Lay Tile on Concrete: The Ultimate DIY Guide

by Drew Henry

A concrete slab to a tile layer is like a blank canvas to an artist! Are you dreaming of a new tile floor in your kitchen or sprucing up your back patio with a pop of color? A bare concrete slab holds endless possibilities but also some intimidation if you’re new to the tiling process. Fear no more! Our design experts at LiLi Tile have put together the ultimate DIY guide for laying tile on concrete. We’re covering everything you need to know to tile like a pro and transform your space one tile at a time. 

Florence Tile 8x8

Why Tile Over Concrete?

If you ripped out some dusty, dated floors, chances are you found concrete underneath. This is great news because concrete provides the perfect surface to tile over! Concrete is the gold standard for tile subfloors, providing a stable, level base that's built to last. Whether you're drawn to the durability of ceramic, natural feel of stone, or bright colors of cement tile, tile over concrete is a winning combination every time. 

Choosing Your Tiles:

Before diving into installation, you have to choose your tile. Here are some of the most popular tiles to consider: 

    • Ceramic Tiles: a budget-friendly and versatile choice, perfect for a wide range of styles. 
    • Zellige Tiles: a subset of ceramics made in Morocco known for their handmade appearance and vibrant glazes. 
    • Porcelain Tiles: are known for their durability and moisture resistance, making them ideal for high-traffic areas and bathrooms.
    • Natural Stone Tiles: come straight from the earth and offer unique beauty and character. However, they do require additional maintenance. 
    • Terracotta Tiles are handmade clay tiles with a natural look and unique character. Each tile is unique but united in warm shades of red or grey. 
  • Cement Tiles: are bold, vibrant, and colorful. With a wide array of patterns, there are designs to match every style and palette. 
    • Size & Shape Considerations: Larger format tiles can make a space feel bigger but might require more complex cuts. Mosaics add intricate detail but can be more time-consuming to install.

    Assemble Your Tiling Toolkit

    Before you begin your tile project, gather these tools and materials:


    • Measuring Tape
    • Chalk Line or Laser Level
    • Notched Trowel (choose the right size for your tile – check manufacturer recommendations)
    • Rubber Mallet
    • Tile Spacers
    • Wet Saw or Tile Cutter
    • Level
    • Grout Float
    • Sponge
    • Bucket
    • Safety Glasses and Gloves


    • Tiles (calculate square footage and add 10% for cuts and waste)
    • Thin-set Mortar (modified thin-set is recommended for stronger bonding)
    • Grout (sanded, unsanded, or epoxy – we'll discuss the differences later!)
    • Grout Sealer (highly recommended to protect against stains and moisture)
    • Concrete Patching Compound (if needed to level the surface)
    • Primer (for porous concrete, improves mortar adhesion)

    Step-by-Step Guide to Tiling Over Concrete

    Follow these steps to achieve a professional-looking tile installation:

