How to Tile Stairs

glossy stair case with tiles

Adding tile to your stairs is a durable way to improve the aesthetics of ​the interior stairs of your house. ​Instead of having to constantly replace the carpet on your stairs from constant use, you get to combine elegance with durability. Tiling stairs isn't much different than tiling other rooms in your house, except that you have to tile both the flat parts of the stairs, and the vertical parts. We'll walk you through how to tile stairs in your home. 

​How to Tile Stairs

​Tiling your stairs is relatively simple to learn, but takes awhile to complete. Depending on how large your stairs are, the project could take awhile. That doesn't mean it's difficult - just that it is time consuming. 

​1. Buy the Right Tile

First and foremost, you need to select the tile for your stairway. This is an important step because buying the wrong tile could result in damage or unnecessary wear. Keep in mind where you will be placing your tile – indoors or out – and also whether or not you want a pattern.

More than likely, your stairway is inside, which means your options for tile are pretty expansive. Some types of tile don’t stand up very well to weather, so if you’re tiling an outdoor staircase, be sure to double check the material.

Common indoor tile materials are porcelain and ceramic tile. Generally speaking, porcelain tile is better but more expensive. Porcelain is a harder tile and offers a lot more versatility in the patterns and designs it comes with.

If you select a tile with a lot of design work or patterns on it, know that you will have an added task of planning your stair tile design. Patterned tiles need mixing around, so you have good variation of look. Mix the tiles up to ensure you use a different lot each time you lay one on your stairs. This will give you a good scattering of the pattern and make it look professional.  

marble tile stair case

​2. Have the Right supplies

Before you can begin to understand how to tile stairs, you need to make sure that you have all the necessary supplies to complete the job. Tiling stairs is not a project you want to be hunting around for the tools that you need. Make your tiling project as easy as possible by having all these supplies ready before you begin working.

  • ​Tile
  • ​Mortar
  • ​Grout
  • ​Adhesive
  • ​Level
  • ​Water
  • ​Trowel
  • ​Tape measure
  • ​Tile Saw or Tile Cutter
  • ​Grout spacers
  • ​Grout spreader
  • ​Mixing drill with spiral mixing paddle
  • ​Backerboard (optional)

​3. Plumb and Level Your Steps

To ensure that your tiles will be level and lay flat along your stairs, you need to check your staircase to determine if it is even. Use your level to determine if they are even. If you notice that your stairs are uneven, you will need to lay a layer of mortar on them to build a solid even surface prior to laying your tiles.

You will also want to use your tape measure to check that your stairs have the same rise and width. Otherwise known as plumbing, it is important that your stairs level side to side and plumb top to bottom.

Uneven stairs are not only annoying to walk on, but the tile you install can break quicker. Taking this opportunity to even out your staircase will pay off big for you in the long run.

If you have wooden stairs, you will need to lay backerboard to buffer the surface and prevent cracking of the grout over time. Backerboard can also be used on cement stairs as it provides a nice guide to keep your tiles even as you work.

tiling applying mortar grout to tile for stairs

​4. Mix Your Mortar

Now, its time to prepare your mortar. Follow the instructions of the manufacturer to get the exact ratio of water to mortar mix. You will need to use mix it very well, and a mixing drill with a spiral paddle is a good option to help you get that creamy consistency you are trying to achieve. Doing this by hand is possible, but very arduous.

You’ll then need to add the additives to the mortar, so it will adhere to your tiles and create those ever-important ridges with your trowel as you work.

​5. Add the Mortar and Set Your Tiles

With the mortar ready to go, you are now ready to lay your first tiles. It is always a good idea to lay the tiles out without using mortar first. This will give you an idea of placement and prevent you from having to tear them out if you make a mistake.

When you are tiling a room, it is smart to start in the center and work you way towards the walls. However, with a staircase, you should start at the top and work your way down (assuming you are operating the tile saw on the first floor). This way, as you lay the tile, you won’t need to walk on it as you continue installing down the staircase.

You’ll need to cut the tiles to fit using a tile saw. Mark the dimensions needed on your tile and follow these marks as a guide with your tile saw to get a perfectly fitting tile.

​Investing in ​your home workshop equipment can get expensive. Let us help you pick out the best tile saw in the market.

When ready, apply the mortar to the stairs with a notched float. This helps with the adherence of the tiles to mortar and likewise to the stairs. The mortar creates a strong bond and prevents cracking and shifting when the tiles are walked on.

Lay your tiles one-by-one, leaving even spaces between the tiles as you work. Set the tile with a rubber hammer and use grout spacers to achieve even placement of the tile as your work.

Make sure the tile is continually level, so you have an even surface when completely finished. This is very important – check each corner of tile after laying it down, and make sure it is level in relation to the other corners.

You will need to repeat this process until you have completely covered your staircase. You’ll want stair nosing tile for the edges. Apply in the same way that you have the rest of your tile but make sure they are securely adhered by using your rubber hammer. They should also be level with the rest of your tile.

​6. Grout When Cured

Once you have completed tiling your stairs, you will need to let the mortar dry. Follow the instructions on the mortar bag for curing time. This is usually about four hours or so, but we recommend waiting overnight. You will then need to mix and apply the grout over your tile to fill in the spaces between each tile to create your grout lines. Clean up the remaining grout with a sponge and let dry completely.

glossy stair case with tiles

​Conclusion

You have completed the entire process of how to tile stairs. This technique can be repeated on both your indoor and outdoor stairways with ease, giving you an appealing staircase that is both functional and durable.

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