How to Use Tile Spacers

Tile spacers are small plastic crosses that are inserted between tiles as they are being set during a tiling project. Using tile spacers ensures the tiles are evenly spaced and properly aligned, creating straight grout lines for a crisp, professional finish. Learning how to properly utilize tile spacers takes a bit of practice, but is an essential skill for both DIYers and pros. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about how to use tile spacers for flawless tile installation.

Why Use Tile Spacers?

Tile spacers provide several important benefits:

  • Create Consistent Grout Lines – Tile spacers automatically create a uniform space between each tile for straight, evenly spaced grout lines. This delivers a clean, uniform look. Trying to eyeball even spacing without guides often leads to crooked, uneven grout lines.
  • Keep Tiles Aligned – The crosses on tile spacers keep adjacent tiles at the proper angle relative to one another for optimal alignment. This prevents tiles from drifting out of line during installation.
  • Allow Room for Grout – Spacers create a gap that provides the right amount of room for grout between the tiles. Without this gap, there wouldn’t be space to apply grout properly.
  • Prevent Tile Shifting – Tile spacers hold tiles firmly in place as the mortar sets. This prevents movement or shifting of tiles due to accidental nudging or other disturbance during the drying period.
  • Accommodate Tile Expansion – Natural expansion and contraction of some tiles due to temperature changes can lead to cracking without proper spacing. The gaps created by tile spacers allows room for this expansion.
  • Speed Installation – Once you get the hang of working with spacers, they speed up the installation process compared to manually measuring and maintaining gaps between tiles.

Types of Tile Spacers

There are a few varieties of tile spacers available:

Plastic Cross Spacers

The most common style is the classic plastic cross spacer. These spacers form a cross shape when two are combined at intersecting corners between four tiles. The crosses come in various sizes to accommodate different grout line widths. They can be reused on multiple jobs.

White plastic cross tile spacers

Wedges and Clips

These single-piece spacers function similarly to cross spacers, sliding between tile corners to maintain spacing. Some have two legs that press against tile edges, others clip onto the corners. They aren’t as stable as cross spacers but work for basic jobs.

Tile wedges and corner clips

Built-In Spacers

Some tile has small protruding bumps or nubs molded into the corners so that spacers aren’t required. These built-in spacers perform the same function but don’t work with all installation types.

Two-Sided Adhesive Spacers

Adhesive spacers have a sticky backing on both sides to adhere to tile corners. These help stabilize tiles during installation but can be more difficult to remove later on.

How to Use Tile Spacers Based on Grout Line Width

Tile spacer size should be chosen based on the width of the grout lines desired:

  • 1/16 Inch Grout Lines – Use 1/16 inch or 1.5 mm spacers
  • 1/8 Inch Grout Lines – Use 1/8 inch or 3 mm spacers
  • 3/16 Inch Grout Lines – Use 3/16 inch or 4.5 mm spacers
  • 1/4 Inch Grout Lines – Use 1/4 inch or 6 mm spacers

In most cases, smaller tiles look best with smaller grout lines around 1/16 or 1/8 inch. Larger format tiles can accommodate wider grout lines if desired.

Use the manufacturer’s recommended grout line width for the size and type of tile you’re installing. Wider grout lines may be suggested for some tiles to account for variation in size and squareness.

Mixing multiple spacer widths in one installation is not recommended as it will lead to uneven, inconsistent grout lines.

How To Use Tile Spacers

Using tile spacers takes a bit of finesse. Follow these tips for smooth, effective performance:

Start in the Middle

Rather than working outwards from a corner, begin by installing tiles in the center of your workspace. Place the first four tiles with temporary spacers in a square formation. This establishes the initial alignment and spacing.

Place Adjacent Pairs

Work outward by installing adjacent pairs of tiles from your starting square. Put a spacer in the corner between each new set of tiles.

Installing tile spacers

Photo: Home Stratosphere

Rotate and Reuse Spacers

As you progress outwards, remove the spacers from the initial square and reuse them for new adjacent tile pairs. Continue rotating and reusing spacers as you go.

Add Spacers on All Four Corners

Once a tile is situated, place spacers not just on the corner it shares with the new neighboring tile, but also on the opposite corner so that both tiles have spacers on both joined edges.

Tile spacers in all 4 corners

Photo: Home Stratosphere

This stabilizes the tiles and prevents shifting in all directions.

Double Up on Corners

For wide format tiles, use two spacers stacked on top of one another on each corner for added stability and grout line consistency.

Check Alignment Frequently

Periodically set new tiles in place without mortar and use a level on top to check for flatness and alignment. Make adjustments as needed to tiles not yet permanently set.

Prioritize Internal Corners

For L-shaped layouts, install all tiles meeting at internal corners before working on external edges and sides. This allows the most unaligned tiles to be corrected.

Avoid Pushing or Knocking Tiles

Be extremely careful not to nudge or knock installed tiles before the mortar sets. The spacers keep everything aligned, but only if the tiles remain undisturbed.

Remove Spacers Gently

When mortar has cured, gently twist and pry spacers from the corners to remove them. Aggressive pulling can disturb the tiles. Most can be reused on future jobs.

With practice utilizing these spacer placement techniques, you’ll achieve professional-looking grout line consistency.

