How to Tile a Wall (Great Tips & Techniques for Beginners!)

Tiling is a great option if you’re looking for long-lasting countertops, floors, or walls. Tiles are also usually able to withstand significant scratching and staining. So, for many households, using tiles can be the perfect decorating solution.

Be warned however that learning how to tile is not as straight forward as other decorating projects such as painting. Tiling is a project that should only be attempted by those who have considerable D.I.Y. skills. However, if you’re a beginner who wants to learn how to tile, there are several tips and tricks that can help you. This guide will give you step-by-step instructions on how to tile a wall. With some practice and patience, you should be able to start tiling confidently!

Safety Considerations

Hidden pipes in floors and walls can cause major issues if you’re not careful. Accidentally hammering or drilling through a pipe can be a very dangerous and expensive mistake to fix. Luckily, you can use a pipe detector to easily find any hidden pipes. Simply mark these areas with a pencil to avoid damaging them.

Even once you have identified the pipes, it is a good idea to cut the power and water to the room if possible.

Cleaning Your Surface

Proper preparation is essential to ensure great final results. First of all, you need to remove the old wallpaper, paint, or tiles from your surface. If the surface was previously wallpapered, you can read our wallpaper removal guide before you begin for tips and techniques.

Tile adhesive tends to be very strong. You may need to invest in or hire a wallpaper steamer to help you. Once the adhesive has been softened, you can use a scraper to manually loosen and remove it. This process will be long and requires a lot of time and patience. However, it is worthwhile; the surface needs to be as flat as possible before you start tiling, otherwise, you won’t achieve a good finish.

Once you’re finished, wash the wall with TSP or an ammonia-based cleaner. This is step is necessary to remove any grease or oil left behind on the wall. This ensures the tile adhesive secures to the surface. When you are removing wallpaper or old tiles, your wall may sustain some damage. Usually, this can be done with a filler. However, you might need to skim the surface instead if the damage is significant enough. A full step-by-step guide to the process of skimming a wall can be found here.

Measuring Your Surface

You need to carefully measure the surface that you plan to tile. This will determine how many tiles you will need to purchase. To work out the area of your surface, measure the length and the width. Then multiply these numbers together. Take the area and divide it by the size of the tiles that you have chosen. This final figure will tell you how many tiles you need to buy.

You should also factor in breakage by buying more tiles than you plan to use. Investing in some extra tiles may also save you time and money if you need to replace some tiles later on. Map out your route and pattern before you begin.

Choosing Your Tiles

Before you can learn how to tile you need to learn which tiles are suitable for certain projects. There are dozens of different types of tiles on the market. Each type has different properties and is suitable for different areas of the house. It’s really important to get the right type of tile for your project. Below we have included a list of common types of tile and what projects they are suitable for.

Tile MaterialSuitability
Ceramic or PorcelainBaths (when glazed)
GraniteHigh-traffic floors, countertops
LimestoneCountertops, flooring
TerracottaDry areas (unless it has been glazed)
GlassMosaics, focus walls, low-traffic floors
Natural stoneBathrooms (when treated with a waterproof layer)
TravertineFloors and walls
SlateCountertops, floors, walls

Bathroom tiles

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Grout vs Mortar vs Thinset

One of the most confusing parts of tiling is figuring out the right adhesive to use. These terms are often used interchangeably. However, they all have different purposes and properties. It is important to know what each material does and to use it correctly before you learn how to tile.

Grout is primarily used for filling in gaps between the wall or floor tiles. Mortar is used to bond bricks together during building work. It is made by mixing cement, lime, water, and sand.

Thinset is a specific type of mortar. It is made from cement, fine sand, and a water retaining agent. This allows the cement to become properly hydrated. Thinset will dry evenly and quickly once it has been applied. It will begin to set after around 20 minutes so don’t mix or apply too much thinset in one go.

Choosing the Right Thinset for Your Project

There are various types of thinset on the market which can be used for different purposes. Again, it’s important you find the right one for your project. Walls and floors will need a different type of thinset.

