There are only so many places to shop for DIY tile installation products. Big box hardware stores are among the best options.
But no matter where you go there’s going to be good products and not-so-good products.
Big-Box stores help and hurt
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
The trap of the box stores is that they want to make their products as appealing as possible.
Unfortunately, this means pushing some of their worst installation products onto the DIY’er. They’re advertised as EASY and SIMPLE.
And why do you buy them? Because they’re advertised as EASY and SIMPLE!
Below are 3 DIY tile installation products that I recommend you avoid. I provide alternatives to purchase instead. These alternatives are not easier or simpler but they are much better.
Tile Mastic and Premixed Thinset
Tile Mastic and premixed thinset seem like the perfect wall tile adhesive! But wait…unfortunately it’s not all roses.
I know on the back of the bucket they make many promises- can be used on floors, in showers, big tiles, etc.
But when it comes to examining the products listed limitations and the actual steps of what you want to do with it you’re going find that it’s a good product for most of your projects.
Sometime in the future, I’ll do a more in-depth post about the “finer” points of ceramic tile mastic- but for now, my recommendation is don’t use.
Use this instead:
- Lightweight tile mortar
The lightweight tile thinsets are great for wall tile applications. Not only do they hold small tiles on walls but big tiles too.
I have a lot of information on thinsets if you start here.
Tile Adhesive Mats
I understand the appeal of peel and stick tiling. No mixing mortar-no making big messes. But peel and stick sheets is simply cutting corners.
The tiles have to have flat backs- something most tiles don’t have. You have to grout them right away because apparently grout helps hold them to the wall.
One company hangs weights from the tiles to show how strong things are but then curiously has a requirement of no tiles over 5lbs? Another company encourages the use of these mats in wet environments. UGH! I’ve heard enough. Stay away!
Use this instead:
- thinset mortar. In a wet area use a waterproof membrane.
Don’t Buy Tile from a Big Box Store Until You Read This
Acrylic Latex Caulk
I’ve talked about this before but latex caulk is nearly worthless for use with tile. The product will crack, mold, and dry out over time. It’s something that will constantly have to be redone. The good news is that it’s easy to use!
Don’t use anything that says acrylic, latex, siliconized, paintable, or cleans up with water.
Use this instead:
- 100% silicone caulk
Color-matched 100% silicone caulks are available in an assortment of colors just like acrylic caulks. I’m even starting to see some of them at the box stores these days.
For tips on how to caulk with 100% silicone caulk watch the video in this post:
Silicone Caulk: How to Caulk a Bathtub or a Shower
If you have any experience with the above products I’d be interested to hear your experiences- good or bad. Please share in the comments below.
I’m having a new home built and have found tile for all the bathrooms, laundry room, etc. that I like at The Tile Shop. The tile is only warrantied if I have the installer use their adhesive and grout that the Tile Shop sells — Proflex Latex Fortified Thinset Mortar, ProLastic Liquid, ProLastic Powder, Flexible Admixture, and the unsanded and sanded Pro Grout. Our contractor told me that the tile installer can provide their own adhesive and grout. My dilemma is what is the best approach: 1) Should I trust the installer to use a high quality adhesive and grout? Or is it best that I get my own to ensure that it’s high quality. 2) Are the Tile Shop products a high quality? The ProLastic Liquid is $50 for 2 gallons, and the powder is $20 for a 50lb. bag. 3) Do installers have their favorite materials that they are used to using and it’s best to not change things on them? I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Thank you for your very informative blog.
We don’t have The Tile Shop up here in the Seattle area do I really don’t have any idea of what their system is.
But if the warranty works as you state and you want to keep that warranty in place then it’s probably best to use those products that will do that.
But keep in mind that if there’s a problem the contractor can now say “it’s not my problem, it’s the tile shop fault.” And then the tile shop can basically do the same thing.
So it’s probably a good idea to have all parties understand who carries what responsibility BEFORE proceeding with the installation.
Otherwise you may consider having the contractor supply everything and then the finger only points in one direction when there’s an issue.
Thank you so much! I appreciate all your help. Is there a type of adhesive that tile installers use that saves them money but isn’t desirable for the customer? I just want to be aware if they are going to use something that is considered not top quality.
Yes, there’s different kinds of mortar and every manufacturer carries thinset in different price points and for different applications.
The kind of mortar to use depends on what’s being installed and where it’s being installed.
