Tile 101: How to Lay Floor Tile

The benefit of snatching a handful of hours over the last week to cut, lay, and grout tile on my basement floor, is that I can now share with you the deep, dark mysteries of laying floor tile. With pictures.

And also my basement floor now looks like this:


Which is considerably better than it looked before, but you’ll have to check back after the weekend for the big “before and after” reveal.

The thing about laying tile is that it’s one of the easiest DIY projects you can tackle, as long as you have the right tools.


  • Tile
  • Premixed tile adhesive
  • Tile spacers
  • Sanded grout


  • Tile Saw (wet)
  • Nippers (yeah, that’s the technical term)
  • Tile Trowel
  • Grout Float
  • Plastic baggies
  • Sponge
  • Bucket
  • Gloves
  • Grout mixer (optional)
  • Knee pads (optional)

These are not my tools:

But they do illustrate the range of options available to you for any type of tile job.

Now let’s get our hands dirty, shall we?

Step 1: Layout

Hopefully you’ve considered what the floor will actually look like when picking out and purchasing the tile. On the other hand, I’ve been know to just buy quantities of tile at random and then find something in the house that needed re-surfacing, so I’m not one to judge.

The pattern possibilities are endless, but here are a few common styles:

Some are easier (straight) than others (diagonal). And some are more forgiving in odd-shaped places or crooked rooms. You should definitely dry-lay some tiles to get a feel for the look you want.

The key to tile layout is to start in the middle of the room. While you might start actually tiling from one corner, you don’t want one side of your room to have full tiles and the other side to have cut tiles, it will look off-balance. Trust me.

Measure your tiles and the grout width you’ve decided on. (3/16″- 1/4″ is pretty standard for 12″ tiles. I used 16″ slate tiles in my livingroom and gave them a 1/2″ grout space.) Then measure your room, and center the full tiles. Split the difference of the leftover space so that you have a 3″ strip of tile (or whatever your width is) on both sides of the room.


This part takes almost as long as actually laying the tile, but it’s worth it. I recommend using your grout spacers when dry-laying the tile so you get accurate dimensions.


Step 2: Cutting (Tiles, Not Fingers)

Unless you really lucked out with the dimensions of your room, you’re going to have to do some cutting starting with the first piece of tile you lay. They make hand tools for this, but you really need to rent or buy a wet saw to do this right.

You can get a basic model for a reasonable price ($60-$70) at your local big box. (You can also spend a lot of money on a fancy one — and lord knows I would– but my cheap $60 model has worked fine for the last 5 years.)

Start by measuring the pieces you need (or the notches you need to cut out). For notching, I like to use a dry-erase marker right on the tile. It washes off as you’re cutting.


For cutting a piece in half, it’s pretty easy– measure and run it through the saw.


Why yes, that is snow. There’s nothing like using a wet-saw in 25-degree weather. In March. LOVE the midwest.

Back to the topic at hand… if you need to notch a piece, make cuts to the depth of the notch every half inch or so, then use your nippers to remove them.


I usually only cut the pieces I need for a couple of rows at a time, that way if I run into something unforseen–or that I measured wrong (which never happens)– I don’t have a ton of waste. Also, there are only so many pieces of tile you can cut with wet fingers in below-freezing weather.

Step 3: Adhesive is Just a Fancy Name For Glue

Let’s just say the tile needs to be stuck to your floor somehow. Some professionals may be rolling their eyes at the fact that I just stuck the tile right to my concrete basement floor. Technically, and particularly if you’re tiling on wood sub-flooring, you need to lay fiber-cement board down to minimize expansion and contraction in the floor. And mildew. Cracks and mildew are bad.

However, I’m a risk taker and expect the expansion issues will be negligable on the concrete floor. Or at least, it’s nothing that is going to be helped by fiber-cement backer.

Gluing (sounds better than adhesive-ing, which is not actually even a word, apparently) consists of adhesive and the tile trowel.

Make sure to read the label of the adhesive, you may need to get a particular mix for tiles over 12×12. The size of notches in the tile trowel is also dependent on the size of tile you are using. 1/4″ is fairly standard.

