How to Install Terra-cotta Tile

Written by drue tibbits
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How to Install Terra-cotta Tile
Terra-cotta tile has a rustic appearance. (Footprints in Tile image by bnstrong from

Terra-cotta tiles have a charm all their own. Hand-formed from clay, these rustic, earth-toned tiles are available in many different sizes and shapes. No two terra-cotta tiles are ever alike, and even within a batch of tiles, you will find variations of colour and thickness. Terra-cotta tiles need special consideration during installation. Most terra-cotta tiles are unglazed, and consequently are very porous. The varying thickness of the tiles requires adjustments in the adhesive bed. Once you learn the special requirements of terra-cotta tiles, you can save money by installing them yourself.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Tape measure
  • Chalk box
  • Carpenter's square
  • Thick-bed adhesive, premixed or dry
  • Adhesive trowel
  • Tile spacers
  • 4-foot level
  • 4-foot straightedge
  • Angle grinder
  • Stone-cutting wheel
  • Safety glasses
  • Presealer, specifically for terra-cotta tile
  • Grout mix
  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Grout bag
  • 12-inch piece of metal pipe, 1-inch outside diameter
  • Rags
  • Terra-cotta sealer

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  1. 1

    Clean the floor and remove all dust and debris.

  2. 2

    Find the centre of the floor by measuring each wall and marking their centres. Run chalk lines on the floor from the centre of each side of the room to the centre of the opposite side. Use a carpenter's square to check if the chalk line intersection is square. Adjust the lines as needed until you have a squared centre point.

  3. 3

    Mix up enough thick-bed adhesive to cover a 3-foot by 3-foot area. Apply the adhesive, using the trowel, to the backside of one tile. Place the tile in position on the floor, in one of the corners made by the chalk line intersection.

  4. 4

    Apply adhesive to the back of another tile. Place it in position in one of the remaining corners of the intersection. Use spacers between the tiles to maintain an even gap. Apply adhesive and place the next two tiles in the remaining two spaces.

  5. 5

    Apply adhesive on the floor and continue laying the terra-cotta tile, using the chalk lines to keep the tile straight, until you have covered a 3-foot by 3-foot area. Continue using spacers throughout the installation to maintain an even gap between tiles.

  6. 6

    Place a 4-foot level on top of the tile. Adjust the tiles as necessary until they are level. You may be able to push some tiles down until they are level, but you may have to pull up a tile and add more adhesive to bring it level. Check that the tiles are level in all directions.

  7. 7

    Continue installing 3-foot by 3-foot blocks of tile at a time, using the chalk lines and a straightedge to keep the tiles lined up. Check the tiles with the level frequently, and adjust tiles as needed to bring them up to level.

  8. 8

    Cut tile as needed to fit, using an angle grinder with a stonecutting wheel. Wear safety glasses when cutting the tile. Cut thin tiles all the way through, and cut thicker tiles 3/4 of the way through the tile, then snap the tile apart.

  9. 9

    Allow the thick-bed adhesive to dry, following the manufacturer's directions, before you walk on the tile.

  10. 10

    Apply terra-cotta presealer to the tile after the thick-bed adhesive has dried. Follow the manufacturer's directions for application instructions. Allow the presealer to dry.

  11. 11

    Mix some grout in a bucket. The size of the room and the thickness of the grout lines determine the quantity of grout needed. You can find quantity guidelines listed on the grout package.

  12. 12

    Fill a grout bag with the mixed grout. Place the grout bag opening into the grout line. Fill the space with grout, moving the bag along the line as you go. Fill the grout line completely, but avoid overfilling. Fill the grout lines in a 3-foot by 3-foot section.

  13. 13

    Use a metal pipe held at an angle to create a slightly concave surface in the grout. Lay the pipe end on the tile and pull it slowly toward you. Clean any grout off the terra-cotta tile immediately with a damp rag.

  14. 14

    Continue grouting the room in sections until all of the tile has been grouted. Allow the grout to dry completely.

  15. 15

    Apply a terra-cotta tile sealer to your finished installation to help the tile resist stains and make it easier to clean. Follow the sealer's application instructions.

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