How to Install a Tile Floor in Your Bathroom

Introduction

Whether you’re replacing an old shabby bathroom flooring tile or installing a new one, you can’t beat ceramic or stone tile for durability and appearance. When laid properly, it’s virtually a forever floor tiling that requires almost no care and maintenance. And you can select materials from a vast array of colors and textures.

What’s equally attractive is that you can lay a first-class tile floor yourself, often in one weekend, and save the $500 to $1,500 cost of hiring a pro. If you’re comfortable using basic hand tools and have the patience to align tiles just right, you can handle laying tile.

5. Wrong Grout

The wrong grout or grout done wrong can ruin the look of your DIY tiling project. You want clean and even grout lines.

Mix your grout with a trowel until you have a peanut butter consistency. Using a drill or paddle will introduce air which weakens the holding strength.

Be sure to let the grout rest for 10 minutes before using it. Skipping this step will result in a weaker grout that will crack.

Video

Step 7: Grouting Tile Joints

Grouting the joints is one of the last steps before the tile install is complete, and it really brings the tile together. This article shares how Jim and Rich grout tile joints including what tools and materials they use and a lot of pro tips.

Where to Purchase Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

Depending on what you select and where the tile isThe old adage that “you get what you pay for” is true with tile. High quality tile is manufactured to be more uniform in size, and that’s important for aligning tile with consistent grout joints. The tile we show here was purchased through a local tile distributor, and we suggest you do the same.

Depending on what you select and where the tile is manufactured, expect to pay at least $3 per square foot. Be sure to purchase boxes with the same batch number or consecutive batch numbers. This helps ensure a consistent color and pattern.

Big box stores also carry tile. However, they usually offer seconds of quality brands and mixed batches. This makes it frustratingly difficult to maintain a uniform look and pattern, especially with smaller grout joints. DIY centers usually have better prices and often offer promotions that small distributors can’t match. If price is your main concern, be sure to check out list our Home Depot Coupons and Lowe’s Coupons before you buy.

Installing Tile Flooring in Five Steps

Step 1: Mixing Mortar & Laying the Main Floor

Step 1: Mixing Mortar & Laying the Main Floor

Mix your mortar per the manufacturer’s recommendations, doing your best to avoid over mixing and damaging the pigment. Apply a bed of mortar to the floor using your notched trowel at the proper 45-degree angle.  Don’t overdo it with the mortar, seriously. This stuff dries quickly so only spread enough to install one or two tiles to start until you get the hang of doing it. Carefully lay the tile down on to the bed of mortar and work it back and forth to ensure adhesion. Use your level to check each tile and any adjustments can be made with light taps from the rubber mallet. Make sure you level from multiple sides so you don’t have gaps between tiles or one side sitting higher than another. This will be critically important once more tiles are added. Use tile spacers to properly align your tiles and to leave the appropriate space between them. While they can be difficult to work with, they will leave a perfect space every time and allow the proper size grout channel. Be careful not to mortar them into the joints.  For larger format tiles we recommend using leveling spacers. These are special spacers that have either wedges or locking mechanisms to pull adjacent tiles to the same flush finish height eliminating the high lows or at least minimizing it greatly. You can use them on any size tiles, but they are definitely recommended for larger format tiles over 18”x18” in size. Clean up any mortar that squeezes out IMMEDIATELY. It’s super difficult to do once dried. Make sure you get it off the edges of the tile so as not to impact your grout job later. Keeping a water bucket and sponge close by makes this process much easier. Repeat this process, laying mortar, placing tile, level tile, place spacers, until you’ve covered the desired area. Or until you encounter the need for cutting!