    1. Prepare the Concrete Slab
    • Cleanliness is Key: Thoroughly clean the concrete surface, removing all dirt, debris, grease, and paint. A clean canvas is essential for optimal mortar adhesion.
    • Level Up Your Foundation: Check for any unevenness using a level. Fill low spots or cracks with a concrete patching compound, allowing it to dry completely before moving on.
    • Prime Time: If you're working with porous concrete, apply a primer to create a better surface for the mortar to bond to.
    1. Map Your Tile Layout
    • Find Your Center Point: Mark the center of the room with a chalk line or laser level. This will serve as your guide for a balanced tile layout.
    • Dry Run Rehearsal: Before you break out the mortar, dry-lay your tiles, including spacers, starting from the center point and working outward. This helps you visualize the final pattern, make necessary adjustments, and minimize tile cuts.
    • Strategic Spacing: Adjust the layout as needed to avoid having small, awkward tile pieces at the edges of the room.
    1. Mortar Application
    • Mortar Mixing Mastery: Follow the mortar manufacturer's instructions for mixing. Combine the thin-set mortar with water until it reaches a smooth, peanut butter-like consistency. Mix in small batches to prevent it from drying out too quickly.
    • Notched Trowel Expertise: Using the appropriate size notched trowel (consult your tile manufacturer's recommendations), scoop up some mortar and spread it evenly over a small area of the floor (about 3-4 square feet at a time). Hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle and comb the mortar in one direction, creating those characteristic ridges that ensure even coverage.
    1. Tile Placement
    • Center Stage: Starting from your marked center point, firmly press each tile into the mortar bed, twisting slightly to ensure full contact.
    • Spacers for Consistency: Insert tile spacers between all sides of each tile. These little heroes maintain consistent grout lines and that coveted professional look.
    • Level-Headed Approach: Regularly check for levelness as you go, using your trusty level. Adjust tile heights while the mortar is still wet to prevent unevenness in the final floor.
    • Work in Manageable Sections: Apply mortar and lay tiles in small sections to prevent the mortar from drying out before you can place the tiles.
    1. Tile Cutting: Mastering the Edges
    • Measure Twice, Cut Once: Before making any cuts, double-check your measurements. Accuracy is key to minimizing waste and frustration!
    • Wet Saw Wonders: For most tile cuts, a wet saw is your best bet for achieving clean, accurate results. Wear safety glasses and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe operation.
    • Tile Nippers for Detail Work: Use tile nippers for smaller cuts, intricate shapes, or cuts near edges where a wet saw might be cumbersome.
    • Do the Research: Remember, there are different techniques for cutting ceramic tiles vs. cutting cement tiles. Familiarize yourself with your material and manufacturer recommendations. 
    1. Grouting: Adding the Finishing Touch
    • Patience is a Virtue: Allow the thin-set mortar to cure completely (typically at least 24 hours) before grouting.
    • Grout Selection:
      • Sanded Grout: Best for grout lines 1/8 inch or wider. Offers durability and strength.
      • Unsanded Grout: Ideal for narrow grout lines (less than 1/8 inch) and delicate tiles (like natural stone) to prevent scratching.
      • Epoxy Grout: The superhero of grouts! Waterproof, stain-resistant, and perfect for high-moisture areas like showers and countertops. Requires a bit more skill to apply.
    • Mix It Up: Following the grout manufacturer’s instructions, mix the grout to the recommended consistency.
    • Grout Float Application: Holding the grout float at a 45-degree angle, firmly press the grout diagonally into the tile joints, ensuring they are completely filled.
    • Wipe Away the Excess: Use a damp sponge to remove excess grout from the tile surface, rinsing your sponge frequently in clean water.
    • Remove Grout Haze: Sometimes, some grout residue may be left behind. Remove grout haze carefully with cleaners and soft towels.  
    1. The Grand Finale: Sealing and Enjoying!
    • Sealing: Some tiles, like cement tiles, require sealing. Once the grout has cured (usually 24-72 hours), apply a grout sealer to protect your hard work from stains and moisture. This step is especially crucial for areas exposed to high moisture, such as bathrooms and kitchens.
    • Stand Back and Admire: Congratulations! You’ve successfully laid tile on your concrete floor. Now, step back and revel in the satisfaction of a job well done.

    Troubleshooting Tips

    Even with careful planning, hiccups can happen. Here's how to solve common tile issues:

    • Uneven Grout Lines: Remove excess grout before it dries completely. Use a grout saw to scrape away dried, uneven grout.
    • Cracked Grout: This is often a sign of improper mixing or curing. Remove the cracked grout and re-grout, ensuring the grout is mixed to the correct consistency and allowed to cure properly.
    • Lippage (Uneven Tile Surfaces): This occurs when tiles are not level. Check for levelness as you tile and use tile leveling systems if necessary.
    • Popping Tiles: Tiles can loosen over time due to improper installation, moisture issues, or substrate movement. Remove and replace loose tiles, ensuring you address any underlying issues before re-tiling.

    Working Around Obstacles:

    Wondering how to tile around toilets and doors? Here are a few tips: 

    • Toilets: Turn off the water supply, flush the toilet to empty the tank and bowl, and disconnect the water lines. Remove the toilet and install the tile around the flange.
    • Pipes: Measure carefully and use a tile nibbler or wet saw to make precise cuts for pipes.
    • Doorways: When installing new doors, account for the tile height. You may need to trim the bottom of the door or use a transition strip to create a smooth transition.

    Tile Care 101: Keep Your Masterpiece Looking New

    Keep your tile looking new with these tile maintenance tips

    • Regular Cleaning is Key: Regularly sweep or vacuum your tile floor to prevent dirt and grime from settling into the grout lines.
    • Gentle Cleaning Solutions: Use a pH-neutral cleaner and avoid harsh, abrasive cleaners that can damage the tile and grout.
    • Grout Refresh: Depending on the type of sealer used and the level of foot traffic, consider resealing your grout every 1-3 years to maintain its integrity and prevent staining.

    You've Got This!

    You’ve got the blank concrete canvas, and you’ve got the tiling guide. Now, all you need is the tile! Laying tile on concrete is a rewarding DIY project that can completely transform your home or outdoor space. Armed with this comprehensive guide, a healthy dose of patience, and a dash of creativity, you can confidently tackle this project and achieve professional-looking results. 

    Need some more inspiration? Check out our Tile Installation Galleries and get ideas for every space.

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