How to Lay Pool Tiling

hand with tool laying aqua pool tiles
  • 10-30 hours
  • Advanced
  • 2,500-25,000
What You'll Need
Waterproofing membrane
Cleaning supplies
Sun protection
What You'll Need
Waterproofing membrane
Cleaning supplies
Sun protection

If you have a new pool, chances are you need pool tiling. Rather than shelling out thousands of dollars for a professional to lay out the tiles, you can do so yourself. Keep in mind that this will still not be cheap, as the tiles themselves can be quite pricey.

Why Tile?

Tile is a great option for a pool finish because of its durability. As long as you use a good quality tile, it will last a long time.

Tile is also easier to clean than other pool finishes, such as exposed concrete that's been painted a certain color or plaster. Plaster stains easily and those stains are hard to clean.

Tile also gives your pool a beautiful, finished look.

You have plenty of options when it comes to the tile itself. You could use a dark blue to make the water appear dark blue as well. You could also pick a tile that is more reflective.

You could also use one type of tile on the majority of the pool and another along the rim. If you go this route, consider using one with a fun pattern on the rim to add some extra design to your pool.

hand laying pool tiles

Can You Use Regular Tile?

You can't use regular tile designed for indoor areas like the kitchen in your pool. Pool tiles have been designed to handle sunlight, changing temperatures, and chemicals found in pool water.

Regular tiles have not been designed with these considerations in mind and won't stand the test of time in your pool the way specifically designed pool tiles will.

Pool tiles are fired and glazed to get their waterproof cover. Cracks will allow moisture into the tile in regular tiles, but in tiles designed for pools, the tiles are designed in a way so that they will absorb less water if something happens to them.

Costs of Tiling a Pool

The average cost of tiling a pool is $15,000, according to HomeAdvisor. That number can range drastically, however, depending on what materials you use and the size of your pool. Costs can be much lower, though, if you install the tile yourself.

Average labor rates, according to HomeAdvisor, can range from $4 per square foot to $32 per square foot. Installing the tile yourself, therefore, will save you a lot of money.

Pool tiles can range from $1 per square foot to more than $35 per square foot. High-end tiles, like glass or handpainted designs, can be even pricier.

Make sure you fully understand the costs associated with retiling a pool before you begin the project, and gather all the tiles you need before getting started.

To make sure you do not run out of tiles halfway through the project, make sure you know the size of your pool and order extra tiles just to be safe. You'd hate to get 99% of the way done only to run out of tiles and discover that you can no longer order the ones you need.


Coping is the border of the pool. It's also usually made of tile and helps the pool fit in with the surrounding area. If you're tiling your pool, you'll likely also be tiling the swimming pool coping. Make sure you get enough tile to do this project at the same time as the rest of your pool.

Step 1 - Drain the Pool

gloved hands laying pool tile sheets

Before you begin, you'll need to drain your pool completely. Make sure you check local regulations in case there are any guidelines regarding draining pools and what to do with the water from the pool.

Draining a pool is not as simple as draining a bathtub, largely because of the sheer amount of water in a pool but also because of the chemicals found in pool water. This process can take the better part of a day, so don't plan on draining your pool and tiling it on the same day.

The pool will need to be completely dry, so make sure that you don't pick a rainy day to do this either.

Step 2 - Gather Materials

Once you've decided to tile your pool, start by gathering all the materials you'll need for the project. Tiling a pool is a long and difficult process, so consider asking a few friends to help with the labor.

If you're working during a hot time of the year, make sure to have lots of water nearby and wear a hat and sunscreen for protection. You'll also need to take breaks to make sure you don't get hurt.

Don't try to do this project in bad weather. If the tiles blow away they can become cracked and damaged. Bad weather will also make it hard for everything to dry properly and will increase the likelihood of you needing to start and stop numerous times.

pool tile in dolphin design

Step 3 - Clean

As with any DIY project, before you begin you must clean. In this case, you'll need to clean the pool. The best way to do so is using a pressure washer. If you don't have one, you can actually rent the device at many home improvement stores rather than shell out a lot of money to buy one yourself.

Pressure washers are relatively easy to use and are a great way to deep clean. They also work really well on patios, decks, and more. So if you entertain a lot and like a tidy area, you may want to consider purchasing one.

A clean pool surface will allow the tile to bond better and ensure that no grime is between your tile and your pool.

