How To Install Counter Top Tile

You can install your own countertop tile in the bathroom, it's much easier than it sounds.

One of the best investments you can make in your home is remodeling outdated bathrooms. The added value to your home will be almost double what the project cost you. Changing the bathroom countertop to tile is not as difficult as it sounds. Tile can be set over an existing laminate countertop or plywood; tile can even be set over existing tile. This project will take the beginner about 3 to 4 days and 2 days for the expert.


Before you start this project, it is important to decide if you will keep your existing countertop, backsplash and sink. If you decide to dispose of your old countertop and use plywood as a base, it would be wise to keep the old countertop to use as a template. Make a rough drawing of your countertop with measurements before shopping for your tile. This will determine how many square feet of tile is needed. Countertop tile is thicker than wall tile so be sure to look at countertop tiles when making your selection. Also consider the size and placement of any decorative tiles you may want to add. Bullnose tiles are tiles with one edge rounded; for use at the edge of the counter and top of the backsplash. Spacers are used to keep the tiles straight as well as keeping grout lines uniform. Certain types of tile come on sheets of adhesive which make it easier to set and spacers are not necessary, such as mosaic type tile. Although these tiles are easier to set, the small size of the tiles may look out of place on a countertop. When choosing the color of the grout, make sure to buy enough from the same lot and color run. Grout can be caustic to the skin when exposed for a long period of time, you may want protective rubber gloves. Thin-set adhesive with a latex additive is the adhesive of choice for most when setting countertop tile.


Tile and spacers

Thin-set adhesive with latex additive

Grout and sealer

Diamond tipped tile cutter or wet saw (rented if necessary)

Tile nippers

Notched trowel

Rubber float

Straight edge or T-square

Utility knife


Remove the sink by first turning off the water under the counter. After the water is turned off, bleed the lines to get any remaining water out of the lines. Unscrew the connections where they meet the sink. Using a utility knife, gently remove the caulking or putty from the lip of the sink and remove the sink. If the surface to be tiled is non-porous, sand the surface to roughen it. This will help the thin-set adhere to the surface. An orbital sander makes this a much easier job. Clean the countertop of any excess dust. Lay out the tile and spacers until you have decided exactly how you want it. Make a rough drawing to use as a guide for your design. Determine where you will place the first tile and mark the countertop using your straight edge, T-square or a level; the mark showing where the first tile is to be placed.


Mix the thin-set according to directions and apply to countertop in small enough sections to work within 15 minutes. Take care not to cover your previous mark. Use the notched trowel to spread the thin-set, keeping the thickness of the adhesive uniform and the grooves in the same direction. The grooves give "teeth" to the adhesive. "Butter" your first tile to be set at your mark. Buttering is simply applying adhesive to the tile and not the surface. Set your first tile on your mark and gently push and twist to grip the tile. Set the adjoining tiles and use the spacers at the corners of each tile. Make sure the spacers are not embedded in the adhesive as they will be difficult to remove when dry. The adhesive should not come to the top of the tiles, but approximately half way. Too much adhesive will interfere with the grout. If there is too much adhesive, simply remove the tiles and trowel off the excess from the countertop, then quickly reset the tiles. Remove any adhesive that gets on the tile. When it is time to cut a tile, make sure there is no adhesive on it. Renting a wet saw is the best, but buying a diamond tipped tile cutter is much less expensive. A tile nipper tool can be used to nip the excess tile from a cut. If using bullnose tile, it is better to use a shim to fill in the excess space at the curved end. Wooden shims can be found at a hardware store and are very inexpensive. This shim will be permanent and adhered so make sure none of it will be showing. After the tile has been set, allow 24 hours for curing before grouting. Remove the spacers before grouting, using the tip of a utility knife to pop them out if necessary.


On a small area such as a countertop, it is best to mix as much grout as you will need for the whole job. This will insure a consistency in color and texture. Apply the grout with a rubber float to the whole surface of the tiled area. Apply grout at a 45 degree angle, scooping the excess with the float. Use the float at a 45 degree angle in opposite direction to make sure the grout gets into the joints. Continue to use the float to scrape excessive grout from the tiles. Let the remaining excessive grout dry for approximately 15 minutes. After grout has dried for approximately 15 minutes, use a damp sponge to wipe away the excess grout. Continue rinsing the sponge and wiping away the grout, taking care not to remove grout from joints. There will be a film on the tiles. Wait for at least 8 hours before removing this film. Removal of this film is as simple as waxing your car, just take a clean, dry cloth and buff. After the grout is totally dry, install the sink. Use silicone sealant around the rim of the sink, where it sits on the countertop. After a week, seal the grout with sealer; this is very important, especially in areas with water. Maintain your new tile countertop with regular cleaning and applying sealer to the grout at least yearly.

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