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Step-by-Step Guide: How to Lay Marble Floor Tiles?

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There is something special about marble tile floors. Classic, refined, bold, and individual, each marble floor is a unique creation that exists only in that room. Formed from sedimentary rocks such as limestone combined with the immense pressure of the earth’s geology, marble is tough, unyielding and stubborn in its original form. However, through centuries and millennia of working with this amazing natural resource, we have developed ways to transform such a solid rock into the epitome of luxury flooring, from the palaces of ancient Greece and Rome. This flooring can be found anywhere from today’s most acclaimed buildings. The world—now return to your own home.

Marble floors are timeless classics and a great choice for different rooms in the home—from entryways to kitchens and bathrooms, this gorgeous stone has the ability to be the focal point of any area. Marble tile floors look elegant and increase the value of the property. Installing marble floors can add beauty and elegance to a bathroom or foyer. Marble tiles come in a variety of colors and finish options to complement almost any color scheme.

Installing marble floor tile is similar to installing other types of tile. In fact, the steps are very simple. After the subfloor is prepared, the tiles are glued, grouted, and sealed. If you’ve installed tile before, chances are you already have most of the tools you need to install marble tile.

If you want your floor finishes to have a personal touch, then you can choose to lay the tiles yourself. Installing marble floor tiles is not an easy process, but if you are careful and patient, you can do it yourself. It’s not that complicated, but there are a few specs you need to consider to achieve the desired effect.

Below you’ll find some practical tips on how to choose marble tile, how to lay it and what you need to do next to help the stone maintain its gorgeous look over the years.

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Table of Contents

I. Is it more cost-effective to lay marble tiles by yourself?

The cost of real marble floor tiles can vary greatly depending on the color and style of the tile. Some marbles are relatively inexpensive, only costing around $4 to $5 per square foot, but if you choose a very unusual marble from an exotic location, it can also cost $75 or more per square foot. But standard marble tile from larger home improvement centers typically runs $5 to $20 per square foot.

Despite its initial hard appearance, marble flooring is delicate and requires a gentle touch and skill during installation. This can often be a costly learning experience for DIY homeowners. Not only are marble flooring materials notorious for being more expensive than natural stone flooring materials (Home Advisor estimates around $10 to $20 per square foot), but labor is also added when a contract is signed. An extra $3 to $7 per square foot is what you should budget for skilled marble floor installation.

While the price of marble floors can be staggering, you can keep the price down by installing marble floors yourself. Although installing marble floors is a more difficult DIY project, with the right tools, techniques, and materials, you can do it with ease.

Natural stone such as marble, a more difficult type of tile to cut, requires a power wet saw, which can be rented for a relatively low daily or weekly rate. But wet sawing isn’t terribly expensive, and you might be tempted to invest in one of your own, especially if you expect to do more tile work.

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II. What do you need to prepare?

1. Equipment/tools

  • 1/4″ notched spatula
  • Drilling rig
  • 6 inch drywall knife
  • Tape measure
  • Chalk line
  • Pencil
  • T-square
  • Tile spacers
  • Rubber hammer
  • Wet sawing, if not using
  • Custom cut tile pieces
  • Diamond hole saw (if needed)
  • Utility knife
  • Foam brush
  • Working gloves
  • Grout float
  • Grout sponge

2. Material

  • Marble tiles
  • Thinset Mortar (tile adhesive)
  • Cement board sheet
  • 1 1/4″ Cement Board Screws
  • Cement Board Joint Tape
  • Straight 2×4 board
  • Marble tile and grout sealers
  • Grouting

Protective measures: Wear gloves, goggles and a mask. These will protect your hands, eyes and lungs when you are installing marble tile.

III. A step-by-step guide on how to lay marble floor tiles

Once you’re ready to choose the best marble floor tiles and decide on a pattern, you can start installing them. Here’s a step-by-step guide you can use as a reference for your work.

Step 1: Prepare the subfloor

Marble floor tiles (like all floor tiles) require a smooth, level, waterproof base for installation. In most cases, this requires the removal of the existing floor covering to the subfloor, usually plywood or MDF.

Cover the exposed wood subfloor with cement board to give the floor strength and moisture resistance. Although cement board is not a vapor or moisture barrier, moisture won’t damage it the way it would in the case of wood. The thin mortar glue you’ll use to lay the marble tile is designed to adhere well to the cement board as well.

★ Tips

1. Since marble is heavy, your subfloor should be very solid. This may require some structural work to reinforce the joists that support the subfloor before the tile is installed.

2. You could try sanding down any bumps that raised the floor, or filling any depressions in the floor’s surface with thin cement. Wait for the cement to dry completely before proceeding.

3. You may also need to lay a plywood subfloor to keep the floor level.

4. Marble should not be installed on floors that vary in height by more than ¼ inch (6 mm) over a distance of 10 feet (3 m).

