What Surfaces Can I Tile On?

What Surfaces Can I Tile On?

From your backsplash and walls to flooring and countertops, tile is an aesthetically pleasing, high-end finish that is durable for decades to come. There are several colors, sizes, and designs to choose from to reflect your style and elevate the design of your home. 

Is updating or adding tile to your home on your to-do list? Before you do, be sure your surface can support the tile. 

What surfaces can you put tile on? This guide will help answer that common question to make sure your next tile project is successful and efficient.

Surfaces you should NOT put tile on

Before we dive into which kinds of surfaces you can put tile on, we should mention surfaces to steer clear of. You should not tile over:

  • wallpaper
  • bamboo
  • laminate flooring 
  • wood flooring
  • natural lime plaster (more common in older homes)
  • glossy surfaces/water-based paint
  • lead paint 

There are test kits available if you don't know whether your home has lead paint or not. If the test is positive, consult with a professional because improperly removing lead paint can cause toxins to spread throughout the home.

Surfaces that you can put tile over

Many surfaces can handle tile directly over them, while others need a bit more preparation. So before you get started, make sure you know what the surface is and what needs to be done before laying tile. 

Surfaces that are suitable to tile over include:

  • existing tile
  • painted or unpainted drywall
  • plaster
  • textured walls
  • plywood 
  • concrete 

Let’s look at each of these more closely. 

Existing tile

If your current tile has seen better days and needs a refresh, you might be able to save some time and tile right over it. However, the existing tile should be intact as well as smaller and thinner than the new tile. Warped and/or broken tiles can cause moisture retention. And the added weight from the new tiles can cause damage to the floor or wall. The current tile should also be free of mold and mildew. 


Drywall is one of the most common surfaces people tile over, even though it may not seem sturdy enough. As long as the drywall is not overly exposed to excessive moisture like in the bathroom, it is a dependable surface. Using drywall in a shower can cause water to leak behind the tile and cause damage, mold, or pest infestations.

If the drywall is painted, particularly in the case of semi-gloss, it must be thoroughly washed and dried first. Next, using sandpaper (80 grit), lightly hand sand, so the paint has a rough finish to help the tile stick to the surface.

(As stated above, water-based paints aren't suitable and need to be removed before tiling.)


It's perfectly fine to put tile on concrete with a few stipulations. 

  • How much time has the concrete floor had to cure? The industry standard is at least 28 days. 
  • Is there moisture coming from the concrete? Moisture can destroy grout lines and tile mortar as well as cause bonds to break over time. As a result, tiles can become broken or loose. If the concrete does have moisture of any kind, speak with a professional first. 
  • Are there any cracks? If the concrete has a crack(s) less than 1/8 inch, use a high-quality modified thin-set with some crack isolation components. A crack isolation membrane should be used for larger cracks. 

Before laying tile on concrete, be sure the slab is clean. Some tools can scrap up old adhesives or materials without the use of chemicals. After removing anything stuck on the concrete, sweep up debris, mop, and allow the floor to dry before laying the tile.   


Plaster walls are much more common than drywall in older homes. The durability and strength plaster gives, makes it ideal for tile, but some preparation needs to be done beforehand:

  • Scrape or sand off flaky paint to prevent the tile adhesive from failing to adhere. 
  • Patch up cracks or holes in plaster
  • Fresh plaster must be completely dry before the tile is laid, whether applied as a patch or to the entire wall.

A solid plaster wall is a smooth and sturdy backing for the tile. Therefore, it's recommended to use a thin layer of mortar or glue to attach tiles to the plaster. A glue adhesive is ideal for installing tile over plaster. While products are available specifically for plaster walls, any tile setting adhesive designed for thin-set use will work.


Good news! If you want to cover brick with tile, you don't need to worry about removing brick first. Just be sure to thoroughly clean the brick, removing dirt, loose mortar, and other substances that may impede the application process. 

Most likely, there will be some missing mortar, so be sure to replace it with a thin-set mortar. You should also cover the tiles with mortar before covering them over the brick. It's also important to remove any trim or molding before starting because tile can't adhere to them. 

Final Thoughts

No matter the surface you want to tile over, keeping these things in mind can help make the tile installation easier and successful. Remember to thoroughly clean, vacuum or sweep all dust and debris, remove loose floor tiles and fill voids with thin-set. 

Installing tile can be a great DIY project with the right tools, products, and knowledge. However, sometimes seeking a professional is the most cost and time-effective approach. If you are considering either a tile upgrade or replacement for your home, check out Karen Pearse Home for a beautiful tile selection to fit every budget and lifestyle.