Step 4 - Patch

If while deep cleaning the pool you find any cracks or holes, you'll need to fill them before laying the tile. There are a few ways to do so but one of the easiest is to use a waterproofing membrane. This can be painted directly onto the pool.

No matter what method you use for patching, make sure it is cured and fully dried before installing tiles. If it isn't, the tiles risk not adhering properly to the surface.

Step 5 - Use Mortar

Now it's time to use your mortar. You can purchase pre-mixed mortar or mix it yourself. For a job of this size, you may want to consider mixing it yourself.

Make sure you are getting a mortar that is designed to be used in wet areas, in this case in a pool. Mortar designed for use in pools will handle the chemicals and moisture levels better than other mortars.

Spread the mortar onto the pool. Make sure you are not applying too much and apply the same amount throughout the project so that the tiles lay evenly.

laying pool tile

Step 6 - Place the Tiles

Set the tiles on top of the mortar. Make sure they all line up the way you were hoping. You could lay all the tiles out before adding mortar if you want to check the design you have in mind. If you do this, be careful not to break any tiles when working with them.

You can use tile spacers to ensure that the tiles are all spaced out evenly.

Once you have a few tiles installed, tap them into place. This will drive the tiles into the mortar and ensure that they stay in place.

Step 7 - Allow to Set

Let the mortar and tiles set for at least a full day before adding grout. If possible, allow the pool to dry even longer. Do not rush this step.

Step 8 - Add Grout

Once your mortar and tiles have had proper time to cure, it is time to add grout lines to the tiles. Make sure you are using a grout that matches the vibe you are going for with your pool. Make sure the grout you use does not include Portland cement or epoxy and is designed for use in pools.

Some grouts will lose their color due to the sun and pool chemicals, so it is important to use grout that is designed for these uses.

You can add the grout the way you would add grout to any other tile. Be careful not to add too much and make sure to wipe away any excess grout.

Step 9 - Wait

Once again, you will need to wait to allow the grout time to cure. Do not touch or walk on the tiles during this time and do not fill your pool until everything has dried.

Step 10 - Fill the Pool

Once everything has dried, you can fill your pool. Make sure you understand any local jurisdictions regarding water use. You may only be allowed to fill your pool on certain days or you may have to get a permit to use the water necessary to fill your pool.

Step 11 - Add Chemicals

Your pool will need some chemicals to be safe to swim in. Once you have added the water, check the chemical balance in your pool. This will help you understand how much of various chemicals you have to add to your pool.

A calcium increase may be necessary to raise the hardness levels of your water, or fresh water to decrease the hardness.

A pH increaser or pH reducer may also be necessary to reduce or raise the pH levels in your pool. Make sure to adjust the pH levels slowly and allow the chemicals to set for a bit before you test and reset them.

You may also need to adjust the alkalinity using an alkalinity increaser.

If you are using chlorine in your pool, now is the time to add chlorine tablets as well. You will need to add chlorine tablets frequently unless you're using saltwater in your pool. In that case, you will instead need to check and balance out the salt level in the pool.

Retiling a Pool

If you have to retile the pool at some point, the project is largely the same as tiling the pool in the first place. One of the biggest differences is that you'll have to remove the tile already in the pool before you begin to retile it.

If only a few tiles are damaged, you can try to replace only the tiles that need to be replaced. Be careful that when you remove the damaged tiles you don't damage more tiles.

It can be hard, however, to find tiles to match the ones in your pool. Even if you have some tiles left from your initial project, the tiles that have been in the pool are likely discolored after having been exposed to the sun for so long.

Your best bet is to have a few options of tiles or to create a fun design where it looks intentional to have some tiles a different color than the others in your pool, in which case instead of matching you could find tiles with a fun shape, color, or pattern to use.

What to Do with Old Tiles

The manufacturer of the tile you used should have some helpful hints on how to best remove the tile. Before you begin, you should also look into any programs that will pay for your used tiles. While they may not offer a ton of money, even a little bit could help offset the cost of retiling your pool and it's better than simply throwing away the tiles.

If you are unable to sell the tiles, look into ways to recycle them or use them in other DIY projects. Even if the tiles no longer work as pool tiles, there's no reason you can't use them to make a beautiful frame for a mirror or fun tabletop.

If you do a project with your used pool tiles, make sure to wash them thoroughly first. The tiles have been exposed to the elements and chemicals in your pool and will definitely need a deep cleaning before being given a second life.