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how to lay bathroom tile

How to Lay Bathroom Tile: 5 Easy Steps

Whether you’re replacing an old shabby bathroom floor tile or installing a new one from scratch, you can’t beat a ceramic or stone tile installation for longevity and appearance. Learning how to lay bathroom tile can be an incredibly rewarding experience and it’s often cheaper than hiring someone to do it for you!

But with that decision comes the responsibility of getting it right, and while it is exciting, it can certainly be a daunting task.

We’re here to guide you on laying tile floors yourself and how to DIY it professionally.

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how to lay bathroom tile

1. Gather Your Tools

The number of tools you’ll need will depend on what you’re doing and how in-depth you plan to go. There are a few essentials you absolutely need if you’re going to do a good job with laying tile in the bathroom. These would be a good saw, high-quality mortar and grout, a variety of trowel sizes, and measuring tape.

Let’s have a quick look at the exact tools we recommend:

  • Tiles
  • A RUBI saw
  • Tile mortar
  • Grout
  • Measuring tape
  • Tile spacers
  • A framing square
  • Backer board
  • Long level or other straight edge tools
  • Thin-set and trowel (various sizes)
  • Safety goggles
  • Gloves

Make sure you’re practicing safe DIY by protecting your face and hands from flying tile shards and be sure to give yourself ample time to work. Working with bathroom floor tiles (or any tiles) is a game of patience, but the results are worth the effort.

2. Prepare Your Site

You have two options with site prep. You can work on top of the existing tile or clear that tile out completely and work from a clean base. 

If you’re working on top of pre-existing tiles, replace any dented or cracked tiles with spares, as you will need a firm base. Clean them thoroughly before sanding until they are rough to the touch. Apply a primer to make the surface more porous for your thin-set. Primer is very important because many tile adhesives need porosity to adhere properly. 

Removing Existing Tiles

You’re going to want to start by completely stripping your bathroom of any existing tiles, linoleum, or other flooring decorations. If you’re tiling a wall, remove any wallpaper or other surfaces. 

You’ll need to remove existing tile before applying a new surface, so ensure you’re doing this properly. If there’s a loose tile, all the better for your job. Remove it by prying it out with a chisel. If you can’t find a loose one, you’ll have to break it

Once you’ve removed one tile, you should have easy access to the gaps surrounding the rest. You should be able to chisel against the floor with the point tucked under the tile.

You should be able to remove the dried tile adhesive in the same way.

Once you’ve done that, scrub the floor with a vinyl floor stripper using an abrasive pad. The wax and any other residue should dissolve under the stripper and the scouring pad will help leave microscopic scratches, and will actually help the mortar bond better, just like sanding existing tiles does.

Assessing Your Floor

Determine how many tiles you’ll need after you’ve prepared your subfloor. To calculate square footage, multiply the length and width of your bathroom floor. Add in around 15% extra for mistakes and spare tiles.

If your subfloor is flexible in any way, you’ll almost certainly need to lay a backer board over your vinyl to make it thicker and firm enough for tile. If there are uneven areas, you can fill these in as you go with thin-set.

how to lay bathroom tile

3. How to Lay Bathroom Tile

Start by covering your floor with a backer board. Use a saw to cut any necessary shapes. Cut and lay out all your pieces to ensure they fit before vacuuming and getting the space as dust-free as possible. 

Once you’re ready, get your tools prepared and mix your thin-set or prepare your bathroom tile adhesive.

The Nitty Gritty

It’s important to remember that when we are cutting tile and measuring where we will lay our tile, we need to account for the tile joint. When you’re ready to tile, this is what you’re going to do. 

  1. Use your trowel to spread the mortar across the floor, working at a 45-degree angle
  2. Comb in a single direction
  3. Work in sections to lay thin-set and then a backer board on top (though you don’t need to do this if you didn’t remove the previous tiles)
  4. Place screws every six inches along the edge of each piece
  5. Place an adhesive tape over the screw joints
  6. Once the thin-set is firm but not fully set, scrape any ridges away.
  7. Leave to dry for 24 hours.

