The Best Way to Install a Tile Floor
Learn how to install a tile floor and save money by doing a DIY tile floor installation!
After 4 years of living in our house, I am so excited to be giving our laundry room some TLC! One of our first projects in the space is to replace the “blah” tile that our builders put in with something more beautiful!
After we cleared everything out of the laundry room so we could get to work, this is what we were left with:
I knew that new tile would instantly improve the space, so we got right down to it! Here’s how we completed the tile floor installation:
Tile Floor Installation Step by Step
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Step 1- Gather all supplies.
We learned early on in our DIY days that having the right tools can make a huge difference, and this tile project was no exception! Here are all of the items we used to install the new tile:
- Tile (We chose this ceramic tile.)
- Spacers and Levelers
- Tile Saw
- Tile Cutter
- Grease Pencils
- Hammer Drill with Chisel Bit
- Drill + Mixing Paddle
- Tile Mortar
- Grout Float
- Measuring Tape
- Shop Vac
- Sponge + Bucket
- Grout Sealer
How to Figure Out How Much Tile You Need
Before we looked at even one tile sample, we needed to figure out how much tile we were going to need. To do this, we first measured the length and width of our space. We then multiplied those numbers together to come up with the square footage. (This tile flooring calculator makes it easy!)
We have a small linen closet in our laundry room which means that it is not a perfect rectangle. After taking that into account, we figured that our tile would be covering right around 45 square feet.
HOWEVER, we could not just purchase exactly 45 feet of tile. We needed to make sure we had extra to account for mistakes, places where we would need to use partial tiles, etc. We also wanted to have some tile left over for the future in case one or more of the tiles we installed would get broken accidentally.
Generally, the pros recommend overbuying in tile by 10-20% just to be safe. Many places will let you return any full boxes of tile if you don’t end up needing them, so check on your store’s policy when you purchase.
Step 2- Remove existing flooring.
Before we could install our beautiful new tile, we needed to remove the old tile!
We removed the baseboards first, using a crowbar and a hammer to pry them away from the wall. Once the baseboards were out of the way, it was easier to tackle the tile.
Starting in the back left corner and moving toward the doorway, we used a hammer drill with a chisel bit to break up and remove the tile from the cement board base.
The hammer drill made very quick work of the tile floor. In 30 minutes or so, all of the tile had been removed. Using a hammer and chisel would’ve taken hours.
After our tile was removed and out of the way, we had a decision to make…
Can I reuse the existing cement board?
When our tile had been removed, we realized that the cement board underneath it had been both nailed and mortared to the subfloor below. It was good to see the cement board underlayment was installed properly. But the mortar makes the cement board hard to separate from the MDF subfloor without a lot of effort and potential splintering.
The existing cement board was actually in really good shape after removing the tile. We decided to see if we could avoid ripping it out and putting in new cement board.
There were a few rough spots and high spots on the cement board from the tile mortar. The chisel bit on the hammer drill was able to easily chip off the left over mortar on the cement board to create a perfectly flat base for our new tile.
It’s extremely important to not have any high spots on this cement board base or else you risk cracking tiles after they are installed.
If we weren’t able to get the existing cement board perfectly smooth to create a good foundation for the new tile, we wouldn’t have attempted to keep the existing cement board.
I would say that in most cases, it will not be possible to reuse the cement board. We just lucked out with the way the old tile came off of the cement board during the demo.
I took the photo above right after Donnie finished smoothing out the cement board. Then I went in with a Shop Vac and then a broom and then a sponge to do clean up. I removed as much debris and dust as possible to prepare to lay our tiles.
Step 3- Decide on tile layout.
Once our area was prepped and ready to go, we couldn’t just start attaching tiles to the floor. We first had to decide on the layout of our tile.
Since we were working with a fairly small space, we were able to lay out the actual tile to see how it would fit on the floor.
We decided to overlap each tile by 1/3, so after laying three rows of tile, row four is a repeat of row one. After looking at tons of inspiration photos, we liked this look better than overlapping by 1/2 tile or even 1/4.
Because of the small space, we had to begin tiling from the back of the room, and tile our way out. But we needed to make sure that we wouldn’t be left with a thin strip of tile near the door of the room. That would not look good. We wanted the first row tiles that people see when entering the room to be as close to full width as possible.
