DIY DIVA
DIY diva

Tile 101: How to Install Mosaic Wall Tile (Or any kind, really.)

June 4, 2010 | 36 Comments | Bath, DIY How To
DIY diva

Swear to god, I went three years of my life without ever picking up a grout float, and then bam bam bam…bam bam…bam… 1677 one-inch mosaic tiles (and five other tiling projects) came into my life like heat-seeking missiles and destroyed the hours I was supposed to use for sleep. And while my fingers are still raw from smearing gallons of grout into teeny-tiny little cracks without gloves– and here I am, already teaching you my bad habits– the good news is I’ve got pictures and explanations for almost any kind of tiling project you could tackle.

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Bam! (Really, I don’t know what’s up with the repeated “bamming” but I write these posts well after midnight, so there you go…)

Let’s talk about tiling walls. Slightly more daunting than tiling floors because, like with aging, gravity does not work in your favor.

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But the results are well worth it.

And just FYI, I’ll give you a few hints on these paper-fronted mosaic tiles, but really all of these techniques work for any kind of wall tile.

What I Used:

  • 1677 1″ glass mosaic tiles that were attached with a removable paper “fronting” (not to be confused with backing)
  • Tile adhesive
  • 1/8″ notched trowel
  • 1/8″ spacers
  • Sanded grout
  • Grout float
  • Tile snips (they are actually called “nippers”. seriously. who makes this shit up?)
  • Assorted buckets, sponges, and rags

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What I Did:

Step 1: Surface Prep

Floor tile starts with a good foundation of concrete or fiber-cement backer board, and wall tile is no different. If you’re doing just a small area of tile  you can probably get away with tiling over standard drywall board, or green board. For full length tiling like the  snazzy urinal stall 1/2″ fiber-cement backer board was in order.

Backer board goes in just like drywall: score, snap, and screw in to the studs.

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Like drywall, the seams need to be taped and mudded to provide a smooth surface for tiling. The smaller the tile you’re using, the better you want your surface to be.

DISCLAIMER: Usually I edit my photos before posting them to this site, but I took these in a small dark bathroom with a floodlight for lighting. So you get dramatic and inconsistent pictures and since I have a house to build instead of image-correcting, this is what it is.

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(If you need some more info on installing wallboard, or taping and mudding joints, try Drywall 101)

A round of sanding got everything down to a nice finish.

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And here’s the part where I tell you something I should have done, but definitely didn’t: Take a look at your choice of tile. If you have translucent tiles 1.) you need white tile adhesive (that I DID do), and 2.) it’s probably a good idea to roll a coat of white primer on your wall before you tile. It takes hardly any time and if your adhesive isn’t perfectly spread, it will help hide any “wall” that shows through the tile.

Step 2: Understanding the Tile & Spacing

When the tile first arrived I ripped open the box like a kid on Christmas morning, and then I sat there staring at it with a quizzical expression for the next seventeen minutes.

Uh…
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What the hell am I supposed to do with that? Since I’ve worked more often with larger mosaic tiles that come pre-set with a mesh backing, I found this confusing.

You’ll notice I keep calling it paper “fronted” tile. Not backed. And for good reason. This is the back of the tile (as in, the side you’ll adhere to the wall.)

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The idea is that with translucent tiles, if you use a mesh grid the lines will show through. Also, this way is cheaper to manufacture, and also a pain in the ass to space correctly since most of the tiles will be covered with paper until well after the adhesive is set. Once everything is dry (paper facing) out, you dampen the paper and then peel it off. But right now friends, we are far far away from that happy moment.

Let’s talk about spacing. I say this every time I talk about tile and I mean it every time: Don’t go just slapping your tile up on the wall. In any space your tile should be centered on a wall (or section of a wall, in this case) so that if there are half tiles, they are equal sizes on both ends. With larger tiles, this is true for horizontal and vertical spacing, but with these itty-bitty tiles I felt justified in starting at the “top” and working my way down. Molding will cover the bottom few tiles anyway.

I recommend measuring…

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Laying the whole thing out…

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And measuring some more. You should spend almost as much time laying out the tile as you will sticking it to your wall.

Step 3: Stick It!

Okay, it’s time to take the plunge. This step requires a spackling knife or two, the notched trowel, spacers, adhesive and tile.

Hopefully you’ve measured and marked where your first “full” tiles start, so now it’s time to get messy. For itty-bitty tiles like these you want a very thin layer of adhesive. I put it on with a small spackling knife because when I turned around to look for one it was the first thing I saw.

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A larger knife would work just as well, if not better.

The important part, though, is using a notched trowel with very small notches to run through the adhesive and level it out. For larger tile there are trowels with larger notches.

