1. Do NOT start your first row of tiles resting on the top of the tub.
If your tub isn't level than all of your tiling will be equally crooked.
Instead, use a straight piece of wood (like a wood molding) and fasten
that to the wall above the tub. Make sure that wood molding is
horizontal, or as close to as you can muster. Set your first course of
tiles on the wood molding and do all the tiling above that molding
first, then cut your bottom row of tiles to fit down to the tub. So,
obviously, you want the wood molding to be ALMOST a full tile above the
tub, but check all 4 corner to make sure you'll have to CUT the tile to
fit, not stretch it to fit.
2. Set out rows of tiles on your floor; with one row of tiles laid
end-to-end with spacers between them, and another row of tiles laid
side-to-side with spacers between them. This will tell you how large an
area to mark off on the wall. You want to mark off about 1/8 of an inch
less in both directions so that you don't have thin set squeezing out
under the tile that will interfere with the next tiles you set. Measure
off an area on the wall and apply masking tape along those lines. That
way you can spread your thin set quickly without having to be careful
not to go over the lines. Spread your thin set on the wall, and then
pull off the masking tape. Now, back butter each tile before you set
it. That way, if the thin set on the wall skins over, it'll be
reactivated by the moisture from the fresh thin set on the back of the
3. I like using 6" X 8" tiles in landscape mode. These are the largest
tiles you can comfortably fit in one hand. And, setting them in
landscape mode instead of portrait mode allows you to get a custom look
from plain jane tiles.
4. When you set your tiles, set the spacers perpendicular to the tiles
to make them easy to remove once the thin set sets up. Some stupid DIY
book are telling people to put the plastic crosses in the plane of the
tiles and to grout over them. That is just plain bad advice. Stick
them in perpendicular and pull them out after the thin set has had 24
hours to cure.
5. Set your tile from tub to ceiling. Having bare wall above the tiling
is a problem waiting to happen. That wall gets wet and the paint on it
starts to crack and peel. Paint your bathroom with a paint specifically
made for bathrooms like Zinsser's PermaWhite Bathroom Paint available at
Home Depot and other fine stores.
6. When you grout, don't mix up more grout than you can spread in half
an hour, or about 2 cups maximum. Then, before the grout gets too hard,
scrape the grout lines down with a popsicle stick being careful not to
gouge the grout at the corners. It's vastly easier to wipe the grout
down to a uniform depth if you start with it at a uniform depth.
7. Seal your grout. Some people opt for penetrating grout sealers. I
prefer acrylic film forming grout sealers. DO NOT use a silicone based
grout sealer because you won't be able to apply more grout sealer in the
future because nothing sticks well to silicone based plastics. Read the
fine print on the bottle, and if it says it contains "siloxanes", that's
what you want to avoid. Siloxane means a silicone based plastic. If
you use a film forming grout sealer, make sure it says it's an ACRYLIC
grout sealer. My own experience with penetrating grout sealers is that
I wasn't certain they were working, so I avoided them and used a film
forming grout sealer instead.
8. You should also be aware that every kind of tile that's made,
whether it be ceramic floor tiles, vinyl composition floor tiles,
ceramic wall tiles, Peel & Stick tiles, every kinda tile will have a
"Dye Lot Number" stamped on the box.
A typical dye lot number might be 8J9045P. The number itself doesn't
mean anything except that all boxes stamped with the same dye lot number
were all produced at the same time under the same conditions using the
same feed stock. So, all of the tiles in boxes with the same dye lot
number should be identical.
When you buy tiles at a tile store, the sales people and the staff at
the tile wholesaler understand this, and they will ensure that every box
you buy will have the same dye lot number. But, the people working at
the big box stores usually don't. The box stores will order 200 boxes
of a certain kind of tile, and because they don't stipulate that they
all have to be of the same dye lot, the wholesalers will use that
opportunity to get rid of small quantities of tiles from different dye
lots. 6 boxes from one dye lot, 19 from another, 4 from a third, and so
So, if you're thinking of saving some money by buying your tile from a
home center or hardware store, when you pick the tiles you want to buy,
check that they have the same dye lot number on every box. Generally,
the dye lot number will be printed on the SIDE of the box and will be
the largest font on the box so that it can be read even if the tiles are
on the third rack up in a dimly lit warehouse. Printing the dye lot
number on the side of the box ensure that some boxes will have their dye
lot number showing no matter how they're stacked onto the pallet.
