How to Tile a Floor

Here are detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to tile a floor - including professional tips to make your handiwork a success!

Tile is the best DIY flooring for kitchens - durable, beautiful, a project you can be proud of!

Before we get started, there are a lot of variables in how to tile a floor we need to cover first.

In most remodeling, the floor is the LAST thing you want installed.

In a kitchen, new flooring should go in before the cabinet installation.


"What if I want to tile the floor and leave my cabinets in place?"

You can do this, but consider these potential problems:

    1) Dishwasher Replacement: The space between the floor and the countertop has shrunk. How will you get the old dishwasher over the hump and out...and a replacement in? Can both be height-adjusted enough?

    2) Stove Height: Your stove will now be higher than the countertop, though it can be adjusted to sit as low as possible. OR you could tile up to the front of the stove and stop - though this may be visible.

The ideal way is to remove the base cabinets, countertop and sink. Then tile the floor and reinstall everything. Probably not the answer you wanted, but what works for YOU is what to do.

How much of the kitchen floor should you tile?

At the very least, tile past the line of the base cabinets. Tile completely in areas where the fridge and stove will go.

Tiling the whole floor is actually the best doesn't cost that much more for extra tiles. If you ever change things you won't need to re-tile.

How long does tiling a floor take?

Two or three days should be sufficient for tiling an average size kitchen. Give yourself time to prep the floor - add an extra half day to remove old flooring.

Things you'll need for tiling a floor:

  • tiles (buy 10% more than you need)
  • thinset
  • 1/4" notched trowel
  • sanded grout
  • grout trowel
  • grout sponge
  • 1/8" and 1/4" spacers
  • grease pencil
  • power drill
  • mixing tool for your drill
  • 2 or 3 5-gallon buckets
  • kneepads
  • grout sealant
  • grout sealing applicator
  • tape measure
  • rented tile saw
  • cement board and scoring tool (OPTIONAL)

Do you need underlayment?

Cement board underlayment acts as a moisture barrier. It reduces "give" in a floor - tile's greatest enemy!

To tile over anything other than concrete/terrazzo, buy 1/4" cement board - or 1/2" or 3/4" if you want to raise the level of the floor or you have lots of squooshy spots. You'll also need Liquid Nails and 1-1/4" screws.

Cut cement board to size, if necessary, with a cement board scoring tool. If your cut leaves the edge a bit rough, you can swipe the board against a sidewalk or driveway to clean it up. Then swirl Liquid Nails onto the back of the board, lay it in place and screw it to the floor.

What size tile should you buy?

Kitchen floor tile up to 12" square looks great and is a good DIY floor tile size. Larger tiles are more challenging...they're heavier and you'll have to lay them while standing or leaning way over.

Special instructions for types of tile:

Some tiles need to be sealed before you lay them. Not sure? Drip some water on top of a few tiles. If the water is still there after 30 minutes, you're good to go. If the tile absorbed the water, definitely seal first!

Buy good quality sealant and spray on with a spray bottle, then wipe gently with a clean rag. Let dry and do another coat.

Natural stone like marble is harder to lay because it must be PERFECT. Use a very thin grout line - 1/16" is the norm - to make the floor look like one big solid surface. BUY UNSANDED GROUT FOR NARROW GROUT LINES.

Are you removing old flooring?

The remaining surface should be pretty even. For slight dips apply thicker thinset in those spots - or cement board will cover them.

Check the space under baseboards and door casing. Will a tile fit under with space to spare? If not, see the next step.

Are you tiling over thin flooring, or directly onto concrete?

Remove baseboards by prying one end away from the wall - gently! - and then running your pry bar along to remove the baseboard in one piece. NEVER TILE UP TO BASEBOARDS! Tacky-tacky-tacky!

Remove door casings against the floor. Trim these to fit before reinstalling. Doors that open into the room may need trimming.

IMPORTANT! Tiles can vary in size and throw your whole room off! Measure all four sides of 5 or 10 tiles. If sizes vary, use 1/4" size spacers. Then you can adjust grout lines to keep the overall look even.

Making the transition with other flooring

If you're tiling up to carpet, pull up the edge of the carpet and fold it back. Once the tile floor is done, re-lay the carpet. Install a threshold to cover the transition.

Tiling up to a hardwood floor? Tape off the wood about 6" in so grout won't "sand" the wood. A grout line or threshold will work here.

