Materials Needed to Tile a Floor

There are several options for materials when installing ceramic floor tile. The integrity of the subfloor is one of the factors to consider when selecting materials, as is the amount of foot traffic the tiled area will receive. The materials you need also depend on whether you plan to install floor tile in a wet area, such as a bathroom, or a dry area, such as a living room. Choosing the right materials will not only make the installation go smoothly, it will keep your floor tile looking beautiful for years to come.

There are many different materials to choose from when tiling floors.


Not only do tiles come in various colors and designs, they also have different hardness ratings. The American Society for Testing and Materials rates ceramic tiles based on a hardness scale and divides them into groups. Group 0 tiles are not suitable for floor use, while Group 1 tiles will withstand light foot traffic. Group 5 tiles hold up even in areas of heavy foot traffic.


Tile adhesives hold the tile to the floor. Thin-set adhesive, also called Portland cement mortar, is a combination of cement, sand and methylcellulose. Thin-set adhesive is available as dry-set or latex-modified. Because of its water-repellent properties, Herbert Tennant of Habitat Modifications recommends using a latex-modified adhesive in areas with water exposure, such as bathroom floors. Although there are a few ready-to-use thin-set adhesive products, most require the addition of water prior to use. Mastic, or organic adhesive, is a pre-mixed tile adhesive. Type 1 mastic is suitable for floor tile installations, whereas Type 2 is not.


Grout fills in the gaps between the tiles. Cement grout comes in sanded and unsanded varieties. Sanded grout is used in gaps larger than 1/16-inch wide. Because it is hard to work sand into small tile joints, unsanded grout is used for tiles set close together. Both sanded and unsanded grouts are available dry or pre-mixed, and come in a wide array of colors. Latex-modified sanded grout is more water-repellent than regular sanded grout and is a common choice for bathroom floor tile. Epoxy grout is more durable and water-resistant than cement grout, but it is more difficult to work with.

Miscellaneous Materials

Spacers are small pieces of plastic that are placed between the tiles during installation to keep the tile spacing symmetrical. Cement board is useful for slightly uneven or unstable floors. It provides a thin, hard surface ideal for tile. You can install cement board over vinyl flooring, allowing for installation of ceramic floor tile without removing the vinyl flooring. Grout sealer is a clear, protective finish that helps prevent water absorption and staining of the grout. Tile sealer works to coat and protect tile and is especially useful for sealing porous tile, such as terra cotta, prior to grouting. Tile sealer is not needed for glazed ceramic tiles.


Floor tile installations require both ordinary and tile-specific tools. You need ordinary tools such as a tape measure, a chalk line and a spirit level. Tile-specific tools include a notched trowel, a rubber grout float and grout nippers. Wear safety glasses when using a tile nipper. You may find a grout bag is helpful for getting the grout into awkward places. You will need some sort of tile cutter. A portable tile cutter works with most ceramic tile, but you may need to use a wet saw if working with marble or granite tile.