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How to lay floor tiles

Lay floor tiles

Our step-by-step guide to laying floor tiles.

Ceramic, quarry and natural stone tiles such as porcelain, marble, granite and travertine, make an attractive floor covering in kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, living rooms or conservatories, and they are easy to care for and hardwearing.


Before laying the tiles it is important to prepare your existing floor, calculate the correct quantity of tiles to buy and position the key tile. All this information can be found in the the leaflet 'How To Plan Your Wall And Floor Tiling'.

Tile spacers
Using tile spacers will give even grout lines between the tiles and a professional-looking finish to the floor. They come in different sizes suitable for floor and wall tiles. Press them well below the surface of the tile so that they do not protrude through the finished grout.

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Laying hard floor tiles

Start with the key tile and work out towards one of the walls. Fix the tiles using a standard floor tile adhesive. When you have finished, you must let the adhesive set for 24 hours before you walk on the newly laid floor tiles. If you are laying them in a kitchen, tile half the room at a time so the whole kitchen is not out of action, and check you have left yourself an exit passage so you don’t have to step on any tiles.

Top Tip: Always buy 10% more tiles than you will need to allow for breakages. To avoid shading variation buy all your tiles at the same time so they come from the same batch. When you are ready to start laying your floor, take all the tiles out of the packs and mix them up, then dry-lay them in position to ensure any colour variation looks attractive.

1 Starting in the centre of the room, pour out enough adhesive to cover about a square metre of floor. Spread the adhesive evenly using a notched trowel or spreader. The ribbed pattern leaves just the right amount of adhesive to make the tiles stick. Make sure you can still see enough of the starting line to position the key tile. If you wish, nail a guide batten against one line to help align the first row of tiles.

2 Place the key tile in position, giving it a slight twist to bed it into the adhesive. Continue working out towards one of the walls to complete a row of whole tiles, fitting plastic spacers between them so they are evenly spaced. Check from time to time that the tiles are level using a spirit level. If they are not level, knock lightly with a rubber mallet to level them. Lay the next row of tiles out from the key tile, working at right angles to the first row. Continue working in rows in this quarter of the room.

3 When the first section of the room is complete, repeat the process until all but the cut tiles at the edges are laid. Wipe the tiles regularly with a damp cloth to remove adhesive.

4 Using a trowel, clean out any adhesive remaining in the gaps around the walls before it sets. Leave the tiles for 24 hours before cutting and laying the edge tiles at the walls.

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Cutting tiles

Hard floor tiles are thicker than ceramic wall tiles, and to cut them you will need a suitable manual tile cutter or an electric cutter. Large tiles are easier to cut than smaller ones. An electric cutter is required if you need to cut an 'L' shape to fit around a corner.

Electric cutters
An electric cutter with water lubrication is more expensive but will give perfect results every time. It will also cut corners from a single tile and make cutting curves easier. Replacement wheels are available to suit the precise material that you are cutting such as high-glaze.

Manual cutters
If you do use a manual type cutter, refer to the instructions on the cutter you are using to give best results.

Cutting and fitting edge tiles

1 To measure an edging tile, place it over the last full tile; align a third tile on top, with one edge touching the wall; use the inside edge as a guide to draw a line on the face of the tile below. Use a tile marker rather than an ordinary pencil, which may stain. Cut the tile just short of the marked line to allow space either side for the grout and sealant.

2 Apply adhesive to the back of each cut edge tile. Place the edge tiles in position, level and aligned with the tiles you have already laid, and leave to set for 24 hours.

Safety first
Always wear goggles and a dust mask when cutting tiles. Not only is it dusty work, but small fragments can fly up and cause injury.

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The finished look of a tiled floor depends on careful grouting. Use floor tile grout and mix it thoroughly with water, making sure there are no lumps, or use a ready mixed grout. Most grouts are best left to stand for a few minutes before use. Around the edge of the room use a similar coloured flexible sealant instead of grout. Always follow the instructions on the packaging.

1 When the adhesive has set, mix the grout into a paste with water. If the surface of the tiles is glazed, you can tip the grout over them and spread it with a rubber-edge grout spreader, as in the diagram, or a grout float. If you are laying natural stones or the surface of your tiles is absorbent, you should use a chemical sealant before and after grouting, to ensure no grout is absorbed into the tile. Then mix a very dry grout and press it into the joints one by one, taking care to keep the tiles as clean as possible to avoid staining. Also remember if you cut any tiles, your edges will need sealing too.

2 When the grout begins to set, press and smooth it into all the joints with a grout finisher to compact it and make it water-resistant. Clean off the surplus grout with a damp sponge as you proceed.

3 Leave the grout to harden for about an hour, wipe it again with a damp cloth and then wipe the tiles with a dry cloth. Seal around the edge of the floor with a matching flexible sealant. Avoid giving the floor any heavy use for at least 48 hours after grouting.

Decorative border tiles
Count decorative border tiles as the last row of full tiles, and cut plain tiles to fit the gap around the edge of the room. Lay all the whole, plain tiles and allow the adhesive to set, then fit the decorative border tiles and the cut edging tiles the next day. Start by dry-laying all the border tiles.

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Ideal for the job

Notched trowel
Use the smooth side of this rectangular tool to spread the tile adhesive on the floor. Then draw its notched or serrated edge back through the adhesive to form ridges that leave the correct amount of adhesive needed to secure the tiles.

Electric tile cutter
Suitable for very thick and hard tiles, an electric cutter gives perfect results every time, thereby reducing wastage.

Grout float
A large grout float is the fastest and easiest way of grouting your tiles after they have been fixed. The flexible rubber base allows you to work the grout into all the gaps quickly before the grout starts to set.

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