How to Install Floor Tile

James Figy
Written by James Figy
Updated August 8, 2016
floor tile, how to install
Spacers help to keep tiles straight during installation. (All photos by Steve Mitchell)

Considering laying floor tile as your next do-it-yourself project? Follow these easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions.

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Laying floor tile is as much a skill as it is an art. With time and practice, a handy homeowner can master this task. Start small with a half bathroom, a mudroom or other area, rather than your entire kitchen.

Tools & materials needed:

Measuring tape, Carpenter’s pencil, Drill, Special screws for cement board, Tile saw, Tile, Tile cement, Trowel, Tile spacers, Grout, Grout float, Tile sponge, Buckets for rinse water, Clean shop towels, Sealer, Small framing square, Wax pencil, Cement board or other underlayment, Saw or utility knife to cut underlayment, Large bucket to mix tile cement and grout

Prepare floor and install backer-board

Sweep the floor clean after removing the previous floor covering. Unless it’s a concrete floor, you’ll need to install cement board or a similar backer. Fasten screws every 5 to 6 inches.

You can attach tile directly to concrete floors, but first eliminate high spots and other bumps that will create problems during installation.

Measure and layout

floor tile, how to install

Measure the room’s length and width. Mark the center of the room at each end and either draw the line with a straightedge or chalk line.

Draw a perpendicular line the same way. Check the line to make sure it’s square and adjust if necessary. You’ll encounter problems later if your lines aren’t at a 90-degree angle.

With the lines drawn, put a few tiles into place without cement to see what size you’ll need against the walls. Adjust the layout if necessary.

Tip: No square? No problem. Installers often use their tape measures and the Pythagorean theorem. With your tape measure at the intersection, measure 3 feet down one line and make a mark. Then measure 4 feet down the other line and make a mark. The measurement between those marks should be 5 feet. If it’s too short, tilt the one line further away. If it’s longer, tilt the line closer.

Mix tile cement

floor tile, how to install

Follow the mixing instructions. Tile cement has a limited working time, so only mix what you plan to use.

Spread the tile cement with the notched trowel, staying slightly away from the line so you can tell where to place the tile. Spread a little at a time, but only in the places you plan to install tile right away.

Start tiling

floor tile, how to install

Lay two or three tiles along the line. Work them back and forth into the cement, so each piece is secure and its height matches the adjacent tiles. Place spacers in the corners. Then lay a line next to the first tiles to create a square. Continue spreading cement and laying tile with spacers. Cut to fit when necessary.

Don’t walk on the finished floor for 24 hours or the time listed on the tile cement. After that period, remove the spacers and clean off excess cement.

Tip: Cut smart. When measuring, factor in the width of the spacer and an eighth-inch of wiggle room against the wall.

Grout and rinse

floor tile, how to install

Mix the grout according to instructions. Some grouts mix with water, while others have a special additive. Read the instructions to make sure.

Spread the grout over the seams with the grout float, fully filling the gaps.

As sections start to dry, wipe up the excess grout with the sponge and a bucket of fresh water. The water won’t stay fresh for long, so refill the bucket often. Let the floor dry slightly, then rinse it again with the sponge. Repeat this three or more times until the water stops becoming cloudy.

Seal

floor tile, how to install

A hazy film usually appears as the floor dries. Wipe it away with the shop cloths.

Apply the sealer according to instructions. This typically involves spraying or brushing sealer along the grout lines, then wiping up the excess. The sealer may need a second coat, but once it dries you’re all done.

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