What Is Thinset Mortar

Tips And Ideas To Help You Pick And Use The Right Thinset For Your Tile Project

Thinset mortar is an adhesive made from cement, fine sand and other chemicals. It is used to attach ceramic tile, glass tiles, metal tiles, stone tile, and cement tiles to all kinds of substrates like concrete, plywood, vinyl flooring, durarock or wonder board and old adhesives. There are many types of thinset mortars, each designed for a specific application.

Knowing which thinset mortar to use for your ceramic tile installation will help ease the tile installation and help ensure years of service from your new floor. There are so many brands and types of thinset mortar that it can make your head swim when choosing a thinset mortar. So if you are asking yourself "what is thinset?" this article discusses the types of thinset mortar available and tips on how to choose the proper one for your specific tile job as well as how to use thinset mortar to attach your tile to floors or walls.

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In this article, you will find information about:

  1. Types Of Thinset Mortar For Different Types Of Substrates
  2. Mixing Thinset Mortar
  3. How Much Thinset Mortar Do I Need? Notched Trowel sizes
  4. Applying Thinset Mortar to Tile And Subfloor
  5. Time To Let Set
  6. Colors Of Thinset Mortar
  7. Microban® antimicrobial protection

step 1 Types Of Thinset Mortar For Different Types Of Substrates

Custom Building Products makes all types of thinset mortars. This is a list of their products and how they recommend they are used. (refer to the manufactures data for specific uses, substrates and other product uses)

Standard Thinset Mortar:

  • Uses:This is the most basic type of thinset. It can be used to set semi-glass tiles, ceramic, natural stone and other materials that are semi absorptive.
  • Substrates: Interior floors, cement backer board, concrete, mortar beds, Wonderboard and masonry.

Polymer Modified Mortars: There are several types of modified thinset mortars. Each one has specific qualities that need to be matched up with the type of tile and substrate you are using. This is a general idea of what is possible. Check the product packaging for specific uses. With a Polymer Modified Mortar you can:

  • Set wall tiles with a cement based thinset mortar. This is what the pros use for showers.
  • Set floor tiles over joints in concrete.
  • Set tile over non cement materials like plywood, vinyl tile, plastic laminates, and adhesive left over from the last flooring installed.
  • Set tile and be grouting in 3 hours, and walking on it in 6 hours
  • Set tile on isolation membranes like Ditra Mat or Spider Web. These membranes uncouple the tile installation from the substrate to prevent cracks. They also allow you to set tile immediately without building a mortar bed or installing cement board. Learn how to install Ditra mat by reading the article How To Install Ditra Mat.

There are several different manufactures and each one has many modified thinsets with names like multi flex, flex bond, Versa bond, Pro Lite, full flex and super flex.

step 2 Mixing Thinset Mortar

Powdered thinset mortar must be mixed with water or a special laytex liquid that can be purchased where you purchase the thinset mortar. Most home tile projects only require mixing small amounts of thinset mortar for each batch. Use a 5 gallon bucket to mix in.

  • Mixing Bit: Small mixing bits and a drill are a great labor saver to help mixing thinset mortar. Mixing bits are sold in the places you purchase thinset mortar. Attach the bit to the drill, insert it into the thinset mortar with the desired amount of water or additive and turn it on. Move the mixing bit around the bottom of the bucket to make sure that the thinset mortar is thoroughly mixed
  • Mixing Speed: Mix on slow speed so that air bubbles are not introduced into the mix.
  • Amount: Mix a small amount of thinset mortar the first few batches until you get a feeling for how far the amount you mixed will go on the floor and how long you can work with it before it sets up.
  • Break The Set: Read the manufactures instructions for the specific thinset mortar you are using but you can often extend the open time that you have to trowel the thinset on by letting the thinset stand for 5 minutes after mixing it and then mixing it again.

step 3 How Much Thinset Mortar Do I Need? Notched Trowel Sizes

Determining the amount of thinset mortar you need depends on the size of the notched trowel. The size of the notched trowel to be used is determined by the size of the tiles installed.

Different tile sizes require the use of different sized notched trowels to ensure that the proper amount of thinset mortar is applied to bed the tiles.

  • Up to 8" tiles use a 1/4" x 1/4" x 1/4" notched trowel. This will cover 90 sq. ft. of floor and tile.
  • 8" to 12" tiles - 1/4" x 3/8" x 1/4" notched trowel. This will cover 60 sq. ft. of floor and tile.
  • 12" or larger tiles - 1/2" x 1/2" x 1/2" notched trowel. This will cover 45 sq. ft. of floor and tile.

step 4 Applying Thinset Mortar To Tile and Subfloor

  1. Load the trowel with thinset, or floor, and use the properly sized notched edge of the trowel to make even rows on the substrate. Be sure to cover all the areas that the tile will be set.
  2. Backbuttering each tile is critical to getting a complete bond between the tile and the substrate. Backbuttering a tile is done by applying thinset mortar to the entire back side of the tile and then using the flat side of the trowel to scrape it off to about 1/8" or less thick.

step 5 Time To Let Set

Allow 16 to 24 hours to let the ceramic tile to set before you walk on it, depending on the temperature of the room, warmer temperatures will cause faster set times. Walking on tile floors before the thinset fully sets up will cause the bond between the tile and the substrate to break. the tiles that have been stepped on will eventually break out.

step 6 Colors Of Thinset Mortar

The color of the thinset mortar does not affect the performance characteristics of the product. The color simply helps keep the finished tile job looking like you expected it to look. Use white thinset mortar for white colored and glass tiles. Use gray thinset mortar for all other tiles.

step 7 Microban® antimicrobial protection

Many thinset mortars include Microban antimicrobial protection. This is a chemical compound that prevents mold from growing on the thinset.

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