These directions summarize some supplies and steps we have found helpful when working with tile. This information is offered for use at your own discretion, and it may or may not be applicable to your specific project. Please consult a professional for more detailed advice regarding your project.



-safety glasses
-dust mask or respirator
-knee pads
-framing square
-brush or rag to clean off dust and debris
-wet saw
-large sponge
-tile float
-margin trowel
-notch trowel
-tape measure
-utility knife or grinder
-pencil, pen or chalk

  1. Pick out your tile
    1. Consider where this tile will go. Some tiles are more or less susceptible to moisture
    2. Consider what kind of wear the tiles will get. For instance, a tile with a delicate glaze could be good for a backsplash but not for a floor
    3. When estimating the amount of tile you need, buy 10 percent more than the area you calculated
  2.  Pick out your setting material, which will go underneath the tiles
    1. Mortar is most commonly used
    2. Try to get a mortar with additives. Additives slow down the curing time, which results in stronger, better long-term results. However, occasionally, you will find tiles that indicate they should be used with a mortar without additives
    3. Thin set mortar is most common, as thick set is more expensive
    4. Mastic is a second choice
      1. The advantage is that it’s premixed and faster
      2. You may choose to use mastic for walls that do not get moisture, such as a kitchen or powder room backsplash. Avoid mastic in any damp places and on the floor
      3. Never try to correct uneven surfaces with mastic, as it will not set properly
  3.  Also pick out your grout, which will go in between the tiles
    1. Portland cement-based grout is one option
      1. You will need to mix this with water
      2. One drawback is that it will easily erode over time with cleaners
      3. You can get it sanded or unsanded. Sanded is best for tiles that are 1/16” or larger apart. Unsanded is best for tiles that are 1/16” or smaller apart. Sanded grout is stronger
      4. Portland cement-based grout is often the least expensive choice
    2. A second option is an epoxy grout
      1. This grout is best for places that will need constant, serious disinfection, such as hospitals. It’s advantageous because it’s not porous at all and won’t erode with cleaners
      2. Epoxy grout is a good option for showers
    3. Urethane grout is the third choice
      1. It’s water-based and doesn’t need to be mixed with water like Portland cement-based grout. However, you will need to mix the grout within its container until the glaze on the top blends into the rest of the grout
      2. If you seal the container well, it will keep for two years
      3. The biggest disadvantage is that the grout can’t get wet for seven days after it’s installed
    4. Urethane grout will also stand up well against cleaners
    5. Remember to consider the color, when selecting your grout. Do you want it to blend in with the tiles or make the color of the tiles stand out?
  4. Don’t forget about choosing a grout and/or tile sealer
    1. Stone tiles will need to be sealed, while glass ones will not
    2. Some sealers double for tile and grout
    3. Often times, the best sealers are the stinkiest. Wear a respirator when you plan to use it
  5. Prep the surface for the tiles
    1. Remove any baseboard, if you are tiling a floor
    2. Make sure the surface is level
    3. If you choose to use a self-leveling compound, make sure you buy a brand that does not crack, and make sure it is fully set before taking any more steps forward with your tiling project
