How to tile over exterior concrete

Updated February 21, 2017

Tiling over a concrete patio, sidewalk, driveway or other exterior structure adds an element of interest to an otherwise dull surface. Tile hides small imperfections in concrete surfaces and makes your exterior appear smoother and cleaner. Areas of lifting concrete cannot accommodate a tile surface because the tile will crack under the stress. Tiles come in an assortment of sizes, colours, patterns and styles, making them integrate smoothly with your exterior space. Choose tiles with a slip-resistant finish for exterior tiling projects to avoid accidents on slick wet tiles.

Fill in holes and cracks on existing concrete with hydraulic cement. Flatten high spots with a grinder to level the surface.

Sweep dirt and debris off the concrete surface. Wash the surface with a mild detergent, treat and remove stains. Allow the concrete to dry completely. Drying times will vary depending on the outdoor temperature and humidity.

Mix mortar with water in a large bucket or trough to form a paste-like consistency.

Dip a trowel into the mortar and apply a skim coat to the concrete in a manageable 24 x 24-inch section. A skim coat is a very thin coating of mortar.

Dip the trowel into the mortar and apply a 1/4- to 1/2-inch coating over the skim coat.

Turn the trowel on its side with the square-shaped notches facing the mortar. Pull the notches through the mortar to create ridges.

Dip the trowel into the mortar and apply a thin coat of mortar to the unfinished side of the tile.

Place the tile onto the wet mortar. Run your hand over the surface of the tile to press it into the mortar.

Place one tile spacer at each corner of the tile. Tile spacers keep a consistent distance between tiles to create uniform grout lines.

Apply a thin coat of mortar to the next tile and set it in place next to the first tile and spacer.

Lay a level across the tiles. If the bubble is not in the centre, lightly tap the higher side of the tile down with a rubber mallet or press it into the mortar.

Continue to apply a skim coat to the concrete, a 1/4- to 1/2-inch second coat and create ridges with the trowel. Set tiles in place, level them and add spacers until tile covers the concrete surface.

Remove excess mortar from between tiles with a pointed trowel.

Cut the tile as necessary to fit with a wet saw or tile nippers.

Allow the mortar bed to set and cure, typically 24 hours. Take the tile spacers out from between the tiles.

Mix grout with water in a large bucket or trough to develop a pasty consistency.

Dip a rubber grout float into the grout and press the grout into the void spaces between the tiles. Remove excess grout from the surface of the tile with a wet sponge. Rinse the sponge often in a bucket of clean water.


Wear safety glasses, dust mask and gloves when working with tile. Consider purchasing knee pads made for tile installers when adding exterior tile.

Things You'll Need

  • Hydraulic cement
  • Grinder
  • Broom
  • Mild detergent
  • Bucket or trough
  • Square-notched trowel
  • Mortar
  • Tile spacers
  • Level
  • Mallet
  • Pointed trowel
  • Wet saw
  • Tile nippers
  • Rubber grout float
  • Sponge
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About the Author

Sal Marco began writing professionally in 2009. He has written many online home improvement articles based on his more than 20 years of experience in the home improvement and building industries. He has worked as both part of a team and as a site supervisor. Marco has a Bachelor of Science in management science from Kean University.