Then, smear…


Don’t skimp. Nice even lines. No bare spots. Then stick down the tile, and press it into the adhesive.


Using your spacers as you go…


Also, don’t “paint yourself into a corner” here, because once you stick the tile down you don’t want to step on it for 24-ish hours. Maybe 12. But certainly not right away.

Step 4: Grout is Just a Fancy Name For Mud

I almost always use sanded grout, because I’m a traditionalist. Or stuck in my ways. Regardless, it’s good for bigger grout spaces, but worked just fine in the 3/16″ grout lines I left in this tile.


Mixing grout is not tricky, but you should always add just a little bit of water at a time. Never just dump a cup of water into the bucket and start stirring.


Every time you’re going to say to yourself “no possible way this is enough water” but you’re wrong. And if you put in what you would think would be the right amount, you’ll be left with muddy soup. Then you’ll have to add more grout. And the more water. And then more grout. Next thing you know, you’re entire basement is going to be one big vat of mud. Trust me.


This is good consistency, but I add a sprinkle more water to make it easier to use my baggie trick. Sprinkle. Did you hear that? Like maybe two tablespoons. Not half a cup.

Then… this is my top-secret grouting trick… take a sturdy plastic baggie (the cheap-o ones wont last long) flip it inside a cup…


…and fill it a little less than half way with grout.


Then twist the end like a pastry bag, and snip off the end.


You can also buy one of these, but really… who doesn’t like to be the MacGyver of tile sometimes?

It usually takes a couple of baggies to get through a floor. They start to wear out after a few refills.

The nice thing is that it allows you to place the grout right where you need it and make sure it gets down in the cracks.


You want to squeeze out a little more than you actually need, so you can press it into the spaces real well. (You usually end up using the extra at the corners.)

Then use your float, not your fingers, to fill the spaces and clean up any excess.



You can clean your float every time you swipe it, and it would probably be less messy, but it all cleans up with a sponge anyway. Maybe you don’t know this about me, but I don’t do extraneous cleaning.

You want to let the grout set for a little bit of time. My system is to let the grout set about 30-60 minutes and then go over it with a damp sponge to clean up all the mess.


Then let it dry for a few hours and swipe it again.


At which point you should be pretty clean.

The grout should completely set in 24-48 hours. Usually the color will lighten up a bit.


Once the tiles dry you can go over them again with a dry cloth or sponge (or your own personal engineer’s sock, um, not that I would do that) to get rid of any “grout haze” that is left over.

And seriously, it’s that easy.

Kind of makes you wonder why they invented vinyl flooring in the first place, doesn’t it. At $0.72 per square foot, this floor was cheap, easy, and a huge improvement over the gray concrete.

Have any of your own tile tricks or techniques? Let me know!

63 Responses

  1. Great tutorial. If you’ve never tiled before, the thought of laying tile is pretty intimidating (I was pretty scared!), but I think you did a good job of showing just how easy and non-intimidating laying tile is. I remember being surprised at how easy it really was when I learned. I also noticed you didn’t mention anything about sealing the grout lines – is that something you usually do/don’t do?

  2. Good point Chelsea! It’s something I haven’t done yet to this floor. (And honestly, I’m not that consistent about it in gerenal.) The one place I am careful to seal my grout lines is on the tile countertop in my kitchen.

    Also, if you’re using stone tile (like slate) I seal the whole thing, tile and all… it gives a much better look!

  3. Ditto the “great tutorial” comment! Very simple to understand and quite informative.

    I wish laying tile in our basement was this easy. The concrete floor is wavy (over 1″ difference in places) and being such a pain in the ass. We’re currently debating between trying self-leveler ourselves and hiring someone to do it for us (gasp!!). My pride says DIY but then I think of how much faster hiring someone do it would be. Ever used self-leveler?

  4. Carrie- Funny, self-lever sounds like a pain in the ass to me too! I’ve been telling myself I WILL do it when it comes to putting floor heaters in the bathrooms of the new house, but a whole basement?

