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Can You Install Tile Over Tile? Here's What the Experts Say

So you’re ready to install new tile, but you’re unsure of one thing: can you tile over tile? 

The short answer: while there are times that you can, you probably shouldn't. The longer answer: we’ll get into that! 

The majority of the time, you’ll want to start with a fresh installation. This will ensure the longest life for your tiles, both aesthetically and practically. However, there may be times when you can install new tile over existing tile - so let’s take a look at which option is going to give your gorgeous new tiles the best long life!

Beautiful New Tiles Installed with Pearl Chic and White Marble

This Pearl Chic White Marble & Mother of Pearl Waterjet mosaic tile will give you all the inspiration you need for your next tile renovation. 

Why Shouldn’t you Install Tile Over Tile?

Whenever someone is tackling a renovation project or a remodel, this tends to be the first question that they ask. Someone already laid all of that tile, do I really need to rip it out and start over? 

While you technically can install new tile over old tile in some circumstances, it’s really a practice that should be avoided. We know - that’s probably not the answer that you wanted to hear! However, that extra demo time at the beginning of your project can save you a lot of time, effort, energy - and MONEY - in the long run.

Shell and White Marble Herringbone Pattern Wall Tile for a Modern Bathroom Vanity Backsplash

This pearl and white marble herringbone tile is way too pretty to risk with an improper install!

Here are the top reasons that you should avoid tiling over tile:

1. Already laid tiles don’t provide the best surface for new tiles to grip. The bond between your adhesive and your tile is one of the most important factors in ensuring that your tiling job will last for years to come. To make sure the adhesive has properly covered the bottom of your tile, you want to make sure the wall or substrate where they are being laid is as level as possible. If the surface is uneven, say from a zellige-style tile or where grout lines create a dip, the adhesive won’t be able to properly bond with the bottom of the new tile. You’ll risk having tiles lift up after installation is complete, or even having water leak between the layers and cause rot and damage

2. Not all adhesives can bond tile to tile. Many thinsets and tile mortars are intended to bond with a backerboard or substrate and the bottom of a tile - they may not properly bond with the surface of a glazed ceramic tile or polished glass tile. These tiles have special backings that will provide a firm grip on the bottom, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to make a good surface to tile over.

Substrate with Mortar to Create a Firm Bond between Tile and Adhesive

You want a firm grip on the back of your tiles to make sure there’s no lifting or breakage once they’re installed.

3. You’re adding extra height and weight with double the tiles. Keep in mind that wall tiles need to be thin and light enough to adhere to your plaster or drywall. That weight will be doubled if you tile over tile, and may be heavy enough to cause damage to your wall. Floor tiles need enough clearance between the surface of the tile and door openings, appliances, and furniture - tiling over tile doubles the thickness of the flooring and may cause fittings to jam or doors to stick.

4. Any gaps or pores can cause issues after tile is installed. Tile experts recommend you tile on surfaces that are as pristine as possible. You want to make sure there’s no debris, dust, cracks, gaps, or large pores that can allow room for moisture to seep in or for tiles to settle or shift after installation. The more wiggle room (literally) in your installation, the more likelihood that you risk your beautiful new tiles becoming damaged, cracked, or trapping moisture.

Any one of these concerns can be enough to wreck your brand new tiling job - resulting in a lot more work and money paid out than if you ripped out the old tile in the first place. Not to mention - a good demo day can be quite cathartic! Mask up and grab your mallet and get to smashing!

Check out our top tips for DIY Tile Installation

When can you install tile on top of tile?

There are a few instances when you can get away with removing old tiles - or even your entire backerboard - and starting from scratch. While we recommend consulting a contractor or builder to make sure your new installation is going to have the most longevity and be up to code, here are some tips to see if you can consider tiling over tile.

1. Assess the Existing Tile

You’ll first want to assess the existing tile installation.  Regardless of if you physically can’t remove the old tile or just don’t want to (hey, we’re not judging), there are instances in which tiling over existing tile is fine. If it provides a solid, level and clean work surface free from cracks, crumbling grout, or signs of retained moisture, using the existing tile as a subfloor to new tile can work. 

If, however, you find that your existing tile is unlevel or cracked or has mildew or retained moisture, it’s best to remove it to avoid the risks we listed in the first section.

If you want to tile over tile, you need a smooth surface to adhere to

The Family Handyman demonstrates how to grind off high spots on the existing tile for a smooth, even working surface.

