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How to
tile walls
& floors

Whether for a kitchen, bathroom, hall or other living space, tiles are a durable and good looking decorating solution. Both wall and floor tiles can be fixed to many existing surfaces, and planning tiled areas, preparing, and cutting and fixing tiles are all skills you can easily learn.
Kit
Tool List
  • Tile cutter
  • Tile saw
  • Tape measure
  • Straight edge
  • Notched adhesive trowel or adhesive spreader
  • Plastic tile spacers
  • Spirit level
Safety equipment
  • Face mask
  • Safety specs
  • Gloves
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Wear gloves and goggles when cutting tiles. Always use an RCD device with power tools.

Tiling walls

Skill level required

Laying tiles is not difficult, as long as you measure and plan ahead. Cutting and nibbling corners off tiles takes some practice. The fixing of natural stone is slightly more specialised than fixing ceramic tiles. Most natural stone tiles will require sealing before grouting with often a another coat of sealing liquid being applied after grouting.

Preparation

Tiles can be bonded to virtually any dry, clean surface that’s in sound condition, strong enough to support their weight and properly prepared – this even includes old tiles.

1. Clean the walls
Remove all traces of dirt, grease and soapy deposits from a painted or previously tiled wall.

2. Repair damage
Ensure each wall is sound. Fix any areas of loose plaster.

3. Treat the wall surface
Remove any old wallpaper. If the walls were previously painted in a gloss finish, sand them down. Remove any peeling emulsion paint. Allow any new plaster to dry completely.

4. Prime surfaces
Absorbent surfaces such as new or bare plaster, timber, ply, or chipboard must be primed with a dilute PVA primer to prevent the moisture in the tile adhesive being absorbed too quickly by the wall, and to provide a much better key for the adhesive. Allow to dry thoroughly before you begin tiling.

Plasterboard or cement bonding boards, such as Wickes’ tile panel, should be fixed as per the manufacturer's instructions.

Marking out the wall

You’ll need timber battens in place before you start applying tiles to the wall.

1. Make a measuring gauge
Make a gauge from a length of timber. Lay some of your tiles on the floor with spacers in between and put the timber next to them. Mark each joint on the timber (see Fig. 1).

2. Mark out the wall
Measure and mark a point halfway up the wall above the highest floor or skirting board level as a starting point. With the measuring gauge positioned against this mark, mark downwards to show where each course of tiles will fall. If the space left at the bottom is less than half a tile high, adjust the starting point by half a tile, and use the measuring gauge to mark the rows again (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

3. Fix timber battens
Measure and mark a horizontal line across the wall at the level of the bottom of the lowest row of whole tiles. Use nails or screws to fix a straight length of timber to the wall along this line, using a spirit level to check the batten is horizontal. Don’t drive the nails fully home as they will be removed later (see Fig. 3).

Measure and mark the centre point of the horizontal batten and use the measuring gauge horizontally to mark the position of the last whole tile close to the end of the wall. Mark this point on the batten (see Fig. 4).

Use a spirit level to mark a vertical line up from the position of the last tile (see Fig. 5). Fix another straight batten vertically along this line. Loose lay a few tiles into the corner formed by the battens to check that they sit squarely.

Fig. 1
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

Tiling

1. Arrange your tiles
Arrange your tiles carefully before installation to get the best effect from the different patterns and shades of the tiles, especially when laying natural stone. When installing ceramic or porcelain tiles, shuffle tiles from different boxes to make sure any repeating patterns are randomly placed.

2. Start tiling
Begin tiling in the corner. Spread the adhesive over the area of two or three tiles at a time. Comb the adhesive with the notched side of the spreader to create space for it to move once the tile is pressed onto it, otherwise the excess adhesive will squirt out around the edges of the tile and can be messy to remove (see Fig. 6).

Fig. 6

Do not spread more tile adhesive on the wall than you can use in a few minutes, as it will go hard, lose its adhesion, and have to be scraped off. As you get more experience, you can spread a larger area – up to one square metre.

Ensure each tile has adhesive over its whole surface. Do not use dots or dabs of adhesive only, as this can cause tiles to crack.

Place the tiles firmly on to the scored adhesive with spacers set in between. Working sideways and upwards, complete the fixing of all whole tiles then leave to dry for around 24 hours.

Tile spacers come in various sizes from 1mm up to 10mm. The larger sizes are generally used only for floor tiles. For wall tiles, the most commonly used spacers are 3mm and 4mm; 4mm makes it easier to push the grout fully into the joints – important for shower enclosures.

Apart from that, the choice is aesthetic – a wider joint will emphasise the colour of the grout and attractive visual effects can be achieved using plain white tiles with a 4mm or 5mm coloured grout. For darker tiles, a 1mm or 2mm white grout creates a different effect.

Once dry, remove the battens carefully then cut tiles to fit around the perimeter. Where space is limited the adhesive can be applied to the back of the cut tiles instead of on to the wall.

For shower enclosures, make sure there is a continuous layer of waterproof tile adhesive over the whole wall. If necessary, spread a thin coat of adhesive on the wall, and then extra adhesive on each tile.

 

3. Cut tiles
Mark the glazed surface where it is to be cut and use a Wickes’ Wall & Floor Tile Cutter to make straight cuts (see Fig. 7). Smooth off the cut edge with a file. Try to ‘bury’ cut edges at the top, bottom or sides of the wall, where any imperfections will be concealed by edge trims or sealant.

For more intricate cuts – such as around pipes or rounded bath edges – use a tile saw with a tungsten carbide blade.

