Bathroom & Kitchen Guide

Your complete guide to remodeling, design and new products.


How to lay tile on a kitchen countertop.
Tiling a kitchen countertop

Laying tile on a kitchen countertop can be an easy way to up-date your kitchen. It can also be a bit of a disaster if you don’t prepare the surface first. If you just lay tiles straight onto your countertop you will find they will crack and break off in a short amount of time. Selecting the right backing beneath the tile is very important along with selecting the right tiles for the job.

Firstly is your sink an over mount sink or an under mount sink? If it is an under mount sink (is sits below the countertop height) you shouldn’t have a problem, if it is an over mount sink (it will have a lip that sits over the counter top edge) then you can do 3 things. You can remove the sink before you tile and place the sink over the tile edge, you can install an under mount sink or you can tile over the edge. If you want to tile over the edge you will have to apply backing a little thicker over the countertop so it will be over the lip of the over mount sink.

Visit your local tile store to choose the tiles and pattern you are going to use. Also keep in mind what edging you will use. Do you want the tiles to end with a straight edge? Or do you want a curved piece of tile to cover the edge giving it a smooth finish? Also what color grout will you use? Do you want the standard white grout or will you be daring and have a tinted grout between the tiles? Sometimes in the kitchen a colored grout is best as white grout will take more care and show any stains easily.

When you purchase your tiles make sure they are all the same thickness. This will give you a level surface at the end as you don’t want raised edges everywhere!

Before you start make sure your surface is clean and level. Check that your corners are 90 degrees. You don’t want to get tiling and notice the corners are not a true right angle as this will take a while to cut tiles to make them fit. Have a good look at your cabinets. Are they secure? Do they have any shims or removable items that could be accidentally knocked out leaving your cabinets not level. If this happens your tiles will instantly crack. If there are a few items such as shims or small pieces of wood keeping the cabinet’s level then fix this first. Add a few extra screws to where the cabinets are braced to the wall and use some liquid nails to make the shims a permanent fixture. Use a damp cloth to wipe away any excess and before it sets check the cabinet’s level with a spirit level. If it is not level quickly try amending this with more or less shims.

Now we are going to prep the surface. What existing countertop do you have? Or do you have a raw surface to work with? If you already have a tiled countertop you can remove the tiles and start again, which is best. Or you can tile over the top. You will need to seal off the existing tile and you cannot tile the same pattern as it will leave weak spots in the work making it prone to cracking.

Many people will choose to cut some plywood to size and fix this with a sturdy adhesive to the countertop as a base. The only problem with this is that if you don’t seal your tiles correctly water and moisture can leak through and make it distort and will crack the tiles.
When you are at your local tile store or hardware store you can purchase a prep base first. It will normally be in the tiling section or ask the customer service assistant. There are some that are latex based some are OK and some are a big mistake. They will be too flexible and lead to the tiles cracking. Choose something that is clearly labeled tile base and that is also a water sealant too.

Apply the base in accordance to the manufacturer’s instructions and allow for the full drying time, maybe even a little more depending on the climate, humidity affects drying time. If you are tiling over the lip of your sink make sure you apply it thick enough to cover it. Use a cement trough or level to get a smooth finish and check your cabinets surface is still level.

Once this has dried layout your tiles to the pattern you want. This will help you as it will show you if you need to cut any tiles and if you have enough to complete the project.

Remove the tiles you laid out and apply the tile cement. This can be picked up at your local hardware store too and grab a bag of tile spacers too. Spacers go between the tiles so they are even spread out. Apply the tile cement to the correct instructions provided by the manufacture. Make sure it is evenly spread. Try doing a section at a time if you have a large area to tile, about 6ft at a time.

Once you have applied this start laying your tiles and use your spacers. They may seem fiddly but it is important to use them as one tile that is not in correct alignment will greatly affect the end result. When cutting any tiles measure them and cut them with a tile cutter. It may take a bit to get the hang of so make sure you have a few extra tiles then what you need. When you have tiled the first area grab your spirit level and check to see if it is still level. Gently tap down any tiles that seem to be raised and if you have one that is too low, pull it up and put a bit more tile cement underneath and try again.

When you have completed all your tiling and sure that it is a level surface you need to not touch the area until it has completely dried. Again you should wait a little longer then the recommended drying time if you are in a humid or cold climate. Remove the spacers went it is almost dry. Be very careful not to bump any tiles.

GroutingYou should be able to see your new kitchen cabinet counter top take form. The next step is grouting. Mix up your grout to the correct ratios that the manufacturer has instructed. Apply the grout using a damp cloth. It works best as you don’t risk scratching your tiles and it makes it easier to push the grout into the gaps. When you push the grout onto the gaps, cover your finger with a bit of damp cloth and run it over the gaps so the surface of the grout will have a nice smooth finish.

Leave the grout to dry before you buff off the thin film of grout that is showing on the top of your tiles. Normally you just use a clean damp cloth to wipe this off after wards. Make sure you clean the area thoroughly. You can apply a protective sealant over the top of your countertop however it is not essential if you purchased tiles suited for the kitchen and used the correct based and grout. If you feel that it is not completely watertight use a sealant that is clear and suitable for ceramic tiles or what even the tiles are made out of.

If you chose to remove your sink so it would remain an over mount sink, now is the time to re-install the sink.

Once you have your sink in place, you can proudly say you have tiled your kitchen counter top giving it a fresh look.

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