How to Install Ceramic Tile on Concrete Walls

Written by samantha volz
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How to Install Ceramic Tile on Concrete Walls
Laying ceramic wall tile can transform the look of a room. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Ceramic tile is a highly popular decorative choice to adorn walls in bathrooms and kitchens due to its ability to stand up to moisture problems and staining. However, much of tile's resilient ability comes from proper preparation of the surface on which it is installed. Concrete walls will easily support tile as long as the installer properly cleans and levels the surface before careful installation.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Rags
  • White spirit
  • Water
  • Cement patch
  • Sandpaper or grinder
  • Measuring tape
  • Chalk
  • Thin-set and additives
  • Notched trowel
  • Spacers
  • Pencil or marker
  • Utility knife
  • Tile snips or cutter
  • Sponge
  • Grout
  • Grout float

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  1. 1

    Clean the wall with a rag dampened in white spirit to remove surface dirt and dust. White spirit will also dissolve wax, grease or other build-up on the wall that can interfere with the tile adhesive.

  2. 2

    Rinse the wall with a rag dampened in clean water to remove residual white spirit. When clean, inspect the surface. Fill any cracks, dips or other unlevel areas with epoxy cement or quick cement patch materials. If you find any hills or bumps, grind them down with sandpaper or a handheld grinder. The wall must be completely level and stable to support tiles. Allow all cleaning and repair work to dry before continuing.

  3. 3

    Measure the four sides of your wall and mark the centre point of each wall with chalk. Connect the centre points of opposite walls with chalk lines to form a "+" shape on your wall. The point at which the two lines intersect is the centre point of your wall.

  4. 4

    Mix tile thin-set or mortar with the proper additives, per specific product instructions. Different products require different additives and different mixing ratios.

  5. 5

    Spread thin-set over the wall with a notched trowel, holding the trowel at a 45 degree angle to create grooves in the adhesive that will aid bonding. Start at the centre point and work your way into one quadrant, working straight along the guidelines you created. Cover an area that you can tile within 10 minutes so that the thin-set does not set while you work.

  6. 6

    Lay full tiles in your starting quadrant, starting in the centre and working your way out toward the edges. Spread more adhesive as you go until you have laid as many full tiles as possible. If necessary, use spacers to maintain a consistent gap between tiles.

  7. 7

    Cut tiles to fit along the edges of your wall. Mark the cutting line with a pencil or marker and score the line with a sharp utility knife. Snap the tile along the scored line or use tile snips or a tile cutter to make the cut.

  8. 8

    Wipe excessive thin-set off of the tile surfaces with a damp sponge. Do not allow thin-set to dry on the tile surfaces, or it could stain. Continue to install until the entire wall is covered with tiles. Allow the thin-set to dry overnight before continuing.

  9. 9

    Mix grout and water per product instructions. Spread grout over the tile surface with a grout float, holding the float at a 45 degree angle to force the grout into the tile joints. Cover the entire surface and all joints.

  10. 10

    Clean excess grout off of the tile surfaces with a damp sponge. Fill in any gaps as necessary. Allow the grout to dry overnight before exposing the wall to any pressure or moisture.

Tips and warnings

  • Some tile manufacturers may require you to cover the cement wall with a moisture barrier or underlayment, while others will not. Follow all specific manufacturer instructions regarding installation.
  • You cannot install tile over concrete that has been sealed or otherwise chemically treated. You must strip those surfaces completely before installation.

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