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Tile Adhesive vs Mortar: Differences Explained (With Pictures)

When giving your home a complete makeover or renovation, you may wish to change the old flooring and install a long-lasting solution: tiles. You can use different substances to secure your tiles to the floor or wall. Two popular options when securing tiles are tile adhesive and tile mortar.

Back in the day, tile adhesive couldn’t handle the pressure of being walked on and had a short life expectancy. On the other hand, tile mortar was installed over an underlayment of plywood and good old-fashioned elbow grease.

Today, both products have evolved. It’s possible for homeowners to enjoy beautiful tile floors that last for decades. With so many tile adhesives and mortars on the market, it can be challenging to figure out which one is the best for your project.

In this article, we’ll educate you about tile adhesive and mortar to help you understand which one is better.

Click Below to Jump Ahead:

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Overview of Tile Adhesive

person installing rectified tile
Image Credit: DUO Studio, Shutterstock

Tile adhesive is a liquid or paste that bonds ceramic and porcelain tiles to the substrate below them. In other words, it’s flexible glue that you can use to attach different tiles. It is used when installing tiles on countertops, floors, and walls.

Usually, the tile adhesive is applied to the backside of the tile, then pressed firmly against the surface.

What Is Tile Adhesive Good For

You can use tile adhesive to secure tiles on substrates such as wood, cement, glass, and many more. It doesn’t crack or shrink due to temperature changes and moisture.

It creates a strong bond between the tile and the subfloor, while also providing a waterproof seal between the tiles and the substrate. When applied well, they’ll prevent water from leaking through the joints or cracks in the flooring.

You can also use tile adhesives to bond the tile to other materials, such as vinyl, concrete, brick, or wood.

Due to the tile adhesive’s water resistance, it’s ideal for installing tiles in a parking area and a swimming pool.

Pros
  • Bonds strongly; can use it on any substrate or existing tiles
  • Ready to use; only need to mix it with water
  • Thinner layer
  • Low shrinkage makes tile adhesives adhere strongly
  • Used on all types of tiles
  • Ready to be used in 24 hours
  • Tile soaking isn’t required
Cons
  • Applying it is challenging
  • Less durability
  • Cannot endure heavy foot traffic if used to install tiles on the floor
  • No strong bond between the tiles

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Overview of Mortar

mortar mixture on a wall
Image Credit: rkit, Pixabay

Tile mortar is a mixture of Portland cement, lime, and silica sand used to hold tiles in place and strengthen it. This mixture is called a cementitious material or mortar.

Mortar can also be decorative on its own. Some mortars are colored or textured to create interesting effects on the walls.

The two primary ingredients of mortar, Portland cement and sand are mixed with water until they form a thick paste. The mixture is then applied to the substrate using a trowel.

The sand makes the mortar mix more flexible. It also allows it to set fast once applied. This way, it helps prevent cracking when water evaporates from the surface of your tile installation. The cement binds everything together, making it strong against pressure from heavy objects like foot traffic or furniture.

What Is Tile Mortar Good For?

Tile mortar is used to adhere tiles to walls, floors, and other surfaces. It also helps to waterproof the surface where the tile is laid. The purpose of tile mortar is to provide a strong bond between the tile and the surface you are attaching the tile.

Tile mortar also functions as a sealant. It keeps moisture from getting into the wall or floor surface where it needs to stay dry.

The thickness of tile mortar depends on the type of tile you use. Some tile mortars are thin enough to be used with mosaic tiles, while others are thick for flooring. Tile mortar is mainly used in commercial applications.

Pros
  • Widely available and affordable
  • It can fill dips in a subfloor. So, it makes a surface more even
  • Water-resistant
  • Tiles last long without developing cracks or chips
  • It’s resistant to mold and mildew
Cons
  • It takes a long time to set
  • Not visually appealing
  • It’s not flexible
  • Tiles must be soaked

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Types of Tile Adhesives

There are several types of tile adhesives you can use to install tiles. Each type has its benefits, so your choice will depend on your budget, the size of your project, and the type of tiles you want to install.

There are five tile adhesives you should know. You can differentiate them depending on the aspects below.

Performance: Improved/heavy duty or regular
Chemistry: Cementitious and dissipation
Other properties: Minimized slip, fast setting, and no shrinkage

Here they are!

1. Type 1 Tile Adhesive

This tile adhesive is a water-based product. It doesn’t contain harmful chemicals or VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). You can tint it to match the color of your tile. It’s suitable for small-dimension tiles with a porosity of 3%.

These adhesives have a high shear strength and low shrinkage, making them ideal for use with ceramic, porcelain, clay tiles, and stone slabs. The tile adhesive sets up in about 30 minutes.


2. Type 2 Tile Adhesive

Type 2 tile adhesives are siliconized acrylic copolymers. You can use it outdoors or indoors on any nonporous surface or material including glass and stainless steel. Also, you can use it to install glass, mosaic, and vitrified tiles. The tiles should have apparent porosity of 3%.

Usually, Type 2 adhesive is clear and provides a strong bond between surfaces and substrates. It’s best used when you need to adhere to large-dimensional tiles.

Most DIYers won’t need Type 2 tile adhesive. It’s more expensive and messier than type 1. But if you’re planning on tiling an entire bathroom floor or wall with glass or mosaic tiles, it’s worth considering.


