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How to lay floor tiles

How to lay floor tiles

Tess, painting & decorating consultant, Brighton

Guide written by:

Tess, painting & decorating consultant, Brighton

63 guides

A popular choice for kitchens and bathrooms, floor tiles are attractive, hardwearing and easy to clean. What's more, tiles are fairly easy to lay – even if you're a DIY novice! However, it's important to prepare your surface properly and follow the right steps. Read on for our step-by-step guide to laying floor tiles.

Important features

  • Preparing to tile a floor
  • Laying tiles
  • Cutting tiles
  • Grouting the tiles and cleaning the grout haze
  • Installing skirting tiles
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Waterproof, shock- and heat-resistant, and easy to maintain floor tiles come in all kinds of colours, patterns and finishes. In short, there's a floor tile for every room! Slip ratings range from R9 for the least slip resistance to R12 and above for the best non slip properties.  

Terracotta

Porcelain

Natural stone

Cement

While natural and environmentally friendly, terracotta tiles must be treated to cope with moisture.

Porcelain tiles are very shock- and wear-resistant. 

Whether you go for marble, granite, slate or quartz, natural stone tiles are elegant and hard-wearing.

Available in a wide range of colours and patterns, cement tiles are really fashionable at the moment.

Steps 

  1. Preparing to tile a floor
  2. Laying tiles
  3. Cutting tiles
  4. Grouting the tiles and cleaning the grout haze
  5. Installing skirting tiles

If you want your floor tiles to sit properly, it is essential to prepare your surface and workspace carefully.

Preparing the surface

  • Before you start tiling a floor, you need to check that your surface is perfectly even. If you have any minor imperfections, a simple coat of filler putty will do. However, if the ground has large hollows and/or any gaps bigger than 5 mm, you will need to patch the floor or you run the risk of your tiles cracking once in place.
  • The floor of the room must be clean, dry and in good shape overall. You may find yourself needing to scrape down the surface in which you can use a scraper tool or a floor sander to get rid of any flaking paint, glue marks and so on. You should then vacuum the floor to get rid of any dust before cleaning away any greasy marks using a specialist cleaning product or some acetone. If you go for the latter, make sure to ventilate the room properly and wear protective gloves.
  • Depending on the type of surface you have, you may need to apply a primer to block pores of the material. This should help the tiles to adhere correctly. Apply the primer using an extendible roller.

Laying out your tiles 

  • In order to achieve a neat finish, the tiles you cut should ideally be hidden from view. This means you'll have to plan where all your tiles will go in advance.
  • Start by deciding where your full tiles will go. Use a crayon and a straight edge or a chalk reel to draw a perpendicular line from the door of the room to the opposite wall. If your door is not in the centre of the wall, draw a line from the centre of the wall instead.
  • Lay out your first row of tiles along the line you drew, making sure to place the tile spacers between each tile where the grout will go. Please note: you should not be gluing down your tiles at this stage!
  • Next, draw a perpendicular line along the ground where your last full tile will go. Make sure that the tiles are at a right angle using a set square.
  • Your first tile will go at the intersection of these two lines.

Preparing your workspace

  • Remove all the tiles and tile spacers you placed on the ground. Take your tiles out of their packaging. It can be a good idea to mix up the tiles so that any slight colour or tone differences between tiles are not as noticeable.
  • Fit your drill with a mixing attachment. Pour your tile adhesive into a bucket and mix with the amount of water indicated in the instructions. Alternatively, you can use a ready-mixed tile adhesive.

  • Use a trowel to spread the tile adhesive along the length of your first line. The adhesive should cover a surface just slightly wider than your tiles; do not to cover up the line with adhesive. Work in lengths of around 1 metre at a time (or about 5 to 6 tiles).
  • Spread the adhesive using a notched tiling spatula held at a 60-degree angle.
  • If you have large tiles, it's best to apply adhesive to both the backs of the tiles and the floor itself.
  • Lay your first tile where your two lines meet. Be sure to position this tile carefully as it will determine where the rest of your tiles end up.
  • Secure your first tile in the adhesive by tapping on it lightly with a rubber mallet. Use a spirit level to ensure it is perfectly level.
  • Place a tile spacer at the corner of each tile to ensure that there is an even gap between each tile.
  • You can then follow the same process for your next tile and the rest of the tiles in your first row making sure to place tile spacers between each tile. Use a spirit level to check everything is level as you work and a straight edge to ensure your tiles are properly aligned.
  • For the next few rows, your adhesive can be spread over a larger surface. Be sure to tap your tiles with a rubber mallet as you work.
  • Once your last row of tiles is down, clean away any adhesive from the edges of the tiles using a damp sponge.

  • To make a straight cut, measure the width of your tile in two places. Mark your measurements on the tile and draw a line where you need to make the cut. Place your tile in a tile cutter ensuring that the line matches up perfectly where the blade falls. Tile cutters can also be used to cut corners off tiles.
  • If you need to make a curved cut (around a wash basin or toilet for example) create a cutting template using cardboard. Draw around the template using a crayon.  Then use tile nippers to cut away the excess material bit by bit.
  • If you need to cut a round hole (for a pipe, for example) use a drill fitted with a hole saw.

  • Leave your tile adhesive to cure for about 24 hours before carefully removing the tile spacers. You may need to use a screwdriver for this.
  • Prepare your grout in a bucket making sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully.
  • Spread the grout over your tiles using a rubber tile float. You will also use the float to get rid of excess grout from the surface of the tiles. Work diagonally to avoid removing grout from the gaps between the tiles.
  • Once the grout has started to harden (after around 10 to 20 minutes), smooth it down using a damp sponge, rinsing it out regularly. Be sure not to press too hard at the risk of creating hollows in the grout.
  • You can then proceed to cleaning the tiled floor using a dry cloth to remove the grout haze. You may need to use a specialist grout haze remover.

Skirting tiles are designed to protect the bottoms of your walls and can be installed before or after you grout your tiles.

  • Spread tile adhesive on the back of your first skirting tile then apply it to the wall. Insert tile spacers on each side. Follow the same process to install the rest of your skirting tiles.
  • Be sure to match the gaps between your skirting tiles to the gaps between your floor tiles.
  • Leave the adhesive to cure for 24 hours before carefully removing the tile spacers. You can then grout the skirting tiles using the same process you followed for the floor tiles.

Required skills 

Taking measurements; using a spirit level; applying tile adhesive; placing tile spacers; cutting tiles using a tile cutter; applying grout; smoothing grout; cleaning tiles.

Time required

2 to 3 days minimum, including curing time.

Number of people required

1 person

Tools and equipment 

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Please note: this is a non-exhaustive list; Be sure to match your personal protective equipment to the job at hand. 

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Guide written by:

Tess, painting & decorating consultant, Brighton, 63 guides

Tess, painting & decorating consultant, Brighton

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