Laying your own tile and grout is a hefty DIY project. But when done correctly, it can yield the same results as a professional installation, plus save a ton of money. We've broken down the process into 16 easy-to-follow steps so you can lay your own tile with confidence and ease.
Gather materials. Remove the existing flooring to reveal the plywood subfloor using a crowbar and scraper if necessary. If you suspect existing flooring may contain asbestos, have it tested first. It can be left in place, or you will need to have it professionally removed.
Make sure the floor is level, and shim if necessary. Measure cement board pieces to fit around cabinetry, using a square to mark straight lines. To cut cement board, wear eye protection and use a circular saw, or score along the lines with a utility knife and snap along the scored line. Cut out notches to accommodate pipes or other obstructions using a small handsaw. Arrange the cement board pieces on the floor for a dry fit, staggering seams.
To secure the cement board pieces in place, mix thinset according to package directions. Using a notched trowel, apply a thin coat of thinset to the floor, then place the cement board. (Skip the thinset if you left an asbestos floor in place.) Drill 1 1/4-inch cement board screws spaced every 4 inches into the boards. Check again that the floor is level.
Cover cement board seams with fiberglass mesh seam tape. Using the flat side of a trowel, spread thinset mortar over the tape, smoothing ridges or high spots. Allow thinset to dry.
Establish reference lines for the tile layout. Find and mark the center of the floor with intersecting chalk lines. Measure from the lines to the nearest cabinet to establish layout lines. Snap new chalk lines. Because our 12×24-inch tiles needed to be offset 33 percent, we snapped additional chalk lines for reference.
Begin placing tile for a dry fit using spacers. Using a wet saw and eye protection, cut partial tiles along wall edges. Pull tiles from alternating boxes to get a good mix of pattern and color. Once pieces fit, remove and number to aid in placement after you lay thinset.
Wet the cement board with a sponge to clean and moisten, which helps create a stronger bond. Then mix a new batch of thinset according to package directions in a 5-gallon bucket. Stir thinset with the drill and mixer attachment until the consistency resembles peanut butter. (Mix the thinset a little thicker at first; you can always add more water, but you shouldn't add more mix.) Let rest for 15 minutes.
Plan so you back out of the room as you lay the tile. Working quickly from your starting point, apply a thin coat of thinset to a small area of the cement board. Use the notched side of the trowel and wear gloves.
Use the smooth side of the trowel to apply a smooth coat of thinset to the back of a tile. Place the piece firmly atop the cement board. Repeat with another tile, using tile spacers to ensure uniform placement. Clean any excess thinset with a sponge.
Once the section is filled with tile, move to an adjacent section, repeating thinset application on the cement board and individual tiles. Cut tiles to fit around obstructions such as doorways. Allow thinset to set for the recommended time to ensure a strong bond before walking on it.
After the thinset dries, clean the tiles with a wet sponge. If any thinset oozed up between the tiles, use a joint scraper to remove the dried thinset.
Using a 5-gallon bucket, drill, and mixer attachment, mix the grout, following package directions and adding water a little at a time for a consistency similar to very thick peanut butter. Allow the grout to rest as directed.
Scoop out a chunk of grout. Using a rubber float and gloves, push the grout in a back and forth pattern across a section until the joints are evenly filled between the tiles.
After you have grouted a section of tile, use a slightly damp sponge to remove the first layer of grout haze, taking care not to disrupt the joint line. Continue to grout the floor, moving from small section to small section and removing the first layer of haze as you go.
Allow the grout to dry the recommended time, typically 24 hours. Using a damp sponge and clean water, remove the grout haze, using as many passes as needed.
Apply transition strips where the tile floor ends and another flooring surface begins. Glue or nail into place.
After the recommended curing time (ours was 28 days), apply a grout sealer to joints using a sponge paintbrush. Let dry.