is an excellent choice. Finally, you need grout and a series of tools such as a trowel, float, cutting tool, such as a wet tile saw or scoring snap cutter, buckets, sponges, tape, and a knife.

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Before the Installation

Before starting to lay tile, you need to see what kind of subfloor you have and how high the adjoining floor is. This can help you decide what kind of underlayment you need to use. Make sure the floor’s surface is completely clean before applying the underlayment. Then you need to plan your layout. After your underlayment is dry and ready, measure the size of the walls and look for the exact center of the room. From the center, start laying tiles and plastic spacers without any adhesive to see how they look.

Ensure you don’t finish a row with a sliver cut tile (less than half a tile.) If this occurs, you’ll need to shift the entire layout over so you only have whole tiles at the ends. Plan out the order in which you’ll lay the tile, dividing the area into quadrants so you finish in front of a door and you don’t get tiled in.

1. Mixing Thinset

To mix thinset, use the manufacturer’s instructions because you need to know the exact ratio of liquid and powder. In general, most thinset mixes use a ratio of 10:1 thinset powder to water. For example, if you are mixing 10 lbs. of thinset, you need 1 gallon of water.

Then, using a mixer drill attachment on your power drill, start mixing the water and powder for 2-3 minutes. Make the thinset in small batches to avoid clumps and unmixed powder. Try to aim for a consistency similar to that of smooth peanut butter. It takes about 30-40 minutes for thinset to harden. After that time, the thinset is no longer sticky, and you have to throw it out and start a new bucket. Never throw thinset down the drain because it will clog your pipes.

2. Laying Thinset

Once your bucket of thinset is ready, you can start applying it to the subfloor. Use your trowel at 45º to achieve a thick enough layer, and spread the thinset in a straight pattern. A swirling pattern traps air underneath the tile, and the tile won’t bond properly. With large tiles, you’ll need to apply thinset both on the ground and the back of the tile. When doing this, make sure the grooves on the ground and tile are running in the same direction. Work with a small section of the floor at a time.

laying ceramic tile on the floor

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3. Laying Tile

When laying the tiles, apply firm and even pressure. If you are using thinset on both the ground and the back of the tile, wiggle the tile back and forth to blend with the thinset ridges. After placing the first tile, you can lift it to check the consistency of the thinset. If 80-90% of the thinset is covered, then the consistency is good. Also, remember to use spacers between tiles, as these small pieces of plastic help create consistent gaps and grout lines.

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4. Grouting the Tiles

Adding the tile grout gives your floor a professional finish and prevents water from seeping into the tile and causing mold. Wipe down the tiles with a wet sponge, so there’s no dirt on the surface. Work the grout into the gaps between the tiles and make sure the joints are filled with grout. Then scrape off any excess grout and let it dry for just a couple of minutes before you clean the tiles with a sponge. Work with a relatively small section at a time. If you grout the whole floor, the excess grout might be hard to clean later.

Laying tiles at home

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Laying tiles yourself can save you hundreds on contractor’s fees. Using this guide as your starting point, you can transform your home and lay a new tile floor quickly and easily with professional results. For your DIY projects, browse our online catalog for the best in tile, stone, concrete, and masonry tools.