Installing tile is a smart and stylish option for many areas of your home, though its popularity truly peaks in the bathroom. A DIY tile job is a great way to make a bathroom upgrade even more affordable, but before you get down to business to defeat the tile, you should know that laying tile in a bathroom can be one of the trickier DIY jobs to accomplish. Good thing we’ve put together a handy list of everything you need to know to lay that tile with all the force of a great typhoon.

Plan for mistakes when laying tile in a bathroom

Installing Tile Tip #1: Give Yourself Leeway for Mistakes

Laying tile in a bathroom is one of the more difficult projects that a DIYer can take on. This is because tile is a tricky material to work with. It’s easy to crack tiles while cutting them or when you need to pull them up and straighten them before the adhesive dries.

So, when you’re deciding how much tile to buy, be realistic with yourself about your likelihood for making mistakes. Carefully measure the area you need to tile, and then plan to buy at least 10% more tile than that. This way, you’ll have ample extra material on hand to account for mistakes, rather than stalling in the middle of the job because you’ve run out of tile.

dumpster sizes

Installing Tile Tip #2: Plan Ahead for Cleanup

Unless you’ve just built your house from scratch, chances are you’re going to be installing tile over an area that’s already covered with outdated tiles. Obviously, you’ll have to tear out those old tiles, but while you’ve probably planned out how you’ll stage Operation Tear-Out, you may not have taken the next, necessary step of planning Operation Mess Away.

If you’re only planning a small DIY tile job—just the bathroom floor, for example—you can probably get away with simply bagging up the debris.  However, if you’re laying tile over your entire bathroom—floor, walls, and shower—you’re looking at a mess that’s too big to bag up.  In this case, you should consider a dumpster rental to make cleanup a quick and efficient process. The less time you have to spend hauling away old tile on your own, the faster you can begin enjoying your newly updated bathroom.

Installing tile is easier on the right surface.

Image: Justynlivingston

Installing Tile Tip #3: Tile Over the Right Surface

Many DIYers assume that as long as the surface they intend to cover is flat and in good shape, they’re good to start laying tile over it. In reality, this is one of the quickest ways to botch the job before it’s even begun. Tiles cannot be applied to bare drywall—they won’t adhere properly, causing the tiles to sit loosely in the grout. Loose tiles not only look sloppy, but can easily crack or fall out entirely. Before laying your tile, install a cement backer board or other tiling-approved material to the surface in question. This will ensure that your tiles adhere properly for a sleek, polished look.

Uneven subfloor will cause uneven tile.

Photo by and (c)2007 Derek Ramsey

Installing Tile Tip #4: Make Sure the Subfloor is Stable 

As with walls, when you’re planning on laying tile on your bathroom floor, you need to be sure the subfloor you’ll be covering is up to the task. A loose subfloor might be okay to install carpet over, but not a brittle material like tile. The shifting of the subfloor every time sometime walks in the bathroom will cause the grout to crack and your tiles to loosen. There’s no solution to this problem but to tear up your tiles, fix the subfloor, and lay new tile again. Save yourself a ton of wasted time and money and thoroughly inspect your subfloor before laying tile in a bathroom.

Installing tile over a rough surface is a bad idea.

Installing Tile Tip #5: Do the Right Prep Work

As we’ve covered above, one of the most important aspects of any tiling job is to ensure that the surface you’re covering is set up to do the job right. Make sure that the surface is free from adhesive residue or residue from any other type of coating left behind from past tiling jobs. If you find residue, sand it away. Also be on the lookout for any raised areas on the surface that will need to be sanded level. At the same time, fill in any low areas you find with cementitious compound.  A smooth level surface will ensure that installing tile is as simple a process as possible and that the end result will look polished and professional.

Adhesive must be waterproof when laying tile in a bathroom.

Installing Tile Tip #6: Make Sure Your Adhesive is Waterproof

It’s so obvious that it’s easy to overlook: when you’re laying tile in a bathroom, you need to be triple- sure that the adhesive you’ve chosen is waterproof. Ask at the store before you purchase it. Double check while you’re in line at the checkout. Triple check on the walk back to your car. Otherwise, you’ll be tiling up a recipe for leaks and mold that can’t be fixed without removing the tile you worked so hard to lay.

Too much adhesive will break tiles.

Installing Tile Tip #7: Don’t Overdo It on the Adhesive 

Ensuring that your tiles adhere firmly to a surface is key to a professional-looking tile job. With that in mind, DIYers tend to add extra adhesive to the backs of tiles, usually by dotting each corner. While their intentions are good, this can actually cause problems down the road. Adhesive naturally contracts as it dries, and the key to a good bond is an even layer of adhesive on all parts of the tile. Extra adhesive on the corners of the tile will put added pressure on those areas as the adhesive shrinks, putting the tiles at risk of cracking. Always use an even layer of adhesive while laying tile and trust it to do the job it’s made for.

Don't let excess grout dry before wiping it away.

Installing Tile Tip #8: Grout On-Grout Off

When you grout a large area, or worse, a whole wall, at one time, most of that grout will begin to dry before you reach it. This will cause you to end up with an uneven tiling job. Grout should always be applied in small sections, so that you have ample time to lay your tiles properly before it sets. While you’re working in your small sections, you should also take the time to immediately wipe away the excess grout that bubbles up over your tiles. If you wait until the job is done and the grout has started to dry, this will obviously be much harder to do, leading to either more work on your part or a sloppy looking finished product.

Seal the tub after installing tile.

Image: W.baermann

 Installing Tile Tip #9: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

When you’re finally done laying tiles in your bathroom, you’re going to want to high five yourself in the mirror for completing such a challenging project. But there’s still one more task you need to take on. You need to make sure that you seal the space between the bottom row of tiles in your shower and the bathtub. If left unsealed, water can leak through, which can lead to mold and other issues. Seal it up and start the party!

There you have it! Go forth and get busy installing tile like you were born for the job. For more DIY tips, check out our DIY home improvement guide!

Need a dumpster to clean up old tile? Find the lowest dumpster rental pricing in your area.