Peel-and-Stick Tiles: A Cautionary Tale (Or, I Tried Peel-and-Stick Tiles and They Almost Drove Me Insane)

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

There’s a certain home blogger, who shall remain nameless, who has moved a bunch of times over the past few years — meaning the makeovers just kept coming. In one of her kitchens, she artfully laid faux marble adhesive tiles over an ugly linoleum floor. They weren’t exactly dead ringers for Kim K. solid calacatta marble or anything, but they made a big difference. “The best thing about it,” she wrote, “is that you just peel off the back and stick it down.”

Before I really knew what was happening, a carton of tiles was in my shopping cart and I was just a click away from a new look for my weird terra cotta kitchen floor tiles (which wouldn’t be so unappealing if I lived in New Mexico—not New York.)

(Image credit: Danielle Blundell)

Now I’m not exactly an experienced fixer upper, but save for a few measured cuts and keeping the tiles lined up, this project sounded like putting stickers into a sticker book. Pretty amateur on the DIY scale, plus, my kitchen is literally the size of a shoebox. No, make that a postage stamp. If I needed to call in a “pro,” I had my boyfriend, who spent college summers working for a contractor, for reinforcement.

There was no explanation of the installation process in the blogger’s post, just Pinterest-y beauty shots. But when the 12-inch squares arrived, I thought, “How hard can this be?” Turns out getting them down was the easy part. The nightmare was the fallout.

First, the slipping started, because peel-and-stick vinyl tiles don’t actually stick that well to uneven surfaces. Sure, they make great contact with flat areas, but grout lines pose a bit of a problem. And moldings and appliances, too. You need laser precision to cut these babies flush to the footprint of your space. Thanks for the tip, home blogger! All the back-and-forth traffic across my floor made the tiles in these hot spots pop loose and shift around if you moved on them suddenly. Awesome.

(Image credit: Danielle Blundell)

Months passed, and slight slippage turned into outright curling at the edges of the pieces near the refrigerator and the toe kick of the cabinets. It got worse and worse, until these tiles essentially bubbled up and needed constant pushing back into place. Of course, the edges were still somewhat sticky, so they became dirt and crumb magnets. Things started looking pretty gross, and I wondered where I had put the extras, so I could cut replacements. But before I had the chance, I stepped on one of the smaller pieces near the doorway one day, and it totally came up with my shoe. Then I lost it and maniacally began pulling the curled pieces up.

(Image credit: Danielle Blundell)

Mid-madness, my boyfriend came home and freaked out. “What are you doing?” he asked. “I thought about pulling them up, too, but I Googled it, and it’s not going be fun. Or fast.” Pretty sure at this point, I hissed at him that I’d handle the job myself. Second big mistake. Sure, the problem pieces popped off without much trouble, but the full size tiles were stuck. I reached for the closest thing I had to an appropriate tool, a long cocktail spoon, and started prying. But the full tiles wouldn’t budge. Instead, they had to be flaked off slowly from their corners, shard by shard, with the top decorative layer sometimes separating from the base of the tile. This was a tedious process. I got about two total off that day and resolved to do one each night, so I’d clear the space in about two weeks’ time.

Like I said, I have a small kitchen, but even that turned out to be too laborious and frustrating of a plan for me to stick to (pun intended). It’s amazing what you’ll live with when you’re busy and don’t have parents or people coming over as motivation to clean up your act: in my case, a half peeled-up mess of a kitchen floor. We literally had to lay down pieces of paper towel over the partially removed tiles to keep our feet from sticking to them. Pretty pathetic, but, I guess it worked for a while.

Eventually, my boyfriend went to the hardware store and got what the internet said we’d need for full removal: a pole scraper to pull tiles up in larger chunks and extra-strength solvent to take care of the glue residue that would inevitably be underneath. It took a Saturday’s worth of pulling, de-gunking and floor steaming, but we finally restored the terra cotta tiles. And you know what, now that Southwestern style is in, it’s not half bad. Moral of the story: Never trust a blogger without a detailed DIY. And always try a cute area rug first.

Readers, have you tried peel-and-stick floor tiles in your home? Did you fare better than I did?