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The resulting adhesive, ready for tile.

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After the first piece is in, then you’ve got something to work with. To get the next section of tile up in the right spot, you need these babies…

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Small spacers. Now these were as close as I could get to the existing grout lines between tiles, but even so I did a little eyeballing as well.

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Nothing drives me more nuts than when people use these tile grids and you can see where the 12×12 sheets are because they don’t take enough time making their grout lines consistent.

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The one convenient thing about the paper-fronted tile was being able to make some cuts between tiles to help space everything out a bit more evenly.

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For half tiles or odd shapes– like around the plumbing fixtures for a urinal, for example– get out the trusty nippers. Wow. I hope to never say that on this website again.

This part is easy, just line up the nippers…

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And snap.

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As far as I can tell, it’s not an exact science, but grout will cover quite a few evils on tiles this small so I would recommend not getting too worked up about it.

Step 4: Waiting, Waiting, and More Waiting

Once your tile is in, you’ve got to wait for it to set before removing the paper-fronting.

Wait.

Wait.

Keep waiting.

A couple of hours at least, or overnight if you can stand it.

Step 5: Revealing Inner Beauty (and mistakes)

Ok, your patience has been tested and it’s time for the big reveal. Use a damp sponge on the paper.

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Wait 5 minutes and run the sponge over it again. Another couple of minutes and the paper should peel off easily.

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There may be a couple of tiles that need to be pried off and reapplied to get the spacing correct. A dab of adhesive on the back of the tile goes a long way.

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Once everything is in and dried, a couple of swipes with a damp sponge will help remove any residue from the paper backing.

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Step 6: Mud By Any Other Name… Still Mud

If you’re standing around with glass bits on the floor and tile adhesive in your hair thinking that this tiling business is a mess, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

This is the part where you take that beautiful tile wall and smear mud all over it. Grout, actually. I tend to use the sanded kind because I like it, but there are a number of different types of grout depending on your tile type and application… though I don’t know anything you couldn’t use a sanded grout for.

Mix it by following the directions on the package or by eyeballing it to get it to the consistency of toothpaste.

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Mmmm. Black toothpaste.

It always takes less water than you think at first to get it there, so to start I’d recommend going with the amounts on the package.

Then you basically smear that mess on the wall.

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A grout float is handy for this part. It’s essentially a trowel with a bit of foam or rubber on it to help you get all of that muddy goodness into all the little cracks and crevices.

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Here’s my standard rule about cleaning off grout… Wait 30ish minutes and then wipe down once (or twice) with a wet sponge, rinsing often. Then wait another hour and give it another swipe.

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After it’s all dried then, go over it with a dry towel or sponge to remove any grout haze. Not wet. Dry. Trust me.

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Step 7: Admire

And there you go! It’s pretty easy once you jump in and try it. After your grout has cured for a day or so you can use a spray on sealer (definitely necessary if your tile is in a urinal stall, or on a shower or kitchen backsplash).

In my case, then it was time for final fixtures. And threatening any guy that comes within 10 feet of the house that if he pees on any one of my 1644 tiles I will personally have his ass.

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Go forth and conquer those wall tiling projects now. More tiling how-to (like building and tiling your own counters) coming soon.

DIY diva

    Comments

  • lisa


    Bam! Thanks for the tips. The Dude wants a similar tile in his man bathroom. Your tutorial will definitely help.

  • Elisa @ whatthevita


    Awesome tutorial, the best I’ve read about mosaic tile. I’ve been thinking about using mosaic tile for my kitchen backsplash and this just gave me a LOT of confidence to DIY it if we go that route. The man cave sure is looking good, can’t wait to see more of it!

  • patti


    i love this tile and you are rocking the instructions. well done.

  • stephen


    I love the way you expain it to me, but i will try to do it like just the way you are doing it .
    i pray that god gives me a project on tiles work because right now i am doing nothing
    thanks for explanation.

  • Dee Toomey


    Hi,

    You may or may not know the answer to my question, but here goes. Our home has carpeting in both bathrooms, which I think is absolutely stupid! I mean, there are the occasional toilet back ups and run overs, afterall. Anyhoo, I would like to remove the carpeting and lay tile. Here is my fear/problem…will the toilet still hook up to the pipe in the floor if there is tile instead of carpet? I hope you know what I mean.
    If you know, could you tell me? Thanks
    Dee