If it turns out you can't get all your tiles from the same dye lot, then
randomly mix the tiles so that any colour variation between dye lots is
randomly distributed in your tiling. That's better than having one side
of your shower wall almost the same colour as the other side.
9. Choose wall tiles with a thick strong biscuit. You want tiles that
are a good 1/4 inch thick, if not 5/16. Some wall tiles are so thin
that they're only marginally sturdier than potato chips.
Nestork provided a lot of good info. I'd just add some
* Always check the lot number on boxes. I've bought
from upscale tile stores where they didn't match.
* Personally I don't see the point of sealer except
maybe on floor tile.
* Wall tile from places like HD is usually a lot cheaper than
a tile store, but there are two things to be aware of:
- It's usually softer and could therefore crack later
if it's hit, the wall shifts, etc.
- Expensive tile looks about the same, but it usually has
a much nicer glaze on it. The final effect when it's done
really does look much nicer than HD tile to my eye.
* Tile size is all a matter of preference and fashion. Subway
tile is popular lately. Also, giant tile has become popular, as
part of the stone craze. Personally I like 4x4 or 3x6 only
because most situations don't have enough wall area to
make bigger tiles look good.
* Something I like to do is to make a set-in shampoo and
soap shelf across from the sprayhead, on the opposite
wall. (Like what architects sometimes call a "shadow box".)
If you glue concrete board on the back of the wall's
back side you can get 3"+ deep. Then go maybe 16" high.
It's very handy and rarely gets wet, though it should still
be tiled fully, with a slope in the shelf.
* Popsicle stick to clean grout? That must be very wide
grout. I usually keep a few cedar shakes around. That
provides an endless supply of sticks, any size desired,
for cleaning grout from grooves, shimming a tile, etc.
* Always keep an eye on tile levels. Tile is very precisely
cut and if you line up one wall with another at the bottom
it should work out fine. But it doesn't always. Thinset
can get between tiles, and 8 tiles off by 1/64 inch each
makes 1/4". As you go up the wall in corners, make sure
they line up. You can always put a tiny shim in to level a
tile to the other wall, if necessary.
* The biggest mistake I see is people not fully sponging off
the grout, so that it sits thick in the grooves, often at or
above the tile surface. It should be sponged enough that
the grout lines are equal. It's the difference between a very
precise-looking job and one that looks slapdash. No amount of
care in tiling will help a bad grout job.
* I like to use concrete board with thinset. Some people
like "hardi-backer" composite panels. They may be OK, but
the product is composite and it's fairly new. To me that's
like flakeboard sheathing and beams: Their strength is in
the glue. They might be approved now, but how do we
know what will happen in 30 years?
10. NEVER EVER NEVER use a recessed soap dish that requires you to cut
a hole in your tile backer board to install the soap dish. These things
are notorious for allowing water to leak into the wall. Instead, set
ALL your tiles first and then use silicone to glue your soap dish ON TOP
of the tiling. You can do that by setting short pieces of straight wood
molding to the tile with double sided tape to stop the soap dish from
sliding down the wall as the silicone cures, setting the soap dish on
that piece of molding and holding it to the wall with masking tape.
Ditto for corner shelves, it's just that you have to use two pieces of
11. Don't shy away from using silicone caulk between tile and tub
because mildew will grow on it. You can remove mildew from silicone
caulk by mixing up a paste of bleach and Borax. Bleach comes in both 5
and 6.25 percent NaOCl concentrations with Chlorox and Javex being the
6.25 percent and the no-name brands being 5 percent. Get the stronger
stuff. Borax is sold as 20 Mule Team Borax in every supermarket in the
laundry detergent aisle. The mixing container will get warm as you mix
these two chemicals, and then the mix will become quite stiff. Continue
mixing adding more bleach as necessary to get a slurry of spreadable
consistancy. Once you have a thick enough slurry that will hold it's
shape reasonably well, use a large spoon to scoop it out of the mixing
container and a teaspoon to spread it over your old mildewed silicone.
