Hard ceramic and quarry tiles can make an attractive floor covering in your kitchen, bathroom, hallway or conservatory. They're hard-wearing and easy to look after, but can be expensive - so take extra care when you're laying them.
Tools & materials required
Wear heavy duty gloves to protect your hands when removing any broken tiles.
Always wear safety goggles and a dust mask to protect you from flying fragments and sharp edges when cutting tiles.
You can lay hard tiles directly onto a dry and level concrete floor. But if you have a timber floor, you'll need to strengthen it first with 13mm-thick exterior grade plywood fixed with countersunk 25mm screws (4mm gauge) or ring-shanked nails, at 300mm intervals.
To clean a concrete floor, it's best to use detergent mixed with water and if your floor is uneven, you'll need to level it. You can lay new tiles over old quarry or vinyl tiles as long as they're securely stuck down, although vinyl tiles should be coated with primer. For the best results, choose a tile adhesive that's specially formulated for the surface you're working on - particularly if you're tiling directly onto wood or concrete.
How many tiles to buy?
Tiles are sold in packs, and the size and number of tiles these contain determine the area of floor they cover. When you're working out the area of your floor, remember to include the dimensions of any alcove or bay and round up the total to the nearest whole number to find out the number of packs of tiles you'll need.
Watch our step-by-step film below showing you the first and foremost stage of tiling a floor; preparation. Get expert advice and top tips to help you complete the job with confidence.
How to position the key tile
As the first tile (or 'key' tile) determines the position of all the others, it's very important that it's in the right place. Rooms aren't often completely square, and the walls may not be straight either. So you can't start by laying tiles right up against one wall and working your way out from there, as you'd end up with an untidy mess. The best way to ensure you get an even design is to start from the centre of the room, and work your way out to the walls in each direction.
First, find the centre of your room. Start at one of the centre lines and dry-lay a row of tiles from the line to the wall. When you reach the wall, make sure you're not left with a narrow gap - a very thin strip of tile at the skirting will look a bit odd and may not stick very well. If you need to, move the line the width of half a tile away from this wall to create a larger gap.
Carry on dry-laying the tiles from this centre line in the opposite direction and then in both directions at right-angles to it.
Adjust the key tile position until there's an equal gap of about half a tile in size around the edge of the room.
How to lay floor tiles
It's best to start with the key tile and work your way out towards one of the walls. You can fix the tiles with a standard floor tile adhesive, but do bear in mind that it needs 24 hours to set before you can walk on your newly-laid tiles.
If you're laying your tiles in a kitchen, you could tile half the room at a time so that your room is not completely out of action. But make sure you've left yourself an exit route so you don't have to step on the tiles.
Top tip - Tile spacers
If you use tile spacers, you'll be able to create even grout lines between your tiles and achieve a professional-looking finish on your floor. The spacers come in different sizes that are suitable for floor and wall tiles. You can use cross-shaped spacers for standard square or rectangular tiles and special Y-shaped spacers for laying octagonal tiles. Try to press them well below the surface of the tile so they don't protrude through the finished grout.
Start in the centre of the room and pour out enough adhesive to cover a square metre of floor. Spread it 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 chalk line to position your key tile. You could nail a guide batten against one line to help measure the first row of tiles.
Put the key tile in position, then twist it slightly. This beds it into the adhesive and makes certain there's no air trapped. Carry on working out towards one of the walls to complete a row of whole tiles - but remember to put plastic spacers between each tile so they're even. From time to time, it's a good idea to check the tiles are level by using a spirit level. If you're laying thick handmade tiles, this might not be possible - in which case you'll need to rely on your eye and judgment. Lay the next row of tiles out from the key tile, working at right angles to the first row. Continue by working in rows in this quarter of the room.
When you've finished the first section, you'll need to repeat the process until all but the cut tiles at the edges are laid. Make sure you wipe the tiles with a damp sponge to remove all the adhesive.
