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How to tile a wall
Create a stunning wall with attractive, practical and durable wall tiles
Tiling is a skilled task but we’re here to help you get the best finish to your wall tiles. Whether you’re tiling a whole bathroom, a shower cubicle, a splashback in a kitchen or a small section around a fireplace, our advice will help you achieve a great result.
Before you begin, it’s important to plan your tiling. Calculating the number of tiles & adhesive you need, preparing the wall and planning out the position of the tiles are all essential factors. Our guide to planning your wall tiles covers all you need to know before tiling.
This guide will walk you through how to lay the tiles. In our example we’re tiling a whole wall with square tiles in a linear tiling design. We’ll explain how to:
- Fix whole tiles to a wall
- Cut tiles for corners and obstacles and apply corner tile trim
- Grout and finish wall tiles
- Seal around the edges of tiling
- Wall tiles
- Filler - if you have any holes in the wall that need filling. If the hole in the wall is larger than the size of your fist, we recommend getting a professional to make the repair.
- Tile adhesive - we recommend ready-mixed tile adhesive to save time
- Tile spacers
- Sanitary sealant - we suggest anti-mould sealant for a finish that lasts
- Grout - we advise ready-mixed grout
- Multi-purpose cloths
- Tile trim - as needed.
- Tape measure
- Chinagraph pencil or felt-tip pen - if required, to mark tiles for cutting
- Tile cutter
- Tile file - if needed
- Hacksaw - if needed, to cut the tile trim
- Grouting tools
- Claw hammer
- Spirit level
- Cartridge gun - if required. Some sealant comes as a trigger gun and doesn’t require a cartridge gun. Check the product instructions for the sealant.
- Sealant smoother
- Wear safety goggles and a dust mask to protect you from flying fragments and sharp edges when cutting tiles.
Once you’ve planned the tiles, prepared the wall and fixed your timber battens, lay whole tiles first by following these steps.
Scoop up some tile adhesive with the trowel and press it onto the wall, starting in the corner formed by the timber battens. Then spread it with the notched trowel, working away from the corner with horizontal strokes. Hold the edge of the notched trowel at an angle of about 45°. The ridges in the adhesive will ensure there’s an equal amount behind each tile, making it easier to get them all level. Try not to work on more than one square metre at a time, as the adhesive could start hardening before you’ve put all the tiles in place.
Choose a suitable tile adhesive for your tiles: for ceramic tiles use a ready-mixed tile adhesive or powder adhesive and a powder tile adhesive for porcelain tiles.
If your tiles are larger than 20 x 20, apply adhesive to the wall and also on the back of the tiles.
Place your first tile into the corner, pressing its edges against the corners and the whole tile firmly against the wall. Then add a tile above it and one next to the original tile pushing them firmly into the adhesive using a twisting action.
Wipe off any adhesive from the tiles with a damp sponge as you go – if you let it dry it’ll be very difficult to take off.
Top tip - applying mosaic tiles
When applying mosaic tiles to the wall, hold a piece of board over the tiles while the adhesive is wet and tap the board lightly with a rubber mallet. This will give the tiles a flat, even finish.
Some mosaics are set at different heights, in which case you should use your hand to ensure they're all individually bedded into the adhesive.
Put tile spacers into the corners between the tiles and adjust the tile positions as and when needed. Push them in firmly and position them flush against the wall so you can grout over them.
Add another tile above the last one you applied, and another beside it. Continue applying the whole tiles in this way until you’ve tiled the area covered with tile adhesive.
Apply another square metre of adhesive and tiles until you have fixed all the whole tiles.
At the edges of the wall, put one leg of the spacer between the tiles so the rest is sticking out – we’ll remove this later before grouting.
Leave to dry for the length of time directed on the tile adhesive instructions.
Remove the vertical timber batten by prising out it’s nails with the claw of a hammer.
Fix whole tiles to the other section of the wall, starting from the corner next to the tiles you’ve already fixed.
Once all the whole tiles have been fixed and are dry, remove the horizontal timber batten.
Now you’ve fixed all of the whole tiles, you’re ready to fill the edges and corners of the wall. Head to ‘How to tile corners’ to find out how to do this.
In this section, we’ll talk you through tiling corners. There are two types of corner – internal and external. These could be corners created by walls or corners created by obstructions:
The corner join between two walls, for example the corner of a room, or the corner created by a door frame.
Outward-facing corner that protrudes into the room, for example the corner of a feature wall or the edge of a window recess.