Tips for Using Tile Spacers Effectively

Follow these pro tips for flawless results when working with tile spacers:

  • Purchase 1-2 extra packs of spacers than you think you’ll need to ensure you have enough. It’s easy to underestimate requirements.
  • Be systematic about reusing spacers methodically as you work across the space. Don’t let them become randomly scattered about.
  • Keep a damp rag nearby for cleaning excess mortar off spacers before reusing to maintain their effectiveness.
  • To accommodate outlets, pipes, cabinets, etc., use snippers to cut spacers to custom lengths as needed.
  • For intricate layouts, make cardboard tile spacer templates you can set in place and trace cut lines onto tiles for perfect shaping.
  • On uneven floors, use leveling spacers that allow height adjustment along with consistent spacing.
  • For tiles not evenly square, use a wider grout line or adjustable spacers to account for variation.
  • When removing spacers after drying, use a spacer removal tool’s slide hammer for better leverage if needed.
  • For polished marble or glass where plastic may scratch, use wax spacers or small dabs of tile mortar for spacing.

With the right approach, tile spacers can make achieving professional tile installation results frustration-free. Leverage their alignment and spacing capabilities for gorgeous grout lines every time.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tile Spacers

What size tile spacers should I use?

Choose a spacer size that matches the grout line width desired – 1/16 inch spacers for 1/16 inch grout lines, 1/8 inch spacers for 1/8 inch grout lines, etc. Measure across several tiles to confirm sizing if uncertain.

How many tile spacers will I need?

As a general rule of thumb, plan on using a minimum of 1 spacer for every 4 tiles. More may be required based on the intricacy of the layout. Purchase extra packs to be safe.

Can you use different size tile spacers together?

It’s not recommended to mix spacer sizes in one installation. Consistent spacer width ensures straight, uniform grout lines. Varying the sizes will lead to uneven, wavy grout lines.

When do you remove tile spacers?

Tile spacers can be removed once the tile mortar or thinset has fully cured – usually 24 hours after application. Gently twist and pry the spacers out from tile corners, being careful not to disturb the tiles.

How do you keep tile spacers in place?

Press tiles firmly into the fresh mortar as you set them to secure the spacers in the corners. Use spacers on all 4 corners of adjacent tiles for maximum stability. Double up spacers on larger format tiles if needed.

What can I use if I don’t have tile spacers?

In a pinch, thin cardboard strips, paint stir sticks, or even small pieces of scrap tile work as improvised spacers. However, plastic cross spacers provide the most consistent spacing and stability.

Should tile spacers go all the way to the wall?

Yes, tile spacers should run along the entire edge where tiles meet walls. Temporary dry spacers can be used on the perimeter until those tiles are permanently installed.

How do you keep grout lines straight without spacers?

It’s extremely difficult to keep straight grout lines and proper tile alignment without using spacers. Spacers make proper alignment nearly effortless compared to eyeballing spacing.

Can you remove tile spacers after grouting?

No, tile spacers must be removed before grouting. If left in place, they will leave ungrouted voids along tile edges. Any spacers missed can potentially be dug out carefully with a utility knife once grout has cured.

Using Tile Spacers Like a Pro

Here are some insider tile setter tips for mastering the use of tile spacers:

Mind the Gaps

Closely check for any spots along edges or corners that are missing spacers during installation. Any gaps without spacers will lead to humping or lippage issues with tiles of slightly uneven sizes.

Have a System

Establish a consistent placement order and reuse pattern as you work. Always installing spacers at the top corners first or rotating in a clockwise pattern helps avoid misses.

Take Them on a Test Run

Do a dry run with spacers on a few tiles before installing to ensure you have the right system down and the chosen spacer size will work before you begin mortaring.

Keep Them Handy

Designate a helper to be in charge of spacer supply and redistribution. Having spacers within quick reach avoids breaks in work flow waiting on materials.

Buy Bags

Purchase tile spacers in bulk bags rather than flimsy boxes which rip easily, spill contents everywhere, and lead to lost pieces on the job.

Make Miters Manageable

Use cardboard templates at inside and outside corners to mark angled cuts for perfectly mitered edges. This also indicates the exact spacer positions needed.

Love Lash

For large format tiles or natural stone, use tile lash spacers and straps along whole tile edges for maximum prevention of any subtle shifts during curing.

Float the Floor

On floors, use a self-leveling underlayment prior to tiling to correct any variations or contours in the subfloor that could impede proper spacer functionality.

Embrace Plastic

Unlike paper or foam options, durable plastic spacers can be thoroughly cleaned and reused many times without losing effectiveness. A quality investment for pro tilesetters.

With knowledge of professional tile spacer tips and tricks, you can leverage these invaluable tools for flawless tile layouts.


Although a small and simple device, tile spacers are an essential component for achieving clean, uniform grout lines and properly aligned tiles. With the right consistency, care, and technique, these plastic crosses can take your tile handiwork to the next level.

Using tile spacers is a skill that develops over time and practice. Follow the guidance provided in this guide and don’t hesitate to experiment to find your optimal system. Before you know it, you’ll be installing tile with the artistry of a seasoned pro.

And remember – measure twice, cut once, and keep those spacers spaced for tile success!