How to Tile a Wall: A Guide for First Time Tilers

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In this beginner’s guide to tiling a wall, we’ll be looking at the most important parts of any tiling job so you can go into it with your eyes open. We’ll start with planning and move on to the job itself. Scroll down in you want to skip the planning part.

If you’ve never fitted tiles before and really want to try it, tackle a smaller job before taking on an entire bathroom or large kitchen wall. This will help you get a feel for the process.

If you don’t fancy the idea of working on your house, buy a backer board (a substrate material designed for laying on uneven floors or walls to accept tiles) or use a piece of wood and lay some tiles on that – just to get a feel for the process and using the tools.

Always start with a plan

Before you start tiling, you’ll need a plan. This should cover:

  • Choosing the tiling pattern you want to use
  • The number of tiles needed to complete the job
  • The amount of tile adhesive and grout needed to complete the job (the coverage area will be displayed on the packaging)
  • Additional materials such as beading, spacers etc
  • The tools needed to do the job (there are lists for each stage of the process further down the page)

Creating a plan helps you think about every eventuality so you can do the job in one go. Without taking the time to create a plan, you could find yourself short of materials (inc tiles!) when the day comes to finally tile your kitchen, bathroom or shower cubicle.

And you don’t want that.

Especially if you bought the tiles weeks or months in advance. If you run short, even by a couple, it’ll be hard to find an exact match if the shop has sold all the tiles with the same batch number as yours.

Choosing a laying pattern for your tiles

There are so many patterns to choose from it’s hard to know where to start. Knowing the pattern you want to use will help you calculate how many tiles you need.

The most popular option is the square tile fitted in a linear pattern with a 2mm or 3mm gap between each one (you use tile spacers for consistency). It’s functional and looks nice.

And while the pattern might seem a little run of the mill, an attractive colour scheme and creative layout will make a standard linear pattern come alive. For example, you could use alternate colours to here and there to add a bit of interest.

If it’s your first time tackling a tiling job, you might be wise sticking with a simple pattern. An alternative option to the linear pattern mentioned above, is small format brick bond. This is a staggered pattern that matches the way bricks are laid when building a house. You’ll need rectangular tiles and you’ll need to cut tiles for this pattern. So there will be wastage.

Watch the video below for tips on cutting tiles.

Measure the space you want to tile

You’ll need to measure the wall(s) you want to tile and buy enough tiles to cover the entire area. B&Q have a nifty calculator you can use. To get an accurate result, you’ll need to know the size of the area you want to cover and the size of the tile you’re using,

To make sure you don’t run out of tiles because of breakages, mistakes and wastage, budget for and buy an additional 10% – 15%. Make sure all the boxes you buy have the same batch number so you know they’re a perfect match. 

Standard tile sizes in the UK

Tiles are usually square or rectangular in shape and available in a wide variety of sizes. They include, but are not limited to the following:

  • 100mm x 100mm
  • 150mm x 150mm
  • 200mm x 100mm
  • 400mm x 150mm
  • 400mm x 250mm
  • 500mm x 200mm
  • 500mm x 250mm
  • 600mm x 200mm
  • 600mm x 300mm

How to prepare a wall for tiling

Before you start tiling a wall, you’ll need get it ready for the new tiles. If the wall is already tiled, you’ll need to remove the old tiles. This can be done using a hammer, bolster chisel and a few other tools.

There’s a detailed explanation is this post: remove any existing tiles from the wall and a brief summary right after this brief but important safety message.

I strongly urge you to wear safety goggles and gloves when removing tiles from a wall (or ceiling) as little bits of sharp tile can damage your eyes and cut your fingers.

Summary of how to remove wall tiles

  • Preparation and safety are key so wear protective eye goggles and gloves
  • Use old blankets, sheets, towels, cardboard or dust sheets to protect your furniture and belongings
  • Find the first tile to remove – use the handle of a screwdriver to tap the corners of your tiles to find a loose one. If you can’t find one, choose any tile
  • Use a tool called a grout rake to remove the grout around your first tile
  • Use a screwdriver or similar implement to start removing the tile from the wall. If you need extra strength, tap the screwdriver’s handle with a hammer. Be careful not to mark the wall
  • Once the first tile is removed, repeat the process until all the tiles are removed
  • Use a tile adhesive scraper tool to remove the adhesive from the wall

When all the tiles have been removed, the wall surface needs to be prepared for the new tiles and adhesive. You’ll need to make sure the wall is as flat as possible as reflections from glazed tiles will show up and exaggerate any discrepancies in your tiling.

Any loose plaster should be removed, any high spots chiselled out and patched up and any holes filled. (You might want to read the article on how to repair cracked or damaged plaster on internal walls.)

Allow time for the new plaster to dry thoroughly before tiling.