To make sure we could avoid a small strip of tile near the door, we started from the back and lined up tiles (ignoring the 1/3 overlap for this part). We added the spacers and worked our way to the entrance to see if we would end up with a full tile.
It turned out that we could begin in the back of the laundry room with a full width tile and end up at the entrance of the laundry room with close to a full width tile as well. If this wasn’t the case, we would’ve had to rip down the first row of tiles at the back of the laundry room so that we would end up with a full width tile at the entrance.
Finding a Starting Point for the Tile Floor
Next we needed to decide how to start the first row. We knew wanted a 1/3 overlap, so we began laying down tiles in that configuration. We wanted to avoid having a really thin little section of tile along the wall on either side of the laundry room as we worked our way out. Again, a really narrow section of tile doesn’t look as clean and finished.
You can see in the picture below that starting with a full tile in the back left of the laundry room was a good way to start. Depending on the row, we would need to use some partial tiles, but they are substantial sizes that still look good.
With our configuration, every third row started with a full tile to the left. This made laying the tile easy.
Obviously, the size and shape of your tile and your space will play a big role in determining your final tile layout. It’s worth it to put in a little extra time during the planning phase to make sure that your final tile layout doesn’t end up with any awkwardly sized pieces.
Step 4- Prepare and apply the mortar.
With the tile layout decided, it was time to begin installing the tile for real!
We decided to use traditional tile mortar (thin-set) instead of mastic. Although mastic works well with ceramic tile, mortar tends to dry a bit slower and is a little more forgiving. If we were tiling a wall, we would most likely use mastic.
After we purchased our pre-mixed mortar in a 2.5 gallon bucket, we looked at the tile trowel recommendations for that particular product. For our tile size and our particular mortar, it was recommended that we use a trowel with 1/4″ x 1/4″ notches.
Generally speaking, the larger the tile, the larger the notches you will need in your tile trowel. It’s important to follow the recommendations on your particular mortar or mastic.
For the tile spacing, we decided to go with 1/16″. This creates a very thin grout line that looks nice but will only work if your tiles are perfectly uniform in size. Most ceramic tiles are fairly uniform, but some natural stones are not. If our tiles weren’t uniform, we would’ve chosen to space them 1/8″ apart.
Utilizing Leveling Spacers
For this tile project, it was also the first time that we used leveling spacers. They worked really well!
The 1/16″ spacers have a base that the tile sits on. Once the mortar is applied you set the tile down onto the spacers. And then once the neighboring tile is installed, you use little wedges which act as a self-leveling mechanism. This is particularly nice for floor tiles because it’s easy to feel unevenness under your feet. I don’t think we will ever use another type of spacer again.
Also keep in mind that it’s important apply the mortar in a consistent manner, especially with large tiles. For long tiles like we used, we made sure that the 1/4″ by 1/4″ trowel marks were perpendicular with the tile. The grooves in the mortar allow air to escape through the shortest route possible. The base of the tile wouldn’t be as consistent or strong if the grooves ran lengthwise.
We also made sure to “back butter” each tile before setting it on top of our grooves or mortar. Back buttering is just applying a very thin (as thin as possible) layer of mortar to the back of each tile using the flat side of the tile trowel. You spread the mortar on the tile and then basically scrape it all off. You are left with an ultra-thin layer of mortar that really helps the tile adhere the mortar that was applied to the floor. This extra step takes only seconds, but it’s important for tile adherence.
Step 5- Cut and lay the tile.
For this particular tile layout, most of our cuts were straight lines perpendicular to the length of the tile. We’ve found that some tiles are easily scored and snapped, while others tend to chip and snap unevenly. Fortunately, these tiles were easy to score and snap.
After measuring a tile and determining where to cut, we placed the tile in the the tile snapper. We scored the surface many times to create a small groove, and then used the handle to apply pressure to the tile and snap it at our line. This worked flawlessly, and we had zero ruined tiles.
For this project, we needed to make a few cuts that couldn’t be accomplished withe tile snapper– around door jams, for example. For this we used our Ryobi wet saw.
This saw is fairly inexpensive, but it does a good job. It has an adjustable fence, which makes straight cuts easy. It’s also light and portable, which is a nice change from some of those giant 100+ pound tile saws.
One thing that we’ve found helpful is the use of grease pencils for marking the tiles before cutting with the wet saw. A pencil mark will just wash away when using the wet saw, but the grease pencil stays visible even when wet.
