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Ceramic Floor Tile Not Sticking

In the era of Youtube, people have started to believe they can do anything, and mostly, they’re right. If you’ve been considering laying down a ceramic floor on your own, there are plenty of Youtube videos that can show you how, but what do you do when the ceramic tile doesn’t stick?

If your ceramic floor tiles aren’t sticking, it could be due to improperly mixed grout/thinset or not using enough grout/thinset. You could also be attaching the tiles to the wrong base, letting the thinset become too dry before applying the tiles, etc. Determining the problem is key to fixing it.

Ceramic tile flooring

This article will further explore some of the most common problems associated with ceramic tiles that won’t stick. It’ll also cover how to remedy these problems and give you some tips and tricks for making sure your ceramic tile sticks and holds fast.

Ceramic Floor Tile Not Sticking

Ceramic tile grout

The most common problems associated with ceramic tiles not sticking correctly include:

  • The thinset and/or grout you’re using has been improperly mixed.
  • You aren’t using enough thinset or grout.
  • You forgot to “back-butter” your tiles.
  • The base to which you’re trying to apply the tiles isn’t ideal for holding ceramic tiles.
  • Your thinset is drying out before you place the tiles on the floor.
  • Your trowel is the wrong size, or you could be misusing it.

Let’s look at these problems a little more in-depth.

Tile Adhesive Not Sticking to Floor Tiles

Ceramic tile flooring installation

Tile adhesive, also known as thinset, is the mixture used to hold your ceramic tiles in place. If your thinset or tile adhesive isn’t sticking to the floor tiles, there’s usually a single culprit.

Improperly Mixed Thinset

The most likely reason is that you didn’t mix your thinset properly. No matter which thinset you’re using, the bag should have detailed instructions on how to combine the mixture properly.

There’s an appropriate ratio of water (or polymer) to powder that must be mixed, and if you’ve used too much or too little water, your thinset won’t work as well as it should. If you don’t use enough water, it’ll be too dry and won’t stick to the floor or your tiles. If you use too much water, it’ll be too runny.

Why Are My Floor Tiles Not Sticking?

Ceramic floor installation

If your tiles aren’t sticking to your floor, improperly mixed thinset could still be the problem. It’s not the only possibility, though. Another similar issue could be that you’ve improperly mixed the grout you’re using to hold the tiles in place once you’ve placed them.

Go back and re-read the instructions on mixing your grout. Make sure you followed them and that your grout mixture is the proper consistency.

Not Using Enough Thinset or Grout/Not Back-Buttering Your Tiles

If the consistencies of both your adhesive and your grout are as they should be, the next step is to make sure you’re using enough of both. Thinset should be placed on the floor using a trowel, and you should use enough of it to hold your tiles firmly in place.

Additionally, you should also be back-buttering your tiles. This simply means putting thinset on the backs of your tiles as well as on your floor. Back-buttering isn’t always necessary, but if you’ve done everything correctly and your tiles still aren’t sticking, it may be time to back-butter.

Additionally, if you don’t use enough grout around the edges after you lay your tile, it could cause adhesive problems as well.

You’re Trying To Apply Tiles to a “Bad” Base

The technical term for the base to which you’re applying your tile is “underlayment.” The underlayment is the floor layer directly underneath your tiles – basically, the base to which your tiles will be adhering.

These underlayment options work well with ceramic tile:

  • Mortar beds
  • Membranes
  • Concrete backer board
  • Fiber-reinforced water-resistant gypsum backer board
  • Fiber-cement backer board
  • Concrete

These underlayment options don’t work as well with ceramic tile:

  • Drywall
  • Particleboard
  • OSB/Interior grade plywood
  • Non-sheet vinyl flooring
  • Certain types of wood

If your grout and thinset are correctly mixed and you’re using enough of each, check the surface of the underlayment. It could be incompatible with ceramic tile, and you may need to lay down a layer of a more compatible material before placing your tile.

Will Tile Stick to a Painted Floor?

Ceramic tile installation

What about a painted floor? Is that something to which ceramic tile can stick? The short answer is yes, but the more truthful answer is that you’d be better off not trying to attach tile to a painted surface.

While you can do it, it isn’t recommended, and there’s often a lot of prep work that goes into making it work. Any peeling or loose paint has to be removed, and then there’s sanding and priming to be done. It’s a lot of work. If you can avoid adding tile to a painted floor, it’s best to do so. In a pinch, though, it can be done.

Floor Tiles Not Sticking to Adhesive

Ceramic tile grout

Usually, if everything else is fine, there’s a simple reason your ceramic floor tiles aren’t sticking to your adhesive. You’re probably letting it dry out before you try placing the tiles on it. If you wait too long between spreading the thinset and placing the tile, the thinset will become too dry to be useful.

There’s no set time limit on how long this takes. It depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • How thin/thick you’ve spread the thinset
  • The temperature
  • The air movement in the room
  • The water-to-powder ratio of the thinset
  • The type of thinset (water-mixed vs. polymer-mixed)

Still, this is a common error, so try not to let too much time pass between spreading your adhesive and placing your tiles.

Incorrect Trowel Size or Usage

The type and size of trowel you’re using to spread your thinset are also important. Schluter-Systems North America has a great Tips and Tricks video concerning picking the appropriate trowel for the job:

The type and size of trowel you use will also determine what the trowel ridges look like when you’re spreading your thinset, and how your trowel ridges look can affect how the finished product looks. Therefore, you must choose the right size trowel that’ll give you the maximum amount of coverage for your project.

What Do You Do When Peel and Stick Tiles Won’t Stick?

Ceramic floor installation

Peel and stick tiles are usually very effective and almost always stick well. If, for some reason, they don’t, it’s a rare and unusual occurrence. In these cases, it’s usually because the underlayment area has been damaged somehow and doesn’t do well with the glue on the peel and stick tiles.

As you can see from the video, if you can’t get your peel and stick tiles to stick, there are a few products you can purchase to help. The first is the HOMEeasy Carpet and Vinyl tape. It’s some of the strongest tape you can find, and it works well with this tile.

The second is the Loctite Heavy Duty adhesive. It’s super strong and will hold just about anything in place. Another item I recommend that wasn’t listed in the video is Weldbond Multi-purpose Glue. It’s a little more expensive for the smaller size, but this stuff works like magic.

However, as I’ve already mentioned, and as the video reiterated, don’t pre-buy these items. Most of the time, peel and stick tiles work just fine on their own, without any additional adhesive. Only pick these up as a last resort in the rare case that your tiles don’t stick on their own.

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