How to lay ceramic tile over vinyl

Updated February 21, 2017

Laying ceramic tile in any room can give your room a new look, as well as provide a durable floor that can last for years and years. However, and this is true especially in older houses, it is not possible to easily remove the existing vinyl floor before laying the tile. While laying ceramic tiles over vinyl does require more steps and care, the end result will be well worth the effort.

Test the vinyl flooring. Until after 1980, vinyl flooring often contained asbestos. It is imperative to test to see whether your flooring contains asbestos before continuing. Use a knife and cut a small square from the floor to have it tested. If you receive word that asbestos is present, do not sand the vinyl floor, as this will risk asbestos particles releasing into the air.

Test the floor for rigidity. If necessary, insert additional nails into the floor joists. Lay down a thin wood subfloor and nail it in place.

Spread thinset mortar on top the subfloor using a trowel. Lay the cement backerboard on the mortar. Cut the backerboard to size by using a combination of a carpenter's square and a utility knife with a carbide blade. Score the backerboard with the knife, and pull gently on the board until it snaps along the scored line. Make sure that you stagger the placement of the backerboards so that all of their seams do not line up perfectly. Also make sure you don't line them up with the placement of the floor joists. Secure the backerboards in place with either backerboard screws or galvanised nails. Space the fasteners every 8 inches. Leave a gap of 1/8 inch between the boards, then fill them with thinset mortar. Cover the mortar with fibreglass tape.

Snap two lines to find the centre of the room, then lay tiles on the snapped lines to determine the placement of the tiles. You may have to adjust these lines to make sure you can use as many whole tiles as possible, thus saving you a lot of time.

Start in the middle of the room, in one of the quadrants you created by snapping lines in Step 4. Spread thinset mortar with the trowel, using the notched side. Work your way from the middle of the floor toward the walls. If you are concerned about creating straight mortar lines between the tiles, you can use plastic spacers. Remember to remove them before the mortar sets. Cut any ceramic tile as need to fit them using a tile saw.

Clean any excess mortar that may come up between the tiles before it dries. After you have completed a number of rows, you can set them more firmly in the mortar by using a mallet and a tile leveller.

Test the vinyl flooring to make sure it contains no asbestos. If the vinyl does not contain asbestos, you need to prepare the vinyl so the thinset mortar will adhere properly.

Test the floor, and add additional nails through the subfloor into the floor joists if necessary.

Sand the surface of the vinyl with a floor sander or with sand paper. The surface of the vinyl needs to be roughened in order to allow the thinset to adhere more effectively.

Clean the vinyl floor thoroughly with a mop, soap and water before continuing. Just as the smoothness of the floor can prevent the thinset mortar from adhering properly, so can any grease, dust or oil present on the vinyl floor. Allow the floor to dry completely before continuing.

Continue with Steps 4 through 6 in Section 1.

Things You'll Need

  • Knife
  • Hammer and nails
  • Thin wood subfloor
  • Thinset mortar
  • Trowel
  • Cement backerboard
  • Carpenter square
  • Utility knife with carbide blade
  • Backerboard screws or galvanised nails
  • Fibreglass tape
  • Chalk line
  • Mallet
  • Tile leveller
  • Tile saw
  • Sander (floor sander or sandpaper)
  • Mop and bucket
  • Spatula
  • Mortar float and knife
  • Stick
  • Tile
  • Sponge
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About the Author

Marjorie Gilbert is a freelance writer and published author. An avid researcher, Gilbert has created an Empire gown (circa 1795 to 1805) from scratch, including drafting the gown's patterns by hand.