Plan Your Layout

First, place the center row of tile between two walls, parallel to your two most dominant walls. Make adjustments as needed, but aim for these goals: 

  1. Use full tiles where you can against doorways and bathtubs, etc.
  2. Ideally, you want to cut tiles, then cut no smaller than half their size
  3. Avoid difficult cuts and minimize cutting where you can as a whole

When working on your layout, carefully place the bathroom floor tiles on the clean ground (with no mortar) and place the tile spacers between them. This will help you get an exact idea of how the tiles look and how many you will actually need for the project. Make sure the tiles are snug against the spacers.

Take a measurement of the tiles once they have been completely laid out. Ensure the distance between those two dominant walls we mentioned is equal. All your tiles in the center of the room should be whole.

If need be, use a level or straight line and make a mark along the floor (not relying on your walls to be straight) to mark out where each tile set should go. You don’t need to draw a square for every single tile, but some general large shapes can help a lot.

Setting the Tile

Setting tile in two parts is usually the simplest — and most efficient — method. To begin, place all the entire “field” tiles. These are your uncut tiles. Once your thin-set has had time to cure (a few hours), cut and install all the perimeter tiles.

Here are a couple of extra tips to make sure you’re doing the best work you can: 

  • Use the right trowel size for the scale of the tile
  • Combing the adhesive in a single direction releases air bubbles
  • Don’t just gently set the tile in place – press and wiggle it 
  • Always inspect a section before moving on
  • Never extend the life of chunky thin-set – throw it away and mix more
  • Use spacers to keep the gaps between tiles even

Perimeter Tiles

After the mortar beneath the tiles has cured, cut and set the perimeter tiles. If your trowel is too big, comb thin-set on the back of the tiles before laying them down. Where perimeter tiles will meet fixtures like a tub, cut the tile so that caulked joints are as wide as the grout will be.

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4. Grouting

Before grouting, be sure to install any transition strips and toilet flanges as needed. This way you can fill gaps if you see them as you’re grouting.

To start, you will:

  • Mix your grout into a thick “mashed potato” consistency
  • Place a few scoops of grout into the corner and work into joints
  • Work in a back-and-forth motion, staying diagonal to the joints
  • Don’t just spread, back the grout in tight
  • Scrape off excess grout using your float

Remember, the less grout you leave on the tiles, the less cleanup you’ll have after! When you’re finished, put the grout bucket aside with a plastic bag over the top and set it aside in a cool place. This will mean you have extra ready-to-go grout if you find spots that need a little extra attention.

Always wipe off extra grout with a damp sponge. 

5. Applying Sealant

You want to seal your tiles if they’re porous and you know they’ll absorb water. This will stop them from breaking down. You can test how porous your tile is by placing a wet sponge on top of it and leaving it for a minute. 

If there is a dark spot on the tile after you’ve moved the sponge, your tile is definitely porous. 

Choose a penetrating sealer if you don’t want a surface film and a topical sealer for a high-gloss finish. Solvent sealers work best for ceramic and porcelain and water-based sealer is best for natural stone tiles.

To apply the sealant, start by: 

  1. Vacuuming and removing excess dirt and debris
  2. Mop the floor with a little soapy warm water
  3. Scrub the grout to remove stains
  4. Wash all the soap off the tile’s surface
  5. Allow the surface to dry for at least 6 hours
  6. Fill a spray bottle with the sealant
  7. Hold the bottle about 15cm from the surface and spray a thin coat
  8. Let sit for 5 minutes
  9. Wipe over the tile with a damp sponge to remove excess sealant

Ready for More Projects?

Good DIY needs excellent tools, even with the most skilled hands. Learning how to lay bathroom tile is one thing, but trying to do that without the proper tools at your disposal is a recipe for disaster. 

Invest in your projects and invest in your skills with RUBI.

Check out our range of tools, suited to your needs and projects. 

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