    I’d get a quote on it first and see how much it costs. THEN decided if it’s worth it to try it yourself. I mean, it doesn’t have to be perfect, you could get it within a 1/4″ and then fudge it a little with your tile by building up the adhesive in the low spots.

  5. Dry erase marker? Genius! I’m also intrigued by the grout baggie. I never would have thought of that.

    You are so awesome, wet-sawing in the snow. We’re getting temps in the 40s this weekend in WI, I’m breaking out my bikini!

  6. OMG!!! I just saw this site for the first time and I busted out laughing at work with all those funny comments during the step-by-step process. I work late and it is usually very quiet, and OMG, you are too funny.

    Will most definitely come back and peruse the site some more on my off time. Congrats, Great job!!!

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Short and to the point without a stupid video with an advertisement first. Now I have the confidence to go do this 160 sq ft right. Here I go!

  8. Good tips. Any issues come up regarding the laying tile directly on the cement floor? I’m planning on a similar project in my new basement bathroom (tiling directly on the cement floor). How can I tell if its uneven?

  9. Oh what a relief! The whole blah blah blah details have given me such peace that I’m ready to tackle my bathroom. My brother is a “professional” with tile, brick and stone, but too busy, and I’m sick of waiting around from him. Now I feel like I can do it myself, without asking him 100 ridiculous questions that would come with rolled eyes and sighs. Bathroom floor, here I come! Thanks!

  10. Great information on tile laying. Thanks.
    One point. Don’t forget to seal the grout after giving it time to dry. Unsealed grout will pick up all sorts of damp and wet stains.

  11. You are the first female DIY tile instructor I’ve seen. Also the only one with humor and the pastry bag idea for grout! Thank you, thank you. You’ve helped me get over my intimidation for my first tiling project.

  12. Appreciate the tips and the encouragement. I’m tiling a basement bath which was previously covered with self-adhesive vinyl tiles. Removed the vinyl tiles but discovered a coat of adhesive that’s literally impossible to remove from the cement. REALLY impossible. I’ve tried scraping until my knees bled…I’ve used one of those reciprocating tools (helps but still doesn’t get 100%)…nearly asphiphixated (sp?) myself with paint remover. Can I still do the tile and quick-set thing?

    1. I have exactly the sme problem – even worse because some of the adhesive may contain asbestos. How did you resolve your problem? I notice your note was posted in 2013, a couple of years ago. I don’t understand Glen’s response to you “grind the remaining adhesive”

    2. I notice his was posted a long time ago but I didn’t see an answer that seems positive about a workable solution.since the question is still relevant I would suggest using trisodium phosphate- (box branded TSP) and follow all the precautions directions very carefully and to the letter. It should remove any adhesive no matter how long it’s been there, but it will also peel your skin off of your your body for four or five months afterwards if you don’t follow the directions about not coming in direct contact with bare skin, gloves are not optional. I used it to take off old adhesive from a tile floor and laminate on a hardwood subfloor in an 80 year old house. I use the TSP to strip the floor and then I used one coat of urethane to cover it. One application took everything off that floor that wasn’t supposed to be there and some of my skin is so really be careful if you use it.

  13. This is by far the BEST DIY site I have come across. My fiance and I bought a huge flat in South Africa,but she is not happy with the tiling in then bathroom,so I will have to redo everything. I am kind :off excited and nervous at the same time,since it will be my first time trying to tile. With the info I got here,I am confident that everything will to smoothly. THANX ALOT YOU GUYS!!!