Step 2:  Cutting Tile & Laying Edges

Step 2:  Cutting Tile & Laying Edges

Tile is not easy to cut, but it doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it’s often portrayed. Take your time, wear your safety glasses and you will be ok. Promise. First things first: do not lay mortar for a tile that hasn’t been cut yet. Even if you work quickly, chances are that mortar will dry before you’re ready to set the tile. Better to measure out your tile, cut it, dry fit it into the space then mortar it in place. If you have cuts to make, you’ll use the tile cutter or tile saw. Straight cuts are easiest. Measure and mark the tile where you want it cut. Then place it into the tile cutter, score and snap. Be careful handling the cut tile, as it most likely will be sharp. The process is the same with a tile saw (often called a wet saw), just make sure to thoroughly dry the cut tile before installing that piece. Dry fit cut tiles into place to check sizing and mortar down. If your trowel won’t fit in the space for the cut tile, you can apply the mortar to the back of the tile using your trowel. This is often called “back buttering”.  If you use this method, make sure not to dab spots on the back and stick it. You must actually apply it with proper trowel marks for a proper bond. If you just dab spots of mortar onto the back of the tile you will leave hollow points under the tile. Curve cuts require a bit more handling but are generally treated the same way. Once you’ve determined the curve you need on tile by aligning and measuring where it will be installed, or using a tool called a contour gauge, mark the cut line on the tile. Curve cuts are often done with an angle grinder using a diamond blade by pros in the field; a diamond hole saw for smaller holes. Snap tile cutters cannot make curve cuts. You can also make the cut with your wet saw, freehand. Just slowly turn the tile to keep the curve line in the spot on the blade as needed. For rougher, or less-cosmetic curves, you can make a series of cuts perpendicular ending at the curve line and use your tile nippers to nip off the excess. You may need to smooth down the edge once you’re done and be careful of the sharp edge.  Install as you would a straight cut.

Step 3: Remove the Spacers

Step 3: Remove the Spacers

Once all the tile is installed and the adhesive mortar has dried for the recommended amount of time, it’s in this step where you remove all the tile spacers. Make sure not to leave any pieces of them behind (they can tear if they get caught on mortar) in the joints and clean up any dried mortar to prepare for grouting.

Step 4: Grout

Step 4: Grout

Ok, if you’ve made it this far, you’re nearly to the end. Grout. This is going to make the tile project look like a finished job. Grout fills in the spaces between tiles (where your spacers were. See? It’s not just a clever name!) and works with the adhesive to hold the tiles in place. Selecting the color of grout is a fun way to add a bit of character to your final flooring. For wood-look or stone-look tile, we recommend that you choose a grout that closely matches the main color of the tile. For solid color tile, choosing a grout that is similar in color to your tile unifies the installation. Using a complementary or even contrasting color of grout adds a modern and geometric flair to your floor tile. A low contrast grout subtly emphasizes tile shapes without looking harsh. With a colorful tile, contrasting with white grout lines is a classic and clean approach. Mix your grout according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Apply the grout using a grout float, pressing it into the seams between tiles. Make sure to thoroughly fill all the spaces, then come back across them at a diagonal angle to remove as much excess grout as possible with the float. This is important. Remove as much as you can with the float, without removing it from the seams or you will have to re-grout those spots. Once you’ve grouted an area, use a grout sponge and a bucket of water to remove grout from the tile face and smooth the seams. Run your sponge at an angle across the grout joints as well to avoid removing too much grout from the joints. Do not apply too much pressure but allow the sponge to do the work. You don’t want any grout left on the tiles or it will be visible and leave what is called “grout haze”. Keep dunking and wringing your sponge (you want a damp, not dripping sponge; excess water is not your friend), wiping the tile and repeating until all the excess is removed and the potential for haze is gone. Clean the sponge and water bucket frequently. Clean water is the key to a clean floor. Trick of the Trade: You can go ahead and grout the edges of your tile flooring near the wall, then apply caulk afterward. Caulk shrinks as it dries so if you have a deep space to fill here, it will require multiple applications of caulk to get it to look good. If you force the grout into this gap and wash it off flush and allow it to dry then you can come back and it is much easier to apply the caulk over the grout. Just do not overfill the joint; you want to leave some room to apply the caulk. Repeat this as necessary until all areas are grouted, sponged wet and clean. Allow grout to dry.

