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Expert Contributor

Ceramic tile flooring and backsplashes have to be mortared in place with a special product that can be spread much more thinly than the type of mortar used for brickwork. This material is called “thinset mortar” due to this property. It is easy enough to use that many people successfully lay their own tile flooring and backsplashes as DIY projects on the first try, but it still helps to have some tips to get started. Here are a few quick pointers to help you:

  • Don’t corner yourself. Be sure to leave an exit path, so you don’t have to walk over the unset mortar or newly lain tiles to leave the room.
  • Get a trowel that is well-matched to the tile size. You’ll be using the toothed side of the trowel for this job. Bigger teeth leave more thinset on the surface, so they’re good for big tiles. Mosaic tile and other small tiles, on the other hand, need far less thinset to hold them in place. Use a fine-toothed trowel for these.
  • The trowel should contact the floor or backer board at a 45-degree angle. This gives the best contact and helps to ensure that the mortar will properly adhere to the board.
  • If you’re tiling onto concrete, put down a crack isolation membrane first. Then attach the tile to that. The membrane makes it so that any cracks that appear in the concrete won’t spread through to the tile.
  • Wipe concrete with a wet utility sponge immediately before tiling. This eliminates fine dust particles that would otherwise interfere with the thinset’s adhesion to the subfloor. It also improves the bond by keeping the concrete from pulling water out of the thinset too quickly.
  • Wipe the back of ceramic tiles with a wet sponge just before applying them to their backings. This is also to help control the setting speed of the thinset and thereby improve the bond.
  • It takes about 24 hours for the thinset to actually set. Stay off of your newly-lain tiles until then.
  • Mix your thinset so it is the consistency of thick mud pies. It should be thin enough for a dollop to drop off of your trowel without having to pull it down, but not thin enough to be runny.
  • Thinset is essentially a form of concrete. Once it sets, it’s there forever, or at least until you grind it off with a power tool. Be sure to remove it from your tools – and anything else you don’t want it on – before it dries!

These are some of the most popular tips for using thinset. One final one is to be sure to use kneepads or a utility kneeler if you’re doing a floor, especially if you’re laying tile onto concrete. There is no need to end up sore after a home improvement project, and your body will thank you for protecting it.



Marilynn F. has been writing professionally since 2009 and writing for her own sites since 2000. She has written a lot of articles for builders and contractors. Most of these articles provide an overview of the services provided by clients in the industry or promote the idea of hiring them to do a certain project. Several articles offer tips for finding a builder in a certain area. Other than writing, Marilynn enjoys gardening, figuring out how to fix things, upgrading her computer on her own, green products, and many other things.

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