    • Torie


      Hi there, I think I can answer your question, in addition to commiserating over the stupidity of carpet in my bathroom at my old house. ANYTHING would be better. The world’s cheapest 50 cent ceramic tiles, the dollar store sticky vinyls, heck, break out one of those black gym foam tiles and I will dance an Irish jig on it. The carpet was AWFUL, who knows what bacteria, grime, and various ickies were lurking in there. I likely should have notified the CDC to study the carpet after I ripped it out, but I was too busy incinerating it on my lawn in triumph and then trying to talk my way out of a ticket and an unwilling trip to the looney-bin.
      However, I digress. The tile you need is not mosaic, but ceramic or other floor tile. You can accent with small mosaics in the pattern you choose, but they are too small (and costly and slippery) for walking on. You will first need to remove carpet and proceed with whatever celebration will suit your mood. Then, if you have a subfloor, look to see if there is ANY water damage. If there is, that has to come up too. That should bring you down to the actual floor installed to frame the house. You will need backerboard, of which there are varying thicknesses and types, depending on use and moisture. You will cut holes for the toilet and any other impediments. Nippers and tile cutters should ease your way.
      Once you have screwed in your backerboard, as you heard the awesome lady above, measure, measure,measure. You generally start from the middle of the room and work your way out. Lay mastic or thinset with notched trowel, set tile, tamp lightly, use spacers, repeat. When done, wipe tiles with a damp sponge (obviously, you will do this in stages on the floor). Let set overnight
      The next day you will come down and stretch muscles that are extremely unhappy with you and your activities. From there, you will spread grout over all the tiles, wiping away the excess. They have great sponges that have a terry and a sponge side. After this, you will apply a sealant specific to your needs. Once done, clean up wait a day and enjoy.
      Please remember, spacers, measure, level, backerboard and no f&^%$#@!@ carpet in bathrooms, for any reason, ever. Have a lovely day :)

  • Pamela


    Love the side note tips!

  • Kelsey


    Thanks for all the info!
    One question though. If you wanted to make an original mosaic type design with individual tiles, can you buy this fronting paper loose of tiles? What is it called? If not, could I just use masking tape or some other alternative?

    • Kit


      Kelsey, if you were going to do your own mosaic I think you would just tile directly on the wall instead of trying to affix to paper first. I don’t think tape of any kind would work.

      My recommendation would be to lay out the pattern on a spare piece of wood or drywall and then just tile one at a time from there.

      • george


        gum arabic was most likely the glue on the paper. Just about any paper will do (butcher paper would work). Gum Arabic dissolves completely in water, but is very strong otherwise. Its frequently used to label glass bottles.

      • Rachael


        To add to Kelsey’s question, I’d like to use the sheets, but just change out a few tiles in the pattern with tiles from other sheets (same size, same shape). Could I unstick the one’s I’m taking out from the paper and stick in the ones I want (having peeled them from their own paper?

        As an example, I saw a blog where someone was using a pre made hexagonal tile design of white with black dots. She mentioned you might like to change out each black tile with a colored tile instead (again, same size, same shape). How does it work to peel and restick these tiles to and from the backing?

        Thanks! :)

  • theresa


    This is the tile i am lloking for!!!!!! lowes carried the diy backsplass kit this summer that was a peel and stick glassmosaic in these very same colors. I djdn’t have the money till now to buy the kit and they have discontinued. Where can i puchase those tiles? Please help!

    • karen


      I am so happy that I stumbled upon this video. I happen to have a stack of the same tiles that I purchased at Lowes. 6 months ago my husband started the project on one side of the kitchen and never finished. He is Up North and I will have it done before he is back. Woo hoo! For the person looking for these specific tiles, the brand that I have is Elida Glass the number is 304876 and is called nocturnal multi grain. A google search brings up multiple ways to purchase it.

  • Shelly


    Great job on the tile tutoring! Do you know how to tile over laminate countertops successfully? Or at least have a suggestion as to how I can change the “YELLOW” color. I do not look forward to having to baby sensitive ceramic counters, but no not know anything else to use?

    Thank you!

  • nancy


    I’m considering installing tile that consists of 3/8″ x 1 – 1 1/4″ pieces of stone that are placed very close to one another. (The store sample shows no grouting whereas the other samples are grouted.) The face of the tiles vary in depth…kind of gnarly. Is it conceivable that grouting would not be needed?

