How to Lay Outside Tile on Steps

Updated February 21, 2017

Concrete steps are strong and durable, but unless they've been finished in some way the dull grey colour of the stone adds little to the surrounding area. Dressing up the stone with a tile covering however can change the appearance of the steps completely. The tile can help to make the steps a focal point that adds to the general landscaping decor. With both ceramic and stone tile available for application, you can choose from a vast range of colours and styles. Once you choose the tiles, you can mount them in place, adding beauty to the strength of concrete that will last for years.

Measure the length, width and height of each step. Divide the measurements by the size of the tiles to determine the number of tiles necessary to cover each step. When accounting for the number of tiles, make sure to include the width of the joints between tiles created by the size of the tile spacers you're using.

Clean the surface of the steps using a power washer. Allow the steps to dry completely before continuing.

Create a mortar bed to place the tiles. Spread a layer of acrylic bonding agent over the risers and threads of the steps with a low-nap paint roller. Mix the mortar for the bed using four parts mortar mix to one part Portland cement. Add latex additive instead of water to increase the compressive strength of the mortar. Use a spade to mix the mortar in a wheelbarrow. Spread the mortar over the treads of the steps in a 1-1/4-inch layer using a trowel. Place a layer of mortar on the risers of the steps in a 3/4-inch layer. Use a carpenter's level to ensure the mortar is level across the step. Allow the bed to set slightly for about two hours.

Spread a layer of thinset mortar over the treads of the step and place the tile into the thinset. Start against the wall and the rear of the step and work your way toward the edge. Place two tile spacers between the tiles to create uniform joints between the tiles. Mount the tiles to the risers of the steps after mounting the treads. Do not tile over the edge of the steps. Cut the tiles instead, using a tile cutter.

Allow the thinset to set for two hours. Remove the tile spacers and then grout the tile joints. Spread the grout over the face of the tiles into the joints with a grout float. Push the joints full of the grout and then wipe the surface of the tiles using a damp sponge to remove the excess mortar. Wait another two hours and then wipe the surface of the tiles with a lint-free cloth to remove any grout residue. Allow the grout 10 days drying time, then brush the tiles and grout with tile and grout sealant to protect from stains and moisture.


Check with your local building authority concerning the requirements for stair design before placing the tiles to ensure that your steps remain within building codes.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Power washer
  • Acrylic bonding agent
  • Low-nap paint roller
  • Mortar mix
  • Portland cement
  • Latex additive
  • Spade
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Trowel
  • Carpenter's level
  • Thinset mortar
  • Tiles
  • Tile spacers
  • Tile cutter
  • Grout
  • Grout float
  • Sponge
  • Clean lint-free cloth
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About the Author

Larry Simmons is a freelance writer and expert in the fusion of computer technology and business. He has a B.S. in economics, an M.S. in information systems, an M.S. in communications technology, as well as significant work towards an M.B.A. in finance. He's published several hundred articles with Demand Studios.