Then, cover with Saran wrap or any cling wrap to prevent the slurry from
drying out. Leave it over night like that, or for several days if
possible (and I typically leave it on for 2 or 3 weeks in an empty
suite). Then when you remove the cling wrap and remove the hardened
borax cake with a putty knife, your silicone will be as white as
There we must disagree my friend.
Grout sealer isn't necessary during the first year or two of the shower
wall tiling's life. That's because cement based grouts will be made
with hydrated lime, Ca(OH)2 and it's those OH groups in the lime that
makes the grout highly alkaline. Just in the same way that fresh
concrete is to highly alkaline to paint with oil based paints, fresh
portland cement based grout is too highly alkaline for mildew to grown
But, there's something called "The Lime Cycle".
'What is Lime? | Graymont' (http://www.graymont.com/en/what-lime )
CO2 from the air will react with hydrated lime Ca(OH)2 and gradually
convert that lime into limestone, CaCO3 of calcium carbonate, and in so
doing, the pH of the grout decreases from a high value to essentially a
neutral value of 7 or 8. And, that's entirely because that chemical
reaction gets rid of those OH groups that made the grout highly alkaline
to begin with.
Once that grout's pH drops to neutral, then mildew will start to grow
in/on the grout and ruin the tiling's appearance.
In order for anything to survive, it has to eat. So, what does mildew
eat? It eats soap. Soap is made by reacting vegetable oils (and
occasionally animal fats) with strong alkalis like caustic soda or lye
to make bar soaps. Only bar soaps are made from vegetable oils and
animal fats. Detergents, like Mr. Clean and Fantastik are synthetic
soaps that actually start off as petroleum products. It's the vegetable
oil and animal fat hydrocarbon chains that the mildew feed on.
You can prove that to yourself by comparing the tiling in a bathroom
where people only have baths to one where people shower. Regardless of
whether it's sealed or not, the grout above a bathtub where people only
have baths won't have any mildew on it. The reason for that is that
soap rarely ever gets on the wall when people have baths, and so the
tiling cannot support a large population of mildew. On the other hand,
when people shower they lather themselves up with bar soap and then have
the shower spray spray that soap off them. The tiny droplets of soapy
water get into the air and cover the tiling with soap on a regular
basis. That's the steady supply of food that results in a thick lush
growth of mildew all over shower wall tiles.
You can overcome that problem by using a detergent that doesn't have any
soap in it. That way, you're not feeding the mildew, and so it can't
grow. If you go to any pharmacy you can buy either Cetaphil or Aquanil,
both are "lipid free skin cleansers". A "lipid" is basically the
hydrocarbon chain in a vegetable oil or animal fat. By using lipid free
skin cleansrs, you can have showers without depositing vegetable oils or
animal fats onto the tiling of your shower, thereby keeping your tiling
So, when a tiling contractor tells you that you don't need to seal
grout, it's only because it's too alkaline for mildew to grow on it for
the first year or two anyway, and those are the only tile jobs he goes
back to for any reason. And, since he never sees any mildew on his
tiling, he figures it's not necessary to seal grout. If he went back to
the jobs he did 10 years ago, he'd see something completely different.
And, if you choose not to seal your grout, keep your shower tiling
mildew free by using lipid free skin cleansers like Cetaphil or Aquanil
instead of bar soaps. It's only once you start using bar soaps in the
SHOWER that you provide a food supply to mildew in your shower. Without
bar soaps, your tiling will remain mildew free. So, if you have baths,
you also keep your wall tiling mildew free because soap rarely ever gets
on the tiling if you stick to having baths.
| > * Personally I don't see the point of sealer except
| > maybe on floor tile.
| There we must disagree my friend.
Your theory is very in-depth but I just don't see the evidence.
I often go back to jobs I've done many years after tiling. I retiled
my own bath about 15 years ago. The tenant's was done perhaps
6-7 years ago. (I just repainted the walls in there and recaulked
this week. I don't know about the tenant, but I've never used
anything but bar soap.)