  • Cecelia


    Great information. But I’m afraid my main question was not answered. I hope you can advise me. I have a beautiful artificial fireplace. I bought it from a lady who had it custom built so it is very well crafted. It is wood, and I love it, but I’ve never loved the color. It is a natural, slightly beige color. The grain of the wood shows through. I’d like to paint it white. I’ve owned it for about 3 years and every time I mention painting it, someone yells at me like I’m committing a crime. But I just can’t like that color. And I love white fireplaces. Painting isnt the problem. What to do with the surround of the fireplace is the issue. It is also a creamy color that I don’t think it will look good with the rest of the fireplace painted white. I would like to tile around the fp opening. The surround is made of boards covered with a vinyl covering that has slightly raised areas — supposed to look like marble I think. It isn’t too rough. What would you think of getting tile to adhere to such a surface? The backing is very sturdy, but again, it is a vinyl. Do you think it would eventually peel off? Thank you for any help you can offer. I enjoyed your DIY lessons very much. Cecelia

    • shelly


      This is for Cecelia-I think you will have to cut a strip off the wall paper from around the fireplace, from our own experience. If wallpaper gets wet it can start to detach. It will get plenty wet when you place tiles. I wonder if anyone else has had a different experience? By the way, I think a white fireplace is striking and gorgeous. Good luck!

  • Nancy Esmade


    Love the tips, it is very well explained. Thank you so much!!

    wall tiler

  • Denise


    Hello,
    Your posts are quite helpful. Is it possible to glue mosaic tile on top of a ceramic tile? The mosaic is 6 x 6 & the ceramic is 16 x 16? I’m trying to create a diamond like design in the center of the larger tile the lazy way.
    Thank you

    • Kit


      It might work with the right adhesive, but I personally wouldn’t do that. I think the best idea would be to take the extra time to cut that larger tile!

  • Gary


    My wife wants me to tile the entire wall around our fireplace. Ive never tiled anything in my life. Currently the wall is dry wall thats been painted over. Thats it. Do I need to use a special type of grout because of the chimney being behind the drywall? Do I put backerboard over the drywall and tile to that? ANY help would be huge. Thank you

  • maria


    info about grouting great and simple to understand remodeled kitchen and contractors putting up glass backsplash they started wiping with wet sponge as soon as they put the grout in told them to wait 30 minutes for the first wipe then an hour after that they said it wasn’t necessary knew they were wrong as i read the instructions on the package will this hurt the grout

  • Brenda


    You totally rocked the DYI ~ I love the way you tell it the way it needs to be. I’m getting ready to put up glass tiles on a backsplash for my Dad. I hope it turns out as good as yours!

  • Sheldon


    We just discovered the small white tiles that are right on the outside of our tub are loose. I can “nearly” get my pinky under it.
    Since we have never worked with bath tile what is needed to get them to adhere again????????

    THANKS so MUCH!
    Rich and Sheldon

  • Sam


    My understanding is that you don’t use sanded grout with glass tiles because quite often the sand leaves noticeable scratches on the glass. Please explain.

  • peter


    That is just plain ugly tile.

    • Kit


      Luckily this post was on how to install wall tile, which you can do regardless of whether or not every person on the internet thinks it’s pretty.

  • Carl


    Loved your article and photos of the tiling… Its bad enough grouting large tiles never mind small ones, the pattern looks good though…

  • diana


    Love your posting! I’ve never titled before. I want to use 3/4″ mosaic tile to do a antique washstand. Currently there is a marble on the backsplash and counter area. I don’t like the colors on it. I would like to remove the marble and put mosaic on it. Do I use plywood? Do I prime before putting tile on it? If I don’t remove the marble I think the washstand will get too heavy. It’s already heavy as it is now. Thank you for any suggestions!

  • gary


    Chuckled all the way through this but enjoyed it just the same. I am building my house in the eastern townships of Quebec and installing three bathrooms which all require tile. I am always on the web looking for tips and such and thank you for your own experiences that I can apply to my projects. Good work, and good luck in all you do! Gary

  • master bathroom renovation


    Many thanks, I like this.

  • Rob


    It seems to be a problem cutting the slim tiles 12×12 sheet with mesh backing on the wet saw.
    when the mesh gets wet all the tiles fall off
    and they loose their adhesive to the mesh.
    Any solution for this?

  • Angel


    Your website is a major trip. Love your writing style. Gonna try itty-bitty tiling and will refer to each and every step of your tutorial along the way…including the interjections. Thx!

  • jayne mellor


    Help. I put vinyl floor tiles on kitchen walls for backsplash. Some wouldn’t stay so I sprayed with 3m rubber & vinyl adhesive, they kept falling off, now 4 months later I’m going to hang real tile-glass and ceramic combination. there is still vinyl on wall. I can’t find any information on what to do. Can I sand this and then tile? I can’t find how to remove the stuff. Or should I sand/prime and hang it? I purchased everything but don’t want to waste my time and money if it won’t work. What do you think? Thanks!

  • iron knight Hack


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  • Trackbacks

  • Trackback from Rethinking The Walls | Blackle Mag
    Friday, 25 July, 2014

    […] you want to try your hand at tiling, check out this tutorial for DIY mosaic tiles. Anything that will adhere to the walls can be applied using this basic […]

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