Fig. 7

4. Apply grout
When all tiling is complete and has dried for around 24 hours, fill the spaces between them using grout and a grout float. Push grout deep into each joint with a squeegee or brick pointer, making sure the joint is filled. This is especially important for shower enclosures. Remove any excess grout as you go. When you've finished, wipe down tiles with a damp sponge.

Finishing off

Seal any joints between tiles and horizontal surfaces such as baths, basins, sinks, worktops etc with Wickes’ Silicone Sealant to prevent moisture penetration.

Tiles will all have slight variations in size, so the tile spacers will not necessarily fit or space the tiles evenly on the wall. Use a spirit level to check each horizontal course for level and each vertical row for plumb as the work proceeds and add or remove spacing material to adjust.

Tiling floors

Preparation

Just as for wall tiling, the surface needs to be sound, dry and even.

1. Make concrete ready
Ensure concrete floors are clean and dry. The floor does not have to be perfectly level because the floor tile adhesive can be applied as a thin bed or a thick bed, but it is preferable. Use Wickes’ Floor Levelling Compound if the concrete is very uneven or damaged. Lay an uncoupling membrane on the concrete to ensure that any movement or stresses in the concrete floor do not transmit through to the tiles and crack them. Use a flexible tile adhesive and flexible grout.

2. Tile over wooden floors
It’s possible to tile suspended wooden floors if they are sufficiently strong to carry the very considerable extra weight of tiles, they are 100% rigid, and the area below the floorboards is well ventilated. If the floor is weak and shows any sign of movement, you must strengthen it. Use a sheet material such as exterior grade plywood building up to a minimum 18mm thick covering and screw into place at no more than 200mm centres.

Bare wood or ply-covered floors should be primed with floor tile primer according to pack instructions before tiling commences.

3. Prepare other floors
Loose floor coverings such as vinyl sheeting should be completely removed, while old tiles must be thoroughly scrubbed clean and all traces of old polish removed.

It is essential that a suspended timber floor is made 100% rigid. Any movement will first cause the grout to break up, allowing moisture to enter, and subsequently tiles to break or lift. Use an uncoupling membrane on top of marine-grade plywood to help prevent cracking of the tiles. Use a flexible tile adhesive and flexible grout.

Marking out the floor

As with tiling a wall, you’ll need to use battens before you starting tiling.

1. Measure and mark the floor
Start in the corner of the room furthest from the door. Use a tape measure and a straight edge such as a spirit level to mark the centre line of the room from the door end to the far end. Find and mark the centre of this line.

2. Loose lay tiles
Loose lay tiles with spacers from the centre point along the line to the far wall. Fix a straight batten to the floor at 90° to the line of tiles where the edge of the last whole tile is (see Fig. 8).

Fig. 8

Loose lay further tiles towards the corner of the room and fix another batten at 90° to the first alongside the last whole tile (see Fig. 9). Check that the corner produced is exactly square, and that the positioning of neither line of tiles will result in narrow tiles having to be cut to fill in around the perimeter once the battening has been removed.

Tiling

1. Dry lay your tiles
Arrange your tiles carefully before installation to get the best effect from the different patterns and shades of the tiles, especially when laying natural stone. When installing ceramic or porcelain tiles, shuffle tiles from different boxes to make sure any repeating patterns are randomly placed.

2. Start tiling
Begin from the prepared corner, following the instructions on the adhesive. Use a Wickes’ Wall & Floor Tile Cutter to cut tiles to fit around the perimeter once all whole tiles are laid and the adhesive has set.

Fig. 9

An adhesive setting time is quoted for ideal conditions and is only a guide. Where temperatures are low, air is damp, ventilation is poor, the substrate is not fully dry (new concrete/screed takes about one week per 2.5cm (1") of thickness to dry), the substrate is sealed/non porous, excessive adhesive or thick tiles are used, setting times will be increased, sometimes greatly.

3. Apply grout
When all tiling is complete and has dried for around 24 hours, fill the spaces between them using an appropriate grout. Remove any excess grout as you go.

When you’ve finished, wipe down tiles with a damp sponge. Wickes’ Grout Film Remover removes cement film and grout residues from ceramic and terracotta tiles, however it should not be used on natural stone such as marble or other acid-sensitive materials. For natural stone including pure marble, granite, travertine, and slate, remove cement grout film after initial installation using Wickes’ Natural Stone Grout Film Remover.

Finishing off

Protect porous materials, such as slate, or other natural stone, with Wickes’ Tile & Stone Stain Protector followed by Wickes’ Satin Tile Sealer for a sheen finish that resists dirt penetration and staining by liquids.

To protect and shine marble, limestone and other natural floor tiles use Wickes’ Natural Stone Gloss Finish to create a tough but removable finish and protection against staining, scratching and dulling caused by foot traffic. It also deepens the colour and texture and is effective against damage from acidic substances.

Tile care and maintenance

Always choose products specified for the tile material you have chosen.

Cleaning and aftercare

For all ceramic floor tiles, glazed and unglazed, terrazzo, marble, natural stone and slate, Wickes’ Floor Tile Clean & Shine can be used and is particularly recommended for regular cleaning of floors treated with Wickes’ Satin Tile Sealer. Clean and protect pure marble, granite, travertine and other calcareous natural stone, as well as manmade materials containing marble such as terrazzo and composition tiles, in all types of finish, including polished, honed, flamed, riven etc, with Wickes’ Natural Stone & Wash Shine. It is particularly recommended for floors that have been treated with Wickes’ Natural Stone Gloss Finish.

Renovation

To renovate stained tiles and remove old wax and polish from unglazed floor tiles, quarry tiles, natural slate and marble tiles, use Wickes’ Tile & Natural Stone Renovator. Follow with a fresh application of satin or gloss coating, as above.