Step 2: Create guides

Your installation will work best if the tiles radiate out from the center of the room, rather than starting abruptly from one of the walls. To achieve this symmetrical effect, you will need to create guide lines on the face of the cement board bedding.

Find the center of two opposing walls and mark a path between them with a chalk line, dividing the room in half.

Then, measure to the center of that line and use the T-square to draw a vertical line with a pencil at the mark. Using the pencil line as a guide, draw a chalk line on the floor that divides the floor into four equal quadrants.

Check your layout by testing a complete tile installation along two guide lines from wall to wall. If the last row of tiles on any wall is less than a few inches wide, adjust the chalk line grid as necessary so that the tiles along the wall are of an acceptable width to your liking.

Step 3: Mix and apply mortar

Mix the thin-set mortar according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Mix just a little at a time, adding more as necessary. The thickness of the thin layer is critical and will vary depending on the tile being used and the size of the trowel cut. When mixing in small quantities, the ratio of edible agent to dry mix should be maintained. A digital kitchen scale, measuring cups, and a little math will allow the ratio to remain the same with varying mix amounts.

As directed by the manufacturer, mix the thin-set mortar. Prepare the mortar a little at a time. Do more as needed, or the entire mortar mixture will dry out. Then spread the adhesive on the floor, starting where the guide lines meet in the center of the room.

As you work, make grooves in the mortar with the trowel’s notched edge. This will increase the bond strength between the cement board and the marble bottom. The ridges of the mortar should always run in one direction. This allows air to escape, creating an even suit.

★ Tips

1. On marble tile that is 12-inch square or smaller, a 1/4-inch notched trowel can create ample grooves. However, if you have larger tiles, or if you are using irregular tumbled or naturally cracked material, use a 1/2-inch notched trowel to create wider, deeper grooves in the adhesive.

2. Allow the grout to dry for the recommended amount of time (usually not too long) before wiping off the grout on the surface. Don’t wait too long—if the grout dries too much, it will be more difficult to clean up.

3. Fill a bucket with warm, clean water and dampen with a sponge to remove excess grout from the grout lines. Do not goug or wash grout. For the purpose of removing any grout from the top of the tiles, thoroughly wash the entire area with water and repeat as necessary.

Step 4: Laying the first tile

Apply enough mortar to easily cover the bottom of a single tile, making sure its entire surface is notched. Gently press the first tile into place, aligning its two edges with the chalk lines in one corner of the layout. Twist the tile slightly as you press it down to make sure it’s properly seated on the mortar bed below.

★ Tips

Check that the tile is flush with the level. After placing all the tiles on one side of the line, proceed to the other side of the room.

Step 5: "Fix" the tile with a rubber mallet

A rubber hammer is a large hammer with a soft rubber tip. Use it to lightly tap the surface of the marble tile to press it more firmly into the mortar. However, be careful not to hit too hard, as marble is a relatively soft material and can crack easily. Avoid moving tiles when setting them.

Step 6: Install additional tiles

Continue to apply mortar to each tile and place the tile before moving on to the next tile. Follow the guideline towards the wall as a guide to keep the placement straight. Use tile spacers to keep the spacing between tiles consistent. Spacers should be selected for whatever width you choose for the joint. Shims help ensure grout lines are clear and even.

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Step 7: Install remaining full-size tiles

Use 2×4 boards after every third or fourth tile to make sure they are the same height. Place the board on top of the tile and tap the board lightly with a rubber mallet. If the marble is polished, you might want to put a mat over the wood front to shield it from dings. When more tiles are put in place, you can even do this across numerous rows.

Once you get to the first row of walls, be aware of the gaps at the ends, custom cut pieces may be required. Then, move back to the center point of the guide and continue placing the tiles near the first row. Take a moment after every few tiles to make sure all the lines meet and that the entire floor looks sharp and consistent.

Be careful not to step on any installed tiles as you work. Generally, marble floor tiles should be left to sit for at least 48 hours after installation. Therefore, you have to be careful not to push yourself into corners from which you cannot escape. Be sure to leave yourself a path of passage; the last quadrant you tackle should be the one where the door is.

Step 8: Cut the tiles with a wet saw

To cut tiles as needed, use a wet tile saw. A small wet saw costs less than $100, but many do-it-yourselfers merely rent one for the day or week. Smaller portable saws are capable of basic straight cuts on tiles up to 12 inches. Rental costs may include a fixed cost of the saw as well as a pro-rated cost of diamond blade wear and tear.

For difficult cuts, or if you don’t want to use a saw, ask your marble tile supplier if they can cut it for you.

If you need to make holes in marble tile (like you might if you have pipes going through the floor, for example), you can use a special hole saw with a diamond-tipped edge. The hole saw simply fits in the drill. Make sure to cut slowly to keep the hole saw from overheating.