So, yes, it’s common for installers to use the wrong adhesive. But it’s impossible for me to list all of the wrong adhesives that are out there. Especially when I don’t even know what’s being installed.
I do have a post that shows a flow chart for thinset. You may find that helpful.
But it’s hard to know what thinset your installer will bring out, what brand they prefer, and what product is being installed in what application.
The best thing that you can do is either provide the recommended thinset and/or hire a knowledgeable and competent installer for the project.
Thank you so much!! I appreciate your time with this.
Hi there! Happy Thanksgiving!! I have a 25 sq ft bathroom with 1/4 inch mosaic square concrete tiles set on concrete mortar with said concrete as grout..this building is about 63 years old. The grout lines are beyond discolored and are receding so I want to retile. However it’s cost prohibitive in NYC for me to remove the old tiles and replace. I’ve bought 12×12 black granite tiles and have a tiler in mind to install them onto the old tiles in 2 weeks. Is a modified thinset the best to use in this case?
Yes, modified is what you would want. Ideally, you would want one that says “ANSI 118.4” at a minimum. Should be a mortar rated for large and heavy tiles (LFT or LHT) and using a bonding primer like Eco Prim Grip from Mapei would be a good idea.
I AM DOING A SECOND FLOOR BATHROOM REMODEL ,I REMOVED OLD 1900’S TILE (ABOUT 2000LBS OF STUFF), SISTER THE JOISTS WITH 2 BY 10’S BY 13′ SCREWED TO THE OLD ONES ,LAID 3/4″ PLYWOOD OVER THAT AND 1/2″ PLYWOOD ON TOP. I WANT TO TILE WITH 12″ BY 24″ CERAMIC TILE AND EPOXY GROUT. A VERY HEAVY CLAWFOOT TUB WILL GO BACK ON THE FURTHER END OF THE 6 BY12 BATHROOM. A TECHNICIAN FROM A BIG TILE PRODUCTS COMPANY TOLD ME TO WAIT 7 TO 10 DAYS AFTER THE TILE IS INSTALLED ,PUT THE TUB BACK,FILL IT WITH WATER AND GROUT THEN. THE PROBLEM IS THERE IS NO ROOM TO WORK AROUND THE TUB ,MAYBE THE FRONT END OF IT ,DO YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS? HIS ADVISE SOUNDS LOGICAL BUT IS HARD TO IMPLEMENT,WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I guess it depends on what the reason for installing the tub before grouting is? If this technician is a representative of the products that you are using and their advice is official and on the record then I would do as they’ve requested. But I don’t understand how installing the tub prior to grout affects the grouting process other than making it more difficult to work around.
I feel like there’s more to this story.
Hi, I built a house recently and installed a custom shower. I bought all of the products through KBRS and installed per their instructions. When it came time to tile the shower pan, I laid the main tile using mastic because I was told by a guy to do so. I am laying a mosaic around the main tile and it has not been laid. My question is, what should I do now? It is going to be extremely difficult if not impossible to remove the tile that is already down without damaging my shower pan
I would try to remove the tile on the shower pan before going further. It might come up easier than you think. Maybe try pulling more so than scraping.
If indeed it is difficult, I doubt that it will last a long time and should remove itself with regular use. However, you’ll probably get some mold in the mastic if it’s continually exposed to moisture.
So, I don’t know if my problem was what I got from Lowes or not (probably not) but problem I do have. I was trying to install a shower pan pre-slope using the Mapei 4:1 doing the drypack method. I added water until able to form a ball that stuck together but then was still easy to poke apart with my finger. Then I (thought) I packed well as I installed and developed the slope. 24hrs later as I was trying to clean it off before installing the liner I have large areas that the vacume just sucked up. apparently it did not stick well, I did not pack well or something. other areas look pretty good. Now what do I do? how do I fix this so that the liner is sitting on a nice flat surface? How can I be sure the other parts really are ok and won’t crumble apart later??? Thanks ahead of time. (I have pictures but can’t see how to include them)…
Usually, this is a symptom of not enough water or not mixed well enough.
The bag will give you a range of water to add. I usually add near the top end of the range. Then mix it well in a wheel barrow with a garden hoe. Pull the mud back and forth several times. But I think that’s where your problems are coming from.
As far as what to do with it at this point, it’s ususally not hard to just remove the preslope and redo it. That would be the best course of action. You may be able to patch some areas with a medium bed mortar or a floor patch product.
What you have going in your favor is that there will be 1.5 inches of mud on top of it. So you really just need things to hold together until that happens.