  6. Install a backer board in between the subfloor and the tiles (or the wall studs and tiles)
    1. There are many options for backer board including hardy board, cement board, foam backer board, ditra mat, etc.
    2. Use mortar to secure the backer board to the subfloor, if you are doing a floor project. Press it down and walk on it to set it
    3. Then secure it with drywall screws. Don’t use nails. Place the screws 6” apart. They must go into the floor joists or wall studs. The screws should be flush to the surface of the backer board. Don’t rip through the core by drilling down too far or letting the screws protrude out the top
    4. Usually ¼” backer board will do. For wall tiling, ½” backer board may be better, as it better prevents flexing
    5. Older homes will have shiplap. Do not tile directly onto the shiplap, and do not put backer board on the shiplap; use plywood to prevent the floor from moving and the tiles from cracking in the future
    6. When cutting the backer board to size, if using a grinder, make sure to wear a respirator and eye protection. If using a scorer, it is less important
    7. You may also consider using plastic sheeting for surfaces that will come into contact with a lot of water, such as showers
  7. It could be helpful to dry-fit the tiles in the space
  8.  If necessary, mix your mortar
    1. Start with water and add the powder
    2. Read the directions on the package for general proportions, but keep mixing until the mortar has the consistency of frosting or peanut butter. Your margin trowel should be able to stand up in the mortar
    3. Let the mortar sit for 10-15 minutes (“slacking time”), then mix it again
  9.  If symmetry is important to you, find the center of the room and draw guidelines with a pencil
    1. This middle line can be a good starting point, so long as you won’t tile yourself into a corner. Remember that you will not want any pressure on the tiles as the mortar cures
    2. If you are tiling a wall, it is better to work your way up than down
  10. If symmetry is not important to you, you may pick any starting point
    1. If tiling a wall, work your way up, rather than down
  11.  “Prime” the backer board by filling in any pores or small holes with the mortar
    1. Make sure the surface is clear of dust or dirt before putting down the mortar. This is a good rule throughout the entire tiling project
    2. Use the flat end of your trowel and make a very thin layer of mortar
  12.  Put a thicker layer of mortar or mastic down
    1. With your trowel at a 45 degree angle and using the jagged edge, even out the mortar or mastic. You should hear a scraping sound
    2. The trowel you use will depend on the kind of tile you have chosen, what kind of a tiling project you are doing, and whether you are using mortar or mastic
    3. Start with a couple square feet. Remember, the mortar or mastic will dry relatively quickly. If you see a skin form on the mortar or mastic, or you touch it and nothing comes off on your finger, remove the mortar or mastic and apply it again fresh. If you don’t, the tile will not stick to it
    4. There should be enough on the floor that if you put a tile down, wiggle it into place, and remove it, the back of the tile will be completely coated. If this is not the case, add more mortar or mastic to the floor or wall
    5. You may also consider back-buttering the tiles, to ensure full coverage of the tile. This is especially helpful if the tiles are larger than 12” x 12”, natural stone, or have a translucent appearance. Don’t miss the corners
  13.  Carefully lay the tiles down one by one
    1. Wiggle each tile to set it into its space and pound it with your fist
    2. You may consider using spacers between the tiles to ensure proper placement. Remember to use spacers not just in between the tiles. For wall tiles, put spacers between the tiles and floor. For floor tiles, put the spacers between the tiles and wall
  14.  Where necessary, cut the tiles with a wet saw, to fit them into the space
    1. Consider marking your cut lines with a pen, instead of pencil. The wet saw will wipe away the pencil marks fairly quickly
    2. The guide on the wet saw is a tool, but follow your own marks first
    3. After cutting each tile, dry it off with a towel to remove any excess water
  15.  When all the tiles are placed in their spot, allow the mortar or mastic to cure for 24 hours before you walk on them or start to grout
    1. Read the packaging for exact drying time
  16. After a day, clean out the spaces between the tiles with a razor blade. This will allow more space for the grout. If you wait too much longer than a day, the mortar will be significantly more difficult to remove with a razor
  17.  If you used spacers, remove them
  18.  Mix your grout in a bucket
    1. Start with water for the best mixing
    2. Read the packaging for general proportions, but keep mixing until the grout has the consistency of frosting or peanut butter. Your margin trowel should be able to stand up in the grout
  19.  With the tile float, scoop up some grout and press it into the spaces between the tiles
    1. Hold the float at a 45-degree angle
    2. Repeat until the grout fully fills the spaces
  20.  With a sponge and a bucket of water, wipe off the excess grout from the surface of the tiles
    1. Wait until the grout has set for about 15-30 minutes before taking a sponge to it
    2. Be careful not to remove the grout in the spaces between the tiles
    3. Your sponge should be damp but not dripping wet
    4. Change the water when it begins to look cloudy
    5. Don’t put this water down your drain. Find an outdoor space with rocks or gravel and pour the water on the ground. You should be able to pick out the cement pieces once it’s dry
  21. Repeat this step after a few hours, to remove the haze of grout that will likely remain
    1. You may need to wipe the surface down with a dry rag once more, after everything has dried
  22.  After the grout has dried fully, apply a sealant to it and also to the tiles if necessary
    1. Use an application tool like a paint brush
    2. Wipe away any grout sealer from the tiles right away
    3. Read the label for drying instructions, but let the sealant dry for at least 24 hours