How to Tile Walls

Tiling can be seen as another way of decorating a wall – that is, as an alternative to using paint or wallcoverings.

Ideal for kitchens and bathrooms, ceramic tiles give a practical, hardwearing and easy-to-clean surface; alternatively, cork tiles give a warmer and more mellow surface. In living rooms and bedrooms, you might want to use mirror tiles for reflecting light or changing the apparent shape of the room, cork for warmth or ceramics for effect

Whatever your reason for tiling, the first essential is to ensure that the wall surface is sound.


Look to see how the wall you want to tile has been previously decorated. This will determine what you do next.


You cannot tile over a wall which has been covered with wallpaper or other types of wallcovering, such as vinyl. So any wallcovering will have to be removed first.

Some vinyl wallcoverings are designed to be peelable – that is, they peel away leaving just a backing paper attached to the wall. To remove this and ordinary wallpaper, first soak the paper with water using a sponge or large paint brush (to soften the adhesive) and then strip it off using a flat-bladed scraper. A proprietary wallpaper stripping chemical (or washing-up liquid/dishwashing detergent) will help the water penetrate the paper. With painted wallpaper or vinyl-coated (washable) wallpaper, you will need to score the surface first, with a serrated scraper or wire brush, so that the water can get through.

If you are tiling only a section of the wall and do not want to repaper the rest, use a sharp trimming knife and a straight-edge to cut through the existing wallcovering around the area to be tiled and then only remove the wallcovering from within that area.


You can tile directly on to walls which have been painted with an emulsion (latex) paint, after the surface has been cleaned with a solution of sugar soap to remove any dirt or grease. If solvent-based (alkyd) paint has been used, this should be rubbed down with abrasive paper to provide a ‘key’ for the adhesive.


A previously tiled surface is ideal to tile over, provided it is flat. Clean the surface and rub it down with silicon carbide abrasive paper to provide a ‘key’ for the adhesive.

Tiling over part-tiled walls will, of course, produce a pronounced ridge and it may be advisable to remove the old tiles first. If they are not that old, this should not be too difficult as you can simply lever them off with a bolster (wide) chisel and then remove the old adhesive with a scraper, chisel or disc sander. In older houses, however, tiles were often put on with cement mortar and getting them off can be a major exercise, requiring a hired percussion hammer and on breezeblock walls you may well take part of the wall off with the mortar. Another way to avoid a noticeable ridge is to bring the untiled section of the wall up to the same level. This can be done by applying a sheet of plasterboard (dry wall or gypsum board) to it and then painting with emulsion (latex) paint before tiling the now flat entire wall.


A bare plaster wall should be both smooth and flat and will provide an ideal surface for tiling. New plaster surfaces need to be left for at least a month before being tiled and you should make sure there are no splashes of plaster on the surface. Seal the wall with a stabilizing primer before applying adhesive. If an existing plaster surface is damaged, it will need to be repaired (see Repairing Walls opposite); if it is crumbling and falling away, it will need to be replastered, but check first that damp is not getting in from the outside of the wall (penetrating damp) or rising up from the ground as a result of a failed damp-proof course. Stop penetrating damp with a silicone water repellent applied on the outside of the wall and rising damp with a new chemical damp-proof course. Apply a damp sealer to the wall before tiling.


A bare brick or masonry wall will have to be plastered or covered with plasterboard before it is tiled. Alternatively, you could cover it with sheets of plywood, chipboard (particle board) or medium-density fibreboard (MDF), all of which will provide a suitable substrate for tiling.


It is essential that all wall surfaces be repared before tiling over them. Small cracks, holes and hollows can be made good with decorator’s filler, applied with a filling knife and, if necessary, rubbed down with abrasive paper once it has set. If a hole is deep it may need more than one application of filler as trying to apply too much at once will result in the filler falling out.

Large areas of damage to a plaster wall can be repaired with plaster – either the traditional variety or a do-it-yourself plaster (which has the advantage of being able to fill deep holes in one go) – applied with a plasterer’s float.

If the corner of a wall is damaged, secure a straight timber batten up against one side of the corner while you fill from the other side. Repeat on the other side of the corner when the first corner filled has dried.

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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