When we got to the door area with the tile, we realized that unless we wanted to be stuck in the laundry room for 24 hours while the tile dried (HA!), we would need to remove the door so we could use our spacers and levelers.
Once the door was removed, we were able to finish up the last of the tile!
Snapping Off the Spacers
The next day, the mortar was dry enough to walk on the tiles. Tapping each spacer on the side with a hammer would snap off the spacer (the base still underneath each tile).
We then inspected all of the 1/16″ gaps between the tiles to make sure there was no mortar protruding that would impact the grout line. At this point, the mortar was soft enough to scrape out any excess with a putty knife.
Step 6- Time to grout the tile!
Grouting floor tile is fun and easy. It’s a quick process, and the tile looks better immediately.
We chose Dove Gray grout. Following the instructions on the back of the grout bag, we mixed the grout in a bucket using a mixer bit and our cordless drill.
Once the grout was mixed, we made sure we had numerous sponges and a bucket of clean water on hand.
Grouting floor tile is nice compared to grouting wall tile. It’s easy to apply a lot of grout to the tiles and then work in the grout with the grout float without having to worry about grout falling off the wall and making a mess.
We worked the grout into the 1/16″ space between the tiles with our grout float, doing about 3 square feet of tile at a time. Once the grout was in the space between the tiles, we were sure to scrape off as much excess grout as we could.
Then using a sponge from the bucket of water (wrung out as much as possible), we began wiping down the grout-covered tile using a circular motion without much pressure. Once both sides of the sponge were covered with grout, we wrung out the sponge and started the process over. It takes 3 or 4 passes before the excess grout is removed, leaving grout only in the space between the tile.
A Few Cautions About Grout
There are two ways this part can go wrong…
- using too much pressure when wiping the tile with the sponge, and
- using a sponge that is too wet.
In both of these cases you will mess up the grout the line, and it won’t be as smooth as you want. Take your time, use a barely damp sponge, and make many passes in a circular motion.
Using this method, we started grouting at the back corner and worked our way out of the room.
Once all of the grout was applied and the tiles were wiped clean, we waited about an hour. During this time you’ll notice a haze to appear on the tile. Once you see the haze and the surface of the tiles are no longer damp, it’s ok to remove the haze.
We entered the room in socks and were careful not to step on any of the grout lines. We then used a sponge with a clean bucket of water to buff out the tiles in a circular motion.
The sponge should be just barely damp at this point. Wring out as much water as possible and then lightly buff the tiles in a circular motion. Then clean the sponge and repeat until the haze has been removed.
Step 7- Seal the grout.
Since we spent so much time laying and grouting our tile, we want to make sure we protect the grout from damage. We do this by sealing the grout.
We let the grout cure for about 72 hours before we started the sealing process. I used this grout sealer because it came with a nifty little brush built right in!
I simply painted the sealer along the grout lines, going back after every few rows and using a dry cloth to wipe off any sealer that had gotten onto the tile.
After finishing the first coat of sealer, I waited half an hour and then repeated the process for a second coat. Then I let it alone to dry for 2-3 hours and it was done!
Once the sealing process is complete, we get to enjoy our new beautifully tiled floor! Yippee!
Let’s take a look at the before and after…
Yay! Obviously we still have a lot of work to do before we can call the laundry room “complete,” but the new tile is definitely a step in the right direction!
I’m excited to keep plugging away at the laundry room until we have it finished– baseboards and trim are up next on our to-do list!
Completing a tile project? Be sure to pin the image below so you can refer to this post later!
Have you ever done a tile project in your home? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
You can see our previous tile projects here:
How to Install a Subway Tile Backsplash
How to Install a Hexagon Tile Backsplash
Installing and Grouting Tile: 50 Tips and Tricks
Thank you so much for following along! Have a wonderful day!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
What a pretty flooring upgrade! It’s going to look so good in there ?
Thanks so much, Ashley! Have a great week!
Beautiful! I love your tile choice.
Thanks so much, Julie! Hope you have a great week!
Beautiful transformation! I am glad there are people like this who are willing to do it themselves! Me, I like fixing things, like broken spa chairs 🙂 Very brave to try to level a floor on your own! And useful to share with others who may want to try it!
Thanks so much! Have a wonderful week! <3