How to Install Cement Tile

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A step-by-step guide for a successful cement tile installation.
                        

Handmade cement tiles are an excellent choice for those wanting a unique and timeless look. And here at Clay Imports, we want to make sure you are enjoying your cement tiles for years to come. Let us guide you through the installation process.

What is Cement Tile?

Cement tiles are made of cement as one would assume. Made by hand since the 19th century, cement tiles manufacturing includes the use of mineral pigments, cement, a metal mold, and a hydraulic press. The pigment composition is a mixture of high quality white Portland cement, marble powder, fine sand, and natural mineral color pigments. Each tile absorbs a differing amount of sealer. Hence they darken differently. Cement tile will never look the same as they first did out of the box. If appreciated, it can be very beautiful.

The Preparation

Cement tiles show variation in colors and design. So, naturally, cement tiles will not be identical piece to piece. Mixing tiles from different boxes during setting is suggested to produce a beautiful naturally rich appearance. Details can be seen in a close-up, but will be invisible when installation is completed. If properly installed, cement tiles will result in a beautiful, durable surface that can be enjoyed for many years. Please note treatments must be done after installation and when tiles are completely dry. It is also recommended to make a test on a single piece to check the desired finish.

Why does Cement Tile Need to be Sealed?

Cement tile consists of a decorative layer on a cement body. Cement is compressed, water-cured and left to dry much like a sidewalk would be. These tiles are not fired. So, adding a sealer before, during and shortly after installation is key to minimize staining. Our standard cement tiles have a slight semi-gloss sheen finish that can be enhanced through a penetrating sealer (like Miracle Seal 511 Impregnator) . Please know that cement tiles age like your favorite pair of jeans and develop a patina over time, even when sealed.

The Sealing

Before, during, and shortly a cement tile installation, each and every tile needs to be sealed. This will protect the tiles from absorbing moisture. As a great side effect, it will also give your tiles a nice sheen. We have been part of the cement tile industry for a long time now. And the most common problems associated with cement tile installation are insufficient or inadequate sealing, and grout pigment staining. Here are our guidelines to help minimize staining issues:

1. Confirm that the tile is sealed properly with a reliable product before, during and after installation. We recommend Miracle Seal 511 Porous Plus.

Before Installation: Lay out all cement tiles. Use a yellow sealer application sponge. Apply the sealer with the sponge. Ensure to remove any excess bubbles. Do not apply heavy pressure. Repeat this step. Then leave the sealer treatment to dry for 6 hours before you proceed to the grouting.

During Installation: Confirm that a topical grout release is used during grout application. We recommend Miracle Sealants Grout Release Sealer. Using Grout Release prior to the grouting process will make cleanup of grout haze easier after application and will protect your surface from grout haze or stains.

After Installation: Clean the installed and grouted cement tile surface. Use a yellow sealer application sponge. Apply the sealer with the sponge. Ensure to remove any excess bubbles. Do not apply heavy pressure. Repeat this step. Then leave the sealer treatment to dry for 6 hours.

Installation Materials You will Need

For Installing Cement Tiles

  • - Flexible tile glue, suitable for natural stone
  • - Flexible grout, we recommend Mapei FlexColor™ CQ or Mapei Ultracolor Plus FA
  • - Water-cooled tile saw
  • - 1/2” Grout trowel, glue trowel glue pot
  • - Breathable foil or colorless drapery
  • - 1/16” to 1/8” thick tile spacers

For Sealing Cement Tiles

Cement Tile Care and Inspection

  • - Do not let cases or cement tiles get wet. Store material in a dry area. Why? Moisture or dampness can cause tiles to get stained. Also, colors might fade or damage the surface tile resulting in cracks and pitting.
  • - Inspect your order carefully. Clay Imports will not be responsible for material that has been cut or installed. Throughout the installation process and handling of the tile, be careful not to damage the finished surface, edges and corners of the tiles.
  • - Cement Tile, as a product of cement and natural materials, is subjected to color and shade variations and it is recommended to mix the tiles from the different cases. Allow tiles to get dried in their final environment prior to installation.
  • - Cement Tile is a cement-based product and may have residue on the surface. Before starting the installation, it is highly recommended to clean all tiles with a clean cloth to remove any residue and get a clean tile surface. Please be aware that our tile is a handmade product. Due to this process, slight variations in size, shade, irregular edges and the appearance of fine cracks are inherent to this product and can vary from piece to piece. Prior to installation, we advise a blending of the tiles to create a more aesthetic appearance.

 

Cement Tile Installation Step by Step

Pre-seal your cement tiles.