Type of thinsetPurpose
Multipurpose/Polymer modifiedInstalling ceramic tiles on cement floors
Latex modifiedTile installation over vinyl floors or wooden substrates
SandedInstalling tiles on countertops and walls

Source: SF Gate

For walls, you will need to select either a white or a grey thinset, depending on how dark the tiles you are using are. Matching the colours will prevent dark thinset from showing through your tiles. For floors, it’s important that you use either a polymer or a latex based thinset. This will prevent loose tiles and cracks from forming.

Kitchen tiles

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How to Mix Thinset

Follow this step-by-step process and you should make perfectly mixed thinset.

  1. You will need to wear goggles, a mask, and gloves before you start mixing the thinset.
  2. Consult the packet of thinset to find out how much water you will need. Pour roughly 3/4 of the water into an empty bucket.
  3. Slowly pour the thinset into the water (it’s best to get someone else to pour it while you stir the mixture)
  4. Use a hand trowel or a mixing knife to stir the mixture thoroughly.
  5. Mix the thinset all the way through, from top to bottom. It should start to form a paste.
  6. You can test if the thinset is ready by sliding a small amount onto a tile. It should be able to hold it’s shape. If not, you might need to modify the amount of water or mortar in the mixture.
  7. Allow the thinset to rest for around five minutes.
  8. After the resting period, stir the mixture again for a further five minutes.

You should now be ready to use your thinset. Be wary when you are mixing thinset, as it will set quickly, and it thickens considerably. This also means that you need to be careful with the tool you use to mix the thinset. A paint stirrer will be too weak and it is likely to break.

Basic Tiling Techniques

Prepare your tile arrangement before you begin tile. Pay special attention to corners and edges as they will amplify mistakes. Do this by ensuring that the tiles aligned with edges are the same size. You’ll need a power saw or a snap cutter to do this.

Make sure that you apply no more than one square metre of thinset or grout (depending on the surface you are tiling) at a time. Otherwise, it will have dried too much before you get the chance to apply the tiles. If you’re

Take a tile and firmly press it into the adhesive. You might need to slightly twist it in order to affix it to the surface. If you place the tile at a slight angle, you’ll need to rearrange it quickly before it dries.

Countertop tiles

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How to Tile a Wall

If you’re tiling a wall, you will need to use a notched spreader to apply the adhesive. This tool will allow you to spread the adhesive smoothly and evenly in horizontal strokes. It will also help to make your tiles lie flat. Hold the spreader at a 45-degree angle as you spread the adhesive.

Once the adhesive has been applied you can start to place your tiles on the wall. Use the same technique of placing and twisting the tiles described in the ‘basic tiling techniques’ section. Leave an adequate amount of space between the tiles for grout.

To ensure that you create even joints between the tiles, you’ll need to use tile spacers. Adjust the angle as needed. You should firmly attach the angle spacers into the adhesive so that you can grout over them later.

Once you have covered the area with tiles you will need to apply more adhesive to a new area and repeat the process again. Tiling can be a messy process, so you might find that you get some adhesive on your tiles. It is important to clean them up as you go along with a damp sponge. This will be much easier than trying to clean dried adhesive.

Drying and Grouting

Once you have finished tiling you need to wait for them to totally dry. When you are sure that it has completely dried, you can start grouting between the tiles. Mix a small amount of grout at a time. Take a sponge to apply the grout and make sure that it gets right into the corners of every tile. You are likely to get grout on your tiles as you work. So make sure that you wipe off the excess with a sponge as you go along.

You can smooth out the grout before it is dried with any straight tool. To clean up the surface, you will need to use a dry cloth. This will help to polish the tiles. However, you should never wet the grout. Some dust might be produced over the course of the next few weeks immediately after you grout your tiles. Keep wiping the area during this time. Always choose a grout that is a suitable colour for the job.

Are you ready to make your tiling dreams come true? Then click below to get free cost estimates from local pros!

Further Reading

If you’ve been inspired by our ‘How To Tile A Wall’ guide, why not check out our other home renovation guides? For more inspiration and top tiling tips, check out the links to our articles below.

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