How to Install Pool Tile

Whether you choose to tile just the edge of the pool, add whimsical mosaic creatures and patterns to the bottom or sides, or encase your entire pool, adding tile can give your outdoor space a distinctive look. The combinations of colors, textures and patterns are limited only by your imagination; just find something that inspires you, gather the tools you’ll need, and get ready to put a little personality into your family’s poolside experience.

Mix colors of tile for more visual impact
  1. Drain the water down to the level of the pool skimmer if you are installing tile around the inside edge a pool with water in it. Mark the water line at the level you’ve just drained it to around the pool with a grease pencil. Drain the pool water level down another 3 inches. If you’re installing an all-tile pool (tile will be on all surfaces of the pool), the tank (interior of the pool) should be flat and smooth to with ¼ inch in 10 feet to meet tiling specifications, and you’ll need to clean the surface of the tank.

  2. Apply adhesive to the back of the tile by buttering the back with a buttering trowel. Drag the grooved edge of the trowel across the tile (left to right), then from the top edge to the bottom edge to make grooved lines in the adhesive. For pool tiles installed in the pool (above, at or below the water level), cover 95 percent of the back of the tile with the adhesive to reduce gaps that could lead to mold or mildew. Since tile adhesive bonding strength for uses in water is different, use a latex thinset mortar designed for pool use. Curing time (the time it takes to dry and set up) is critical to the durability of the tile, and adhesives designed for wet use usually require a curing time of 28 days before subjecting them to water.

  3. Place the tile. For all-tile pools, butter the tiles with adhesive and place. Using tiles on meshed sheets will make this process faster and easier, and you won’t have to use tile spacers. To place tiles on the inside edge of the pool, begin at the skimmer on the pencil line you drew. If the tiles aren’t on meshed sheets (in which case you can use the spacing already built into the placement of the tile on the mesh sheet), use a ruler or level on the bottom edge of the tile so each tile is placed at the same level and place a tile space in between each tile. Cut tiles, if necessary, using a wet saw or mosaic tile cutters. Many pool owners are opting for tiles surrounded by plaster; if so, install the tile on the tank by positioning the mosaic on the tank, outline the design in pencil and give the outline a thin coat of thinset. Butter the back of each mosaic tile and put it in place. Continue tiling until you’ve tiled the entire desired area and let the tile adhesive set up for 30 minutes.

  4. Remove the tile spacers if you used them. Apply the grout to a small section of tile at a time, pushing the grout into the joints with a grout float.

  5. Scrub the excess grout off each section with ½ tsp. of liquid dish soap applied to a scrubber that’s been dipped into a bucket of water. A second person should be following behind you to do this as you apply the grout.

  6. Wipe down the surface using clean water and sponges to remove grout residue. Let cure for 28 days.

  7. Install the pool coping (the upper edge that hangs over the top of the pool). Leave a ½-inch-wide movement joint in between the coping tiles and the pool deck to prevent damage to the deck or coping stones. Fill the movement joint with two-component urethane (a substance that dries into a tough, high-strength rubber membrane). Seal the coping tiles with an impregnator (a heavy-duty stone, tile and grout sealer).

  8. Plaster (using a damp-cured plaster) around the tiles if you’re using a combination of tiles and plaster. Clean the plaster off the tiles with a damp sponge and use a trowel to tighten and smooth the surface of the plaster. Fill the pool immediately after troweling to cure the plaster.


  • Always wear safety glasses when cutting tile.

About the Author

Based in California, Tracie Grimes began writing in the medical field in 1984. She has since expanded her areas of expertise to include DIY projects, parenting and craft articles. She is a monthly contributor to "Kern County Family Magazine" and "Bakersfield Magazine," with work also appearing in parenting magazines across the United States. Grimes received her bachelor's degree in journalism from Northern Arizona University.