Step 5: Clean-up and Seal

Step 5: Clean-up and Seal

Ok, clean-up. Clean up your tools, wash the grout off your float, etc. Make sure it’s all put away properly. Good job! Seriously though, you probably need to keep traffic off the grouted tile per the grout manufacturer’s recommendation. Typically, about 24-72 hours. Once this time has passed, you can enter the project area and caulk the outside edges of the tile. Many grout manufacturers offer a caulk to match grout colors in both sanded and unsanded options, for use in these areas. Color match silicone caulk is also great for wet areas like bathrooms. Now, let the grout “cure”, which is to say, dry fully and set up completely. Once the manufacturer’s recommended curing time has finished (on average a few weeks to 30 days), you can seal the grout using the recommended grout sealer. Some are even offered in a sponge roller bottle you can run through the grout lines. Go with their choice or ask your friends at The Good Guys for assistance. Once you’ve sealed the grout, you are officially DONE! Congratulations! Now, if any of this makes you uncomfortable or scared, it’s highly recommended to turn this job over to a professional. Your flooring and remodeling pros at The Good Guys are always here and happy to help!

Here’s How to Install a Tile Floor Step By Step:

Step One: Measure the Area and Purchase Materials

Measure your bathroom wall-to-wall to figure out how much tile, grout and underlayment to buy. For the correct amount of tile, calculate the square footage of your room. After you select your tile, determine how many tiles you need per square foot. BuildDirect recommends purchasing a few extra tiles to allow for breaks or cutting mistakes.

How to Select Floor Tiles for Bathrooms

More often than not, neutral colors are the way to go, especially if you plan on selling your home. Also, be sure to select a tile that can handle a lot of foot traffic.

“Go for a look that you know you’ll love for decades if need be. Something that will still match your vanity if you decide to change it down the road.” Allie Bloyd | Builders Surplus

It’s also important to pick a material that can handle water. That means not too slippery or too porous. James Upton, the DIY Tile Guy, points out that some types of tiles easily absorb water, shampoo and soap, making them a bad choice for the bathroom.

“Many times, people want to select a natural stone, such as marble, travertine and granite. While these products look great, more often than not, they are maintenance intensive and people don’t usually understand what they are getting themselves into.” James Upton | DIY Tile Guy

So, what material do the experts recommend? A great option is porcelain. 

“It’s more durable than ceramic,” Bloyd says. “If it chips or cracks, it won’t be as noticeable because porcelain tile is the same color all the way through typically. Ceramic is usually red or another color in the body with a paint or glaze on top.” 

Step Two: Clean the Area

To keep your new tile from cracking, thoroughly prepare the surface. If you’re removing old tiles, consider renting a renovation dumpster and make sure to vacuum away the dust and debris. 

You can lay tile over linoleum or vinyl. If you go this route, keep these tips in mind:

  • Scrape away loose, peeling ends of linoleum or vinyl and vacuum dust and particles. 
  • Fill cracks or low spots with thin-set. 
  • Scrub the floor with a vinyl floor stripper to dissolve wax and residue, carefully following the label’s instructions. 
  • Use an abrasive scouring pad to texturize the floor’s surface so the underlayment easily sticks when installed.

Pro-Tip: Always wear gloves and eye protection while working with cement and chemical products. These materials can dry out bare skin or cause chemical burns.

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Step Three: Install Underlayment

A layer of cement backerboard provides a clean, even surface to lay bathroom tile. Plywood backerboard also works, but experts recommend the sturdier cement option. This will offer the best support for heavy tiles. To install cement backerboard:

  • Cut the cement board into panels with your circular saw to fit your measurements. 
    • Be sure to cut panels at a manageable length to fit through doorways if cutting outside. 
  • Use a jigsaw to cut inside corners and circles for sinks, toilets and other bathroom fixtures. 
  • Lay panels so that four corners never meet at one point. 
  • Using your drill, screw the underlayment to the sub-floor, spacing screws about 6 inches apart to maintain a level surface. 
  • To secure the cement board, you can also opt for a thin-set adhesive. Be sure to read the thin-set’s label and follow instructions carefully.

