Can You Put Tile On Sand?

Homeowners dream of a tiled patio at a vacation home. Laying tiles outdoors is a rewarding do-it-yourself project. The tools are simple: a rake, plank or professional straightedge, a spirit level, measuring tape, and a rubber mallet. The surface needs to be level. You might wonder if you can put tiles on sand.

Sharp sand is used as a surface bed for outdoor and indoor tiling. Sharp sand is coarse and grainy and found in river beds. Once smoothed, levelled, and compacted, finer sand is added to put the tiles on. Sand must be at least ½ inch thick on a solid bed for tiling. Good soil preparation matters.  

Preparing the surface sand bed is essential. Tiling is a skill that also involves getting the surface ready. Preparing a tiling bed takes patience and must be done with precision. The ground base level and layering of the area with sand takes time. The process is worthwhile as tiled areas are attractive and even a water-wise outdoor option.

You Can Tile On Sand

Tiling is a precise craft that takes skill and is done with care. Sand is a crucial part of tiling. Different types of sand are used at different stages in the tiling process. The steps are essential and contribute to the sturdiness of the tiled area’s floor base and the tiled area’s look. You also must plan the process. There’s a logical order to tiling.

The different stages involve:

  • Preparing Tile’s Sand Surface
  • Sand Layering, Compacting, And Levelling

These stages must be done in succession with precision.

Preparing Tiles’ Sand Surface

Once you know where you want to tile, inspect the area where you want to do the work. Decide how big the area you wish to tile has to be. It’s good to sketch what you want to do and look at various options. You could be looking at a newly tiled area or working on an existing space. This might be that you’re redoing existing tiling or want something new.

If you are redoing tiling or want to extend the tiling, the first thing you have to do is to clear the area. If the space was previously tiled, the tiles have to be lifted. You also must strip the surface bed. The existing tiling and all layers of soil have to be cleared away. It could mean you have to work down to a level between 3 and 6 inches deep. You must work right down to hard and solid earth!

If the area you plan on tiling is new, start by inspecting the area. Look at possible drainage and the area’s fall, then decide on the size. You must clear all the vegetation – this could be shrubs, roots of trees, weeds, and even grass. You must strip the area to the natural soil level by clearing as much as possible – get rid of rocks and large stones.

Use a spirit level to ensure that this layer is level. That’s as good as a sound foundation for a house!  

Digging Down And Adding In Sand

Mostly one doesn’t need to excavate more than 4 to 6 inches vertically into the ground to find a solid soil substrate. This is if the soil has been left relatively undisturbed and especially free of decomposing organic matter. Once you find the solid terrain, you can start leveling the area you want to use for tiling. It’s recommended that this area be level with a spade. It’s usually compact.

You might have to dig deeper if there’s an organic layer of decomposing matter. The organic layer is usually made up of dead leaves and grasses, small twigs, and organic materials that are in the process or that have decomposed. The color of the soil (black brown or dark brown) indicates the organic content. This organic layer is not static and firm and is primarily unsuitable for tiling.

In everyday speak, the soil is the top layer of the earth’s crust and then (as seen above) differentiates into layers called horizons. That’s why the experts at outdoor construction can tell from digging into the ground what the soil’s profile is. The layers of sand can easily be identified by the soil color and size of soil particles.

The start of the preparation for tiling is building up the layers from the lowest and firmest substrate. Commonly sharp sand or river sand is the first layer. And on top of this, a layer of less coarse sand is added. Builders also choose to add a layer of sand and cement to form a screed. But often, the tiling is done with fine sand on the initial sharp sand base. 

Sand Layering, Compacting, And Leveling

Sharp sand describes the sand type found in river beds and used for outdoor tiling. The sand can be leveled easily and compacted when put into an area cleared for tiling. Sharp sand is specifically used because of this sand’s structure. Sharp sand falls into the river sand category, which is the ideal bedding sand for laying tiles. The sand is quarried and then washed.

The first layer added is river sand which is needed for its coarser texture and ability to compact easily. This sand is the main component for tiling. Sharp sand is rough and can also mix grouts, renders, and floor screeds. Layered and leveled, the river sand particles form a dense mosaic. And compacted, the level is firm – a solid base for tiling.

The sand also easily can be leveled with a trowel before compacting. The compacted sand is dense. A less coarse layer of sand is added, on which the tiles are packed. The tiles rest on this less coarse sand about ½ inch deep. When a frim substratum is reached, one can start the preparation for the tiling.

Mostly the latter tiling sand has been double washed and free from clay, silt, and dust. This is to stop any chance of cracking when tiles are laid. The sand has to be firm, and impurities, even decomposing leaves, create instability.

Leveling Sand For Tiling

Watching tilers in action to prepare the bed for tiles looks like play but is far more intricate. The dexterity of tilers in preparing the tiles’ surface area is a fine skill. Leveling the surface is vital, and this guarantees a good tiling job. It takes practice to get the surface area plumb and level.

You might have to excavate to clean the area and prepare for the tiling. In many cases, there’s grass and fill that you don’t want. The best is to strip the site to a clean and neat level. Once stripped, the area is filled with river sand (limestone or crusher) to depths between 4 and 6 inches. This is then compacted.

