How To Install Ceramic Wall Tile

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Ceramic tile is a favorite material for floor installations thanks to its durability and resistance to moisture and stains. The same qualities make it a natural choice for walls, especially in kitchens and bathrooms. Wall tile installation is not difficult, but a few things to keep in mind to make the job go smoothly.

Installing ceramic wall tile can be a bit tricky if you're not familiar with the process.  Even if you have installed floor tile before, installing wall tile is a different process that takes a little more time and precision. Read on to understand how to do it.

Before You Begin

The demonstration project here makes use of the materials and tools that are now standard practice for just about all-ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone tile jobs. While it was common to apply ceramic wall tiles to ordinary drywall or waterproof blue board drywall, virtually all professional installers now use cement board as the underlayment for floor and wall tiles.

When installing wall tiles for shower or tub surround walls, the installation is the same as standard walls, but the base requires a fully waterproof underlayment. There are a number of ways you can achieve this, including installing a layer of sheet plastic, brushing on a waterproof membrane over the cement board base, or using a special cement backer board with a built-in waterproof membrane.

Tools and Materials

  • Tape measure
  • Notched trowel
  • Pencil
  • Utility knife
  • Carpenter's level
  • Rubber mallet
  • Tile snap cutter or wet saw
  • Tile nippers
  • Grout float
  • Eye and hearing protection
  • Sponge and bucket
  • Small screwdriver
  • Tile spacers
  • Tile grout
  • Woodblock
  • Pointed stick
  • Ceramic field tile
  • Ceramic trim tile
  • Thinset tile adhesive
  • Plastic tile spacers
  • Builder's paper

Gather Materials and Tools

Before starting, gather all of the materials and tools you will need. This includes ceramic wall tile, backer board, thinset mortar adhesive, grout, tile spacers, notched trowel, bucket, sponge, level, tape measure, pencil, utility knife, wet saw or tile cutter, hammer or rubber mallet, and a wood block.

Preparing the Surface

You can install wall tiles over drywall and plaster, but they should be installed over cement backer board or cement board in wet areas. The Cement board is not waterproof, but it does not break down if it gets wet, as drywall and plaster do. Make sure the surface is clean, smooth, flat, and dry. If the wall is painted, it's a good idea to sand the surface prior to installation.

Protect Surfaces

Tiling can be a little messy, so it's important to protect floors, countertop surfaces, and fixtures against tile adhesive and grout spills. Buy a thick rosin builder's tape from a big box home improvement or painting supplies store.

Cover the countertop and floor surfaces with paper and secure them in place with painter's tape. Cut slits in the paper where sink faucets and other fixtures are located. Cover the exposed surfaces of the fixtures with strips of painter's tape.

Plan the Layout

Plan the layout of your tile on the wall. You can use a simple pencil and paper drawing or use a ‘ virtual tile' program to help you visualize the finished project. Start by choosing the most visible wall in the room. Use a tape measure to establish the horizontal and vertical center point on the wall.

From this center point, use a level to extend vertical and horizontal layout lines from side to side and ceiling to floor. Then, use a sample tile to mark the layout lines to show the approximate location of each tile along the lines, including the thickness of the grout lines.

Apply Thinset Adhesive

If you're not using a pre-mixed adhesive, mix the thinset mortar according to the manufacturer's instructions. Always test the mortar on a scrap piece of tile before applying it to the wall.

Spread the adhesive onto the wall quadrant using the flat side of the trowel, covering only as much of the wall as you can comfortably work in 20 to 30 minutes. Immediately trowel over the skim coat, using the notched side of the trowel to create a pattern of ridges and valleys in the wet adhesive.

Hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle and comb the adhesive in one direction. The wall section should be covered with a thin-set adhesive, but you should be able to cover the wall surface between the ridges of adhesive left by the notched trowel. Read a brief comparison about Thinset Vs Tile Adhesive.

Lay the First Row of Tile

Start at the bottom left corner of the wall and work your way across, placing the tiles so that the ridges in the adhesive are barely visible. If you need to cut a tile to fit, use a wet saw with a diamond blade.

When you reach the end of the first row, start the second row by placing the first tile in the corner where the first row and the second row meet. Again, work your way across the wall, making sure that the ridges in the adhesive are barely visible.

If you reach the end of a row and don't have enough tiles to complete it, cut a tile to fit and save it for later. Continue installing the subsequent rows, again using plastic spacers to maintain uniform joints between tiles.