  14. Hello,
    You don’t have to dry lay tile anymore to get the best layout. I have developed a method to print full size tile including grout lines, in continous lengths of 12 ft to 16 feet long. As example: To lay 12 in tile in a diagonal pattern, simply lay a strip of the template on the floor in one direction wall to wall, and lay another across the first in the opposite direction overlapping at the center. Tape the two pieces togeher and adjust in either direction to get the best layout. Use the template to cut around a stool flange in the bathrm. Very simple and easy to use. For intricate layout patterns keep the two strips of template taped together for easy reference. Please visit my website to see the templates.
    Thanks, Bob

    1. Visit http://www.tiletemplate.net for templates to layout your tile project. Very simple and easy to use. Templates of actual tile sizes make it easy for you to visualize your tile project before you lay your tile. The quilt diamond pattern can be used as a highlight for the center of your floor or wall tile project. The templates are designed for the do-it-yourselfer and the pros. Tiletemplates make it easy to layout your project for success on your first attempt at laying tile.
      Thank you for your comments,

  15. I am putting down tile for the first time today. My husband thought I was a genius when he saw me using your notch and nip method. Of course I gave you the credit, but it still felt good to know how to trim out those tricky spots without having to sit for an hour with the hand saw. Thank you so much for the tips!

  16. I just read the other comments. Self leveler was easy. I needed about 1/4″ around my kitchen. I bought a couple of sheets of 1/4 concrete board, cut it into 1 1/2″ strips and screwed them around the room. I then mixed and poured the leveler into the frame I had made a little at a time. I used a trowel to smooth it into the corners and edges. Then once everything was completely set, I used my multi-tool’s grinder attachment and evened out the concrete board to the right height. My only real tip is, don’t pour too fast or all in one spot.

    You don’t have to make the frame, but it was a tip from the place I got my tile from to make sure I was getting the right amount poured down. Then if I didn’t have enough, I could add more leveler to the already dried part.

  17. Excellent points, thank you all! I didn’t see any mention of how to prep the cement floor where two sections of floor were poured separately. The gap on my floor is about 3/16 between each other. I guess my fear is that the floors would start moving and cause cracking…

    1. If it was meant to be an expansion joint, it might. I’m not sure if there’s anything you can do about that, any concrete slab over a certain size that is exposed to a good deal of water or temp changes needs an expansion joint to “crack” on, or it will just crack where it’s weakest. If it’s interior (not a garage) it might be okay. Most basements don’t have them.

  18. Is there some sort of quarter round that goes against the wall when you are done. I’m doing tile in 2 bathrooms and by a backdoor that is too wet for pergo. What should I use against the walls and to breach the pergo tile boundary?

  19. Before I saw this site, I intended to use thin set mortar–in my two small bathrooms (we just bought a house and they had carpet, eww.) but decided to try mastic once I saw this nice project, since thin set was such a pain to mix.

    Here’s my question: I bought the mastic for big tiles, (up to 18″, mine are 13″) followed everything to the letter on the packaging, used it and it was easy on. But now it has been over a week and when I step on the tiles I can hear that the adhesive is not dry under the tile!

    I checked other DIY blogs and they ALL say don’t use mastic on big tiles and tell horror stories of not letting the mastic set completely and tiles breaking and lives being ended… and I that I should tear it all out and start again… etc.

    But this project is large tiles… Is there some trick to get it dry? When can I get my toilets back?

    Please help!

    1. I never use pre-mixed on floors, just doesn’t hold up over time. I use the latex modified mortar, can get it on sale for $10 for a 50# bag, waay cheaper so u have plenty of money left over to buy a 5 gal. Bucket and a drill mixer. The “glue” is ok for wall tile but to me it’s a waste of money.

      If you’re going to do a lotta tile def. buy a good tile cutter. U can get a Rubi @ HOME DEPOT for $150 which will cut up to 18″ on a diagonal. One quick swipe and a tiny bit of pressure and the tile is snapped clean. I used a wet saw for years and just bought this cutter for my last tile job and I’m pissed I didn’t get this thing years ago.


  20. Wanting an opion on cutting 13×13 porcelain tile down to 12×12 and some other sizes also to use in the field? Trying to lay a versaille pattern and cannot find a tile I like with all the sizes I need.

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  26. I just called a professional for a quote and its $2-$2.50 a SQ FT! That is more than the tile itself… needless to say this will be a DIY project. We are lucky to know where to find tile from .29-.89 per sq. ft. meaning it shouldn’t cost more than $2000 to tile my WHOLE house… not that I will but still!