Step 9: Remove excess mortar

If any excess adhesive seeps through the gaps between the tiles, use a paint stick or utility knife to remove it.

Following the manufacturer’s recommendations, let the mortar adhesive completely dry once all the tiles have been installed. Do not walk on the floor during this time, or you may move or knock down the tiles.

Step 10: Seal the marble

Marble is porous and many substances can penetrate the stone surface causing permanent stains. Therefore, a good quality marble tile sealer must be used to seal before grouting. If grout is used before the marble is sealed, it can seriously stain the marble tile.

If you have polished marble, apply a very thin coat of sealer. Use a foam brush to smooth out any puddles or small bubbles that develop on the surface, as they can dry into permanent features. A tumbled and honed marble surface will be more forgiving, but the same rules apply here.

In general, it’s best to seal marble tile at least twice (and possibly multiple times), waiting for each coat to dry before applying a new coat. This forms a strong protective layer on the surface of the material. You may need to reseal your tiles every 6 to 12 months, depending on the traffic in the room.

Step 11: Grouting tiles

In accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, mix the grout. As with tile, use unsanded grout if the joint width is 1/8 inch or less; use mortar for wider joints. As with mortar, mix as much material as possible only for about 15 or 20 minutes, the time the grout begins to set.

Apply the grout to the joint with the grout float and press it into the joint with a sweeping motion. Running the grout float at a 45-degree angle to the joint will reduce snagging edges and cause the joint to fill completely. Holding the edge of the tool slightly can help push the grout down. Try to pour as much of the mixture as possible into the grooves, and wipe any excess off the tiles. Ideally, the joints between tiles must be completely filled with grout, with no void areas.

Step 12: Wipe the tiles clean

To clean the marble tile surface and remove extra grout, gently wash it down with a slightly damp large grout sponge. Avoid letting any moisture seep into the grout lines, as this could cause the mixture to become cloudy and wash away. Also, when using the sponge, try to avoid inadvertently pulling the grout out of the joints—concentrate on the tile surface only. Let the grout cure as directed. Clean tools with water or acetone to remove excess grout or mortar and make them ready to use again.

Step 13: Seal the grout

Check the recommended waiting period before grout sealing provided by the grout manufacturer. Seven days of waiting is not unusual. Using a foam brush, seal the grout as directed by the manufacturer.

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IV. The cleaning and maintenance of marble floor tiles

1. Create a maintenance plan (and stick to it)

You did it! While installing marble floors can be a daunting project, the finished product is stunning. Now you need to take care of it.

We recommend that you clean it daily to avoid scratches. Keep the tiles clean by mopping the tiles regularly with a damp mop, and avoid the risk of water collecting on the tiles. Never use acidic cleaners; marble has a low pH, which means it will chemically react with acidic products, leaving permanent stains. Any spills should be cleaned up as soon as possible to avoid messes.

Finally, plan now when to reseal your floors. To prevent wear and tear, plan to reseal at least once a year. However, if your floor is in a high traffic area, twice a year is better.

2. Basic cleaning and maintenance concepts

One of the important factors in protecting marble floors is sealing them properly. You can choose from three main types of marble tile sealers:

1. Spot sealers: These are applied on top of marble tile and act more like a color or gloss enhancer. These sealants wear out faster and are not suitable for high traffic areas. They also make surfaces more slippery, especially when wet.

2. Penetrating Sealers: These will penetrate into the stone and are very effective against liquids and oils. They do not affect the appearance of the marble when applied. Penetrating sealants last longer than topical sealants, but still require reapplication after six months or a year.

3. Impregnation sealer: This is the best solution for marble floor tiles as they provide the necessary high level of protection. They do not affect the color of the stone and are successfully water and oil resistant. It takes much longer to reapply them.

To keep your marble floors stain-free, make sure to remove all stains as soon as possible. Blot dry better than wipe. Use a special marble tile cleaner instead of traditional cleaning products. Mild soaps and dishwashing liquids are also acceptable. Clean with a soft, clean mop and plenty of water. Instead of letting your marble floor dry, buff it with a microfiber cloth to give it a natural shine.

Be careful with any acidic liquids as they will damage and etch the marble. Also steer clear of amino-based cleaners. Never use any abrasives on this soft stone. Remove dirt and avoid using a vacuum cleaner, as its wheels may scratch the tiles.

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V. Conclusion

We recommend that you purchase the right tools to simplify the flooring process. Also, check the quality of the mortar, sealant, and tile with the supplier. A floor is considered successful when cleaning and sealing are done properly. Any residue or lingering dirt can cause the tiles to become stained or damaged. It is wise to check the type of sealant you are purchasing. After installation, prepare for maintenance.

George Marble is one of the largest wholesalers and suppliers of high-quality natural stone in China, catering to projects of all sizes. To request a free sample or learn more about our products, please feel free to contact us.

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