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Ceramic Tile Installation Methods

Posted: 01 JUL 2002

Installation Materials

There are many different installation methods used to install ceramic tile. A successful installation depends on the proper use of quality installation materials, more commonly referred to as "setting materials." Choosing the correct setting materials is as important as selecting your tile. We recommend that you use materials referenced in the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic Tile Installation.

To determine how much material you will need, check the label for the manufacturer's spread rate information. This information is based on several factors, including the type of tools to be used, and it will help you determine an accurate amount.

Thin Set

Thin set is a type of bonding mortar specifically formulated for ceramic tile. It is available in a wide range of strengths for adhering tile to all types of substrates, from plywood to backer board to concrete. Typically sold in 50-pound bags, thin set is relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare - just add water. There are also special types of thin set available for installing tiles over wood sub-floors, per the TCNA Handbook Guidelines. For best results, we recommend installing concrete or fiber backer board to wood sub-floors prior to installing your tiles.


Grout is another adhesive agent used in the final stage of ceramic tile installation. It fills the spaces between the tiles, reinforcing the bonding while also serving as a decorative trim. Grout is available for sanded and non-sanded applications, and both are available in a variety of colors. The version for non-sanded applications is used where joint widths are less than 1/8" wide, and the one for sanded applications where joints widths are 1/8" or wider. Grout color is a more important decision than most people realize. Even though the majority of grouts are manufactured with stain resistant polymers, lighter colors will still show dirt more readily than darker colors. One popular method is to match the grout color with the darker tone of the tile. This will provide a nice decorative accent while eliminating excessive cleaning. Another type of grout that is extremely durable is epoxy grout. It is used almost exclusively for industrial applications and is very difficult to work with unless you are a seasoned professional.

Organic Adhesive

Organic adhesives, or glues, are used to install ceramic tiles on walls, countertops, and other surfaces. The two basic types are standard wall tile adhesive and multipurpose adhesive. The standard wall tile type is used for fixing tile to drywall, whereas the multipurpose variety will allow installation on virtually any surface. Whether you want to install ceramic tile on wood, laminate, or backer board, multipurpose adhesive will work. It will even allow installation over existing ceramic tile, providing the surface is properly prepared.

Latex Bonding Chemicals

Latex bonding chemicals are mixed with thin set mortar to increase bonding strength under certain applications. One application would be the installation of ceramic tile over previously painted concrete where all the paint could not be removed. Other applications include exterior installations subject to harsh weather conditions, or over terrazzo or vinyl floors. In most cases, the surface will need to be prepared by roughing it with a sander or grinder. This will maximize the adhesion and minimize the chances of the tile lifting, or popping loose in the future. Before manufacturers began producing polymer-modified grouts, latex was often added to grout to help resist stains in addition to strengthening the bond. Most manufacturers now advise not to add latex bonding chemicals since combining them with polymers can result in lack of color consistency.


Sealers are clear coatings applied to surfaces to help reduce wear and protect against stains. In the case of outdoor installations, sealers also protect against the effects of weather. It is mandatory to apply them to all non-glazed, porous surfaces, like terra-cotta tiles, brick pavers, etc. The installation of these types of materials and the process of applying sealers to them can be quite complex. Therefore, it is highly recommended that any do-it-yourselfer considering installation of non-glazed material do a lot of research before attempting a project of this nature.

There are also sealers for grout that can be beneficial in areas exposed to water and grease, like kitchen countertops and backsplashes. Using grout sealer on floors, however, is not recommended since most quality grouts are now polymer-modified and thus perform like sealers.


Please refer to our "Ceramic Tile Floor Care and Maintenance" article to learn about the proper cleaners to use on your ceramic tile floor.


In the near future we will have an article, entitled "Ceramic Tile Installation," that will discuss the proper tools needed for installing ceramic tiles.

If after doing your research and reading our articles, you feel overwhelmed, but still want the beauty and durability of a ceramic tile floor then you may want to seek the help of a professional installer.