Don’t try to tile over old wallpaper. It must be removed, and any smooth or shiny surfaces should be scratched with a knife and/or coarse sand/wet and dry paper so the adhesive has something to ‘key’ to. Check out this article on how to prepare interior walls before decorating.

Tools required to remove tiles from a wall

  • Screwdriver, chisel or similar tool for removing the tiles
  • Grout rake for removing grout
  • Hammer (16oz claw hammer should be sufficient for most tile removal job)
  • Protective goggles, gloves, sheets etc
  • Rubble bag or bucket for unwanted and broken tiles
  • Safe storage area for the ones to want to keep and reuse on another project
  • Tile adhesive removal scraper

Safety tip: Wear safety googles and gloves to avoid any injury from sharp pieces of flying tile and sharp tile edges, keep children and pets away from the work area as there may be sharp pieces of tile on the floor.

How tile a wall

Tiling a wall is straightforward providing the wall has been prepared correctly.

I always use a ready mixed waterproof adhesive and plastic tile spacers with a width of around 3 mm, which can be purchased from all tile and DIY stores. The spacers are in the shape of a cross and make tiling a wall a great deal easier, providing the first row of tiles stuck in position are perfectly level (see diagram below).

Tile spacers

There are two ways to apply tile adhesive.

A professional tiler will more than likely use a large serrated edge trowel and spread it on the wall surface, then stick the tiles in place. This is a good method but you have to work quickly before the adhesive starts to set and I, like most DIYers, don’t tile every day.

So I use the following method.

Using the serrated edge on your adhesive spreader (the red one in the image below), spread an even layer of adhesive on the back of the tile, usually around 4 to 5 mm thick (try to use roughly the same amount of adhesive on each tile), and place it on the wall.

Trowel for large tiles, adhesive spreader(the Red one), for wall tiles and sponge

As you place each tile in position fit the tile spacers on the corners of each tile and remove any excess adhesive that may come through the joints.

When you’ve stuck about six tiles in position, place a straight edge or your spirit level on the face of the tiles to check they are level. Adjust any tiles that are not sitting flat. If any tiles are set back too far you will have to take the tile off the wall and add a little adhesive to bring it further out, so it’s level with the other tiles.

Continue tiling across and up the wall, placing tiles in position and making the appropriate cuts. Don’t forget, cut tiles have sharp edges so wear  gloves when handling them. When all the tiles are on the wall, allow time for the adhesive to set and then you are ready for grouting.

How to grout tiles

Tools required for grouting tiles

  • Tile grout
  • Grout spreader
  • Sealant gun
  • Spong
  • Dry and damp cloths

When the tile adhesive has set, you can grout the joints between the tiles. Most ready mixed adhesives double up as a grout as well. Check the adhesive you have left over for grouting doesn’t have any dust or debris mixed in with it from your tiling, as it will obviously discolour the grout.

If it does it is probably better to purchase a new small tub of the adhesive so you achieve a clean white finish to your grouting.

Tiles grouted, cleaned and buffed up

DIY Tip :- Where tile edges meet kitchen worktop surfaces I prefer to fill this joint with a little bit of an appropriately coloured sealant, rather than grout, this allows for a little bit of flexibility at the joint and reduces the chance of discolouration from spills etc. If the joint becomes discolored over a period of time, the sealant can easily be removed and applied again.

If you have not grouted before, it can take a little practice and patience. Use a grout spreader (the red one in the picture above) to fill the joints between the tiles. I usually grout around 8 – 10 tiles a time if they are around 6″ x 6″ (150mm x 150mm) each, but you can do more or less as you see fit.

Use the spreader to ‘push in’ and fill the tile joints with the grout. The grout does tend to set quite quickly so remove any excess from the surface of the tiles carefully with a damp sponge. You can give the grout in the joint an even smoother finish by gently running the tip of your finger along it. Its like I explained earlier, with a little practice you will work out a method that suits you best.

When you have completed grouting the tiles, let the grout set hard and then wipe over the tiled surface with a damp cloth to remove any ‘dull’ marks on the surface. Then buff the surface of the tiles with a clean dry cloth. Any small gaps that may appear in joints or tile beads can be filled with a little bit of grout or sealant.

Tile beading

Tiling bead comes in various colours and gives a smooth finished edge to tops of tile rows and corners, any small visible gaps can be filled with either a little grout or coloured sealant. When you are ready to tile a corner or top row of tiles, cut the tiling bead to length/angle using a small mitre block and a hacksaw with a fine blade, as shown below, lightly sand off any rough edges from the cut and as you put the tiles in position put the bead in place. Tile bead has a thin serrated back which the adhesive can ‘key’ to.  The adhesive will set and hold it in place.

Tools required to tile a wall

  • Grout spreader
  • Tile spacers
  • Spirit level
  • Manual or power tile cutter
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Hacksaw
  • Small mitre box
  • Tile file