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How To Install Bathroom Tile

Learn how tile is laid in a bathroom floor and up the sides of a tub surround.

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tiled floor and tub surround of 2007 blog cabin

Step 1: Measure the Space

Measure the length and width of the floor (Images 1 and 2). You need these measurements to determine how much tile, cement and grout you need. A paper drawing of the area to be tiled will help to determine the proper number of tiles and other materials needed. You will need graph paper and a pencil for that. Tiles come in a wide variety of materials so decide which material will work best for your space, especially in terms of design and maintenance (Image 3).

Step 2: Prepare the Sub-Floor

Prepare the sub-floor your tiles will sit on. Tile can be installed on nearly any clean, flat, structurally sound surface. Make sure the surface onto which you plan to affix the tiles is very strong because tile is heavy. Our sub-floor has a cement backer on top.

sub floor should be strong since tile is heavy

Courtesy of Lucie Rowe

Step 3: Decide on a Design

When choosing a starting point, choose the point to where your eye is most drawn. Often on floors this is the center, but that might not always be the case. So keep that in mind when determining your design and layout. This will help you use as many full tiles as possible, which helps to minimize the number of tiles you have to custom cut. At your starting point, it might be helpful to use chalk lines to keep your design square.

choose starting point where eye is most drawn

Courtesy of Lucie Rowe

Step 4: Prepare the Setting Material

For a DIY project, consider your experience level, the type of tile you plan to install, and the sub-floor material your tile will sit on. For our porcelain tile and cement backer board, we're using thinset mortar (Image 1). As with all chemicals, make sure to refer to the manual for any safety precautions. At your designated starting point, spread your setting material over a small area using a trowel. With the notched edge of the trowel, comb the material into ridges (Image 2).

Step 5: Begin Laying Tiles

Place full tile pieces at the starting point, press downward and continue to work your way out according to your desired layout. In this way, as you work your way to corners and edges of the room, you'll be making certain that any tiles that need to be custom cut will be in the less visible areas of the room. To achieve an even tiling job, use consistent measurements for the space between your tiles where the grout will go. This measurement may vary depending on what you prefer, but 1/8" is a good standard. Since most adhesives set in 20 to 30 minutes, quickly wipe away any excess. With thinset mortar, use a sponge and water. After placing a few rows of tile, check for level and carefully pound the tiles into place with your hand or with a rubber mallet. This will help to properly set the tiles.

press full tile pieces downward on ridged mortar

Courtesy of Lucie Rowe

Step 6: Cut the Tiles for the Edges

As you reach the corners and crannies of your room, you'll need to measure and plan to custom cut the tiles to be put in the odd-shaped spaces. Cut the tiles using tile nippers or a tile saw. If you'll be installing any new appliances into or onto the areas around which you are tiling, now would be a good time to dry fit the appliances into their designated areas to make sure no changes will need to be made prior to finishing the tile job. Our job requires we tile vertically around the tub surround, so it is important to see exactly what areas will be covered with the tub and which areas will be open for us to tile upon after we apply a backer board. Always wear protective eyewear when cutting tile. Before cutting tile, all cut lines should be marked with a pencil. Use a tile cutter for all straight cuts. It scores the tile and then snaps it along that score. To cut away small sections of tile, use tile nippers, which take small "bites" out of tile. For more complex curves or edges, use a rod saw, which can make more accurate and smooth cuts. After making any tile cut, smooth the edges with sandpaper or a tile sander.

Step 7: Grout the Tiles

After placing all of your tiles, mix your grout to a thick paste and apply, pressing it between tiles using a grout float. Spread the grout paste with a firm, sharp rubber float. Work the grout paste into the joints until they're completely filled, making certain the paste is not just sitting on top or "bridging the joint." Pack all of the joints firmly. Remove all of the excess grout from the face of the tiles with the edge of the grout float. Work the float at a 45-degree angle, diagonally to the grout joints, to avoid pulling out the paste.

apply grout paste between tiles using rubber float

Courtesy of Lucie Rowe

Step 8: Wipe Off the Excess Grout

Remove any remaining grout with a damp (not wet) sponge or towel. Work the strokes diagonally to the tile joints and allow the floor to dry. Wait about 20 minutes for grout to set and repeat the rinsing of the tiles. Then let the grout set for at least 24 hours. Wet down the grout joints with clean cold water during this period. For light traffic flow areas, allow the grout to set for approximately 12 hours. For heavier traffic, let it set for 24 hours. If a haze appears on the surface of the tiles after grout is dry, buff it off with clean dry cloth.

use damp sponge to remove excess grout from tile

Courtesy of Lucie Rowe

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