How to Fix Ceramic Wall Tiles

Whatever type of wall tile you are fixing, the basic procedure is the same and the first thing to decide is the width of the tiles at the edges.

If you are tiling from floor to ceiling, try to arrange it so that the edge tiles at the top and bottom are of equal size unless a whole tile can be used at the bottom and more than half a tile at the top. In a bathroom, it will look best if there is a row of whole tiles (or almost whole tiles) immediately over the bath, while in a kitchen it will look best if there is a similar row over the work surface.

Wall Tiles

The same goes for the side edge tiles too, and you will want to think about how tiles relate to other features – especially windows. The gauging stick will be invaluable here so that you can spend some time making sure that the tiles are ‘centered’ on the most prominent part of the wall and do not fall awkwardly at the edges and corners. Check in particular how ceramic tiles fall in relation to cupboards and electric sockets in kitchens: cutting out the necessary L-shapes is not easy and you will want to keep this to a minimum.

Ceramic wall tiles need gaps between them which are filled with grout to give a neat appearance.

Some ceramic tiles have spacer lugs on them so that when they are put next to one another the correct gap is achieved; other ceramic tiles (known as ‘universal’ tiles) have angled edges so that when the backs of the tiles meet, there is a grouting gap left at the front edge. For square-edge ceramic tiles, you will have to create the grouting gaps.

The simplest method of achieving uniform grouting gaps is to insert matchsticks end on between the tiles. These can be removed once the adhesive has set. The alternative is to use a removable plastic spacer in the shape of a cross which fits into the junction between four tiles or a thin plastic cross-shaped spacer which fits in the same place, but is left in place (cut off the spacer arms where they protrude from edge tiles).


When you are happy with the proposed positions of the tiles, decide where you are going to start tiling (at the skirting board/ baseboard, say, or above the kitchen worktop) and secure a straight timber batten (furring strip) to the wall such that its top edge is at the position of the bottom edge of the second row of tiles. Secure the batten with screws or masonry nails and use a spirit level to ensure it is absolutely level, even if the skirting board or worktop is not. Make sure that the distance from the skirting board or worktop to the top of the batten is no more than one whole tile (allowing for the grouting gap).

Now nail a vertical batten to the wall so that its right-hand edge (if you are starting on the left) coincides with the position of the first vertical row of tiles (or the second if the first row has to be cut or if tiling up to an end wall or cupboard edge). Secure this batten with screws or masonry nails, checking with a spirit level or plumb line that it is truly vertical even if the walls or cupboard are not. Again, make sure it is no more than a whole tile away from the end.


The main body of whole tiles – known as the ‘field’ – is fixed first and the adhesive is allowed to dry. Then the border or edge tiles are fitted.

For ceramic tiles which do not have spacer lugs or angled edges, use matchsticks or plastic spacers to provide the necessary gaps. As each tile is pressed into place, check with your gauging stick that it is in the correct place and by eye that it is straight. From time to time, hold a spirit level or straight-edge across the surface to ensure that the tiled surface is flat. Sometimes it may be necessary to remove a tile and to add adhesive to bring it up to the level of the other tiles or to remove adhesive to bring it back to the level.

Continue like this, spreading adhesive and’ fixing tiles, until all the whole field tiles are fixed. If you have to tile over a door or a bath (where you started at skirting board/ baseboard level) or a skirting board (where you started at worktop level), fix another batten to support the bottom row of tiles to stop them slipping downwards under their own weight.

Make sure that all excess adhesive is wiped off the face of the tiles and not allowed to dry in place.


Leave the battens (furring strips) in place until the adhesive holding the field tiles has dried and then remove them carefully.

Now you can fit the edge tiles. With ceramic tiles, you need to check carefully which tiles to use. There are three different systems as follows.

  • With angled-edge ‘universal’ tiles, each tile can be used either in the field or at an exposed edge.
  • With square-edge tiles, you may find that all four edges have been glazed (also known as ‘universal’) in which case all tiles can be used everywhere, or that only some of the tiles in a box have one, two or four glazed edges for use on exposed edges and at exposed corners.
  • Tiles with spacer lugs on each side are used as field tiles, while tiles with spacer lugs on three edges are rounded on the fourth side (RE tiles) for use at an exposed edge. Tiles with spacer lugs on two adjacent edges with two other adjacent edges rounded (REX tiles) are for use on exposed corners. You may need to buy these separately, so check carefully how many are needed.

An alternative way to finish off the edges of ceramic tiles is to use plastic edging strip, which fits under the last row of tiles. Versions are available which incorporate a sealing strip for use over baths.

Whole edge tiles are easy to fix – they simply fit up against the tiles you have already laid. But often you will have to cut edge tiles, remembering that with some ceramic tiles not to cut the rounded or glazed edge off.

To cut ceramic wall tiles, first measure the gap to be filled (allowing for the grouting gap). Then mark the tile, score across the face and finally ‘snap’ along the scored line. Corner tiles will need to be cut twice – once for height and once for width. Always do the two operations separately.

To cut around obstacles such as electric sockets, windowsill ends or the corners of cupboards, mark the shape to be cut out either by measurement or by using a template or a profile gauge before making the cut.


The gaps between ceramic tiles need to be filled with grout. If you have used a combined adhesive and grout to fix the tiles, this can be used for grouting as well.

