How to Tile a Floor - the Beginner's Guide

Tiling a floor can seem a daunting step for the amateur DIY-er, but it isn’t as tough as it might seem…

Hard tiling is an attractive and functional flooring choice for bathrooms and kitchens, and even hallways and conservatories. They’re great for high-traffic areas, as they’re hard-wearing, as well as being easy-clean. If you’re already a bit of a tiling pro, learn some more tiling tips from our Tips to take your tiling skills to the next level blog piece.

How to tile a floor, safety first:

For safety, make sure you wear strong, heavy-duty gloves to protect your hands – removing old tiling can be a nasty business, especially any broken shards. Also make sure to wear protective goggles to guard against flying tile shards, and a dust mask.

How to tile a floor step ONE – Preparation & Purchase

  1. When measuring the area, make sure to include any awkward, jutting areas such as alcoves and round up to the nearest whole number. Tiles come in packs, and you’ll need to find out how much surface area each pack covers.
  2. Your hard tiling can be laid onto any dry and level concrete floor. If it isn’t level, you’ll need to even it out. You can lay tiles over existing vinyl or quarry tiles, though you need to make sure they are firmly and properly laid. If you’re laying over vinyl tiling, though, you should coat the surface with primer. Ideally you should use an adhesive specifically for the purpose, especially if you’re laying tiles onto wood or concrete.
  3. If you’re working on a timber floor, you will first have to strengthen it – use 13mm-thick exterior grade plywood, and fix in place with 4mm gauge 25mm screws or ring-shanked nails at 30cm intervals.

How to tile a floor step TWO: Layout

  1. The “key tile” (the first tile that you’ll lay) will determine the whole layout of your tiling, so it’s important to get its positioning right. You have to start pretty centrally in your room and work out in each direction, as most rooms aren’t perfect squares – if you started at the edge you’d end up with a real mess.
  2. From the centre of your room (the centre of the key tile), dry-lay a row of tiles from one of the centre lines to the wall. Do you end up with a tiny slither of tile? If you do, you need to reassess – this won’t look good. If you’re in this position, move your whole line the width of one tile away from this wall. Even if you end up with 1/3 tiles at each end, this will look better than an untidy slither of tile at the skirting boards.
  3. When you’ve got this line right, carry on dry-laying – from this centre line, now go in the opposite direction, and then at right angles to it (ultimately, bisecting your central tile in a cross shape). When you’ve laid all this out, move your key tile around slightly until there’s a gap of around the size of half a tile around the edge of the whole room. Once your key tile is set, mark its position with chalk or another faint but visible marking.
  4. You’ll need to make sure all edge tiles are cut to shape at this stage, so now is the time to mark these up and cut them down.

How to tile a floor step THREE: Beginning to Tile

  1. BEST BUY: tile spacers. If you buy tile spacers to help you here, your finished product is going to look so much more professional.
  2. Start with the key tile and work out from here towards one of the walls. Bear in mind, when choosing your direction, that you shouldn’t walk on your newly laid tiles for 24 hours. Make sure you’ve left yourself a way to escape! Alternatively, you could just tile half a room per day, so the room isn’t fully out-of-action.
  3. Spread out around a metres-worth of adhesive in the centre of your room. Using a spreader, or notched trowel, spread it evenly across the square metre of surface. The spreader will leave just the right amount of adhesive to make the tiles stick, but make sure you can just about see your markings representing the location of the key tile. Lay your first tile into position, twisting it slightly as you go. This gets rid of any air bubbles that may be stuck as you lower it, and ensures the tile beds properly into the adhesive.
  4. Using plastic spacers, work out from the key tile in one direction towards the wall. Every metre or two, check that your floor is level using a spirit measure. Once this row is complete, do the same at right angles, so your tiling criss-crosses the room from the key tile. Work in rows in one corner of the room, completing a quarter.
  5. Carry on laying until you’ve covered the floor, excepting the cut tiles needed for the edges.
  6. At this stage wipe down all your tiles to make sure no adhesive sticks permanently, ruining your lovely new tiling.
  7. Make sure to scrape up any adhesive where the cut edge tiles will go – you need your surface to remain flat. You now need to wait 24 hours before the final steps.

How to tile a floor step FOUR: 24 Hours Later

  1. Having cut your tiles (using a lever-action flat-bed cutter or heavy-duty tile cutter), you can now fill the edging. Squeeze a layer of adhesive onto the back of each tile then press it into position, again leaving it 24 hours to set.

How to tile a floor step FIVE: Grouting

  1. Making sure the adhesive is solidly set before you move onto grouting.Now make sure to make up your grout well (most require mixing with water) – any lumps will show an unequal and unprofessional surface in your end result. Leave your grout to sit for 2-3 minutes once made up, unless otherwise recommended, as this can help break down lumps and release air bubbles. N.B: for the edges of the room you are better to use a flexible sealant rather than the grout, to allow for movement and flexibility as the tile meets the wall.
  2. If you’re using glazed tiles, you can simply pour the grout over and use a grout spreader with a rubber edge to squeegee the grout into place. If you have non-glazed tiles you’ll need to be more careful – mix a very dry grout up and gently put it into each crack, trying to avoid getting any grout onto the tile surface to avoid stains.
  3. As the grout begins to set, go over it with a wooden dowel or striking tool, pressing the grout firmly to fill any gaps or air pockets. Carry a damp sponge and wipe up any mess as you go. All of the grout has to be compacted, without gaps, to ensure water resistance.
  4. Once the grout is hard (approximately an hour), wipe all over again with a damp cloth, focussing on each tile one-by-one to make sure no grouting stains have escaped your attention.
  5. Try to avoid using the floor for 48 hours if at all possible; otherwise be gentle and delicate for this period.
  6. Seal around the corners of the room with a flexible sealant of the same colour as your grout, and there you have it – one floor tiled!

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About the Author

Lauren King

Lauren works in our Ecommerce Team, with over 6 years of experience at HSS. She brings product knowledge and is able to give her advice on the right tool for the job no matter how big or small.

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  • Kael Drake | 5 years ago

    My husband and I are going to be redoing our bathroom, so I thought that your post was very helpful! We’ve been talking a lot about installing tile in the bathroom, but we weren’t sure how we were going to do it. I really liked how clearly your post outlined all of the different steps, and how detailed your descriptions were. I’m going to make sure to print off all of your instructions so that we can have them on hand as we install the tiles! Thank you for the information!