Soft floor tiles, which can include vinyl, cork and carpet tiles, are supplied with either a self-adhesive backing or require a separate adhesive to be applied before fitting. Carpet tiles are usually laid without adhesive. This guide looks at laying self-adhesive soft tiles, and the steps are the same for vinyl, cork or any other flexible tile.
Preparing the Floor
The ideal surface to lay soft tiles onto is a hardboard subfloor. Aside from checking that nail heads are punched below the surface, and that the floor is free from dust and dirt, no other preparation is needed. If you are laying on a ply or self-levelled subfloor, you should treat it with a dilute PVA solution to seal it. Alternatively, the tile supplier may be able to recommend a primer/sealant.
Let any primer/sealant dry if you have used it, and then clean the floor thoroughly with a damp sponge. Even tiny specks of dirt, grit or dust can show up through the laid tiles (particularly if using thin tiles).
Laying the First Tile
Deciding where to start tiling can be done in a couple of different ways. What you shouldn’t do is start with the first tile pushed tight into the corner of the room. If the walls are not perfectly straight, using them as a guide will lead to problems later.
Find the middle of the room by measuring the length of adjacent walls and draw a chalk or pencil line across the room, in both directions, to mark the middle. Dry lay tiles, starting at the middle and working towards the wall. The last full tile before you hit the wall marks your provisional starting point. It is easier to cut tiles to fill a gap at the edge of the room, and these cut tiles will be less noticeable. Repeat this process along the other lines from the centre point, mark where the last full tile ends, and use a straight edge and pencil to mark the margin all the way around the room. You can now lay the first tile.
Peel the backing paper off the back of the tile and carefully position it in corner of the room furthest away from the door, using the margin lines to guide you. Be very accurate here, making sure the tile is pressed down firmly, as this tile will act as a fixed point and if it is not placed perfectly, it will throw out the tiles that follow.
Complete the Field Tiles
Lay the second tile next to the first, butting the edges tightly together and making sure the outside edge follows the margin line. A good tip to make sure that the tiles are pressed down firmly and evenly, is to use a normal household rolling pin. If your measuring and marking was accurate, the last tile in the row should sit in the right angle of the margin lines at the adjacent corner of the room.
Now return to the starting position and lay a tile next to the first. You can now repeat the process, laying row after row, until the field tiles (whole tiles) are all fixed in place and you are only left with an non-tiled margin around the edge of the room. Hopefully, this margin will look fairly even all the way around the room.
Fill in the Margins
To accurately cut tiles to fill in the margins around the edge of the room, place a dry tile (a tile with its paper backing still on) exactly over a fixed one next to the margin. Place a second dry tile over the first and slide it over the margin. Make sure the edges are lined up with the tile below. Where the second tile overlaps the first tile, mark a line.
Remove the marked dry tile, and place it on an off-cut of board or wood (to protect the floor). Cut along the marked line with a sharp craft knife, using a metal straight edge as a guide. Check that the cut piece fits well in the gap, before peeling the backing off and pressing it into place.
A quicker, but slightly less accurate way to mark tiles for the margin is to place a dry tile upside down over a tile at the edge. Slide the dry tile out over the margin and place a straight-edge, lined up with the edge of the tiles on either side, on top. Mark a line with a pencil on the back of the dry tile. You can then cut along the mark using the straight edge and craft knife (on a piece of board). Again, check the cut piece fits before you peel off the backing and fix it in place.
Cutting Tiles for Corners
To mark an L-shaped tile for a corner, e.g. to go around the corner of a fireplace or alcove, place two dry tiles over the closest fixed tile. Slide the top tile over to one side of the corner and mark the edge of the top tile onto the bottom tile. Now slide the bottom tile, with its guide line, to the other side of the corner. Don’t rotate the tile. Place the second tile on top again and push it against the corner. Mark the edge again like you did before. You will now have an L-shaped piece marked which you can cut out and fit into the corner gap.