Use a trowel to clean out any adhesive left in the gaps around the walls before it sets. Remember that you'll need to leave the tiles for 24 hours before cutting and laying the edge tiles at the walls.
Watch our step-by-step film below showing you the second stage of tiling a floor, which is actually laying the tiles themselves. Get expert advice and top tips to help you complete the job with confidence.
How to cut and fit edge tiles
Hard floor tiles are thicker than ceramic wall tiles, and to cut them you'll need a heavy-duty tile cutter. You'll find large tiles are much easier to cut than smaller ones. If you're going to use a lever-action flat-bed cutter (see Step 1) you'll need to make a single score line in one go and then snap the tile smartly - if you hesitate, you'll end up with a disappointing result.
To measure an edging tile, place it over the last full tile. Next, line up a third tile on top, with one edge touching the wall. Using the inside edge as a guide, draw a line on the face of the tile below. Try and use a chinagraph pencil rather than an ordinary pencil here, as the latter may stain. Then cut the tile just short of the marked line to allow space either side for the grout and sealant.
Squeeze a layer of adhesive onto the back of each cut border tile and place it in position. You'll need to leave it to set for 24 hours.
How to grout floor tiles
If you want your tiled floor to look good, you'll need to grout it carefully. Start by ensuring there are no lumps by mixing your floor tile grout well with water (it's a good idea to leave most grouts to stand for a few minutes before you use them). For the edges of the room, it's best to use a similar-coloured flexible sealant instead of grout.
When the adhesive has set, mix your grout into a paste with water. If you've got glazed tiles, just pour the grout over them and spread it with a rubber-edged grout spreader. Or if the surface of your tiles is absorbent, mix a very dry grout and press it into the joints one by one - taking care to keep the tiles as clean as you can to stop them from staining.
When the grout starts to set, press and smooth it into all the joints with a striking tool or a wooden dowel. This compacts it and makes it water-resistant. Clean off any excess grout with a damp sponge as you go along.
Your grout will need an hour to harden. Once it's hard, wipe it again with a damp cloth and polish the tiles with a dry one. Then seal around the edge of the floor with a matching flexible sealant. Try not to give the floor any heavy use for at least 48 hours after you've finished grouting.
Part 3 of tiling a floor is grouting, and the video below will give you some guidance from our experts on how to achieve this.
How to lay decorative border tiles
You should count decorative border tiles as your last row of full tiles, and cut plain tiles to fit the gap around the edge of your room. First, lay all the whole, plain tiles and let the adhesive set. Then you can fit your decorative border tiles and cut the edging tiles the next day.
Start by dry-laying all the border tiles. Measure a plain edging tile by placing it on top of the nearby border tiles (aligned with their outer edge). Next, put another plain tile on top, with one edge touching the wall. Using its inside edge as a guide, draw a line on the tile below with a chinagraph pencil. You'll need to cut the tile just short of the line to leave enough space for the grout and sealant.
Always wear goggles and a dust mask when you cut ceramic floor tiles. Not only is it dusty work, but small fragments can also fly up and injure you.
Using a notched trowel or spreader, spread on enough adhesive for a few border tiles and edging tiles at a time. Some manufacturers recommend you wear gloves when using floor-tile adhesive, so check the guidelines on the tin before you start.
Carefully place your decorative tiles in position, making sure they line up with the plain tiles. Then insert spacers between each tile.
Position the plain, cut edging tiles, taking care they're in line with the decorative tiles.
Leave the adhesive to set for 24 hours. Then mix your grout, and spread it over the border and edging tiles with a rubber-edged grout spreader.
When the grout begins to set, smooth and push it into the joints with a striking tool or wooden dowel. Clean off the surplus grout with a damp sponge as you do this. When it's hardened, wipe it off with a damp cloth and polish the tiles with a dry one.
Seal around the edge of the floor with a flexible sealant that matches the colour of your grout. Try not to give the floor any heavy use for at least 48 hours after grouting.