“Make sure you have a very level subfloor if you’re installing stone tile. It’s heavier than other tile and can crack if it’s not level.” Allie Bloyd | Builders Surplus

Step Four: Layout Your Tile

It’s a good idea to dry-lay the tile first to decide on the best layout. Start in the center and work your way out, keeping spaces between the wall and tile even. Don’t begin at a wall. This may seem easier, but you may have to cut tile very thinly at the opposite wall. For best results, here’s how to lay floor tile:

  • Starting from the center, arrange your tile so you use as many whole pieces as possible.
  • Use tile spacers to space tiles evenly.
  • Count and measure the tiles that need to be trimmed to size.
  • Before removing the tiles, use chalk to mark tile placement for reference during installation. 

How to Use Tile Spacers

To achieve a professional look, follow these tips for tile spacers:

  • Consider purchasing a narrow width to minimize maintenance and the likelihood of cracks or stains.
  • Keep the tile spacers in place while the thin-set dries (see below). 
  • Use needle nose pliers to remove tile spacers once completely set.
  • Don’t lay tile spacers flat. This keeps the grout from adequately filling the space.
  • Don’t place tile spacers in corners. This can make removal more difficult.

Step Five: Cut Your Tile and Complete the Layout

Use your tile saw to cut the tiles down to the sizes you measured in the previous step. Test a few before cutting all of them to make sure you have the proper measurements. Dry-lay all cut tiles for a final quality check before installation.

Step Six: Apply Thin-Set Mortar

Remove tiles from your layout section by section and place in an organized pile. Using a notched trowel, spread a thin layer of thin-set mortar in small segments at a time. Replace tiles with the tile spacers so they stay in position. Once the floor is completely covered, let the mortar dry for a full 24 hours.

”Make sure you ‘butter’ the back of your tile when laying floor tile. This is rubbing a thin layer of mortar on the back of your tile in addition to the mortar on the floor. This ensures a better hold.” Allie Bloyd | Builders Surplus


Image Credit: Allie Bloyd

Step Seven: Fill Spaces With Grout

The next day, carefully remove the tile spacers. Mix your grout following the manufacturer’s instructions. Using a grout float, neatly fill the spaces between each tile. Once completely applied, wipe away surplus grout using a damp sponge. Allow another 24 hours for the grout to dry, then apply a grout sealer to protect from chips and stains.


Image Credit: Allie Bloyd

Step Eight: Finishing Touches

Reinstall doors, trims and fixtures. Wipe down floors once more and replace rugs and bathroom décor. Voila! Your bathroom is ready for luxurious bubble baths aplenty.

Ready to take on more DIY projects? Check out the For the Home section of our blog to find a project for next weekend!

Warnings

  • Sealing grout makes it water resistant, not waterproof. Sealing grout will aid in the cleaning process, as the sealer will protect grout from water and unwanted oils. Though this provides necessary protection, this does not make the substance waterproof.[11]

    Thanks! Helpful Not Helpful

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7. No Backer Board

If you are tiling in an area with water you need to use a backboard. The backer board stays stiff and prevents water from seeping into where it shouldn’t be.

Cement board is the most durable type of backboard. It is cement and sand and then reinforced with fiberglass.Fiber cement board is cement and sand and reinforced with wood fiber. It is like the other cement board but comes with limitations for use.

Glass mat gypsum works well for damp areas, but not places with constant water. They are silicone-treated gypsum and reinforced with fiberglass.

If you are tiling around a sink water-resistant drywall works well. It can resist the occasional splashing but not constant moisture.

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