Tiling a Kitchen Floor, For Dummies

This is no humble brag — it’s a full-out brag: I’m pretty handy. I can put up sheetrock, paint, and fix things in a pinch. I enjoy my home improvement projects (remember Fix-It Friday?), but since becoming a mother, I choose to spend most of my free time with my toddler.

But every once in a while, I get a bug up my butt to start a new project. This time, it was to replace our kitchen’s disgusting sheet linoleum floor. The floor was so dirty, even a steam cleaner with a grout attachment couldn’t get all the dirt out of the crevices on each square. I’ve been wanting to replace the floor for at least two years — I could have sworn I had a blog post about that around here somewhere. But I didn’t want to put in a beautiful new ceramic floor just to have to rip it up when it came time to renovate the kitchen, a project that likely won’t happen until 5-7 years from now.

Already knowing I didn’t want laminate wood floor because the rest of our first level has real wood flooring, I investigated my vinyl flooring options. I’d successfully tiled our back playroom with vinyl tiles when we first moved in, but wasn’t sure it was a look I wanted in the kitchen — 30 years old or not.

One Saturday, I wandered to my local Home Depot and discovered vinyl tile that you can GROUT, and my inner Bob Vila thought it was a fabulous idea. The vinyl tiles are self-stick — just peel off the backing and set them down — so all I needed was some spacers and some pre-mixed grout.

Ripping Up the Old Linoleum

I had an entire week off from work for ‘staycation,’ and the first night, I began tearing up the old sheet linoleum. Unfortunately, there were TWO layers of linoleum to deal with. It took me a day and a half just to remove it, using a 1-inch-wide putty knife and a blow-dryer (to loosen the old adhesive). By the end, my hands felt unusable. This is how it looked at the very, very beginning.

 

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That green layer? That was the clean backer layer — more like a sheet of paper than a board — that I almost destroyed, thinking there was plywood underneath rather than the super-ugly original kitchen tile that showed through at the seam with the wood flooring in the dining room. As I went along, I gently scraped off any extra linoleum paper backing that was left on the backer paper in order to ensure a smooth surface. Eventually, we moved the fridge into the dining room, but to do that, I had to disconnect the water line to the ice maker, which I managed without flooding the joint.

I was going to prep the backer board before beginning to lay the vinyl tile, but decided against it since the surface was very clean and generally level. But I used wall spackle to fill a few holes here, especially to level out the spot where I started in the picture above.

Putting Down Vinyl Tile

This was the easiest part for me — yes, really. I bought 1/8-inch tile spacers and used them to space out the tile as if it were porcelain or ceramic. It was probably harder, as I had to remove the backing paper on each tile and make sure it was straight before laying it down and sticking it to the floor. Cutting around door frames was a pain, but I did a pretty damned good job with just a razor knife and scissors — I found the scissors to be better for complicated cuts.

Grouting Vinyl Tile

Pre-mixed grout made this part less painful. The day after setting down the vinyl tiles, I tackled this portion of the project. Using a 3-inch putty knife, I added grout to the joints, making sure I didn’t get too much on the vinyl tile surface — unlike normal tiling, you don’t cover the entire surface. I then wiped off the excess with a damp sponge, rinsing the sponge after every wipe, and finished the joint with a folded paper towel (apologies to any professional tilers cringing while reading this). Here’s how it looked as I started to grout — I worked on the fridge area first.

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My least favorite part of this home improvement project? Trying to keep two cats, a 2-year-old and a hungry husband out of the kitchen for the three days as I worked. But the finished product made it all worthwhile.

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Naturally, that’s our perpetually-in-motion toddler, Emily, running around on what she now calls “Mommy’s floor.” The vinyl tile itself was a little darker than I thought it would look in our kitchen, but I think it pulls everything together, especially with our black appliances.

Next on the home improvement agenda? Updating the hardware pulls on the cabinets (think I’ll leave well enough alone with the hinges) and repainting the walls on the opposite side of the kitchen where our table and chairs are. That will be a snap compared to this!

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