A tiled floor adds a touch of class to any internal space, but properly laying it is an intricate job that requires planning and precision. It’s tempting to cut corners – metaphorically, of course – but the quality of the finish will suffer if you do.
We explain below how to tile a floor in 12 easy steps, starting with the lengthy list of tools and materials required to achieve results a professional tiler would be proud of…
Tools & Materials
Unfortunately, around half of the tools and materials required for tiling can’t be used for other DIY jobs. So equipping your toolbox for a first-time tiling job will be expensive and time-consuming.
However, all these components help create a stable floor covering requiring minimal ongoing maintenance.
- Notched spreader
- Spirit level
- Rubber mallet
- Tile scriber (if scoring and snapping tiles)
- Tile cutter machine (as an alternative to a scriber)
- Tile nippers (if laying tiles around curves)
- Tungsten carbide hacksaw blade (as an alternative to tile nippers)
- Grout float
- Grout finishing tool
- Grout protector spray (optional)
- Dustpan and brush
- Knee pads
- Safety goggles
- Dust mask
- Tape measure
- Fine sandpaper or tile file
- Bucket (if mixing your own adhesive)
- Drill with mixing paddle attachment (if mixing your own adhesive)
- Floor tiles
- Floor tile adhesive
- Floor tile grout (unless you’re using a two-in-one adhesive and grout mix)
- Flexible sealant
- Masking tape
- Horizontal tile spacers
- Dust sheet
- Detergent (if laying tiles directly onto concrete)
- Acrylic primer liquid (if laying tiles directly onto concrete)
- Tile primer (if laying tiles directly onto other tiles)
How To Tile a Floor — Step-by-Step Instructions
A few preparatory stages are essential, even if you’re itching to start laying floor tiles. First, ensure your subfloor is ready to receive its new floor covering.
Fail to Prepare…
Existing flooring will likely be in situ unless you move into a newly built or refurbished property.
You could lay new tiles on top of existing ones if they’re level and smooth, providing the increased floor height won’t shrink your skirting boards too much, and there’s no evidence of dampness. Otherwise, you’ll need to remove whatever carpet, laminate, vinyl or other material was there originally.
You can lay new tiles directly onto a bare concrete floor. It should already be smooth enough not to pose any issues, though you might need to sand down obvious lumps and bumps. Give the floor a clean with diluted detergent before priming it with an acrylic primer liquid.
Always check for any damp on a concrete floor by laying down a polythene sheet and taping it for 24 hours. If any moisture appears on the underside of the sheet, you need to eliminate damp before laying tiles. This B&Q video shows how to check for dampness from 1:09 onwards.
Floorboards aren’t suitable for tiling over, so you must install plywood sheeting first.
Choose sheets between 12mm and 18mm in depth, securing them to the boards with countersunk screws. You’ll have to ensure each sheet is level once fitted, and the sheet joints should run across floorboards rather than extending parallel with them.
If the existing tiles are in good condition and level, you can tile straight over them.
You’ll need to coat them with a tile-on-tile primer and accept that your skirting boards will look smaller as the extra layer of tiles will partially cover them.
A Night on the Tiles
We’re assuming you’ve already chosen your new tiles by this stage. It’s worth remembering that floor tiles are heavier and denser than wall tiles, and different finishes offer varying grip levels and comfort. Marble looks luxurious but can be slippery, while granite tiles last forever but are expensive.
Always buy at least ten per cent more tiles than your calculations suggest you’ll need. These extra tiles will cover breakages, incorrect cuts and any tiles with blemishes you don’t want to use.
Most consumers opt for porcelain tiles, which are more expensive than ceramic alternatives but work better in high-tread areas. A smooth tiled surface feels lovely underfoot, though it’ll be more slippery in wet conditions than a rougher pitted finish.
Pro Tip: Wherever possible, buy boxes of tiles with the same batch number, as this avoids variations in colour or finish.
1. Dry lay your tiles
Because builders rarely build rooms with perfectly right-angled walls, you’re unlikely to get a nice finish if you start laying tiles along one edge.
Experiment by dry laying tiles across the floor. Ideally, you want to avoid thin slivers of tiling along any edge – aim for half a tile’s width along each wall or a third of a tile as a minimum. You can see a visual depiction of this in the video clip below, starting at 0:11.
Put tiles directly onto the floor with spacer blocks between them. Keep moving them around until you’ve got a reasonably consistent gap along every wall.
Use the tape measure to check your proposed tile layout is parallel with the walls, and stand back to see how the tiles look in their suggested positions. You’ll cut the various edge tiles to fit any gaps later on.
2. Mark the centre tile’s position
Once you’re happy with the dry laying, take all the tiles up, bar one in the centre.
Draw neat lines along each edge of this centre tile with a pencil before extending these four lines to the nearest wall. These four lines will guide you when laying four neat rows of tiles, and all the others will fall into a grid pattern accordingly.
Some DIY guides recommend installing temporary wooden batons at right angles, allowing you to lay tiles neatly up to them. However, this only works on wooden floors and creates much more work. You shouldn’t need to use batons if your pencil lines are accurate.
Before mixing floor adhesive, check your four long pencil lines meet the walls at right angles. This step is your last chance to reposition dry-laid tiles, changing their angle if you’re not happy with how straight they are relative to doors and windows.
3. Prepare your adhesive
Floor tile adhesive comes in two forms – ready-mixed or self-mix. The former is far easier to use, saves time and mess, and doesn’t require a mixing paddle.
If you want to self-mix, follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely. You’ll typically combine water and powder in a bucket before using the mixing paddle to create a consistent paste with no lumps.
