How to Install a Fabric "Tile" Floor
Updated: Mar 5, 2019
When I first bought my house, the bathroom was a total eyesore. Covered in shitty fake linoleum from the 80s and dated glass shower doors, it needed a facelift desperately. The linoleum was incredibly uninspiring and in terrible shape.
When I first moved in, I didn’t have the budget or the time to completely gut and redesign the space, so I wanted to find a way to give it a quick facelift in the interim until I could afford a real reno. I had brainstormed lots of potential ideas for flooring, but didn’t want to spend a ton of money on something that I knew wasn’t going to be permanent. I had heard of paper bag floors, which sounded interesting, but it wasn’t quite the look I was going for. So then it occurred to me, if I could glue and poly paper bags to my subfloor, couldn’t I theoretically do that with fabric?
I looked all over the internet with no luck. I’m not sure this has been done before, and if it has it certainly wasn’t documented. But the more I thought about it the more I couldn’t find a reason why it wouldn’t work, so I figured what the hell. Why not give it a try?
Enough already! Just give me the downloadable tutorial!
STEP 1: Remove your old flooring.
Luckily for me, these linoleum tiles were in such bad shape, they were barely adhered to the floor anymore. I quickly piled them up and hauled them out. Whatever kind of flooring you have, just make sure you get it down to the subfloor. If you have sheet linoleum or something smooth without seams or grout lines, you could probably get away with doing this right on top (though I haven’t tested it)!
STEP 2: Clean and patch your subfloor.
You’re going to need to take a vacuum to the floor several times. Try to remove as much debris and dust as possible. Fill in any big holes or seams with wood filler if needed and sand smooth. You want your subfloor to be as seamless and even as possible.
STEP 3: Lay out your fabric.
Most fabric bolts will be 45 or 60 inches and most rooms are going to be much wider than that, so you’ll likely need to double up on your length a few times to make sure you buy enough fabric. Before I got started I roughly laid out where the fabric would go and how I would line up the pattern to match.
I didn’t worry about making any cutouts yet for the toilet, I just wanted to get a rough idea of where each piece would sit.
STEP 4: Glue!
Using basic Elmer’s school glue, I began gluing the fabric into place. It seems almost too simple, but really all you have to do is add glue to the subfloor, spread the glue with a paint brush, and carefully lay the fabric on top and press it into place.
As I ran into obstacles like the toilet, I used an exacto knife to cut around it. I did have to make an incision on the edge of the fabric to allow it to make its way around the toilet, but I easily glued the incision back together behind the toilet where no one would see it.
Then with a separate dry paint brush, I would brush over the fabric to help stick the fabric in place. This also kept my dirty, gluey fingers away from the clean fabric. The second piece of fabric was a bit trickier because I had to line up the pattern, but using the same method, I covered the subfloor in Elmer’s glue and simply laid the fabric on top, brushing over it with the dry paint brush to keep it in place.
STEP 5: Poly
Once the fabric was glued in place, I let it dry overnight. Then I gave it a quick vacuum to remove any hairs and dirt. Then using an eco-friendly, polyurethane - I used Vermont Natural Coatings PolyWhey Floor Finish in Matte, here’s a link - I began coating the floor, starting in the far corners and working my way out of the bathroom.
Following the instructions of the poly, I completed 3 coats, letting each coat fully dry in between. I then let the entire floor cure over 24 hours before stepping on it.
STEP 6: Caulk the edges.
Once the poly had cured, I needed to seal the edges of the floor to make sure water wouldn’t sneak under the fabric - this is a bathroom after all. Using a waterproof caulk, I caulked around all the edges and around the toilet, giving extra attention to the corners around the tub.
Once that dried, I popped back on the flooring transition, and I was done! It wasn’t a forever floor but damn it looked good and such an improvement!
I’ve had the floor in for over a year now, and it has held up surprisingly well. In hindsight, I do wish I had picked something that showed a bit less dirt, and I would have spent a lot more time smoothing out the subfloor before laying down the fabric. You can see in the photo below how some of the seams in the subfloor have started to peek through.
But for a weekend project and a grand total of $85, I am stoked with how it turned out. It made the bathroom such a more enjoyable and tolerable space to be in. I also upgraded the sink, which helped quite a bit, but I’ll share more on that another time.
Download a quick how-to guide here!