As I write this, 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 to the floor, there are ways to prevent and fix the problem.
Getting vinyl tiles to stick to the floor is mostly a matter of having a clean, dry floor, using the right primer, and using enough heat and pressure. Good prep work and the right tools and technique makes a bigger difference than the cost of the tile.
Clean the floor first
Self-stick vinyl tiles won’t stick to a dusty, gritty floor, which is a common issue in basements. You can vacuum up the dust and debris with a shop vac, but that only gets you so far. To get any dirt that’s stuck down, you really have to follow up with a mop.
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 another bucket, then rinse the mop, wring again, then return to the bucket for more cleaner. Keeping my mop water clean gets the dirt off the floor rather than just spreading a thin layer around.
Let the floor dry thoroughly after mopping. Vinyl tiles won’t stick to a wet floor either. I like to run a dehumidifier in the room to speed up dry time and control moisture. It also seems to help the adhesive cure faster too.
Level the floor as well. Any cracks or imperfections in the floor or subfloor will show through the vinyl. Apply leveling compound to any cracks or gaps. You can get it premixed or big bag of powder for large jobs.
Cold vinyl tiles won’t stick to the floor, but warm ones will
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 the glue stick better, and much more consistently. Heat activates the adhesive. It doesn’t have to be hot, only warm. Too much heat can damage the vinyl.
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 of the vinyl tile won’t stick and are more prone to curling up.
Once you have a clean floor and know the heat trick, getting vinyl tiles to stick to the floor mostly comes down to tools and technique.
How to stick down vinyl tiles
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 to get a great bond for installation.
Use a cheap paintbrush to spread a layer of adhesive on the floor just thick enough to hide the surface, then let it dry for a few hours. Too much adhesive is just as bad as not enough, so get a thin layer. It will ruin the brush, so don’t use your good brush. Use a dollar store-grade brush.
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. If you have a few tiles that still don’t stick to the floor well, heat them up a bit more. Cheaper tiles are more inconsistent than pricier tiles, but with enough heat, even the ones that cost 39 cents each will stick.
And yes, good prep work and technique matters more than how much the tiles cost.
Once you get a few courses of tile down, follow up with a floor roller. Don’t use a rolling pin, use a floor roller designed for the purpose. You’ll get more pressure. A handheld floor roller is enough if you really lean into it, and the cost isn’t prohibitive. Or you can rent a 75- or 100-pound roller that will do even better.
When you finish laying down tile on the primed area, start laying adhesive down at the end of your walking path, then work your way out of the room. Come back in a few more hours to lay down the remaining tiles and roll them.
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.
Fixing a vinyl tile curling up
Sometimes self-stick vinyl tiles won’t stick only after the fact. To fix a tile that pops up or curls 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 vinyl 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 or mineral spirits. Wear gloves! The ammonia or mineral spirits remove any dirt and old adhesives. It’s best to remove the old adhesive that’s failed so you can replace it with new. Brush down some new adhesive on the floor. 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.
I once had two vinyl tiles unstick in a kitchen due to water damage, and the tiles were discontinued so I couldn’t get any more. I did this trick, and the restuck tiles are still holding on several years later.
Recommendations for self stick vinyl tiles
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 self stick vinyl 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.
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. At any rate, when vinyl tiles won’t stick, there are several possible solutions. I wish you the best with your project.