How to Install Ceramic Wall Tile

In this home improvement do it yourself renovation post, we will cover in detail how to install ceramic wall tile.

The tools you will need for this DIY project are as follows:

  • Notched trowel
  • Grout mixer
  • Drill
  • Dust pan
  • Medium sized bucket
  • Measuring Tape
  • Level
  • Pencil
  • Grout sponge
  • Wet tile saw
  • Ceramic tile nibblers
  • ear protectors

Ceramic tile comes in a variety of color and sizes; from 1 inch, all the way up to 18 inches. Although most people prefer using 4 inch tile on walls, the most popular size tile is 12 inches. When picking out at wall tile for a tub surround, you need to make sure that the tile is water impervious (water won’t penetrate it). Tiles that are water resistant and repel water are known as semi-vitreous and impervious ceramic tiles.

Preparing the wall for installation

Ceramic tile can be installed on a variety of materials; including drywall, water resistant drywall, plaster and cement backer board. If installing for a tub surround or as a kitchen backsplash, green water resistant drywall or cement board should be used. In this post, we will be illustrating how to install on water resistant drywall.

If using cement board for your project, remember that cement board is cut the same way as regular drywall. Score the drywall with a utility knife, bend and snap it on the line, and cut the backside paper. You must keep in mind that the cement board may come in contact with water; therefore galvanized screws should be used for mounting to wall studs (spaced roughly 6 inches apart). The seams or butt joints are finished by taping with fiberglass tape, and a light coat of thin-set mortar applied as a sealer.

Marking the wall

If you are installing ceramic tile as a tub surround, my suggestion is to work it out that the center of two tiles end up at the center of the shower control, tub spout and shower head. This will make it easier for cutting and less labor intensive. Also, it will reduce the need of using special tools for cutting holes in the ceramic tile. Keep in mind that you want the tile on either end to be somewhat similar in size.

Make a mark where you want the tile to be and mark vertical and horizontal level lines. When marking your horizontal line, ensure that you measure the tile correctly so that the tile is not sitting directly on the top sides of the tub. If the tub happens to shift or move, the tile may crack. To keep the tile off the tub, simply place a tile spacer on either end, between the tub and the tile. See the pic below for a better understanding.

Installing the ceramic tile

When installing the ceramic tile, start at the center point of the shower control and work left and right along the bottom line. Starting in the center, making sure not to cover your lines, apply a coat of pre-mixed tile adhesive to an area for about two tiles. Spread the adhesive with your notched trowel to create ridges in the adhesive. See illustration below to get a better understanding.

Also, if you prefer, you could do what is called “Back buttering” the tile. Each tile is done one at a time, spreading adhesive to the back of the tile and set in place on the wall. See below.

Press each tile in place, giving it a slight twisting motion. This movement ensures that the tile makes good contact with the adhesive.  As you work your way along the horizontal line, place tile spacers between each tile, making sure your grout lines will be consistent. Doing one tile at a time, work from one horizontal line to the next, placing spacers along the way to maintain the grout line.

When you arrive at the corner, measure the size of the tile needed and cut with your wet tile saw. The remainder of the cut tile will be installed on the opposite side of the same corner. As illustrated below.

If and when you arrive at a hole that needs to be cut, take a measurement from the installed tile to the obstruction, and transfer that mark to the ceramic tile. Once this mark is made, use your wet tile saw and make many small cuts from the edge of the tile to the mark. Snap these small pieces off with tile nibblers, and let the tile dry. At this time, the tile should be ready to install. If the edge of the tile is sharp, smooth the edge with 80 grit sandpaper.

It is also very likely that at some point, you will end your tile on mid wall. When installing ceramic tile in this fashion, you must use a ceramic tile finishing strip. These strips are to be installed level, with the adhesive holding them in place. The tile is then cut and adhered over top of the finishing strip, with the tiles factory edge touching the finishing strip.

If you cannot complete the job at one time, do not leave any adhesive sit for too long on the wall. The adhesive will be very difficult to remove and will be almost impossible to install tiles in this area. Using a flat edge putty knife, remove excess adhesive from wall.

Grouting the tile

Once the tiles have all been fully installed and the adhesive has set up (24 hrs), it will be time to grout the tiles. See below.

Depending on the width of your grout lines, you will need to choose either sanded or un-sanded grout. If the spaces between the tiles are bigger than 1/8 inch, use sanded grout (This type of grout contains sand particles that help make the grout joint stronger).

Before you grout your tile, remove all your spacers and remove all excess adhesive that may have been left behind.

Following the manufacturer’s instructions, start mixing the grout. I recommend emptying two cups of grout in the bucket and slowly add water until you get the required consistency. The consistency should be similar to peanut butter or hot oatmeal. See the pic below to get a better understanding of the grout consistency.

Note: If you’re grouting in a bathroom or kitchen area, be sure your grout includes a waterproofing agent.

Using a rubber grout float, apply the grout at a 45-degree angle to the grout lines. Pressing firmly into the grout lines, ensure the grout fills the spaces between the tile and gets all the way down to the bottom of the seams. Working in a 3′ x 3′ area, be sure you get even coverage over all the grout lines.

After all the grout is applied, at a 45 degree angle to the grout lines, wipe off any excess grout with a damp wet sponge and clean the sponge regularly with clear water (as seen in the pic below). When applying grout on a wall, it is a good idea to put a drop sheet down to ensure there will be no grout falling onto the floor or use a dust pan to catch the grout as it falls.

After the grout has set after about 30 minutes, repeat wiping off the tile with the sponge. This may have to be done several times before the grout is completely removed from the surface of the tile.

Finishing the job

Let the grout dry for about 24 hours, and wipe away any surface haze with a damp rag. Make sure to clean the rag continuously until the tile is free of grout haze. If your wall is in a kitchen or bathroom, use clear mildew resistant silicone caulking to seal the edges of the ceramic tile where it meets the counter or top of the tub.

Note: Also, it is a good idea to apply a grout sealer after a week or so. Doing this, will prevent any dirt or stains from getting into the grout and ruining its appearance.

We hope you have enjoyed our DIY post, and wish you Happy Renovations!