On top of this, you can add up to 2 inches of fine sand when laying the tiles. The leveling can be tricky – it’s a process of dragging the sand with a screed to be an equal height. You need a smooth surface to tile on. Also, remember that tiling is done from one corner. You need to choose a starting point, a corner, and tile from there for a uniform look.

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Best Sand For Tiling

Builders and tilers use sand as a base in a bed for tiling. There are many different kinds of tiles, like natural stone and porcelain, and slabs of marble for outdoors. Sand holds these tiles in place. And, it is easier to lay tiles on the sand. You must ensure you start with a solid bed with a level substratum and then level compacted sharp soil (see above).

The rigidity of the sand bed you use for tiling will create the overall impression. Laying tiles is not a haphazard operation. But tiling is done with care and skill. The sand always needs to be well compacted, forming a rigid base and allowing tiles to be level. Using a spirit level as you do this is best – putting it on each adjacent tile.

Selecting The Right Sand For Tiling

Sand is an essential component of the tiling (and building) process. Some might even say it’s like the flour in the baking process. This natural resource is widely used, and the building industry consumes billions of tons of sand annually in the construction fields. All sand is not the same, but it depends on where it is quarried.

Sand has different textures measured by sand’s grain size. The size is the result of washing processes. But also occurs naturally in nature. Some types of sand are finer in grain than others. For tiling specifically, the coarser kinds of sand are used at the base tiling bed. These are used in the leveling screed and the tilting bed preparation.

The so-called sharp sand used as the base level in tiling, also known as river sand, is coarse and quarried from riverbeds. River sand compacts easier and is suitable sand to use for the basis. The sand is angular and interlocks almost like a puzzle when compacted. The interlocking aspect of river sand (like marine sand) is thought to be best as a base bed for tiling.

The structure of sharp sand is gritty and coarser. This kind of sand is found in river beds. It’s known as river sand, grit, and concrete sand, commonly mixed with cement. Tilers use river sand for tiling as the grain of the sand varies from medium to coarse. The coarser particles in the sand are what make this sand suitable for tiling, especially when tightly compacted.

The larger grain sands, like the river or sharp sand, are heavier, and when compacted, these are dense. The density of river sand as a base for tiling gives the bed on which tiles are put strength. And compacting the river sand makes a firm base which is needed. Tiles should be put down firmly and level not to crack. Tiled areas are done for continual use and need to be sturdy.

River sand, which is washed and coarse, is ideal for tiling. The sand mix is often also mixed with cement, but mostly the placement of tiles on the sand bed is preferred. This also makes it easier to lift and remove tiles at any stage.

Other Tiling Uses For River Sand

River sand or sharp sand is the primary sand for tiling. This is because it is easily compacted and river sand forms a rigid base for tiling once compacted. The firm base makes laying tiles easy. River sand is also used indoors for tiling. The sand is used for a floor screed and can easily be trowelled smooth and leveled with a screed.

This kind of preparation is often done for tiling on balconies, bathrooms, and shower floors. The coarser sands make a rigid tiling bed, and finer sands make leveling tiles easier. Cement is often mixed into river sand too.

Sand And Soil Types   

The initial preparation is clearing the area and excavating into the ground (as seen above). The digging is to prepare a bed for the tiling that has to be done on a firm substratum. The garden soil ordinarily comprises various layers dug out for tiling. You’ll see these different layers in the ground. Just like the human skin!

These various layers in the soil are called the soil horizons. The horizons in a soil determine the soil profile that soil scientists use to classify. You don’t have to be a scientist when digging to prepare a bed for tiling. You just have to be aware that you can tell the kind of soil by the layers or soil horizon. Each horizon has different properties – color, texture, structure, and thickness.

Sands’ properties are noticeable. And each soil type is characteristic of a specific density or firmness, which is vital in tiling. The different soils are cataloged according to the strata at which these are found:

  • A stands for the surface soil. This is the top layer of sand that you walk on.
  • B stands for the subsoil, the sand layers just beneath the top.
  • C stands for the substratum. This solid layer at a vertical depth is also used as a base for a tilting bed.
  • O stands for the organic layer. This layer is usually dug out for tiling as organic matter is in decomposition. 

Your geological interests can be awakened by looking carefully into soil make-up. These are points on a vertical cross-section of the soil from the ground’s surface downwards. This varies – as seen above – and many tilers can tell what kind of soil is at what level. The levels also change as we often fill the ground with organic matter.

One should not tile on organic matter as it is volatile, shifts and changes, contracts and is not stable. That is why you must dig deep until you hit a firm soil substrate.


The use of sand – both sharp and more refined sand – is essential for using to put down tiles. The coarser sand compacts easily and forms a firm bed for the tiling. The finer sand, a much thinner layer, allows for maneuverability in the leveling of the tiles. A tiled area is as smooth as a sheet of glass when well-laid.

Tiling should not jar the eye when looked at. Tiling needs to be evenly placed – laid in a line, with even spacing between the tiles. Tiles also have to be placed on the same level.