Separate grouts usually need to be mixed up from powder and colour added if required. Plain and coloured ready-mixed grouts are also available.

To spread the grout, use a rubber squeegee, making sure it is pushed well into the gaps between the tiles. The squeegee can also be used to remove excess grout from the tile surface, but a damp sponge will also be needed for this. Remove excess grout regularly as it is difficult to get off once it has been allowed to harden.

When grout has been applied to all the gaps between tiles and has just started to harden, go along all the lines with a rounded wooden stick (or a special plastic grouting tool) to shape the grout in each gap to a concave rounded surface. Remove any excess grout as you go. Finally clean up the surface once more with a sponge and give it a polish with a dry cloth.

Where ceramic tiles are fitted above a kitchen worktop or a bath, do not grout the gap between the tiles and the worktop or bath. Instead, fill it with a silicone sealant which will provide more flexibility as the bath or worktop moves slightly.


To score across the face of a ceramic tile, a special tool is required, either with a hardened sharp point or with a hardened wheel. You then ‘snap’ the tile either with a pair of tile snappers or by placing it over a pair of matchsticks lined up with the scored line and pressing down on either side of the tile. Alternatively, rest the tile on the edge of a square-topped work surface with the score lined up with the edge and ‘snap’ the tile by pressing down on the free side. At least one make of proprietary tile cutter has a special measuring device which is set to the whole gap to be filled and the tile is then scored in the correct place, allowing for the grouting gap. Most tile cutting machines have a ‘breaker bar’ built in to allow you to snap a tile after you have scored it.

Where only a small amount needs to be cut off a tile, score it as before, but use pliers or pincers to ‘nibble’ away the excess. When any tile has been cut, always use silicon carbide paper, a tile file, a carborundum block or an electric ‘powerfile’ fitted with a silicon carbide abrasive belt to smooth the edges.

To cut an L-shape out of a ceramic tile, use a tile saw to cut down one side of the L and then score and snap to remove the other side. To cut out shapes, such as the shape needed to fit around a windowsill end, first use a profile gauge or template to copy the shape and then a tile saw to cut out the shape. Smooth the cut edges as described above. Where only a small amount of tile needs to be removed, score a line on the surface (and more lines on the waste part of the tile) and then nibble the excess away with pincers or pliers.


The step-by-step instructions given so far relate mainly to ceramic tiling. Other tiles are mostly fixed in the same way (though usually without the need to leave a grouting gap).


Cork tiles should always be fixed with equal borders on both sides, so fix the vertical batten (furring strip) in the centre and remove after one half of the wall has been fixed, using the edge tile of this half as a guide for the second half.

Special cork tile fixing adhesive needs to be used (unless they are self-adhesive) and the tiles are butt-jointed. Cut cork tiles with a trimming knife and use a wallpaper seam roller to press the edges in place.


These are fixed to the wall using self-adhesive pads. The surface must be absolutely flat so, if necessary, fit a sheet of plywood or MDF (medium-density fibreboard) over the area to be tiled on battens (furring strips) secured to the wall. To cut mirror tiles, use a glass cutter to score the line in one firm movement and snap the tile over a batten or a pair of matchsticks. Do not attempt curved cuts.


These are fitted exactly like ceramic tiles, treating each block of mosaic as a single tile – check with the manufacturer’s instructions to see whether a grouting gap needs to be left. To cut at the edges, you will have to cut each small tile individually and fit it in place. If there is a protective backing on the front of the tiles, leave it until the tiles have been fixed. Grout as for ceramic tiles.


If a ceramic tile gets damaged, it is usually possible to remove just the damaged tile and to replace it. If the tile is on an exposed edge, it is relatively easy to remove, by sliding a bolster (wide) chisel under the edge and levering upwards. If, however, it is in the ‘field’, you will first have to drill holes in the tile and lever out some small pieces in order to get the blade of the bolster chisel in. It will help if you use a serrated grout remover on the grout lines around the tile first.

Once the tile has been removed, scrape out ah the old adhesive, apply new adhesive to both the tile and the wall and push the new tile in place, making sure it is flush with its neighbours. Use spacers under the bottom edge to support the tile while the adhesive hardens.


You may want to fit things to ceramic wall tiles once the tiles are in place – knife sharpeners in a kitchen or a soap dish in the bathroom, for example.

Wall Tiles

No special equipment is needed here; the hole through the tile and into the wall can be drilled with a normal masonry drill and solid wallplugs or hollow wallplugs (depending on the type of wall) can be used to secure the fitting. But there are two points to watch.

The first is that a masonry drill will tend to skid about on the surface of the tile unless either you nick the tile at the position of the intended hole with a fine centre punch (this needs care to avoid cracking the tile) or use masking tape to cover the face of the tile (do this before marking the hole) and then drilling through this.

The second point is that a wallplug for solid walls should be pushed right through the tile, unless it is the type where the outer end of the plug does not expand. Otherwise, the screw expanding the wallplug will crack the tile. Hollow wallplugs (used on timber frame partition walls covered with plasterboard/dry wall or gypsum board) are not a problem as the wallplug (or toggle) expands behind the board.

Filed Under: Home & Maintenance


About the Author: Jason Prickett loves to write about home maintenance and stuff you can do yourself instead of hiring any professional. His step by step guides will assist you in completing your home maintenance tasks.

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