Advice on laying ceramic floor tiles

From intricate Moroccan designs to the classic chequerboard floor, ceramic tiles are hugely versatile, inexpensive and easy to fit. Plus they work a treat with under-floor heating. You don’t need to spend a small fortune calling in a tiler; with this handy guide to laying ceramic floor tiles, you’ll get a professional job to be proud of.

Advice on laying ceramic floor tiles

Advice on laying ceramic floor tiles

Watch our video guide

How do I get started?
Removing inward opening doors will make life a lot easier. Also bear in mind that tiling may raise the floor level so you could need to plane the bottom off any doors before rehanging. It will probably take you a couple of weekend to complete the job. Floor tiles cost from £6.98 per square metre.

How do I prepare the sub-floor?
The best sub-floor is one with existing tiles removed. To do this you’ll need to wear protective clothing and eye goggles and use a hammer and bolster to gently chip away at the tiles. Protect cupboards or static furniture from flying tiles by covering with blankets or dust sheets. Fill any cracks with filler. If the floor is uneven, a self-levelling screed compound will smooth it over.

TOP TIP: Buy a paddle for your drill to mix any adhesive or grout – it’s hard work by hand!

Can I tile over tiles?
It is possible to tile over tiles, but bear in mind that the finished floor height will be that much higher. You’ll also need to ‘rough up’ the old tiles with scratch paper and coat with PVA so the new tile adhesive has something to cling to. It's much better to remove old tiles first.

Can I tile over chipboard?
No! Whatever you do don’t lay tiles on to chipboard. Within a matter of months they’ll have worked their way loose and you’ll need to redo the job. If you do have a chipboard subfloor, cover it with plywood first, making sure that the combined depth of subfloor is a minimum of 30mm.

How do I plan the layout?
This is the important bit so don’t rush it – you may need to make a few adjustments to get the perfect layout. Start by running a piece of string from and perpendicular to the entrance to room across to the other side of the room. Do likewise from the middle of an adjacent wall and mark the intersection with a chalk cross. From one angle of this central cross, dry-lay a single row of tiles, with spacers, along the string line.

Now dry lay a second row of tiles at right angles to the first, so you have two lines of tiles going right up to two walls, with just a gap for a cut tile against the wall at the end of each line. Bear in mind it’s tricky to cut a thin sliver of tile, so if you have less than half a tile’s width you’ll need to reposition your central cross-section, to allow for this.

When you’ve adjusted the intersection of the string lines so that you’re happy with the gap between the tiles and walls, nail two temporary timber battens around the edge of the room as a guide to lay the other tiles against. The battens should form a perfect right angle, with the sides touching the edge of the two rows of tiles you have dry-laid.

Now dry-lay tiles in this battened corner, making sure that the edges of the tiles are flush against the two battens they adjoin. If they’re not, your battens will need realigning, to create perfect right angles.

How do I start laying the tiles?
When your battens are absolutely square start from this corner and, using a waterproof floor tile adhesive with slight flexibility, use a notched spreader to a lay adhesive on a manageable floor area, say 4x4 tiles wide. From your starting point take time to lay your first tile correctly as its positioning will determine that of all the others in the room. It makes sense to start furthest from the door.

Lay your first tile in place, and then use one or two plastic spacers to equalise the distance between this tile and the next. Use your spirit level to keep checking the tiles are flat. If one is higher than another, place a piece of wood over it and tap with a rubber hammer.

If one is lower, lift and reapply a thicker layer of adhesive. Run a utility knife between the tiles and battens to prevent the surfaces sticking. When the first section of the room is complete, repeat the process until all the whole tiles are laid. With a trowel, remove any excess adhesive from gaps around the walls and leave to set for 24 hours. After 24 hours remove the plastic spacers and remove the battens using a claw hammer. You are now ready to cut tiles to go between the laid tiles and walls.

How do I cut tiles?
Rooms are rarely perfectly square so it’s unlikely that the distance between the edge of the tile and the wall will be uniform so it’s best to measure each tile before cutting it. For the neatest results place a whole tile on top of the last full tile so it overhangs, then mark the tile at the point where it overlaps the one beneath. You can get a good finish with a manual cutter but electric ‘wet’ tile cutters give better results still. Watch Craig Phillips' advice on How to cut tiles.

Apply adhesive to the tile itself not to the floor. Work your way around the room and leave for 24 hours as before.

How do I go about grouting?
Grout comes in many different colours but white, grey and brown are the most common colours. Bear in mind that white grout won’t stay white in high traffic areas such as kitchens.

For best results apply using a rubber-edged grout spreader, designed not to scratch the tiles. Make sure all the spaces are evenly filled, wiping away excess before it dries. Let the floor dry completely before polishing with a dry cloth.

If you've got a very large floor, best not to grout the whole floor in one go: choose a manageable area to grout, then go back and clean up. If the grout gets too dry, you'll have a hard time cleaning it up.