How to Install Ceramic Wall Tile

Meta description: A step-by-step guide to properly preparing surfaces and installing ceramic wall tiles in any room, including tips for cutting, grouting and sealing the tiles.


Installing ceramic wall tile can transform the look of any room in your home. With the right preparation and materials, tiling a wall is a DIY project many homeowners can tackle successfully. The key steps include preparing the surface, laying out the tiles, cutting them to fit, applying mortar, grouting, and sealing. Follow this comprehensive guide to learn how to install ceramic wall tile like a pro.

Assess the Wall and Select the Tiles

The first step in any tiling project is assessing the wall you want to tile. Consider the following:

  • Condition of the wall – The surface must be in good condition, with no holes, cracks, or protrusions. Drywall should have taped and mudded seams and be primed before tiling.
  • Plumb and level – Use a level to ensure the wall has no significant out-of-plumb or uneven areas, which can cause tiles to slip.
  • Moisture – Tiles require a dry surface. Use a moisture meter to check for dampness, and allow new drywall to dry completely before tiling.
  • Previous finishes – Remove any existing wallpaper, paint, coatings, or textures so the mortar bonds directly to the wall surface.

Once you’ve assessed the wall condition, select the tiles. Consider the style, material, size, and variation. Natural stone and ceramic both work well on walls. Large format tiles 12″ x 24″ or larger make less work. Match your grout color to the tile color.

Prepare the Wall Surface

Preparing the surface is one of the most important steps to ensure tiles adhere properly.


Thoroughly clean the wall using a general cleaner or detergent. Rinse any soap residue. Allow it to dry completely.

Sand Painted Surfaces

If painting previously, scuff sand the surface with 80-100 grit sandpaper to help the mortar adhere. Wipe off dust.


Apply a coat of primer to seal porous drywall and provide extra grip for the mortar. Let the primer dry completely.

Apply Backerboard

For heavy tile, large sizes, or water exposure, install cement backerboard. Score it with a utility knife and snap it into place. Screw it into studs every 8 inches. Tape seams with fiberglass mesh tape.

Skim Coat for Smoothness

If drywall seams or uneven areas exist, skim coat with drywall joint compound to create a smooth surface. Let dry and sand smooth.

Lay Out Your Tiles

With a prepared surface, lay out tiles to visualize placement.

  • Dry fit tiles on the floor first to see overall layout and pattern.
  • Map your starting point to center tiles on the wall. Measure and mark plumb lines.
  • Mix tiles from several boxes to blend any color/shade variations.
  • Cut perimeter and hole tiles to fit later after installing field tiles.

How to Cut Ceramic Wall Tiles

Ceramic tiles require specialized cutting tools to make clean, precise cuts.

Tile Nipper

Use a nipper for small notches like around electrical boxes. Nip off small pieces from the edge.

Wet Saw

For most straight cuts and notches, use a wet saw with a diamond blade. For best results:

  • Keep water tray filled during cutting to minimize dust.
  • Cut slowly and steadily for clean edge.
  • For angled cuts, use the miter guide.


For specialty cuts like round holes, use an angle grinder with a diamond tile blade. Wear eye and ear protection.

Ruler and Grozing Pliers

Score smooth tiles like glass or porcelain by measuring and marking with a ruler. Use grozing pliers to snap on the score line.

Prepare the Mortar

Mortar provides adhesion and builds up the wall surface for tile installation.

Mixing Mortar

For walls, use dry-set mortar modified with a latex additive. Mix it per manufacturer directions in a bucket with a drill mixer to a thick, creamy peanut butter consistency.

Combing on Mortar

Use a notched trowel to “comb” on a layer of mortar 1/4″ thick. Notch size depends on tile size – 1/4″ for mosaics and 1/2″ for large tiles.

Only Spread Mortar You Can Tile Before It Skins

Work in sections since mortar dries quickly once applied. If it skins over, scrape and reapply fresh mortar.

Set the Wall Tiles in Mortar

With a troweled mortar layer, carefully set tiles into the ridges one by one.

  • Set tiles in a pyramid pattern starting from the center point.
  • Push tiles firmly into place, wiggling slightly, to collapse the mortar ridges.
  • Use spacers between tiles to get even grout line widths.
  • Work any perimeter cuts to fit edges as you go. Let cut tiles dry before placing.
  • Strike joints and remove excess mortar as you work.

How to Install Ceramic Wall Tile: Grouting Tips

Once tiles are set, wait 24 hours before grouting. Grout seals the joints and gives a finished look.

Mix and Apply Grout

Follow package directions. Most use 1 part powder to 1 part water. Apply grout with a rubber float diagonally across joints.

Clean Excess Grout

Let grout firm up slightly. Then use a damp sponge to clean haze and smooth joints. Rinse sponge frequently.

Final Polish

Once grout dries fully, buff tiles with a soft cloth to clean any remaining haze and bring up polish.

Seal and Finish Wall Tile

Sealing tiles and caulking provides a finished edge.

Seal Tiles

Apply a penetrating silicone sealer with a paintbrush or roller. Sealers prevent stains and damage in grout.

Caulk Perimeter

Run a caulk line along all tile edges where it meets countertops, tub surrounds etc. Smooth with a wet fingertip.

Once grout and caulk dry, your ceramic wall tile project is complete! Proper prep and patience in following the steps will lead to successful installations.

Ceramic Wall Tile FAQs

Here are answers to common questions about installing ceramic tile on walls:

What type of mortar should I use?

For walls, use dry-set mortar meeting ANSI A118.1 standards. Modify it with a latex additive for better adhesion and flexibility. Do not use basic mastic adhesive.

How do I cut holes in tiles for outlets or fixtures?

Use a carbide grit hole saw attached to a drill. Cover the tile with masking tape where cutting to prevent splintering. Start the hole and cut slowly with firm pressure.

Should tiles go up to the ceiling?

It’s best to stop tiles 1/8 to 1/4 inch from the ceiling. The gap lets tiles expand and prevents cracking grout lines where the wall meets ceiling. Caulk the gap after installing.

How long should I wait before grouting tiles?

Let mortar fully cure for 24 hours before grouting tiles if using a modified dry-set. Only grout once tiles are firmly set and don’t wiggle.

Can I use sanded grout for wall tiles?

Only use non-sanded grout for grouting wall tiles unless tiles are 6″ x 6″ or larger. Sanded grout can scratch the tile surface on walls and is harder to clean.

What’s the best way to cut ceramic tiles?

A wet saw with a diamond tile blade makes the cleanest cuts in ceramic tile. An angle grinder with a diamond blade can handle specialty cuts. Use a tile nipper for small notches only.

How do I remove old grout haze from tiles?

Let grout dry partially, then scrub tiles diagonally with a stiff nylon brush. Polish with a soft cloth once fully dry. For heavy haze, use a specialized grout haze remover product.

My tiles are sliding out of place – what should I do?

If tiles move during installation, it means the mortar did not properly adhere. Halt work, scrape off mortar, and start over after preparing the surface better.


Installing ceramic wall tile allows you to add beautiful, durable finishes to bathrooms, kitchens, and more. Carefully follow the steps for assessing the wall, preparing surfaces, cutting tiles, applying mortar, grouting, and sealing. Don’t rush through the process and let mortar and grout fully cure. With the right materials and techniques, you can achieve stunning tile results!