DIY Tiling Tips and Tricks That Make The Job Easier

I have to admit…I have a love-hate relationship with tiling. I love the look of tile, but installing tile is one of those projects that I really don’t like doing. However, it costs so much to get someone else to do it that I always end up doing it myself. Which is how I’ve learned the best way to remove thinset from concrete and all of these DIY tiling tips and tricks.

DIY tiling tips and tricks

It’s week 5 of the One Room Challenge. Can you believe it’s almost over? Only one more week to go!

In case you missed it, the One Room Challenge is a twice-a-year event where a bunch of bloggers and interior designers make over a room in 6 weeks, and post their progress every week.

This year, I decided to do my deck and outdoor entertaining area rather than doing a room. You can catch up on my progress here:

My main goal for this week was to finish the tiling on my outdoor bar.

After some rain delays and a little procrastination on my part, I’m happy to say that it’s finally finished!

Outdoor countertop with marble-look porcelain tile and turquoise mosaic tile

I went with a marble-look porcelain tile for the countertop, and a turquoise and silver mosaic tile as an accent around the top.

Palm beach chic outdoor bar with white porcelain tile countertop and turquoise mosaic tile accents

It looks so much better than it did before!

Outdoor bar with slate tile

This is the “before” picture in case you forgot what it looked like.

You might also have noticed that I changed up the deck tiles (told you I did a lot of tiling this week!) Fortunately, these ones are a lot easier to install since they just click together.

In case you’re interested, you can find out more about installing deck tiles here.

Outdoor bar with tile countertop, chairs with blue and white cushions and black and white checkered deck tile floor

Of course, I had to try it out with my chairs and new cushions…and it looks AMAZING!

DIY Tiling Tips And Tricks

I have to say that tiling is not one of my favorite things to do, but it’s one of those jobs that costs a lot if you get someone else to do it. So I always end up biting the bullet and doing it myself.

And I’m definitely not a pro. If you want to learn how to install tiles from the professionals, check out this video from the DIY Network:

But after doing my share of tiling jobs (like the floors and walls in my master bath makeover #2, the floors and shower surround in my master bath makeover #1, the floors in my guest bathroom, and the floors and backsplash in my kitchen…and that’s just the tiling I’ve done in this house), I have learned a few DIY tiling tips and tricks that nobody told me. And they make tiling sooo much easier.

Tiling Tip #1 | Pick The Right Size Of Tiles

There are all kinds of different sizes of tiles and I used to think you just chose the one you wanted based on the pattern you were going for.

Now that I’ve done a few rooms, I have decided that if you want to make the installation easier, different sizes work better in different locations.

Use Large Tiles For Floors

Large tiles (12″ x 12″ or bigger) work best for floors or other horizontal surfaces.

They’re generally thicker so they don’t crack very easily (which is very handy if your floor isn’t quite level).

And because they are so large, there are fewer of them to try to get level. (Getting tiles level is a bit of a pain!)

Use Smaller Tiles For Walls

Smaller tiles (eg. 4″ x 4″) work better for walls or vertical surfaces.

That’s because small tiles don’t weigh too much, so they don’t slide down the wall while you’re trying to install them. Which makes it much easier to keep your lines straight.

Turquoise mosaic tiles in thinset on a wall

The best wall tiles of all are mosaics.

They give you the best of both worlds. Mosaic tiles usually come in a 12″ x 12″ square that is held together by a mesh backing. So you get the benefit of covering a larger area of the wall at once, but the mosaic tiles don’t slide at all.

Tiling Tip #2 | Mix Thinset Based On The Application

Speaking of installing tiles on walls versus floors, I have found that how you mix the thinset makes a different in how easy it is to install your tiles.

If you look at the instructions on the thinset bag, they always give you a range for the amount of water to add. I always assumed this was to due to differences in temperature and humidity (which maybe it is).

But it also makes a difference in how easy it is to stick on the tiles.

For floors, I use the highest water measurement that is suggested. This makes the thinset easier to spread which makes the flooring tiles go down faster.

However, for walls, I use the lowest water measurement that is suggested. That makes the thinset thicker which helps to prevent the tiles from sliding down the wall.

