How to Install Ceramic Tile Flooring


Installing ceramic tile can totally transform the look and feel of a room. With the right tools and techniques, you can create a beautiful, durable tile floor that will last for decades. While tiling requires some specialized skills, it is an accessible project for an ambitious DIYer.

In this comprehensive guide, we will walk through all the steps and considerations for installing ceramic tile flooring. We will cover how to prepare the subfloor, lay out the tiles, cut tiles, apply thinset mortar, grout, and seal the tiles. With careful planning and attention to detail, you can achieve professional-looking results. The satisfaction of completing a tile installation with your own hands makes the hard work worthwhile.

So let’s get started on how to install ceramic tile flooring!

How to Select the Tile

The first step is choosing your ceramic tile. There are countless sizes, shapes, colors, and finishes to consider. Keep these tips in mind when selecting tile:

  • Consider the space – Smaller tiles work great for small spaces like bathrooms, while larger tiles can make a small room appear bigger. For large open concept areas, combine large and small tiles in a pattern.
  • Porcelain or ceramic – Porcelain tiles are denser, more water-resistant, and more durable than regular ceramic. Ceramic can work for floors but may not hold up as well over time.
  • Compliment other features – Match or contrast your tile to cabinets, countertops, appliances, etc. Neutral colored tiles provide flexibility.
  • Texture – Do you want a smooth, shiny finish or a natural stone look? Textured tiles add depth but are harder to clean.
  • Color – Lighter tiles visually expand a space, while darker tiles can feel cozy and warm. Accent with bolder colors sparingly.
  • Cost – Prices range widely. Set a flooring budget beforehand and get samples to compare quality.

Take home tile samples and view them in the space at different times of day. This will give you a sense of how the tiles will look installed.

How to Calculate How Much Tile is Needed

Once you have selected the perfect tile, it’s time to figure out the materials needed for the project. Don’t skimp on ordering extra tiles – running short during a project can be a disaster!

Here’s how to determine the tile quantity:

  • Accurately measure the length and width of the total area to tile. Include irregular spaces.
  • For the area of a rectangle, multiply length by width. For complex layouts, break areas down into rectangles/squares.
  • Divide the total area by the area of one tile (length x width of one tile) to get the number of whole tiles needed.
  • Add 10-15% more for cut tiles and waste. It’s better to have leftovers than run short!
  • Repeat the measurements and math for accent tiles or mosaics, if using.

Don’t forget to account for the floor trim and transitions. Order matching quarter-round, tile reducers, etc.

For large projects, numbering tiles and mapping out placement beforehand is wise. Apps and software can also help with tile layout planning.

How to Prepare the Subfloor

Prepping the surface is one of the most important steps in a successful tile installation. Follow these subfloor preparation tips:

  • Clean – Subfloor must be free of wax, grease, paint, and debris. Sweep and mop thoroughly.
  • Level – Any dips or uneven spots over 1/8″ must be leveled with floor leveling compound.
  • Fill cracks – Use hydraulic cement to fill any gaps or cracks wider than 1/4″.
  • Plywood – Plywood should be installed over wood subfloors for stability. Glue and screw into place.
  • Moisture test – Concrete should be tested for moisture and primed if needed.
  • Underlayment – Cement board, Ditra, or backerboard creates a secure underlayment over plywood or concrete.

A flat, structurally sound subfloor prevents cracked or lifting tiles down the road. Don’t skip this vital first step!

How to Lay Out Tiles

With the subfloor prepped, it’s time for the fun part – laying out the tiles! Advancing the pattern across the floor is deeply satisfying.

Follow these tips for laying out tiles successfully:

  • Establish reference lines – Mark perpendicular layout lines on the floor with chalk to align the first row.
  • Dry lay tiles – Place tiles loosely over the entire area to visualize spacing and pattern. Adjust layout as needed.
  • Mix tile boxes – Pull tiles at random from multiple boxes to evenly distribute color variation.
  • Align grout lines – Keep lines aligned by using spacers. Consistent grout line width promotes a clean finish.
  • Cut border tiles – Border tiles along the walls are usually cut to fit. Leave 1/4″ gap between tile and walls.
  • Doorways – Visualize transitions at doorways and openings to ensure tiles meet neatly.
  • Work in sections – Divide the floor into sections to focus on one space at a time.

Having a clear mental picture of the desired pattern and using chalk reference lines prevents mistakes in the finished layout.

How to Cut Ceramic Tile

Unless you are tiling a very basic grid pattern, some tile cutting will be required to fit the shape of the installation area. Cutting tools allow you to customize around cabinets, niches, thresholds and other permanent features.

Here are the most common tools for cutting ceramic tile:

  • Wet saw – Electric tool with a diamond blade that cuts precise edges when tile is fed through slowly with water. Most versatile tile cutting tool.
  • Manual score and snap cutter – Uses a carbide wheel to score the glaze. Tile is then snapped cleanly along the score line. Good for straight cuts and small jobs.
  • Nippers – Pliers-like tool that nibbles away at tile edges. Mainly used for small irregular cuts after scoring.
  • Hole saw drill bit – Cuts perfect circular holes for plumbing fixtures and outlets.