3. Type 3 Tile Adhesive

With a Type 3 adhesive, you can get away with no grout. This tile adhesive is ideal for exterior wall substrates such as concrete and plaster. It’s formulated for smooth surfaces such as ceramic and glass tiles. You can also use it to install clay, vitrified, mosaic, porcelain, and all-natural stone tiles.

It’s also available in caulking gun format but has a much lower viscosity (thickness) than Type 2 adhesive. So, it doesn’t drip much when applied to porous surfaces such as concrete or brick walls.


4. Type 4 Tile Adhesive

You can install tiles using this tile adhesive on dry wallboard substrates. It’s suitable for all types of tiles, but it is best for installing porcelain tiles because it doesn’t contain solvents that can damage the surface of your porcelain tiles.

The only downside to this type of adhesive is that it takes longer to dry compared to other types of tile adhesive.


5. Type 5 Tile Adhesive

If you want to create a smooth and level tile surface, a type 5 tile adhesive is the best option. It’s also known as liquid flooring adhesive or slurry. It’s usually used in commercial applications. These adhesives are a bit more expensive than the others, but they have better resistance to water and cold temperatures.

These are ideal for kitchens, bathrooms, and other places where moisture can be an issue. You can use it on all tiles, including engineered stones. Besides, you can use it to install tiles on metal substrates such as mild steel, aluminum, copper, or gridiron.

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Types of Tile Mortar

Choosing the right mortar for installing tiles can be challenging. So, we’ve broken down several types of tile mortar to help you make an informed decision.

There are three primary types of mortar used in installing tiles, and they vary in consistency and composition. They include thin-set, mastic, and epoxy mortar.

1. Thin-Set Mortar

Thin-set mortar is a pre-mixed product used to install tile on walls and floors. It’s the most widely used type of tile mortar for indoor and outdoor tile installation projects. It is made from an aggregate of sand, cement, and water.

The aggregate determines the strength of the mortar. A high-strength mix will have more cement than a low-strength mix. It also comes in powder form that you can mix with water or pre-mixed.

The mortar’s thin consistency allows for easy spreading and leveling of the material as you install it. It also ensures that the tile has plenty of room to expand and contract with temperature changes. This way, it won’t crack over time.

Thin-set mortar is ideal for walls, shower floors, kitchen countertops, and other places with high moisture.


2. Mastic

Mastic is a type of tile mortar made from a mixture of cement and fine aggregates such as sand or pebbles. It’s typically softer than other types of tile mortar and easier to work with. Mastic is ideal for use with natural stone tiles, which are porous and can absorb moisture from the mortar. It can cause problems if you use a harder mortar that won’t absorb moisture.

Mastic isn’t as strong as some other types of mortar. It doesn’t contain fillers or additives, but if your project involves only small amounts of tile, this may not be an issue.

One downside of mastic is that it’s not moisture or heat-resistant. Also, it doesn’t level the surface you’re laying tiles on.


3. Epoxy Mortar

Epoxy mortar comprises three distinct components: hardener, powder, and resin. It is ideal for commercial applications. It’s durable and can withstand heavy traffic. It’s also waterproof, which makes it a good choice for kitchens and bathrooms. What’s more is that it sets fast and creates a strong bond.

Epoxy mortar is a mix of epoxy resin and an acrylate-modified polymer. It’s usually added to the mixture to reduce shrinkage and cracking. It also has a strong odor after application, but this goes away after some time.

Epoxy mortars are more expensive than other types of tile mortar. They need special equipment and have strict application requirements. So, only experienced professionals can install tiles using epoxy mortar.

This mortar is ideal for installing ceramic floor tiles.

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What Are the Differences Between Tile Adhesive and Tile Mortar?

Tile adhesive and mortar are two types of products used to secure tiles to the surface. Both have their place in the world of tiling, but there are some differences between them.

Tile adhesive is a specialized material designed for bonding tiles to surfaces. It works like mortar but doesn’t need grouting because it contains no sand or gravel. Tile adhesive is often used on large wall tiles to ensure they stay put once installed.

You’ll also see tile adhesive used as an underlayment beneath laminate flooring or carpeting. With this, there’ll be no movement when you walk on top of them.

Tile mortar, on the other hand, is made from cement and sand and mixed with water to create a paste-like substance. It also holds small tiles in place. Besides, it provides a smooth surface for grouting. So, many types of mortar need grouting.

Mortar has many uses, including setting tiles in shower walls, floors, or backsplashes. It’s also used outside around pools or spas, where it hardens into a waterproof seal against the elements.

When to Use Tile Adhesive
  • Installing tiles on the walls
  • When you want it to dry faster
  • When reattaching loose tiles
  • When you want to DIY, but this is for several types of tile adhesive
When to Use Tile Mortar
  • Installing tiles on the floor
  • Installing tiles in high-traffic areas
  • When you want to reattach tiles that are getting loose
  • When you want to DIY (the only type of mortar you cannot DIY is Epoxy Mortar)

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Conclusion

If you’re working on your first tile project or have little experience tiling, tile adhesive is the best option. But, if you know what you are doing when it comes to tiling, you might be more interested in mortar. It depends on your goals and expectations for your first tile project.

It also boils down to how you want your tile to be installed. Tile adhesive is the best when you need an easy repair job that you can complete by yourself. On the other hand, mortar takes some special tools to install well, but it’ll provide a more secure bond between your tile and wall surface.

So, there you have it! A better understanding of tile adhesive and tile mortar and how you can apply them to various tile applications.

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Featured Image Credit: (L) Bilanol, Shutterstock | (R) Sidorov Ruslan, Shutterstock

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