    Oh, and the guy told me that he would lay the tile right over concrete… so I’m sure there isn’t a problem with it.

  27. I am about to start tiling my basement bathroom…never tiled before….the floor in there used to be vinyl flooring (linoleum) on top of concrete. Through our renovations in the basement, some of the linoleum has been removed, while some just won’t come off. We have also jackhammered some of the floor out to re-route the drainage in the floor. So, my question is, do we need to remove the rest of the vinyl by grinding it off? Do we need to be sure there are no bumps in the area of the floor that we poured concrete back in after we re-routed the drainage? Or can we just use the mortar to level it all out and lay the tile?

    Thanks in advance for your input as my husband and I are disagreeing about grinding the vinyl off and being sure it is all even and smooth before we start laying tile 🙂

    1. Depending on how comfortable you are with tiling, you can make up some of the difference as you lay the tile, but only within 1/8-3/16 of an inch or so. I think past that things will get a bit dicey… it’s definitely easier to work with a well-prepped flat surface than mess with fixing it as you go BUT it’s not impossible.

  28. I loved the grout idea, this time I paid a guy to rebuild out bathrooms that included tile, so he is doing it but, he did not use spacers so there are a few uneven lines, not many and looks great over all I am going to get the saw and nippers for Christmas and do the front porch as my first tile job, great site you gave me the will to try it.

  29. Hi there,

    We are preparing to tile our flat, and found your article above very helpful.

    The floors are currently vinyl tiles which are already loose due to age… Can you maybe give a tad of advice on floor prep? If there is not much glue residue left behind, will a scrape and a scrub be enough?

  30. Add me to the list of thank yous.

    If the internet had more informative sites like yours (and less crap), the world would be a better place.

    You balance brevity and humor, while including solid INFORMATION, far better than most.

    Keep up the great work.

  31. Hi there. I do general construction for a living. Mostly remodels. I am fully aware of how to set tile. My current employer is upset with the pace of his employees floor tile setting. Does anyone have an average tile setting speed for one guy in an 8-hour shift…including setup and cleanup time? We are currently setting 6″ X 24″ tile on a concrete floor that has about a 1/4″ variance. We figured one person is setting one tile every 7-8 minutes. Is this considered snail pace or what?

  32. I will be installing tile on kitchen floor and bathroom. They had install lino on both floors. Do I have to remove the glue they use, its quite heavy on some parts of the floor. If I do what is the best way to remove it, the floor is concrete.

    1. I don’t think the glue itself would interfere with long-term adhesion BUT you should have a a fairly flat surface to install your tile on. I would definitely remove the glue to get a flat surface to install the tile to. Best of luck!

  33. Thank you for the help. I am hoping to lay tile in my bathroom soon, but I was not sure what tools I may need. I had not entirely thought about needing a tile saw. Is that an absolute necessity?

  34. Hi!
    Just found your blog. Awesome!! Makes me feel like I can do anything!! I had my tiles installed 8 yrs ago. I had no idea of any types in floor or tools etc. Well. A year after it was done someone told me I needed a stair nose piece, which the installer didnt put on. So the tile is right to the edge of my top step. Fast forward to now, whats a good tool to cut into tile that wouldnt crack the ecisting tile so I can put stair nose? Want to try to do this. Thanks

  35. Hi!
    Just found your blog. Awesome!! Makes me feel like I can do anything!! I had my tiles installed 8 yrs ago. I had no idea of any types in floor or tools etc. Well. A year after it was done someone told me I needed a stair nose piece, which the installer didnt put on. So the tile is right to the edge of my top step. Fast forward to now, whats a good tool to cut into tile that wouldnt crack the existing tile so I can put stair nose? Want to try to do this. Thanks

  36. Loved your easy step by step tutorial! I was if-y about calling a professional to get the tile flooring done but you motivated me to try it myself (along with the hubby of course) lol. Your baggy ideas is amazing! Starting on the project today, wish me luck!

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