A Complete Guide to Tiling a Bathroom

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In this guide, we’re going to be looking at tiling your bathroom, which you might want to do after you’ve fitted a new bathtub. We’ll look at the tools you need and the methodologies required to do a good job.

If you’ve never tiled before, it makes sense to tile a smaller area (a kitchen splashback, for example) before tackling a bathroom. This will help you get a feel for the job before committing to a larger project. You could even try laying tiles onto a piece of old wood or a coffee table if you’re really nervous.

First things first. You may need some or all of the following tools, depending on your circumstances. If they’re not already in your DIY toolkit, you can buy them fairly cheaply from your local home improvement store or online.

Tools needed for tiling

  • Goggles
  • Spirit level
  • Chisel
  • Hammer (a decent claw hammer will do)
  • Adhesive
  • Grout
  • Spacers
  • Spacer clippers
  • Grout saw
  • Rotary cutter
  • Utility knife
  • Hammer
  • Scraper tool
  • Angle grinder with a masonry wheel
  • Plastering trowel (check out this list of plastering tools)
  • Sandpaper

After all the preparation is out the way, there are four steps to ensuring your DIY tiling goes smoothly:

  1. Prepping the adhesive
  2. Spreading the adhesive with a tiling trowel
  3. Marking the adhesive with the rough edge of the tiling trowel to help the tiles stick
  4. Setting tiles onto the adhesive with spacers and tapping with a hammer to ensure they’re secure.

It sounds easy enough, right?

Tiling onto a newly plastered wall

When a surface has recently been plastered (here’s a beginner’s guide to plastering you might want to read), you need to ensure that it is completely dry before attempting to tile, otherwise, your tiles will be falling off left, right and centre!

To begin with, the surfaces need to be primed to ensure the tiles remain firmly in place. The type of primer needed depends on the type of adhesive you are going to use. If you want to guarantee your tiles will stay in place for the long run, do NOT use PVA before tiling!

PVA is known to sit on the surface of the substrate and only partly soak in, so if the tiles become wet, the PVA will become sticky and the grip inhibited, causing tiles to fall off.

When tiling on a newly plastered wall, your tiles should be a maximum weight of 16kg/m2. If you want to use a heavier tile, it’s advised that you overboard the plaster with a backboard to provide more strength.

Similarly, the type of adhesive which can be used depends on the size of the tile too. If you are using an already mixed adhesive, no preparation/priming is needed. However, large tiles are not recommended. On the other hand, if you are using a cement-based adhesive then priming the surface is essential. An acrylic primer would be best suited for this job, without it two things can happen; no stick at all or the tiles will fall off soon after applied.

Tiling over tiles

When tiling over tiles, there’s a checklist to consider before continuing with the process:

  • Make sure old tiles are in good condition, not chipped or broken, and that they are all sturdily secured on the wall. If not, reinstall those that are not as this will save you time and money in the future.
  • If there are any high spots or points of elevation, these will need to be flattened with the use of a spirit level and an angle grinder with a masonry wheel. This will give the current tiles a rough surface, through the removal of the old glazing.
  • Remove the old grout using a scraper tool.

Once you complete this checklist, apply tiles as normal.

Removing tiles before re-tiling

Removing old tiles can be a dangerous task, with tiles falling and often smashing into extremely sharp pieces! As such, it’s essential to use safety gear as a precaution. You’ll need:

  • Safety goggles
  • Work gloves
  • Cloth on floor to protect other surfaces

The first step to taking off old tiles is to remove the grout with either a grout saw, rotary cutter or a utility knife.

To make your life a little easier, locate a looser tile that falls away with minimal effort.

For this first tile, remove the grout from all sides of the tile until the spacers are visible as this will make it easier for the tile’s to be released. Once this is done, position the chisel underneath the tile and tap with the hammer to ease off the tile.

If this doesn’t work, try heating the grout to soften it, or insert a putty knife to loosen the tile.

Continue chiselling the tiles, however, be cautious as it may destruct into several pieces.