Stewart Corman says
Finished grouting a floor with Mapei unsanded Mocha grout and the darker color only appears when wet, but gets very light when air dried. Tried Miralcle Grout and Tile Sealer on a sample and it was worthless…runs like water and with 4 coats, soaks in, still dries light , but wet dark color at each application….sprinkle water and it gets dark again…not much sealing in my book!
I can think of other deck construction materials like Thompson Waterseal, or Woodprotector (oil based), which would sink in and stay dark, Can you recommend a sealant that will maintain the advertised color?
Probably what you want to do is purchase a grout colorant in the color that you want. Most of the colorants are sealers also.
SHARON MAYS says
WHAT DO USE TO TILE WITH A MOSIAC MARBLE TILE OVER BRICK AROUND MY FIREPLACE. I KEEP READING A LATEX BASED THINSET IS FINE FOR THE JOB BUT NOW I JUST READ A TILE PERSON THAT SAY THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT THING FOR THE HEAT OF A FIREPLACE. NOW I BARELY USE MY FIREPLACE BUT I WOULD CERTAINLY WANT TO MAKE SURE I USED A PRODUCT THAT ALLOWED ME TO STILL USE THE FIREPLACE AFTER I TILED WITH OUT DAMAGING MY TILES
If, by latex-based thinset, you mean premixed “mortar” or mastic then, no, that is not what you want to use for this application.
A nice product for mosaics that are installed over a vertical surface is a lightweight mortar (thinset) that is mixed with water. A product that I like to use, that’s available at Home Depot, is called Prolite. But most of the lightweight thinsets will work for your application.
Prolite mortar from Home Depot (affiliate link- click here for disclosure)
Patricia Nelson says
2 -1″ ceramic tiles are loose on my shower floor next to the drain. Is there a product that will glue and grout in one step? I read I need thinset for wet areas and not mastic.
Also, can I use grout colorant so it will match the rest of the shower floor?
I think they make grout/mortar in one step although I don’t really think it’s the best product. You could try to purchase a cement grout and simply install the tiles and grout with that. The proper way is to install with mortar then use another grout but I understand trying to save the step with such a small repair.
If you go with a colorant, it’s easier to color darker than it is lighter. So go with a grout that is a little lighter than what’s in there.
Wendilyn Emrys, MA says
Thanks for all of this. I want to lay wood look porcelain floor tiles. However, I am very allergic to LATEX. What would be the best thinset for me to use?
I would think an unmodified mortar. They don’t tell people their formula for making the mortar so it’s hard for me to know what would be the best product. The best way is to try to identify the chemical that you are allergic to and read the mortar company’s safety sheet and see if it’s on there.
Or call the manufacturer of the product that you think might work and see what they have to say. They know what chemicals are in their products.
I plan to do a walk in shower with mud base (Mapei 4 to 1), cement backer board walls, sealed system using Mapei aquadefense (on base and walls) and Kerdi Pvc drain. My concern is will the aquadefense adhere to the plastic Kerdi drain. Mapei rep said use Acrylic siliconized caulk where aquadefense ends on drain. You say don’t use this type caulk and (mapei says don’t use silicone caulk), any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you
I’m really not sure what the role of caulk would be with a liquid waterproofing. If you are going to use the liquid waterproofing for the shower pan then I recommend some of this type of fabric which allows the liquid to soak through. This is a competitors product but Mapei probably has something similar. Link is non-affiliate.
This fabric should go around the drain and also in all of the corners of the shower. Make sure you flood test. These types of showers can be tricky to get correct.
Wildcat Greg says
my son remodeled my bathroom last year with my help. a mistake was made measuring tile from tub to ceiling. so at the top of 3 walls surrounding the tub there is about a 3/4 inch gap. right now there is some of the mortar dried up there. how meticulous do i need to be to get the dried mortar off. it’s been about a year. We were going to then just put up a ceiling cove crown molding type piece up to cover however we would like to tile it up. not sure if it will look stupid with a 3/4 inch high tile all around the top…it is basically subway tile. thoughts on what to do> gotta get all mortar off then is there a glue or adhesive that would be easier than a mortar since it is only going to be a narrow piece of tile about 4 inches long each?
You can put skinny pieces of tile up there. If the grout matches the tile then it won’t be that noticeable. As far as removing the dried thinset, you could try a utility knife, maybe a chisel, or if you have an oscillating tool with an abrasive tile blade that might work too.