To test that your existing tile is solidly bonded to the floor, lightly tap them with a wood mallet. If any make a hollow sound, they are loose and will not provide the best surface to lay new tiles. To test that you’re working with a smooth surface, simply use a level to see if there are any imbalances. If you have a slight irregularity, you can use a right angle grinder (pictured above) to grind off high spots.

Use a level to ensure your base tile is as flat of a surface as possible when tiling over tile

Use a level to ensure your base tile is as flat of a surface as possible

2. Prepare Your Tiling Surface

Handyman extraordinaire Bob Vila warns that tiling over an uneven surface will give you a less than ideal end result. For best results when tiling over tile, level out any mounds of dried grout with a sander and secure loose tiles before laying new tile. You can use a tile adhesive to secure any that are loose to create a smooth surface for your new tiles. 

Next, you’ll want to lay out your new tiles, cutting them to size to fit around any walls, corners and fixtures. Once you have selected your new tiles, check out the right tile cutting tools and techniques for each material.

An angle cutter makes it easy to make multiple cuts in different shapes and sizes of tile

An angle cutter makes it easy to make multiple cuts in different shapes and sizes, requiring little finesse to operate.

Once this is complete, move them out of the way and clean the original tiled surface with a degreasing soap. Let the surface dry completely before moving on. You want to have the most pristine surface possible to lay out your adhesive and secure the tiles as firmly as possible.

Wash your surface thoroughly when tiling on top of tile

Clear your existing tile well with a degreasing soap. Be sure it dries thoroughly before moving on.

3. Choose the Right Trowel

Before laying your adhesive, you’ll want to make sure you have the right trowel to apply your mortar and create the best bond for your tile. This will depend on a few key factors - the size of your tile, and the flatness of your surface. 

Since you’re laying tile over existing tile, you’ll want to ensure you have enough mortar laid down to provide a strong grip and ensure there are no gaps or spaces between layers of tile.

Read More: How to Pick the Right Trowel for your Tiles

Find the right adhesive to tile over tile and a gorgeous hexagon tile at Tile Club!

Find the right adhesive at your local home improvement store, and a gorgeous hexagon tile at Tile Club! 

4. Begin Tile Installation

Now that you’ve got your adhesive picked out and your surface free and clear of any dirt or debris, you can begin the new tile installation! 

Start by scooping your adhesive from the bucket with a trowel, applying a thin layer to a small section of tiles. You’ll want to avoid applying it to a large surface area to ensure you’re not laying tile on drying adhesive. Score the surface adhesive with the toothed edge of your trowel, drawing straight lines along the wet surface. (see below)

A kitchen backsplash tile project depicting the correct way to thinset behind zellige subway tiles

A kitchen backsplash tile project depicting the correct way to apply thinset behind our Mallorca Blue ceramic subway tiles 

Firmly press new tile over the small adhesive area you’ve just laid, sliding the tile perpendicular to the combed lines. At this point feel free to rotate through laying tile, spreading adhesive and scoring until all tile is securely in place. Once your tile is set, let it sit to dry. This could take 24 hours or more, so be patient!

5. Time to Grout & Seal

Now that your tiles are in place and the adhesive has set, you’re ready to seal the spaces between them with grout. For smaller grout lines (⅛” or less), unsanded ground is typically recommended. Unsanded grout works better on flooring and wall tiles with grout lines larger than ⅛”, since it resists shrinking and cracking better than sanded grout. 

Beautiful new tile kitchen installation with recycled glass herringbone mosaic tile

This gorgeous recycled glass herringbone mosaic tile perfectly illustrates the elegant look small grout lines can achieve.

Keep your grout clean and free of unnecessary moisture, debris or dirt by sealing it with the right sealer. Penetrating sealers work best in damp areas like bathrooms and showers, while membrane-forming sealers are ideal in kitchens. Don’t miss our post on how to properly seal grout if you choose to do so.

6. Enjoy The Final Result!

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You have officially earned bragging rights while answering the question of whether you can lay tile over tile. Now all that’s left to do is sit back, relax and enjoy your newly tiled space!

Add a glamorous kitchen touch with Topaz Marbled Glass Hexagon Mosaic Tile

Tile Club’s Topaz Marbled Glass Hexagon Mosaic Tile brings a fun, bright and inviting look in your home.

There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a new tile. To be sure your selection is the ideal choice for the intended application, (some tiles work well as bathroom wall tile, but not bathroom floor tile, for example) ask yourself these 7 questions before picking out your new tile. Then, check out our gorgeous selection of bathroom tiles, kitchen and backsplash tiles for the wall and floor tiles of your dreams. We even have peel and stick tile for DIY backsplash tiling made easy!

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