How to Tile a Floor - Prep

Vacuum first. Lay out tiles for a dry fit - length and width - to see where you'll need to make cuts. Cut pieces are best near a wall or somewhere inconspicuous. Remember to add your spacers (see below) to get an exact fit.

How to Tile a Floor - Tiling

  • Mix thinset and spread with a 1/4" trowel held at a 45 degree angle.
  • Begin in an area that leaves you walking space to get out without stepping on newly laid tile.
  • Important! Check the direction arrow on the back before you lay each tile, so all arrows go the same way.
  • Add spacers after you lay a tile - two per side close to the corners. Then push the tile against the last one you laid.
  • For tiles that don't match up size-wise as you lay them, leave the spacers out and adjust the tile to look straight.
  • Do all your full size pieces in an area first. Then measure, cut and lay any smaller pieces you need to finish that area.
  • can lay all the whole tiles first, then do all the cut pieces the next day. Measure and cut everything first, then mix thinset and lay all the cut pieces. This is an easier method of how to tile a floor - less stress!
  • If thinset has been spread past the last full tile, and you won't get back to lay the cut piece soon, scrape thinset away now. NOTE: In an area too small to trowel, "butter" the back of the tile with thinset and set it in place.
  • Give the floor 24 hours to dry. Don't walk on it!

How to Tile a Floor - Grouting

  • Pull up all the little spacers. Break off any thinset that will show above the grout. VACUUM.
  • Mix the grout per bag instructions.
  • Scoop up a big blob and spread with a grout trowel in semi-circle motions diagonal to your grout lines.

    Hold the trowel angled to push grout in. Follow the instructions on the grout bag of how big an area to do at a time.
  • Wet your grout sponge and wring it out but not completely. Wipe the floor diagonal to the grout lines. Now you'll see any areas that need more grout - add it now.
  • You can't wipe tiles right away after grouting - check the bag instructions on how long to wait.
  • Be careful not to pull grout out from the lines...light to medium pressure is best.NOTE: Change your rinse water often!
  • Grout the next area...and then sponge it as well.
  • When the floor is all done, go back over it again with the sponge.
  • Let the grout dry for at least 24 hours. Then do a final sponging to remove the haze.

How to Tile a Floor - Finish/Seal

  • Trim and reinstall any baseboards and door casing you removed. Caulk along the bottom with painter's caulk for a finished look.
  • See grout bag for curing time (usually 3-4 days), then seal the grout - do at least 2 good coats and buy the expensive stuff. Cheap sealant is worthless.

How to Tile a Floor - Angled Tile

Feeling adventurous? Tiling a floor at an angle gives a unique look to flooring! This is quite a bit harder and more time-consuming to do. You'll have to cut a lot more pieces, and everything must be cut at an angle.

  • Buy 20% more tile than you need.
  • To start, snap a chalk line at a 45 degree angle across the floor in order to get a starting place. Use that line to do a dry run to see where your cuts will be.
  • Follow the basic instructions above on how to tile a floor for laying and grouting tile.

How to Tile a Floor - Tile Cutting Tips

Rented tile saws usually have a table that slides the tile into the blade. The diamond blade grinds rather than cuts with teeth. Wear safety goggles and ear plugs.

Measure the space for a cut tile with a tape measure. DON'T FORGET TO ALLOW FOR THE GROUT LINE. Mark the edge of the tile with a grease pencil. Line up your mark with the blade and the saw will cut a straight line.

Make sure the tile's factory edge will be visible and the cut edge hidden.

To make a corner cut, mark measurements on both sides. Draw a line all the way across both ways to know where to stop the blade.

To cut in around a wall, mark your measurements on the tile and then make the two cuts from the edge.

Score the center line with a carbide-tipped scoring tool...or cut about halfway through the back of the tile with an angle grinder (use a diamond or masonery blade). Then snap out the piece.

These instructions on how to tile a floor can be used to tile other rooms, too!

Now that you know how to tile a floor, consider tiling your countertops! It's a whole lot easier than tiling a floor, yet all the basic techniques are the same. Check out Tiling Countertops.

How to Install Kitchen Cabinets

How to Repair Drywall

How to Install a Sink

How to Tile a Backsplash

Back to DIY Kitchen Remodeling

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Thinking of remodeling?

Keep a notebook or scrapbook of notes, clippings and ideas.

Kitchen magazines are expensive - look through them in the grocery checkout line. If you see pix of a kitchen you really like, buy that magazine.

Stop in at home centers and pick up any free cabinet manufacturers' catalogs.