How to Lay Tiles Over Concrete

by Drew Henry

Laying tiles over concrete can seem daunting, but it's entirely achievable as a DIY project with the proper guidance. This informative guide is designed to walk you through the steps, ensuring you're equipped with the knowledge to tackle this task with confidence. Whether you're looking to revamp your kitchen, bathroom, or patio, understanding how to lay tiles over concrete will open a world of home improvement possibilities.

Laying Tile on Concrete With a Decoupling Membrane

When laying tile on concrete, using a decoupling membrane or subfloor offers several notable advantages. This thin, resilient layer is a buffer between the concrete and the tiles, accommodating any shifts or movement in the concrete slab that might otherwise cause the tiles to crack. When there's movement in the foundation, such as when a new building is settling, it's essential to have that extra flexibility.

Not only does it enhance the longevity of your tiled surface, but it also makes the installation process smoother by providing a more level and forgiving surface. With a decoupling membrane, you can transform your concrete surfaces with tiles, ensuring a durable, professional-looking finish that can withstand time.

Prepare the Area

The first step is to prepare the area you want to tile. This includes cleaning the surface, removing debris or dirt, and checking for any cracks or other damage that should be addressed before beginning. If needed, repair any issues with a patching compound and allow it to dry completely. Once done, use mesh tape to stabilize the patches, then feather out with a thin layer of leveler.

Prepare the Decoupling Membrane

Your next step is to prepare the decoupling membrane. There are two forms of decoupling membranes: liquid and sheets. If using the sheets, ensure they're free from any damage and cut to fit your space. Unroll the membrane and adhere it directly onto the concrete surface, using a specialized adhesive such as thin-set mortar that meets local building codes. 

Smooth it onto the surface of the mortar with a trowel, cutting the membrane at any seams to ensure a good fit if needed. Then, allow the adhesive to cure completely before moving on.

Your other option is to use a liquid underlay membrane, applying a thick coat of the material directly on the concrete floor with a paintbrush.

This layer will cushion and prevent tiles from shifting or cracking - regardless of your method.

Lay Your Tiles

Once your decoupling membrane is in place and dry, you can begin laying your tiles. But before anything gets secured anywhere, now's a good time to ensure you love your tile choice and check the layout of your tile by performing a dry lay. This will ensure you select the perfect orientation of your tiles and that you love how everything looks. Cement tiles from our LiLi Tile collection are great options.

Now is also the time to decide your grout joint. Cement tiles are great because they can be butt jointed since they don’t shrink or expand. If you’re using other tiles, leave room for expansion (we recommend a 1/16 grout joint in most scenarios).

The actual tile-laying process begins with a thin-set mortar spread across the surface of the membrane with a trowel. Mix your mortar and use a dust mask or respirator to prevent inhaling any fumes or debris.

Using a trowel or taping knife, spread the mortar over an area about three feet by three feet and ensure it is smooth. Using the notched side of a trowel, comb the mortar to create horizontal lines along the area. This will help the tile adhere.

Install the first piece of tile, ensuring you back butter the tile and the floor. Starting at the center line is wise, but this may vary depending on the area or layout you're working with. Ensure the tile is pressed down and adhered to the surface, applying pressure.

Place spacers along the sides of your tile piece and continue this process, adding new tiles and leaving space for expansion so you can seal them together with grout later.


It should be noted that selecting the right grout for your tile is paramount to properly laying tiles on concrete. For example, cement tiles must always be installed with a quartz based grout that has no color pigments. Make sure the grout you select is the right one for your tile and surface type. 

Once the tiles are in place, mix the grout and spread it into the tile gaps until filled. 

Allow it at least twenty minutes to dry, and then wipe the tile surfaces with a damp sponge or mop to remove excess grout. Give the grout another two hours to set, and then buff your floor with a cheesecloth to remove debris. In about 72 hours, it will be dry and ready to seal and finish.

Laying Tile on Concrete With a Cement Board

For this method, the only difference will be that instead of installing a decoupling membrane on which to lay the tile, you'll first install a cement board. A cement board provides a sturdy base for any tile, though it may not be as beneficial to prevent movement or cracking. 

However, starting with a cement board can be excellent if your home's foundation is already set and your main priority is durable, lasting tile.

Prepare the Cement Board

Start by preparing your area the same way. Then, it's time to measure and cut your cement board to ensure a proper fit. Once the boards are cut appropriately, use a layer of thin-set mortar on the subfloor and place the cement board pieces firmly onto it to adhere. You may want to use additional mortar on any gaps between boards.

Lay Your Tiles

You'll lay your tiles the same way, cutting them as needed and laying them out before adhering. Follow the instructions above for detailed steps and tips.


You'll grout the area the same way, too, being sure to clean off any grout spots on the top of the tiles as they dry.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Lay Tiles Directly on Concrete?

Yes, you can lay tiles directly on concrete, but it will be much sturdier and less prone to cracking if you first apply a decoupling membrane or subfloor, such as cement board, before you lay and secure tiles on top.

Want Great Tiles to Lay Over Concrete? Shop LiLi Tile!

Laying tiles over a concrete surface doesn't need to be daunting. Whether you use a decoupling membrane or a cement board, both methods offer a practical solution to enhance the longevity and aesthetics of your tiles.

For tiles that combine durability and style, check out our selection at LiLi Tile. Our extensive collection of tiles offers something for every taste and every project, including custom work.

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