Vinyl tiles won’t stick? What to do.

As I write, I’m installing self-stick vinyl tiles in an old basement as part of a project to modernize a ’70s man cave. It’s possible to run into a few problems when installing vinyl, so I thought I’d run through them, along with the solutions. When vinyl tiles won’t stick, there are ways to prevent and fix the problem.

Clean the floor first

Self-stick vinyl tiles won’t stick to a dusty, gritty floor, which is a common issue in basements. Ammonia is an effective treatment, so what I’ve been known to do is mix up a bucket of ammonia and water, and mop the floor with a sponge mop. When the floor is really bad, I don’t wring the mop out in the bucket–I wring it out in a sink or outdoors, then rinse the mop, wring again, then return to the bucket for more cleaner. This gets the dirt off the floor rather than just spreading a thin layer around.

Prime the floor

I’ve seen vinyl primer sold in gallon jugs in stores, but what you really want is vinyl adhesive. Vinyl adhesive, especially VCT adhesive, makes a much better primer.

Spread a layer of adhesive on the floor just thick enough to hide the surface, then let it dry for a few hours. Leave enough walking space that you can exit the room. The adhesive is ready when it turns translucent. At that stage, you’ll find it unbelievably sticky. Stick down your peel and stick tiles on top of that. You’ll be amazed how much better the tiles stick to the adhesive than to bare floor. When you finish, lay down enough adhesive to cover your walking path. Come back in a few more hours to finish it up.

Don’t be surprised if a little bit of the adhesive oozes up between the tiles and collects dirt, leaving black marks. Ammonia will clean up that excess handily.

Cold vinyl tiles won’t stick, but warm ones will

Use heat when vinyl tiles won't stick
When vinyl tiles won’t stick, heating them up with a heat gun or even a hair dryer helps activate the adhesive to make it more effective.

Some tiles stick really well as-is, while some barely stick at all. Warming the tile up with a heat gun, clothes iron, or even a hair dryer before peeling off the backing will help it stick better. Heat activates the adhesive. It doesn’t have to be hot, only warm.

Having a heat source in the room while you’re working helps too. If the floor is cold but the tiles are warm, it negates the benefit slightly. I always try to warm the room up to at least 70 degrees while I’m putting a floor down, and keep the temperature at or above 70 degrees for at least 24 hours while the adhesive sets up. I find if I don’t do this, the corners are more prone to curl up.

Fixing a tile that pops up later

what to do when vinyl tiles won't stick
If the corners peel up, heat the tile to reactivate the adhesive, then place a stack of heavy books on it to weigh the corner back down.

Sometimes self-stick vinyl tiles won’t stick only after the fact. To fix a tile that pops up later, reactivate the adhesive by heating it up with an iron. Then weigh the tile down with a nice stack of heavy books, or bricks. Anything that’s stackable and heavy that you have handy will work. Leave the weight in place for at least 24 hours.

If a tile fails completely and heat won’t stick it back down, there’s a fix. Clean both the back of the tile and clean the spot on the floor where the tile goes with ammonia. Wear gloves! This removes any dirt and old adhesive. Then brush down some new adhesive. Let it sit a minute to get tacky. Lay the tile down, then place a piece of wax paper over it and stack some heavy weights on it for at least 24 hours.

Recommendations

I’ve had reasonable success with vinyl planks that look like wood and with vinyl tiles that look more like stone. If you’re willing to pay $1 per square foot, you won’t have much trouble finding something that looks good.

The best value for the money I’ve found are a house-brand tile at Menards for 34 cents per square foot. The tiles are actually made by Armstrong (they’re stamped Armstrong on the reverse) and the tiles are a neutral color that doesn’t call too much attention to them. They look better than some tiles that cost 50% more.

Lowe’s and Home Depot have a lot more stores than Menards. Their prices start at about 50 cents per square foot, which is still workable.

Conclusion

I hope you found this helpful. If you’re laying tile, you may also want to take a look at my tips for marking tiles on the front. And if you end up with small gaps in the tiles, which is possible, I have a fix for gaps as well that you can use after the adhesive has a chance to set up. Feel free to read it now, but wait at least 24 hours before you start that work.

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