Two weeks ago I recaulked a shower that I retiled some 10
years ago. I typically do 1-4 bath remodels per year. (I work alone,
so a bath remodel can be a big job for me.) I don't see any problems
with mildew except with tub caulking. Occasionally I see mildew
in grout, in some bathrooms, but not often. In those cases it's
usually all around the bathroom. In my experience mildew results
when surfaces stay moist, with limited light and limited ventilation.
You see it in showers simply because the tile gets wet and in some
cases the ventilation is poor. For that matter, one can sometimes
identify the bathroom wall in an old, uninsulated house from the
outside if it's on the north side, because moisture migrates through
the wall and it never gets dried by the sun, resulting in a grayed
mildew area corresponding to the outer bathroom wall.
You're welcome to use sealer. It's easy enough and it doesn't
cost much. But I haven't seen the need you describe and I'm
not convinced that sealer does anything useful. I use it on floor
tile with wide grout lines only because I figure it's possible that
the sealer will make the grout more washable. But I can't actually
say I've seen evidence for that, either.
| Grout sealer isn't necessary during the first year or two of the shower
| wall tiling's life. That's because cement based grouts will be made
| with hydrated lime, Ca(OH)2 and it's those OH groups in the lime that
| makes the grout highly alkaline. Just in the same way that fresh
| concrete is to highly alkaline to paint with oil based paints, fresh
| portland cement based grout is too highly alkaline for mildew to grown
| in/on it.
| But, there's something called "The Lime Cycle".
| 'What is Lime? | Graymont' (http://www.graymont.com/en/what-lime )
| CO2 from the air will react with hydrated lime Ca(OH)2 and gradually
| convert that lime into limestone, CaCO3 of calcium carbonate, and in so
| doing, the pH of the grout decreases from a high value to essentially a
| neutral value of 7 or 8. And, that's entirely because that chemical
| reaction gets rid of those OH groups that made the grout highly alkaline
| to begin with.
| Once that grout's pH drops to neutral, then mildew will start to grow
| in/on the grout and ruin the tiling's appearance.
| In order for anything to survive, it has to eat. So, what does mildew
| eat? It eats soap. Soap is made by reacting vegetable oils (and
| occasionally animal fats) with strong alkalis like caustic soda or lye
| to make bar soaps. Only bar soaps are made from vegetable oils and
| animal fats. Detergents, like Mr. Clean and Fantastik are synthetic
| soaps that actually start off as petroleum products. It's the vegetable
| oil and animal fat hydrocarbon chains that the mildew feed on.
| You can prove that to yourself by comparing the tiling in a bathroom
| where people only have baths to one where people shower. Regardless of
| whether it's sealed or not, the grout above a bathtub where people only
| have baths won't have any mildew on it. The reason for that is that
| soap rarely ever gets on the wall when people have baths, and so the
| tiling cannot support a large population of mildew. On the other hand,
| when people shower they lather themselves up with bar soap and then have
| the shower spray spray that soap off them. The tiny droplets of soapy
| water get into the air and cover the tiling with soap on a regular
| basis. That's the steady supply of food that results in a thick lush
| growth of mildew all over shower wall tiles.
| You can overcome that problem by using a detergent that doesn't have any
| soap in it. That way, you're not feeding the mildew, and so it can't
| grow. If you go to any pharmacy you can buy either Cetaphil or Aquanil,
| both are "lipid free skin cleansers". A "lipid" is basically the
| hydrocarbon chain in a vegetable oil or animal fat. By using lipid free
| skin cleansrs, you can have showers without depositing vegetable oils or
| animal fats onto the tiling of your shower, thereby keeping your tiling
| mildew free.
| So, when a tiling contractor tells you that you don't need to seal
| grout, it's only because it's too alkaline for mildew to grow on it for
| the first year or two anyway, and those are the only tile jobs he goes
| back to for any reason. And, since he never sees any mildew on his
| tiling, he figures it's not necessary to seal grout. If he went back to
| the jobs he did 10 years ago, he'd see something completely different.
| And, if you choose not to seal your grout, keep your shower tiling
| mildew free by using lipid free skin cleansers like Cetaphil or Aquanil
| instead of bar soaps. It's only once you start using bar soaps in the
| SHOWER that you provide a food supply to mildew in your shower. Without
| bar soaps, your tiling will remain mildew free. So, if you have baths,
| you also keep your wall tiling mildew free because soap rarely ever gets
| on the tiling if you stick to having baths.
