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How to fit floor and wall tiles

Difficulty rating: Medium

These tasks may be tricky so will suit you if you're experienced in DIY, or simply love a challenge.

Before you get started on any of our 'how to' guides, please take a moment to read through our DIY safety tips.

Tools for the job

1. Measuring up

  • Measure the length of the area you're intending to tile, then divide it by the length of a tile you're going to use.
  • Measure the width of the area, then divide that by the width of a tile.
  • Round up the number of tiles for length and width, then multiply the two results to find out the number of tiles you'll need.
  • Repeat the process for any other areas, taking into account the spaces taken up by doors and windows etc.
  • To allow for any breakages or incorrect cuts whilst you're tiling, add an extra 5% of wall tiles or 10% for floor tiles.

2. Plan your tile layout first

Planning the layout of the area you're tiling will help you avoid uneven spacing or poorly aligned rows of tiles. Use a consistently-sized spacer between your tiles to make sure they're evenly arranged. You can use any object for a spacer – such as a matchstick or a plastic spacer – as long as it helps you create equal gaps for the grouting.

Planning your floor area

  • The most visible row of tiles will be the one along your room entrance, so use this as your starting point.
  • With a pencil or chalk, draw a line perpendicular to the main entrance.
  • Lay a dry set of your tiles along this line to the other side of the room.
  • Once you get to the other side of the room, you'll be left with a space smaller than a whole tile. Screw a 1in-thick piece of wood to the floor perpendicular to the tiles and stretching across the room. You'll be using this as a guide to lay all the other tiles against.
  • Lay a line of tiles along the timber guide. This will help you check that you finish with an equal border at both ends of the room.
  • If you end up with a different sized space at either side of the room, you can rectify this by slightly shifting the original line of tiles leading from the door. The adjusted point where this line of tiles touches your timber guide will form your new starting position.
Helpful hint...
  • Tiling your floor will raise its level, so remove any inward opening doors before starting. You might have to adjust the door length before rehanging.

Planning your wall areas

  • Mark up one wall at a time, but make sure that all your horizontal lines match up by creating a base line running around all your walls. Remember to take into account the level of window sills, door heads, bath tops and worktops.
  • When it comes to walls that will be only partially tiled, you need to decide which layer should consist of whole tiles. For example, if you're only tiling the bottom half of a wall, it's best to have a layer of whole tiles at the top. However, if you're tiling above a worktop or bath, it's probably best to have your layer of whole tiles just above this.
  • If you're tiling around a window sill or door, you need to think once again about the effect of different starting points. It's usually best to have evenly sized tiles either side of your window or door, but you'll need to consider the merits of this against the need for evenly sized tiles at either end of the wall.
Helpful hint...
  • A tile gauge or rod will help you mark out vertical guidelines for placing your wall tiles. You can easily make one of these by taking an old off-cut of 2in x 1in wood or similar, then laying it alongside several tiles laid out in a row on your floor. Using spacers, space the tiles exactly as they'll be spaced when fixed vertically to your wall. On the rod, carefully mark the line of each join. You now have a rod for marking out your tile positions (fig. 6)

Marking out your wall

  • Measure the height of the wall or area you're tiling, and divide by two. Mark this height on the wall. With the gauge, lightly mark tile joins from this line down to the bottom. If this means the last tile will be less than half a tile, move the original starting point up or down by half a tile and repeat the process
  • Using a spirit level, draw a horizontal line across the wall, marking out what will be the bottom of the lowest row of whole tiles.
  • Secure a batten to the wall along this horizontal line. This will be your base to start tiling from.
  • To ensure your vertical lines of tiles stay vertical, use the gauge rod to measure and mark guide lines at 1m intervals around the room. This way you can check that your tiles are vertical as you go along.

3. Marking your tiles for cutting to size

If your walls are reasonably square, here's a quick way to measure both your floor and wall tiles for cutting:

  • Place a full tile upside down on top of the last full tile so that it overhangs and touches the wall.
  • Mark this tile at the point where it overlaps the one beneath, taking into account the width of a spacer for the grouting.
  • This will show you the size that the tile needs to be cut to.

4. Cutting your tiles

You should always wear safety glasses and gloves when cutting your tiles. If you're cutting floor or thicker wall tiles, or need to cut your tiles into an awkward shape, you'll have to use an electric tile cutter, or buy purpose-made blades for your electric jigsaw.

Cutting wall tiles
  • Hold a straight edge on the cut line and, running a tile cutter along it, score the surface.
  • Place a small wooden batten on the floor then hold the tile over it, making sure the scored line lies directly in line with the batten.
  • Apply pressure on either side of the tile to snap it along the line.
  • If it's a narrow off-cut, the snapping process will be difficult, so use a pair of pliers to gradually nibble away at the tile, working slowly towards the scored line.
  • If you're creating a curved or L-shaped tile, score the surface along the trim line, then gradually remove the excess in small pieces with pliers.