4. Position the first tile
Put enough adhesive on the floor to cover roughly one square metre, spreading it with the smooth side of the gauging trowel.
Next, drag the serrated side through the adhesive, creating a ridged surface that makes better contact with the tiles. It also evenly spreads adhesive across the floor.
Pro Tip: To get the perfect thickness, check out our guide to how thick tile adhesive should be.
Press the tile firmly down for a moment, using your knee to apply extra weight. Use the spirit level to ensure it’s flat. If not, tap one corner of the tile with the rubber mallet, or lift the tile and apply extra adhesive underneath.
Once the tile is level, you need to avoid walking on it. If this is a heavy-tread area like a kitchen, tile half the floor one day and do the rest the next day.
5. Continue laying whole tiles
Place horizontal tile spacers between the first tile and its neighbours to create an even gap. You could use vertical spacers, but you’ll need to remove them once you’re happy with each tile’s positioning.
Most people work in a straight line, but you can follow any route that suits the floor space you’re working in. Don’t box yourself into a corner since you can’t walk on newly laid tiles.
After laying a tile, wipe it with a damp sponge. If the adhesive has bulged up through the spacer gap, clear it out so there’s room to add grout later. You don’t have to worry about this if you’re using a combined adhesive and grout, which is an argument for buying a two-in-one product.
6. Cut tiles to fit the edges
Once you’ve covered most of the floor in whole tiles, it’s time to address the areas where tiles need trimming to fit.
Measure each edge tile individually since skirting boards may not be at perfect right angles to other walls or the tiles you’ve already laid.
A helpful technique for determining the required offcut size for a particular space involves overlaying two uncut tiles on top of each other. This method is best demonstrated visually, as in the video below from 2:16 onwards.
There are five main tools/techniques for cutting tiles:
- Tile scriber. Use this tool to score along the cutting line before manually snapping it (aka scribe & snap).
- Electric or manual tile cutter. These machines are great for floor tiles, which are thicker and heavier than wall tiles.
- Tile nipper.
- Diamond-tipped tile cutting disc.
- Tungsten carbide hacksaw blade.
Your choice of cutting tool/technique will depend on personal preference, but you might need a combination for different areas. For instance, scribing and snapping a tile works for straight edges, whereas a tile nipper will let you make curved cuts to wrap around pedestal stands or toilets.
To see these cutting techniques in action, watch the video below:
Whichever method you use, you’ll need to wear gloves and goggles. A dust mask will protect your lungs from the fine particles released when cutting tiles.
7. Cut tiles to fit curves (if necessary)
There are various techniques for cutting tiles to fit around curved objects.
Our recommended method involves cutting a piece of paper into the requisite shape and overlaying it on top of a tile before following its curves with the tile nipper or cutting disc.
Pro Tip: Whichever method you use to cut a tile, smooth off any rough edges with sandpaper. This step is crucial for newly created curves to avoid scratching or damaging whichever object you’re laying the tiles around.
Wickes demonstrates a fiddly but precise paper preparation method in the video below. This method involves lots of parallel scissor cuts, which are pressed into place around a curved object. This approach produces a neat curve, making the curved shape easier to reproduce when cutting.
8. Leave the tiles to dry
Let the adhesive fully dry before inserting grout into all the vertical gaps between neighbouring tiles.
To speed up the drying process, provide good ventilation, and avoid stepping on tiles you’ve just laid.
Find out how much time you need to set aside for this step in our in-depth guide to how long tile adhesive takes to dry.
Once the adhesive has fully set, clean the tile surfaces in preparation for grouting…
9. Apply grout
Grout is an uninspiring substance with an unflattering name, but it’s vital for keeping tiles in place.
Tilers insert grout into the gaps between each tile and the next, providing extra rigidity. If you’re tiling a bathroom or kitchen, anti-mould grout will resist penetration from water and steam.
Pro Tip: Coloured grout won’t discolour as much as the traditional white option tends to do. Against grey or brown tiles, grey grout is also more subtle, blending in and letting the tiles stand out.
Mix up your grout (if it’s not ready-mixed) and place a small amount at the edge of one tile. Use the grout float to work it into the gaps diagonally until it’s almost level with the tile’s surface.
Do this for a few neighbouring tiles, then use a grout finishing tool to achieve a smooth and consistent edge. This process will compress the grout slightly below the tile’s surface.
Wipe away any excess with a damp sponge – it’ll dry quickly!
10. Apply edging sealant
Don’t put grout in the channels between the last row of tiles and the wall or skirting board.
Instead, apply a flexible sealant to provide a degree of expansion. Before inserting the sealant, affix masking tape to the wall or skirting board to protect it. You can use the grout shaping tool to create a consistent finish.
Don’t forget to wipe away any excess before it dries.
11. Apply grout protector (optional)
We recommend applying a grout protector spray, as this creates a barrier across the grout, protecting it from grease and dirt while helping to repel water.
12. Thoroughly clean the floor
This last step is your final opportunity to remove any sealant or grout that may have lodged on the tiles.
If the grout won’t come off, use a cleaning agent once you’re sure the grout has dried.
Remove any masking tape from skirting boards, architraves or walls.
After giving the grout and sealant 24 hours to bed in and dry out, you should now have a fully tiled floor to be proud of.
If you’ve applied grout protection, you shouldn’t even need to re-grout for many years. If you get bored of the tiles, you could always enliven them at a future date by applying tile paint.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning to lay quarry tiles, our guide to laying quarry tiles is essential reading.