Perhaps the differences in our experiences lay in the fact that most of
the bathrooms I look after are in tenants apartments as opposed to
customer's homes. I have yet to find a tenant that will wipe the water
off the tiling after having a shower. Most of them turn off the shower,
get dressed and leave for work. They don't even bother turning on the
bathroom ceiling fan. And, despite that neglect, it's up to me to make
sure that bathroom still looks clean and attractive for the NEXT tenant
to rent that apartment. So, I seal my grout, I paint the walls and
ceilings with Zinsser's PermaWhite Bathroom Paint, I put plywood
blocking behind the wall where the shower rod supports will go and use
stainless steel shower rods. And, I clean my tubs with oven cleaner.
I swear by grout sealers. In my own case I use an acrylic film forming
grout sealer made by the Glaze 'N Seal company of California. I bought
4 quarts of it and had it shipped to me in Winnipeg.
..and it's the fact that I seal the grout in my bathrooms that's the
reason that with 21 bathrooms over 25 years, I've only had to replace
less than two lineal feet of grout so far.
One important benefit in using an acrylic film forming grout sealer is
that it allows you to use acid to clean your ceramic tiling. You'll
find that most general purpose bathroom cleaners use phosphoric acid as
their active ingredient because phosphoric acid cuts through soap scum
like a knife, but it won't attack chrome even at strong concentrations.
Phosphoric acid, however, will dissolve grout. By having a film of
acrylic plastic between the acid and the grout you can make the job of
cleaning the ceramic tiling go fast and easy without concern for the
grout. You don't have to worry that with repeated cleanings that your
grout lines are going to dissolve away.
In my view, the best way to avoid problems with grout is to minimize the
amount of grout, and that means using larger tiles. The problem with
larger tiles in my case is that the walls are plaster and have some
contour to them, and the larger the tile the less well it conforms to
any contour in the wall. Still, I find that by using 6X8 tiles, I can
apply 3 coats of sealer to the tiling in one day's time, which I think
is pretty good. If I were tiling a counter top, I'd use 12 X 12
porcelain tiles with tiny (1/16 inch) grout lines between the tiles, and
I'd still use a film forming sealer to prevent soft foods like peanut
butter from getting mooshed into the porous surface of the grout and
providing a food source for bacteria. Ditto for kitchen floor tiles and
probably kitchen counter backsplash tiling too.
You generally don't need to replace mildewed silicone caulk. Just mix
up a slurry of 6.25 percent bleach and 20 Mule Team Borax, apply that in
a cake over the mildewed grout, cover with cling wrap so that the bleach
doesn't evaporate, and in a day or two's time the silicone caulk will be
white as Manitoba snow.
Anyhow, when it comes to grout sealers, I think we're going to have to
agree to disagree.
| I paint the walls and
| ceilings with Zinsser's PermaWhite Bathroom Paint,
That's another interesting issue. I painted our
tenant's bathroom this week, while they're away.
For some reason I had used Benj. Moore water-base
bathroom paint. It was great for stopping mildew, but
the tenants apparently like to really steam it up and
in several spots the moisture had got through to bubble
up joint compound underneath. So I went back to
what I usually use in bathrooms: low-sheen oil paint.
It provides a true moisture barrier that one simply
can't get from a water-base paint. The fumes and extra
care in brushing it out are not for everyone, though.
And it's getting hard to buy oil-base paint. At this point,
good quality oil paint is only available in quarts.
Mayayana and I have different opinions because we've each had different
experiences. You're going to find that no matter who you talk to.
But, the idea here is that Mayayana and I argue with each other and the
newbies in here learn enough from hearing our respective views to walk
away with enough knowledge to form their own opinions.
That's how it's supposed to work.
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