Tips for Setting Porcelain Tile

Porcelain is a man-made material used for floor and wall tiles as well as household items such as crockery. It is made by a dust pressed method from a mix of ingredients that result in a dense, fine grained and smooth tile. It can be manufactured to be glazed, matte or unglazed and in a range of thicknesses, sizes and colors.

The Basics

Setting porcelain tile on your floors instead of linoleum, wood or other alternatives provides you with a floor that is extremely durable, very easy to clean and highly attractive. There are none of the issues associated with the porosity of stone, granite or marble because the convenience has been designed into the tile during manufacture.

The choice between setting porcelain tile or a natural material is made easy when you consider how low maintenance they are, while still being aesthetically adaptable and comfortable to live with.


Due to their rigid composition, it is vital that a strong underlayment be established before setting porcelain tile. The floor must be flat, solid and bonded efficiently to the sub-floor. At least a 1 1/8 inch thickness is required for effective support.

Any linoleum or vinyl should be removed for best results, though it is possible to cover over it with underlayment. Any glossy surface should be roughened before installing tiles. Damaged flooring absolutely needs to be removed before applying new underlayment.


If you are going to be setting porcelain tile floors yourself, you need to be aware of the basics. It is not a simple matter of starting in the corner and working your way towards the opposite corner. There are sometimes problems with walls not being straight and square. This can definitely present difficulties when setting porcelain tile. It means that a layout has to be determined before you begin actually setting the tile.

You need to work out which wall to start from, and that is usually the one that is most visible when walking into a room. You also have to decide on a pattern if your tiles are shaped other than square. Some tile patterns feature small detail tiles that are set at the meeting point of the corners of four larger tiles.

So as you can see, there are plenty of considerations to make. Your floor is a long-term fixture. You cannot simply re-do it on a whim if you do not like the way you did it in the first place.


After deciding on the layout you will use, thoroughly clean the surface of dust and debris. Always prepare only enough adhesive for what you can reasonably use within a thirty-minute time span. Any longer and it will dry out and be unusable. When setting porcelain tile, always set the full tiles first and any cut ones last.

The adhesive should be applied to the floor, not to the backs of the tiles. Apply enough to accommodate several tiles. As you apply each tile, twist it a little to set it properly into the adhesive. Remember to leave space for grout lines, which should, of course, be uniform. You can use plastic spacers, which you can buy at tile supply or hardware stores.

Placing a piece of padded 2 x 4 over the tiles you have set and tapping it gently with a rubber mallet will help with setting porcelain tile at uniform height. Clean up as you go by using a putty knife to scrape away any mortar that has squished up between the tiles. Remove the plastic spacers and use for the next section.


After setting porcelain tile over the whole room, you need to grout between them using a color that matches the tiles themselves. Mix according to the manufacturers instructions and allow to stand for about 15 minutes. Apply using a grout float and work the mixture diagonally across the surface, applying pressure to force it into the gaps.

Apply to the entire tiled area of the room and allow to dry. When the grout is thoroughly dry, take a damp sponge and wipe off the excess. Be sure to rinse the sponge regularly and go over the whole floor until all traces of excess grout are removed. Finish off with a grout sealer.

Setting porcelain tile can be back-breaking work. It is also quite hard on the knees so invest in a pair of inexpensive knee guards for your own comfort.

See Also:

Porcelain Tiles vs. Ceramic Tiles