5. Preparing the surface

  • Make sure that the area you're intending to tile is both clean and dry, if necessary using a detergent. Allow it to dry completely before starting.
  • Ceramic tiles can be laid on both concrete and timber flooring. Before laying them on floorboards, however, you need to screw down a layer of exterior grade plywood (minimum 12mm thick) to the floor.
  • If the concrete surface is uneven, apply a self-levelling compound and leave to dry overnight. If you're left with ridges on the floor, smooth them off with a medium-grade sandpaper block.
Watch how to prepare before tiling

The key to any project is preparation and tiling is no different. Here is a short film on how to prepare your area before you start.

6. Choosing your adhesives

  • The type of adhesive you use will depend on where the tiles are being laid. You'll need a waterproof adhesive around showers and baths, or a flexible adhesive for surfaces that may move a little. So you'll need a flexible and waterproof adhesive for plywood paneling around a bath.
  • Starting along the wooden batten guides you've already fixed in place, spread your adhesive using a small ridged trowel or a notched spreader to create raised ridges. Spread it over a manageable square area, such as about 1m2 for walls, and approximately 3x3 or 4x4 tiles for floors.
  • When you come to fixing your border tiles in place, it may help to spread adhesive on their backs rather than on the area's surface.

7. Laying and fixing your tiles

Before you lay or fix any tiles, check that there aren't any colour variations.

Laying your floor tiles
  • Fix your ceramic tiles into place in the adhesive-covered area.       
  • Check that they're equally arranged using your spacer.
  • Check that the tiles are level using a spirit level, placing it diagonally across each row. 
  • If a tile is higher than the others, put a piece of wood over it and tap with a rubber hammer.
  • If a tile is too low, lift and reapply adhesive.
  • Using a claw hammer, remove the piece of wood you've been using as a guide and fill in the space with your cut border tiles.
  • Once you're finished, leave the tile adhesive to set. Drying times may vary, depending on conditions and the thickness of the adhesive.
Fixing your wall tiles
  • Fix your first tile against the horizontal batten running along the bottom of the area to be tiled.
  • Line up the tile's side with the vertical mark you set earlier as your starting point. For the first column of tiles, it may help to fix a second, vertical batten into place.
  • Press the tile against the adhesive, making sure the tile is flat and firmly fixed.
  • Fix your second tile alongside the first one, allowing a gap for grouting. If your tiles don't have lugs, use matchsticks or plastic spacers to make sure your gaps are consistent.
  • When you've finished your first row, fix a second row above it, taking care to space the tiles evenly and level with your other tiles.
  • Make sure each tile is flat relative to both the wall and the previous tile. The ridges in your adhesive will let you move the tiles around to achieve the right level.
  • Continue tiling around the walls, making sure that the vertical lines between the tiles are staying vertical.
  • Leave the batten at the bottom in place until the adhesive has fully set, otherwise the tiles may slide out of line.
  • Finally, remove the batten, then fill any remaining space with your cut border tiles.
Tiling above windows, basins and other fixtures

When tiling above a window, basin, bath or any other fixture, fix a temporary batten in place to support the first row of whole tiles, progressing upwards from there. Once the adhesive has set, you can then easily measure any tiles you have to cut to size to fill in the space.

Above a window, the cut tiles won't have anything underneath to stop them slipping, but you can attach them to the fixed tiles above with masking tape. This will hold them in place until the adhesive dries.

Watch how to tile a wall

This short video will show you all you need to know when it comes to installing and fitting wall tiles.

8. Grouting your tiles

There are different types of grout, so make sure you've got the right one for your specific job. Mix it up following the pack's instructions. You should allow at least 24 hours for the tile adhesive to dry before grouting.

  • Using a rubber-edged squeegee held at a 45-degree angle, fill in the spaces between your tiles with the grout.
  • Work on small areas at a time so that the grout doesn't dry before it's in place.
  • Work the grout in every direction, pushing it into all of the joins.
  • To smooth the grout in the joins, run a small piece of dowel over each join. Remove any excess grout from the tile surface before it sets.
  • Wipe any wet grout off the surface of the tiles with a damp sponge, taking care not to remove grout already applied between the spaces.
  • When you've finished, there'll be a thin film of grout on the surface of the tiles. Remove this by buffing them up with a rag.
  • Floors should be cleaned every day for the first three days, as this helps to make the grouting more hard-wearing.

9. Maintaining your grout

Use an all-purpose cleaner and a nylon scrub pad to clean the grout. However, you should first test your cleaner on a spare tile to make sure it won't damage any design features.

If your grout cracks, you can't just grout over it; you have to remove at least two-thirds of it using a grout remover, then reapply a new layer of grout.

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