Always wear safety goggles when cutting tile! Patience, accuracy, and a steady hand lead to smooth edges that require minimal smoothing with a file or stone.

How to Apply Thinset Mortar

Thinset mortar bonds the tile to the subfloor. The right consistency and application technique prevents tiles from cracking or loosening over time.

Follow these thinset tips:

  • Select appropriate thinset – Consider floor location and tile material when choosing the thinset type. Latex-modified thinset is best for most indoor floor applications.
  • Mix to proper consistency – Mix powdered thinset with water to a toothpaste-like consistency according to manufacturer instructions.
  • Use the right trowel – A notched trowel allows thinset to be spread evenly at the proper thickness. The trowel notch size should match tile size.
  • Apply thinset – Use the flat side of the trowel to key thinset into the subfloor. Then comb additional thinset evenly with the notched side.
  • Work in sections – Spread thinset over a section of a few tiles that can be set before the mortar starts to dry. Work across the floor section by section.
  • Set tiles into thinset – Press tiles firmly into position, twisting slightly, before excess thinset oozes up between joints.
  • Check bonding – After 24 hours, try lifting a tile to ensure proper transfer to the back of the tile. Rebond if needed.

Allow thinset to fully cure for 24-48 hours before grouting. Using spacers between tiles allows for consistent grout line width.

How to Grout Tile

Grouting is the process of filling the joints between tiles with grout. Grout seals the installation and gives the flooring a polished, finished look.

Here are tips for grouting tiles successfully:

  • Wait for thinset to cure – Grout can only be applied after the thinset has hardened, typically 24-48 hours after tile setting.
  • Choose the grout – Sanded grout is best for joints wider than 1/8″. Unsanded grout is for narrow joints under 1/8″. Match grout color to the tile.
  • Prep the joints – Remove spacers between tiles. Clean excess thinset from joints so grout can adhere.
  • Mix and apply grout – Follow package directions to mix powdered grout with water to a thick, peanut butter consistency. Use a rubber grout float or squeegee to force grout fully into tile joints.
  • Clean excess grout – Wipe diagonally across tiles with a damp sponge to remove excess grout. Rinse sponge frequently.
  • Seal grout – Once grout has cured, apply grout sealer to protect from stains and improve water-resistance.

Let grout dry for 72 hours before regular foot traffic. Grout haze remover can be used after a week to clean any remaining film.

How to Seal and Maintain Tile

Sealing and properly caring for your new tile floors keeps them looking pristine for years.

Follow these tile sealing and maintenance tips:

  • Seal tiles and grout – After installation, apply a penetrating sealer to protect against stains and damage from water and daily wear. Reseal annually.
  • Use tile-safe cleaners – Avoid abrasive cleansers, bleach, ammonia, and vinegar that can eat away at grout and etch glazed tiles. Use pH neutral tile cleaners instead.
  • Vacuum and mop regularly – Dry debris is abrasive. Frequent vacuuming and damp mopping removes dirt before it scratches floors.
  • Act quickly on spills – Sealants help repel liquids, but wipe up spills immediately to avoid potential stains and slippery surfaces.
  • Place mats at entrances – Protect high traffic areas from grit, dirt, and moisture. Area rugs add softness.
  • Felt pads under furniture – Attach pads to the feet of furniture and appliances to prevent scratches from dragging.
  • Avoid steam mops – Excessive heat from steam mops degrades sealants and trapped moisture damages grout.

With proper installation techniques and care, your ceramic tile floors should maintain their beauty for decades before needing to be replaced.

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Ceramic Tile Flooring

How long does it take to tile a floor?

For an experienced DIYer tiling a 200 sq ft space, expect the installation to take 2-3 full days. Allow extra time if it’s your first tile project. Pro tilers can complete the same space in 1-2 days.

What’s the best tile layout?

A basic grid is the easiest layout. Staggered brick and herringbone patterns add visual interest. Large tiles in a simple grid make a small room feel bigger. Mixing tile sizes creates dimension.

How level does the subfloor need to be for tile?

The subfloor must be within 1/8″ of flat over 10 feet. Any dips or humps over 1/8″ should be leveled with floor leveling compound to prevent cracks in tiles.

Can you install tile over existing flooring?

Tile should never be installed directly over existing flooring. Old flooring and adhesives must be removed down to the subfloor before tiling.

Should spacers be removed before grouting?

Yes, tile spacers must be removed before grouting so the grout can fill the joint completely. Leave spacers in place for 24 hours after setting tile to prevent movement.

How soon can you walk on new tile?

Avoid walking on newly tiled floors for 24 hours during thinset curing. After grouting, wait 72 hours for light foot traffic and 7 days for moving furniture onto the tile.


Installing tile flooring successfully involves careful planning, precise techniques, and quality materials. While tiling requires hard work and patience through each step, almost any DIYer can transform their space with beautiful, durable ceramic tile.

This guide covered the entire process from tile selection to layout, cutting, thinset application, grouting, sealing, and maintenance. With the right preparation and tools, you can tackle tiling projects with confidence. The investment of time pays off every day when you get to enjoy walking on the elegant new floor you created.