There’s a different method for tiling depending on the type of corner, and we’ll explain both methods in this section.
Sometimes you may find that you can fit whole tiles across the wall without needing to cut a tile for the corner. If no cuts are necessary, jump to the section ‘How to grout and finish wall tiles’.
In most cases, you’ll need to cut a tile to fit into the corner.
How to measure and mark tiles for cutting
There are two ways to measure and mark a tile for cutting:
Hold the tile you’ll be cutting over the last whole tile in the row. Fit another against the wall and mark where it overlaps the one below with a tile scribe, chinagraph pencil or felt-tip pen.
Take separate measurements at the top and bottom of the space you’re going to fill using a tape measure. Mark the measurements at the top and bottom of the tile. Line up the square with the two marks and draw a line between them with a pencil or felt-tip pen, giving you a vertical line to cut along.
With the marks made, it’s time to cut the tiles. Head to our How to cut tiles article for advice on this.
After you’ve cut the tile, check to see that it fits. If you need to make any small adjustments use a tile file.
If you’re also going to tile the adjacent wall, you don’t have to be totally accurate as the edges will be hidden by the tiles on the other wall.
How to tile internal corners
After you’ve cut the tile, check to see that it fits. If you need to make any small adjustments use a tile file. If you’re also going to tile the adjacent wall, you don’t have to be totally accurate as the edges will be hidden by the tiles on the other wall.
Use the narrow end of a notched spreader to put adhesive on the back of the cut tile. Then press it into place so it’s level with the adjacent tile. Use spacers if you need to.
If you’re tiling more than one wall, move on to the next wall. If not, you’re ready to start grouting and finishing the tiles. For advice on this, jump to our section ‘How to grout and finish wall tiles’.
How to tile external corners
Use tile trims to get a neat finish on external corners. It also helps to protect the edges of the tiles from knocks, which could chip them. The trim comes in a range of materials, sizes, colours and shapes. Here we’re using white ¼ inch external edge tile trim.
Finish tiling your first wall.
Use a tape measure to measure the length of the edge that you’ll be fixing the tile trim to.
Measure the tile trim to the same size and make a mark on it to indicate where to cut. Use a hacksaw to cut the tile trim to the length you need.
Add a narrow strip of tile adhesive to the untiled wall using the notched trowel and press the trim into it.
Line the trim up with the tiles of your first wall. Put two spacers between the trim and each tile (one near the top of the tile and one near the bottom) to make sure there’s a gap for grout.
Put more tile adhesive on the untiled wall with the notched trowel. Add the adhesive vertically from top to bottom to avoid knocking the tile trim out of place with the teeth of the notched trowel.
Start tiling your second wall, working away from the corner trim. As you set the tiles in place, remember to allow a narrow grouting gap between them and the trim. Insert spacers and adjust the tiles as you go, so the gap stays the same and the trim stays in place.
Once the tiles are fixed in place and the adhesive has dried, it’s time to apply the grout.
Remove the protruding tile spacers at the edges of the wall and at corners.
Starting in the bottom left corner, press a small amount of grout onto the face of the tiles with a trowel.
Use a grout spreader, also known as a grout float, to spread it, making long, diagonal strokes and working it into the joints between tiles. Continue until you’ve grouted all the joints. The grout will soon begin to harden, so do this as quick as you can.
If you’re grouting a large area, split it into sections and grout a section at a time. This is to avoid the grout hardening too much whilst you finish grouting the whole area.
Immediately after you finish applying the grout, go over the tiles with a damp sponge (but not too wet as this might cause discolouration) to remove any excess. Take care not to drag any grout from the joints.
Leave the grout to dry. As it does, you’ll notice a powdery film appear on the tiles from all the sponging. Wipe this off with a soft, clean cloth.
Sealing around the edge of tiling is essential to stop water getting behind the tiles, particularly around worktops, basins and kitchen sinks. Water behind tiles can cause damage to the wall, fixtures and fittings. We’ll talk you through sealing the edge of tiling with sanitary sealant.
Attach the nozzle to the sealant and cut off the tip, as directed by the product instructions. If required, put the sealant into the cartridge gun.
Run a continuous bead of sealant, working from one end of the tiled area to the other, from left to right. Try to keep a steady pressure on the trigger of the gun and a consistent speed when you’re doing this.
Smooth any irregularities in the shape of the bead with a sealant smoother (or a wet finger), but take care not to pull the sealant from the surface.
Leave the sealant to dry.