Ceramic tile can be an elegant and durable choice for wall coverings. With the right materials and some basic DIY skills, you can install ceramic wall tile and give your space a fresh new look. This guide will walk you through the entire process, from planning and preparation to setting and grouting the tile. Follow these steps and tips for a successful ceramic wall tile installation.

Planning Your Tile Layout

Before you start tiling, you need to plan out your layout. Consider the following:

Choose the Tile

Pick a tile that suits the style and feel you want for the space. Ceramic tiles come in a huge range of sizes, colors, textures, and patterns. Popular options include:

  • Subway tile – Rectangular tiles in a classic brickwork pattern
  • Mosaic tile – Small square or hexagonal tiles that create intricate designs
  • Large format tile – Tiles 12 inches or larger on each side for a seamless look

Make sure to get extra tiles to allow for cuts, waste, and future repairs.

Map the Wall Space

Measure the wall area you want to tile. Mark any outlets, pipes, or obstacles. Decide if you want the tile to go all the way to the ceiling or stop at a specific height.

Determine the best layout pattern. Stacked, brick, or diagonal designs are common. Draw your tile layout on paper first.

Calculate How Much Tile You Need

Measure the total square footage of the wall space. Divide by the dimensions of your tile to estimate the number of whole tiles needed. Add 10-15% more for cut tiles and waste.

Don’t forget to account for pattern repeats and border tiles in your calculations.

Gather Your Materials

Installing ceramic wall tile requires some special tools and materials. Make sure you have everything you need before starting:

Tile Adhesive and Grout

Choose an adhesive designed for wall installations. Mastic and thinset mortar both work. Match the grout color to your tile.

Trowels and Tile Spacers

A notched trowel spreads adhesive evenly. Tile spacers keep gaps consistent between tiles.

Tile Cutter and Nippers

A manual cutter has a wheeled scoring tool to cut along. Nippers snap off small pieces.

Grout Float, Grout Sealer, and Sponges

A float spreads grout between tiles. Sealer protects grout from stains. Sponges wipe up excess.

Prep the Wall Surface

To ensure tiles adhere properly, prep the wall surface thoroughly:

  • Clean off any dirt, grease, or soap scum with a degreasing cleaner. Rinse well.
  • Remove existing wallpaper or paint with chemicals or a steamer.
  • Fill any holes or cracks wider than 1/8 inch with spackle. Allow to fully dry.
  • Sand down high spots on walls. Remove any loose paint or plaster.
  • Prime bare drywall before tiling. Use a paint-bonding ceramic tile primer.

The wall surface should be smooth, clean, and free of debris for best results.

Set the Tile Layout

Once your prep work is complete, it’s time to start tiling. Follow these steps:

Plan Your Tile Pattern

Dry lay a few rows of tile on the floor using spacers to visualize your pattern and layout. Ensure you have enough tiles for the job.

Mix the Adhesive

Mix mastic or thinset mortar according to package directions. Only mix small batches to prevent it from drying out.

Spread the Adhesive

Use a notched trowel held at a 45° angle to spread adhesive evenly on the wall. Apply 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.

Set the Border Tiles

Start with the center tiles, working outwards. Place border tiles last to frame the layout.

Set Each Tile into Place

Make sure tiles are completely flat against the wall. Use spacers between them for consistent spacing.

Check Level and Alignment

As you go, use a level and straightedge to ensure tiles are perfectly vertical and aligned.

Cut Tiles to Fit

Measure and mark tiles that need cutting. Score with tile cutter and snap off excess. Use nippers on small spots.

Let Adhesive Cure

Allow tile adhesive to fully cure for 24-48 hours before grouting. Follow drying times on the product label.

Apply Grout Between Tiles

Applying grout finishes the job and locks the tiles into place:

Mix the Grout

Mix grout per package instructions to a thick, peanut butter-like consistency. Let it slake for 10 minutes.

Spread Grout Over Tiles

Holding the grout float at a 45° angle, force grout deeply into gaps between tiles.

Wipe Away Excess Grout

Wipe diagonally across tiles with a damp sponge to remove excess grout on the surface.

Clean Grout Haze

Once grout dries, a haze may remain on tiles. Wash tiles with a soft cloth and mild cleaner.

Apply Grout Sealer

After 24 hours, apply grout sealer to protect from moisture and stains.

Allow grout to cure fully for 72 hours before using shower or getting walls wet.

Tips for a Flawless Finish

Follow these tips to help ensure your ceramic wall tile installation looks fantastic:

  • Use leveling clips under tiles to keep the surface flat and even as the adhesive dries.
  • Make delicate tile cuts with an electric wet saw for precise edges.
  • Work in small sections so adhesive doesn’t dry out before tiles are set.
  • Use tile edge trim and bullnose pieces on exposed tile edges for a clean look.
  • Seal natural stone tiles before and after grouting to prevent staining.
  • Use a grout release agent on polished tiles to prevent grout haze.
  • Clean tiles regularly with pH-neutral cleaner to prevent buildup and grime.

With the right prep work and materials, installing ceramic wall tile can be a DIY project. Carefully follow each step and you can achieve beautiful results. Just take your time and don’t be afraid to ask for help at your local tile store.

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Ceramic Wall Tile

What type of tile adhesive should I use?

For walls, mastic or thinset mortar adhesives work well. Choose one designed for ceramic wall tile. Make sure it adheres to your wall type.

How do I get a professional look with the grout lines?

Use plastic tile spacers while setting tiles to keep grout line width consistent. Carefully apply grout, wiping diagonally across tiles.

What tools do I need for cutting tile?

A manual tile cutter scores tiles for straight cuts. Tile nippers snap off small corners or edges. An electric wet saw makes precise curved or angled cuts.

Should tiles go all the way to the ceiling?

It’s a personal choice. Stopping tiles 6-12 inches from the ceiling is common to allow room for a decorative border or change of pattern.

How long does tile adhesive need to dry before grouting?

24-48 hours. Follow manufacturer’s instructions. Grout can only be applied once adhesive has fully cured or tiles may shift.

How do I prep glossy wall tile to prevent grout haze?

Wipe tiles with grout release or a mild acid like white vinegar before grouting. This helps prevent grout from sticking to the glossy surface.

What’s the best way to cut narrow strips of tile?

Mark the tile where you want to cut it, then use a utility knife and straightedge to score the glaze. The tile should then snap cleanly along the scored line.

How do I remove old or damaged wall tile?

Carefully chip away old tile and adhesive using a hammer and chisel, or rent a power scraper. Chemical paint stripper can help soften mastic.

Can I install ceramic tile over existing wall tile?

Yes, if the existing tile is well-adhered. Scuff sand to improve adhesion. Use a latex-modified thinset mortal as your adhesive in this case.

How long should I wait before sealing grout?

Apply grout sealer 1-2 days after grouting once grout has fully cured. Quickly wiping any haze as it appears helps it cure evenly.


Installing ceramic wall tile is a worthwhile DIY project that can give your bathroom or kitchen an attractive new look with just a weekend of work. Follow the steps above to properly prep, measure, lay out, cut, adhere, grout, and seal the tiles. Have all your materials and tools on hand before starting. Take your time to get details right and you can achieve results worthy of any home design magazine. With some patience and these tips, your new ceramic tile walls will turn out beautifully.