Complete the Field Tile Installation

After completing each section of the wall, use a short block of wood and rubber mallet and lightly wrap over the surface of the tile. This will set the tiles in the adhesive and flatten the surface just like you do in ceramic tile flooring. Working systematically in sections, repeat this process until the entire wall is covered.

Field Tile Installation
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Leave the tiles that need to be trimmed or cut until the end of the project. As you reach the last full tiles, scrape off any adhesive from the areas of the wall left exposed. This will prevent the adhesive from hardening as you trim the last tiles and prepare to finish the installation.

As the adhesive hardens, inspect the grout lines and ensure they're free of excess adhesive. Use a pointed stick or small screwdriver to scrape away excess adhesive if necessary. Use a damp sponge or cloth to wipe any adhesive from the face of the tile.

Fill the Side Gaps

After installing a full-sized field tile, cut and install the partial tiles along the sides of the wall. Cutting partial tiles can be done with a manual snap cutter or a tile wet saw. When using a snap tile cutter, place the tile into the position of the tile cutter, then score the surface by firmly moving a tungsten carbide scoring wheel from bottom to top across the face of the tile surface.

Fill the Side Gaps
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Then, place the pressure bar pad across the tile and apply firm pressure on the lever to snap the tile across its scoreline. If you have many tiles to cut, a wet tile is the better option for cutting partial tiles. It's also essential for thicker floor tiles or porcelain or natural stone tiles, which are very difficult to cut with a snap cutter.

Fill Remaining Gaps

Once the tile is in place, you may have to fill the spaces between tiles with grout. Be sure to use a color that matches or compliments your tile. For smaller gaps, use a toothpick to apply the grout; use a rubber grout float for larger spaces. Work the grout into the joints and wipe away any excess with a damp sponge. Let the grout dry completely before walking on the tile.

Install Trim Pieces

Install them now if your layout includes border tiles or other trim pieces. Use a level to make sure the pieces are straight, and then apply tile adhesive to the back of each piece. Press them into place, and then use a damp sponge to smooth out the adhesive. Let the trim pieces dry completely before walking on them.

After all of the tiles are in place, allow them to dry for 24 hours. Then apply a sealant to the tiles to protect them from water and stains. Tile installation is a challenging but rewarding project. With the right tools and instructions, you can install beautiful ceramic wall tile in your home.

Inspect Grout Joints

Once the tiles have had ample time to dry, you can start to grout the joints. Mix the grout according to the instructions on the package, and then use a grout float to push the grout into the joints. Wipe away any excess grout with a damp sponge. Let the grout dry for 24 hours before applying a sealant.

Grout the Tile

Using the manufacturer's instructions, apply the grout to the joints. Wear gloves and spread grout evenly, being sure to force it into the joints with a blunt stick or another tool. If you want to enhance the color scheme, add a dye or pigment to the grout. Even after it has been sealed with a grout sealer, white grout may prove difficult to keep clean.

Grout the Tile
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Cleaning and Sealing the Tile

Cleaning the walls is just the same as how to clean tile floors. To clean the tile, use a sponge and warm water. Be sure to wring out the sponge well, so it's not dripping wet. If the grout is still dirty after cleaning, use a grout cleaner.

Cleaning and Sealing the Tile
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Seal the grout with a grout sealer. Choose a sealer that is appropriate for your type of grout. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for application. Once the sealer has dried, your tile installation is complete. Enjoy your new backsplash, shower surround, or floor.

FAQs on How to Install Ceramic Wall Tile

What is the best adhesive for wall tile?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Some adhesives work better with certain tiles, while others are better for porous surfaces. Consult with a professional to determine the best adhesive for your application.

Can you put ceramic tile on drywall?

Yes, you can put ceramic tile on a drywall surface. However, you will need to use a thinset mortar or adhesive to secure the tiles in place. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for application.

Can you paint a ceramic wall tile?

Yes, as long as you know how to paint a ceramic tile, you can easily paint a ceramic wall tile. Painting is one way of caring for your walls and ensuring they serve you for long. 

Final Thought on How to Install Ceramic Wall Tile

Installing ceramic wall tile is a relatively easy task that can be completed in a few hours. The most important part of the process is choosing the right adhesive and following the manufacturer's instructions. With a little preparation and careful installation, you can create a beautiful tiled wall in your home.


Ben James

Ben James

Ben is an experienced content writer with a passion for kitchen remodeling. He loves writing about latest kitchen designs & trends so that he can educate our readers make the best decisions possible when it comes to kitchens.

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