Tiling Tip #3 | Clean Excess Thinset Off Immediately

Scraper removing thinset from between mosaic tiles

I will say…thinset is very forgiving. I have mixed it all kinds of ways…sometimes with too much water, sometimes with too little, occasionally just right 🙂

In all cases, I have never had a problem with the tiles not sticking. Once it dries, the tiles are stuck!

And so is the thinset that ended up somewhere you didn’t intend it to be.

So the moral of this story is to clean off any excess thinset (including any that squished out between the tiles) while it is still wet. Because once it’s dry, it is VERY difficult to remove.

Tiling Tip #4 | Use A Mixer Attachment

Thinset being mixed with a drill attachment

Speaking of mixing thinset (or grout for that matter), it is very hard to do manually.

The instructions usually say to stir it with the water for 5 minutes. And that stuff is thick!

So one of these mixer attachments* that attaches to your drill is a definite arm saver!

Just make sure the shaft is the right size for your drill. And you may need to use a corded drill instead of a cordless…most of the cordless ones don’t have enough juice to turn it.

Tiling Tip #5 | Divide The Thinset

One bag of thinset powder turns into a BIG bucket of thinset.

If you are working by yourself, chances are you will not be able to use up all of that thinset before it starts to harden. Adding water at this point doesn’t work (the thinset won’t stick).

So I always divide the bag into quarters before I start. Then I have smaller amounts to work with at a time. Using a bathroom scale to weigh each batch makes sure that they’re equal sizes.

Plus when I finish a batch, it gives me an excuse to take a break 🙂

Tiling Tip #6 | Always Back Butter

Large tile being back buttered with thinset

Most of the instructions I’ve read say “you may need to back butter large tiles”.

In my experience, back buttering always makes the tiles stick better. Regardless of the tile size.

In case you’re not sure what back buttering is, it just means to scrape a thin layer of thinset on the back of the tile before you install it. Then the thinset on the back of the tile sticks to the thinset on the floor or wall making a better bond.

Tiling Tip #7 | Draw Special Cuts On The Tile

Cut out marked on a tile that is about to be cut

If you’re tiling an area where you need to cut around corners or outlets (or posts in my case), it’s helpful to draw the cuts on the tile.

That way you can make sure you are making the cuts in the right place. Which cuts down on the number of re-do’s (and wasted tiles).

Tiling Tip #8 | Make Corner Cuts Upside Down

Tile saw cutting a large porcelain tile

Speaking of tiling around corners, my next tiling tip is a trick for getting clean cuts…turn the tile upside down on the tile saw.

Tile with corner cuts

Because of the shape of the blade, you have to cut a little past the corner in order to cut all the way through the tile at the corner.

If you do this on the right side of the tile, you’ll see those extra grooves.

Tile with a corner cut out of it

If you turn the tile upside down to cut it, you will get a cleaner cut on the right side.

Tiling Tip #9 | Don’t Wash Grout Off Too Soon

The last of my tiling tips has to do with grouting.

When you grout the tiles, one of the last steps is to wash off the excess grout. Which you do want to do before it totally dries (or it will be hard to remove).

However, you don’t want to do this when it is too wet either. Otherwise, the grout comes out from between the tiles and ends up on your tiles…so you end up making the problem worse rather than better.

I find that waiting for about 30 minutes after you have applied the grout to wipe it off works the best.

Well, that’s it for my tiling tips and tricks…and I’m very happy that job is finished!

Other DIY Tips and Tricks You Might Like

But before you go…don’t forget to check out all of the other talented One Room Challenge designers and bloggers for lots more decorating inspiration!

Have comments or questions on our tiling tips and tricks? Tell us in the section below.

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6 Responses

    • Thanks, Libbie! Tiling is not one of my favorite DIY projects so I’m always looking for ways to make it a little easier 🙂 Congratulations on getting your first tile job under your belt!

    • Thanks, Angela! I am really looking forward to getting this finished so I can start entertaining out there 🙂

  • Great job and great tips. I’ve tiled before but never thought about turning the tile over to prevent that “overcut” look. Thank you!

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