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How to Install Bathroom Floor Tile: Part 1

We’ve all seen beautiful ceramic tile floors and admired their character. Who wouldn’t want a resilient surface that can stand the test of time?

We prefer ceramic or porcelain tile in bathrooms. The floor can get wet and you don’t need to immediately worry about water ruining the surface.

In the next few posts, we share how to use tile a floor using HardieBacker and porcelain.

You should be able to just view the pictures and get the main idea of how to perform the tilling tasks we performed.

If you’re thinking of transforming your bathroom floor into something unique then this post can certainly help you do it with confidence.


Blue Carpet in the Bathroom, WHY??

We’ll never understand why carpet of any color was installed in bathrooms. If you have carpet in your bathroom please don’t be offended.

Ceramic or porcelain tiles are a better option because they aren’t a food source for mold, unlike carpet. And since bathrooms are already moist it’s rather easy for mold to start gobbling up carpet like Cheetos.

Carpet in bathrooms is a food source for mold

In order to pull up the carpet, we needed to remove the toilet and vanity.

Check the Wood Subfloor for Damage 

We looked for signs of water damage on the surface and edges of the wood bathroom subfloor. Pay attention to the areas where the vanity, toilet, and tub reside. A compromised subfloor needs to be replaced or repaired. Also, the TCNA (Tile Council of North America) has specific guidelines on deflection for tile floors, read their handbook for the details.

We highly recommend using an isolation membrane like DITRA, it waterproofs and prevents cracked tiles. But in this example we used HardieBacker.

Check the bathroom wood subfloor for damage

No bathroom remodeling project ever goes perfectly. The picture below shows how the toilet flange was resting on two shims.

Inspect the wood around the toilet flange for water damage

This is a recipe for disaster. The flange should sit on top of the floor so the wax seal between it and your toilet doesn’t compress. This compressing causes the wax ring’s seal to crack. When you flush the toilet, water will make its way to the wood subfloor. Disgusting at best 🙁

Fortunately for us, the wood around the old toilet flange space was still in good shape.

Check Wood Subfloors

Seriously, if you don’t own a pair of comfortable knee pads now is the time to buy them. Send me a thank you email later, after you install your tile.

Also, buy a 4-foot level because you’ll need it to make sure there are no peaks or valleys in the wood subfloor.

We placed it on the bathroom floor parallel to the bathtub and then moved it across the room in 1-foot increments.

Place a level on the bathroom floor parallet to the bathtub

The next step is to make the level perpendicular to the bathtub and place it on the bathroom floor.

Again, we moved the level 1 foot at a time across the floor checking for imperfections across its span.

Place a level on the bathroom floor perpendicular to the bathtub

Minor peaks in the wood subfloor may be due to a popped nail. If this is the case you can strike the nail back down into the joist below the wood subfloor. You can also use a 2 inch deck screw to secure the wood.

This is also a good time to walk on the floor and check for any flexing or squeaking in the subfloor wood panels. Again, use the 2 inch deck screws to eliminate any of these problems.

Secure squeaky and flexing wood subfloor panels

If the peak is an imperfection in the wood subfloor itself and it’s less than 1/8 of an inch you can possibly sand it down.

Valleys or depressions in the wood subfloor can be filled in with a self-leveling compound. This can be found at most home improvement centers in the flooring section where tile is sold.

Fix peaks and valleys in the wood bathroom subfloor

Bathroom Floor Tile: Prep Summary

Here’s the summary of how to prep your bathroom floor for tile

  • Check the wood subfloor for water damage around the vanity, toilet and bathtub
  • Ensure the floor is level parallel and perpendicular to the bathtub
  • Secure any loose and squeaky wood subfloor panels using 2-inch deck screws
  • Fix peaks less than 1/8 of an inch by sanding them down
  • Fill in valleys using self-leveling compound

Our next post will discuss why I chose to place HardieBacker underlayment on top of the wood subfloor.

What’s Next

If you’re doing a bathroom remodel and need help, join one of our online courses – they’ll make your bathroom renovation much easier!

Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to help.



Pre-Installation Tips

  1. SheilaG says:

    Looking forward to the rest of the story, Jeff. We installed tile in our bathroom, and unfortunately, a couple of tiles have popped loose in the water closet area. We used hardiebacker underlayment also, so not sure what we did wrong.

    1. Jeff says:

      Sorry to hear the tiles already popped Sheila. I’m wondering if the thin set was perhaps too dry and the adhesion was off a bit. If the tiles are not over a Hardiebacker seam you could try to chisel them free and remove the old thin set from the floor. Then perhaps install new tiles in the same space and see if they adhere better with a slightly wetter thins set mixture.

  2. Roeshel says:

    Great tips, Jeff! We just prepped a bathroom floor for tiling, installed the hardiebacker and cut, set tiles. I probably should have waited for your series to get your secrets! Darn the timing of it all! Looking forward to seeing more!

