How to Tile Over a Vinyl Floor

A DIYer with a rubber trowel applying white grout on red tiles.
  • 48 hours
  • Beginner
  • 100-150
What You'll Need
Notched trowels
Backer board
Drywall saw
Tile cutter
Dry cloth
Vinyl stripper

There are times when you look at the vinyl of a bathroom floor and just want to cringe. Maybe it's beginning to stick up or it was put in during the Nixon administration and looks like a psychedelic acid flashback. It's time to replace that old floor with some fancy new bathroom tile. Doing the job yourself can save $500-$1,000 in contractor costs.

Step 1 - Inspect Your Floor

Before doing anything, you need to examine the existing floor. If it's a new construction, then you can probably just lay the tile on top. If there is vinyl laminate, then you need a backer board. There are people that say that you can place tiling on top of existing vinyl if it's securely adhered and if the floor underneath is solid, but I don't agree. Why tempt fate. If the vinyl laminate has a cushioned layer of foam underneath, your tile will eventually crack. The vinyl and the cushion must be removed.

Step 2 - Ready the Room

Remove the toilet and any other items that are on the floor. If you have a large vanity or other item that you plan on having in the same spot forever, then you can tile around it. If not, it has to go. You don't want to go through all the work only to have to redo it when you buy new bathroom furniture. Plug the hole for the sewer with a rag to keep noxious sewer gas from seeping into the bathroom. Remove all baseboards and take off the door. The tiling will raise the floor a little, so you'll need to cut a little from the bottom of the door if it swings inside the bathroom.

Use an abrasive pad or scrub brush soaked in water and vinyl floor stripping to get off all the dirt and wax on the floor. The pad will also scratch the vinyl, so there's no going back. Screw the vinyl down at the joists to make sure the vinyl and sub floor are secure. It's easy to find the joints in an unfinished basement and just drill up into the bathroom. If you don't have an unfinished basement, then go to the edge of the room and drill until you hit the first joist and then measure 16 or 24 inches from that spot to find the next joist.

Step 3 - Put in the Backer Board

Cut the pieces of the backboard using a drywall saw before adhering it to the vinyl. You want to make sure all the measurements are correct before you start putting in screws. Leave about 1/8-inch between the sheets and along the bathtub or shower. Vacuum the floor to make sure there isn't any debris and mix the thinset. Spread the thinset using a notched trowel in one direction and set the backer board. Screw each piece down around its perimeter, with screws about 6 inches apart, and place mesh tape over the joints. Be careful because thinset sets very fast. Don't work on a new piece until the first piece is completely finished.

Step 4 - Lay Out the Tile

Place full tiles at the doorway, shower and other areas not generally covered by baseboards. These are also the focal points of the room and should look the best. The best thing to do is simply to grab tiles and spacers and start experimenting with the layout. Cutting thin tiles is difficult because they tend to break easily, so try and limit the number of small cuts by doing a better layout. Use snap chalk to give you guidelines for positioning and you're ready to begin laying and setting the tile.

Step 5 - Set the Tile

Wet the backer with a sponge to keep the thinset from drying out too quickly and set the full tiles first. Trowel the thinset in one direction like before and set the tiles. Press down to make sure they are secure. Make sure the tile is set evenly and one corner isn't higher than the others. Place a spacer between tiles to be sure the grout gap between each tile is consistent and straight.

With the full tiles set, set the cut tile until your floor is complete. Wait a day for the thinset to fully harden and take out the spacers between the tiles.

Step 6 - Extend the Toilet Flange

Before you grout, prepare the toilet area. The tile raises the floor, so you'll need to add an extended flange to the hole.

Step 7 - Grout and Finish

Use a trowel to pack the grout into the joints. It's important the joints are completely filled to reduce the risk of loosening later on. Then, scrap off as much as the grout as possible.

When the grout stiffens, but isn't completely hard, clean off the excess using a sponge and warm water. If there are areas of grout that are too difficult to get out with the sponge, use a abrasive scouring pad, but be careful not to scratch the tile.

Use a dry cloth to wipe down the tile before the water dries. The next day, caulk the joints, put on the baseboard and toilet and install the door after cutting it to proper length. Congratulations, another DIY project complete.