When all tiles have been removed, the surface needs to be made even, with the spacers removed too. This can be done with spacer clippers or by simply sanding the surface down with sandpaper.
This then enables the normal tiling process to be completed.

Tiling patterns

Before you tile a surface, you should have a clear idea about what pattern you want to create. There are many patterns to choose from, all of which are significantly different and suit some rooms better than others.

The four most popular are:

The straight design

This is the most popular option, whereby a grid pattern is created due to the tiles being lined up straight. To achieve this look, ensure that your tiles all have the same batch number to be sure that the colours of the tiles are identical. (A slight colour difference will be visible in a big space.)

The brick design

The brick design is where the centre of each tile is lined up with the edge of the above tile, breaking up the typical straight tile pattern. It is a very simple pattern, but more attractive than the straight design.

The diagonal pattern

Most commonly used in kitchens. The tiles are laid at 45-degree angles to create the diamond shape. It’s also perfect for smaller bathrooms as the diamond shape gives the illusion that the room is bigger than it is.

The herringbone pattern

A great option to make small rooms seem bigger, however, this design can make larger rooms look ‘too busy’.  This pattern creates a ‘V’ shape which is said to invite people into the next room.

The basket weave

A classic 1900’s look. The tiles are rectangular and positioned to create squares. The next sets are laid at a 90-degree angle from the previous, with horizontal and vertical tiles alternating in the following rows. This makes the tiles look like they are woven over and under each other like a basket

Choosing the best tiles and materials

When choosing the best tiles for your bathroom, there are several factors to consider. Firstly, the location. A bathroom is a high moisture area so concrete, ceramic, porcelain, or vinyl tiles will be the best fit.

Next question, do you have children or pets? If so you will need a floor with super wear resistance like ceramic, laminate (read how to lay laminate flooring), porcelain, vinyl tile or carpet. This is due to solid hardwood being easily scratched and hard to maintain.

As with everything, you have to factor in your budget. With a small budget, a basic laminate is recommended, however, if you have money to spend exotic wood such as mahogany or premium laminate would be stunning. If you are on a budget, fitting the tiles yourself will reduce the cost almost by half! If you’re not used to tiling, chose a material like laminate or vinyl as this is easy to fit.

If you have little time to clean, or if cleaning simply isn’t your priority, you should choose flooring which is low maintenance and resilient, such as vinyl, or laminate.

The next factor to consider is colour.

When choosing the colour, make sure you coordinate the tiles with the whole room, including the furniture. Sticking to a neutral colour palette is a good idea when it comes to flooring, as it can last a long time and you can easily update the furniture and accessories.

Having a light floor can make the room seem bigger than it is, whereas darker colours add warmth. Consider how much natural lighting you get as lighter colours reflect the light and can actually make the room look darker.

Choosing a grout

Grout is a liquid mixture of cement, water and sand, which is used to fill gaps and seal joints in between tiles. There are three types of grout that you can use.

Wall tile grout is unsanded and is used for spaces smaller than 3mm as it can be pushed into tighter lines. The issue with this is that cracking occurs when dried due to more shrinkage occurring.

Floor tile grout is sanded and is used on gaps bigger than 3mm. With this being sanded, shrinkage is prevented and there’s less likelihood of cracking. When using floor tile grout, scratching can occur on the tiles due to the sand, so be extra careful with tiles if opting for this grout.

The final grout is a specialist mixture that contains epoxy resins. It is also mixed with a dye which gives it colour. Although this grout doesn’t damage the tiles as it has no sand, is waterproof and more flexible, leading to no shrinkage, it is more expensive than the others, so not the best option for those working with a budget.

With the grout, you can get different colours. Some people opt for the same colour as the tiles as this creates a clean finish, whereas others prefer contrasting grout colours as this can give a dramatic look to the wall/floor.

Hopefully, these tips will be useful for your project – Happy tiling!

Edward Potter, Product Specialist at Victorian Plumbing