    1. Jeff says:

      Thanks Roeshel, I’ve been following your progress on the apartment and am excited to see all the hard work you’ve put into it. I’m sure your project will be good to go. I will be posting some info that has helped me with my flooring remodels, so definitely stay posted 🙂

  3. Rhonda says:

    Jeff – so glad I found this! I too have a carpeted bathroom (eww!) and am thinking of tiling. My question is that when I look at the condition of the sub wood flooring, it’s in better shape than mine is. It was suggested to me to use cement backerboards (?) to lay down over the sub wood. What’s your thought on this.

    1. Jeff says:

      Thanks for the question Rhonda. I would definitely use a cement board underpayment. You’ll need to determine what thickness to use, I typically shoot for 1/4 inch thick HardieBacker.

      It’s about $10 for a 3′ by 5′ sheet. Make sure to use thin set to adhere it to your subfloor and then nail or screw it into place. My next few posts will cover this entire process. So feel free to stop by again 🙂

  4. Ruth says:

    Is your brother married? I need a handy person in my life. LOL Thanks for all your input!

    1. Jeff says:

      Lol, my brother is happily married. You’re very welcome Ruthie. I’m happy to answer any questions 🙂

  5. John King says:

    Great information here. One of the things I also do when laying Hardibacker is to lay out where my tiles will land so that I don’t end up with a grout line laying on top of a joint where the pieces of Hardibacker meet.

    1. Great tip John, the grout would certainly be more prone to cracking if they were directly above the HardieBacker joint.

      Thanks for adding this suggestion 🙂

  6. Carole Siegel says:

    My house was built with particle board floors through out. Ok now you are saying no it is not but it is. I have had 2 failed showers in the bathroom. Tiled…and now after putting in a massive tub need to have a shower..too old to climb in. What should I do to reinforce the joists…or walls to get a hardy shower. Yes they did leak to rooms downstairs. I never replaced bathroom floor so I plan to do this but what else should I do and what kind of contractor does this. I live in CA no one wants the job.

  7. Josh says:

    Hey Jeff
    I have a house that was built in 1938 . It has hardwood in the bathrooms and I have three small kids that get it wet often. I’m wanting to replace it with tile due to the wood starting to get soft in spots what do you recommend me doing this will be my first time taking on a project by myself?

  8. Bonnie says:

    How do you which way to run porcelain planks on your bathroom floor ?

  9. janet says:

    Hi…I am a diy-er myself. This is my 2nd remodel of a (said) bathroom in 35 years. I ripped up the tiled floor back to original pine flooring (original room was a bedroom). I removed the tiled shower walls (this is a large walk-in) back to the studs on two walls, and to the plaster and lathe on the other. My question is, that the tiled mosaic porcelain tile floor in my shower is as good as the day I laid it, do I have to remove it as well? I poured the pan 25 years ago, there are no leaks, no cracks, and no mold. I
    have tried moving the tile, and it doesn’t want to budge. Now I know I can remove it, but wonder if it is worth it. I don’t want to damage the pan and have to redo it again. I may sound lazy, but I may be just getting a little too old for all this. I want to go on top with a mosaic marble basket weave. I’ve scoured the internet, and ten to every one says to tear out and put down new. I am on day 3 of this remodel…

    1. Great question Janet, I actually answered it on my podcast today (episode 246) and shared a story that you should hear.

      Here’s the link to the podcast page on HRT

      Long story short, we recommend tearing up all the tile. The weight of adding the new tile on top could be an issue, as I explain in the podcast.

      I know it’s a pain to remove tile.

      And if you have to tear up the pan just know that there are easy ways to replace it.

      Schluter makes easy to install pans that are both curbed and curbless, if you’re going with a walk-in shower we also like Wedi pans.

      But keep me posted, we’d be happy to help in any way.

  10. Diane Gallo says:

    Hi Jeff, thanks for sharing so much of your expertise!
    We are planning on tiling a laundry room in our rental. The former tenant left a lot of tile behind, he was a tile guy, which I’d like to put to good use. The problem is the quantity, 30, 13×13 of one, 30, 13 x 13 of another, etc. I’ll need 80 total but trying to figure out how to lay it has been really difficult. Is there a program that would allow me to use pictures of my actual tile and place them in a rectangle similar to the shape of the room so I can experiment with some different configurations? Thanks so much!

  11. Avanta Adeleke says:

    I would this process modify for concrete flooring? I have a small patch (approx. 3×4) of carpet in front of the vanity that needs to be replaced with tile.

    1. Avanta Adeleke says:


  12. ceramic says:

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  13. Jimmy Wales says:

    Wow i will Try but i am do not add tile perfect and my client is Upset with me so now give me some video Tutorials so that i learn

  14. john farmer says:

    You should use water resistant tile adhesive mortar and grout material in bathroom. I advice you to search VOX construction chemicals. this brand has so qualitified products for this installations. I used the products of Vox and was satisfied. Have a nice day everybody

  15. Agrippina says:

    Hello, thank you for your blog and all the explanations, very useful. A quick question about floor leveling. Our bath floor appears to have a peak in the center, the sides are lower by about 1/8 to 1/4 compared to the center (level placed parallel to the tub). I am wondering if we need to address this or if this variation can later be “fixed” with the thinset when laying tiles? We will use ditra as an underlayment. Thank you, would appreciate any reply.

  16. Cheryl Martin says:

    Do you tile under a freestanding steam shower/tub combo?

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