How to Prepare a Vinyl Floor for Ceramic Tile

If you’re looking to make upgrades in your home, the kitchen or bathroom floor is a great change to consider. Many older homes and rental units come with kitchen and bathroom flooring made from linoleum. Installing ceramic tiles in your kitchen or bathroom flooring is a great way to improve the look of your home.

If you’re looking for an easy and cost-effective way to redo the floors in your kitchen or bathroom without breaking the bank, then installing ceramic tiles is a great place to start.

The best part about installing ceramic tile flooring on linoleum floors is that no special tools are required for installation. You just need some basic household items like tape measures and tiling knives. You will also want access to plenty of water during installation because ceramic tiles can get hot when they dry out.

Before You Begin

When planning to install a ceramic tile in your kitchen or bathroom, you should always make sure that you test the flooring first by pressing the tiles firmly against it. Ensure there are no bumps or ridges under your tile; if there are, try sanding them down before installing the tiles. Make sure the subfloor and joists making up the floor structure are in good condition and have minimal flexing and deflection.

Soft, thin, and damaged subflooring or undersized joists can flex too much, leading to cracked tile and grout joints. If your cement subfloor is thin and lacks stiffness, install a layer of new plywood over the resilient flooring, followed by a layer of thin cement board.

If removing the vinyl or linoleum before tiling appears to be an easy task, it’s better to do this instead of tiling it. There are several reasons why it might be a bad idea to tile directly over resilient flooring. These reasons include:

The Floor Maybe Too High

An additional layer of flooring applied directly over the old vinyl flooring will make it thicker and raise the overall height of the flooring. Since vinyl flooring is thin, it’s less of an issue than laminate, engineered wood, or solid hardwood flooring. But, even with vinyl flooring, the extra floor thickness can still cause problems along with the baseboard trim or at door frames.

The Resilient Flooring May Not Be Suitable

While standard sheet vinyl flooring that’s well bonded usually makes an acceptable base for the ceramic tile, that’s not true of all forms of resilient flooring. Loose lay sheet vinyl can shift beneath the new flooring, making it unsuitable for a base for a ceramic tile. Vinyl tiles can also show the possibility of shifting.

Also, no resilient flooring with cushioned construction will work beneath the ceramic tile. Most luxury vinyl planks are also not suitable for tiling over because this flooring is laid as a floating floor with no adhesives. This means that the flooring can easily shift beneath the tile, causing damage to grout joints.

Here’s How to Prepare Vinyl Floor for Ceramic Tile

Tools and Materials

You’ll need the following tools and materials to make this project work:

Bucket and mopHearing protectionSandpaperTSP cleanerEye protectionThin-set adhesiveNotched trowelUtility knifeOscillating sanderCement board seam tapeDrywall knife or smooth-edged trowel1/4 inch thick cement board panels11/4 inch cement board screwsBreathing protection

Prepare Your Floor

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning your vinyl floor. Ensure the subfloor and cement underlayment have a combined thickness of at least 11/4 inches. A Cement board, tile, and grout will add significant dead weight to your flooring system, meaning you’ll need a hefty substrate with minimum deflection.


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Thoroughly clean your vinyl with plain water and a scrub brush and let it dry. It must be free of dust, dirt, and any oily residue. After that, lightly sand the vinyl flooring with an oscillating sander while wearing a breathing project and eye protection. This will create some texture for the thinset adhesive to bond. Finish by wiping down the vinyl with plain water again to remove all sanding dust.

If your room is small enough and you don’t mind going down on your knees, then you don’t need to rent a floor sander. Instead, use any power hand sander such as random orbit sander to get the job done. 

Clean and Repair the Floor

Clean your vinyl flooring with a TSP to remove dirt, soap, and oil residue. Check for protrusions such as nails and pound them back to place. If any of the parts of vinyl or linoleum flooring bulges out, use a utility knife to slice out the bulge. Your floor needs to be smooth as possible to accept the thinset adhesive and cement underlayment.

Skim Coat the Fabric with Mortar

Mix enough mortar to cover the floor with a skim coat. Apply it evenly over the surface of the vinyl with a notched trowel, then use a float to smooth it out. Let the mortar dry overnight. The mortar should be about the consistency of ketchup.

The skim coat needs to be very thin and only thick enough to bond with the fabric. After drying for about 30 minutes, you’ll have created a smooth masonry surface ready to install your tile.

Test-Fit Cement Board Panels

Lay down a 1/4 inch thick cement board panel over the entire floor. Wear breathing, hearing, and eye protection if you’re cutting the panels using a circular saw. You can also score the panels with a utility knife and snap them along the score lines.

Make sure you leave a 1/4 inch gap along the walls and between all cement board panels. Once you have test-fit the entire floor, remove the panels and set them aside. In most flooring installations, 1/2 inch cement board panels are always recommended as the underlayment for ceramic and stone tile. But when laying tile floor over an existing flooring material, it’s best to use 1/4 inch panels, given the thickness of the floor.

Set the Tile

Now it’s time to set the tile. Start in one corner and work your way out, using a level to ensure each row is straight. Lay ceramic tile so that the grout joints are staggered and use spacers if needed. Be sure to create even ridges over the entire surface to prevent air gaps. Air gaps can lead to cracked tiles down the line.

Set the Tile
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Set the tiles into the mortar, ensuring to wiggle each tile into position to ensure uniform coverage of the mortar onto the back of each tile. The edges will be cleaner if you place the edge of the tiles to edge and slide them apart to create the correct spacing.

You’ll also want to make sure you leave a 1/8-inch gap between the tile and the wall. After laying all the flooring material, remove any excess mortar from between the tiles using a grout float. Once your tile is in place, cut it to size using a wet saw.

Install Cement Board Panels

Lay cement board panels into position, starting at the wall and working your way to the center of the room. This will prevent creating a gap between two panels next to each other if you ever decide it’s necessary to remove one.

Tape the Joints

Use self-adhesive cement board joint tape to cover the joints, working from one side of the room to the other. The seams are where all your tiles will connect, so make sure they’re tight. Use a drywall knife or a smooth trowel to apply a layer of thin-set adhesive over the taped joints, filling in the gaps between panels. Allow the thin-set adhesive to dry completely before laying the ceramic tile.

Install the Grout

After setting all the tiles, carefully spread the grout across their surfaces using a rubber trowel. Use enough grout to fill in all the little nooks and crannies, but be careful not to use too much, or it will start to ooze out from between the tiles. 

Install the Grout
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Wipe away any excess grout with a damp cloth, then allow the grout to dry completely. Polish the tiles once the grout has dried, use a soft cloth to polish the tiles until they shine.

FAQs on Preparing a Vinyl Floor for Ceramic Tile

What should you use when installing ceramic tile over an existing vinyl floor?

In most flooring installations, 1/2 inch thick cement board panels are used to ensure a stable base for the tile.

Final Thought on How to Prepare a Vinyl Floor for Ceramic Tile

Installing ceramic tile over linoleum flooring requires a significant change to the existing floor. However, you can still create a beautiful finished product by choosing the right tile and completing the installation process correctly over the existing floor.

 

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