Before Installation:

Lay out all cement tiles. Pour your sealer into a bucket. DO NOT pour sealer directly from the bottle onto the tile. Dip a durable sponge into your bucket of sealer, dampening the sponge, not saturating it. Gently wipe the damp sponge onto the surface of the tile. Do not apply heavy pressure when sealing. Allow the sealer to absorb evenly. Any excess sealer that is not absorbing into the tile should be wiped away with a clean, non-fibrous cloth. Repeat this step, applying up to 3 coats. Leave the sealer treatment to dry for 6 hours before you proceed to installation.

Prep your installation area:

Make sure that the surface you will be installing your cement tile on is clean and flat.

- Installing on a surface that is dirty or covered in paint overspray could lead to a faulty installation.

- Installing on a surface that is not flat could lead to excessive lippage, differences in height from tile to tile. A properly prepared surface should clean and flat.

Adhere your cement tiles:

Using a flexible adhesive, glue the tiles onto your installation surface. Thinset is typically used when installing on a concrete surface and mastec is often used when installing on sheetrock. Use a trowel with recesses of 10-20 mm (1/2 - 3/4 in). Ensure that enough adhesive is used so that the bottom of the tile does not directly contact the installation surface. There should be a layer of adhesive between the entire installation surface and the bottom of the tile. For best results, use 3 mm (⅛ in) thick tile spacers. Allow upto 24 hours for adhesive to dry.

Grout Release:

Prior to applying, coat the tiles with a thin layer of grout release. We recommend Miracle Sealant Grout Release. This will allow for a more efficient grouting process. Grout release dries in about an hour.

Grout your cement tiles

First of all, always test your grout on a small area, one or two tiles, prior to grouting the entire installation. We recommend to use only non-pigmented or low-pigmented grouts. These are colors that contain very little coloring. Our favorites are Mapei Ultracolor Plus FA in Avalanche, Biscuit, and Warm Gray.

Do not use black or very dark grout. Dark grouts can permanently stain your cement tile. Grout application should be done in a diagonal direction to the tile joints. Using a conventional grout trowel, apply enough pressure so that the grout is forced fully between the joints. Apply grout in sections of about 4 square feet at a time. Using water, dampen a sponge and try to clean each section as much as possible before moving to the next section. Be careful not to apply too much water as it could remove grout from the joints. Allow the grout about 12 hours to dry.

Final clean your cement tile

Once the grout is dry, you might see a thin layer of grout residue on the surface of the tile. This can usually be removed with a dry or damp non-fibrous cloth. If the “haze” will not wipe away easily, you may need to use a grout haze remover.

Final seal your cement tile

Once the floor is clean and dry, 2 more coats of sealer should be applied to the tile. As with the pre-installation sealing, apply thin coats. Do not let the sealer puddle or build up on the surface. Wipe away residue before it dries. Allow about 1 hour of dry time between coats. The tile might start to develop a mild sheen at this point. If you are using Miracle Sealant Porous Plus, the sheen will fade to a matte finish once dry.

Maintain your cement tiles

periodically (recommended once a week) with soap and water gently clean your cement tile with a sponge, rag or soft bristled cleaning brush.

Caution

Over the years, we have received reports of some cleaning products damaging cement tile. Here are some products that you might want to avoid

  • - Ajax
  • - CLR (calcium lime rust) cleaner
  • - Acidic cleaners
  • - Industrial grade high alkaline cleaners

Final Thoughts

  • - Please be sure to review all instructions on the products used.
  • - For safety purposes, Clay Imports always recommends that you wear safety gear when installing tile. Gloves, safety glasses and close toed shoes can prevent injury.
  • - Sealing is an integral part of cement tile installation.
  • - Use only non-pigmented or low-pigmented grouts. Do not use black or very dark grout and can seriously stain your cement tile.
  • - Confirm that the grout is applied in small sections, 4 square feet or less, and does not over-dry on the tile. Always apply grout and sealers to a test area prior to full application.
  • - Mixing tiles from different boxes leads to the most pleasing visual results.
  • - During a renovation, cover the newly installed floor with a breathable protective barrier. Avoid covering the floor with plastic or cardboard.
  • - Avoid cleaning agents that contain acids.
  • - If you are uncertain about what steps to take for your installation, feel free to contact Clay Imports where we can provide our expertise on the next steps required.

Enjoy your tile!

For more information contact your tile installer, visit clayimports.com or email us at contact@clayimports.com. Clay Imports is not responsible for dissatisfaction after installation. 

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