Tile Adhesive vs Thinset

When installing tiles, either for the floor or the wall, you need a particular tile adhesive. Over the years, tile adhesives and tile types have undergone a lot of changes. There are some types of tiles and adhesives that have been used for a long time and are still popular on the market. But there are also new products. The wide range of choices will probably make your head ache, especially if you don’t know for sure what the differences are exactly.

In general, when laying a ceramic/porcelain tile, you need an adhesive to make it stick to its cement base. There are some interesting dry adhesive products that offer neatness and convenience, but these are rather expensive. The most popular options are still wet adhesives because they are cheap and proven to be effective. Then again, you will be presented with mastic tile adhesive and thinset. Both are popular options for gluing tiles, but how do they exactly differ from each other? When should you use mastic tile adhesive and when to thinset?

About Tile Adhesive

Actually, the term “tile adhesive” has quite a broad meaning. A tile adhesive can be any thing that you can use to ‘glue’ a tile to the cement base. You can say that the thinset mortar is also a tile adhesive. However, when asking about the difference between a “tile adhesive” and a thinset mortar, you are most probably referring to the mastic tile adhesive.

A mastic tile adhesive is the oldest tile adhesive that is still in the market. A mastic tile adhesive is primarily used for ceramic tiles. It is typically made using an organic plant-based resin acquired from the Pistacia lentiscus shrub. However, there are different formulas available for both floor and wall installations. A mastic tile adhesive usually comes pre-mixed, and it requires some skill and precise timing to use. This is because it has to be applied quickly before it loses its adhesive properties due to premature drying.

About Thinset Mortar

On the other hand, a thinset mortar is basically a mixture of cement, sand, water, and additives for retaining moisture. It is inorganic. Sometimes, latex is added by the company to a degree in order to make it more suitable for a particular type of tile. The term “mortar” indicates that it has a consistency like a paste and can be used to bind building blocks and seal irregular gaps. You can use small amounts of the thinset mortar to prevent it from drying prematurely, and you only need a thin layer of it to hold the tile down. Thinset mortars are popular for outdoor applications among mosaicists because they can be used to add decorative colors or patterns in masonry walls.

Mastic Tile Adhesive vs. Thinset: Resistance to Water and Moisture

When choosing between mastic and thinset, the first thing that you need to consider is the moisture condition of the installation area. Is it wet? Is it moist? Is it dry like the Atacama Desert? Residential places that are typically wet or moist include shower walls, shower pans, hot tubs, tub surrounds, and swimming pools. However, places like bathroom wall wainscots, bathroom backsplashes, kitchen heat guards, and kitchen backsplashes usually don’t have very high wetness (they don’t really get wet all the time).

Because of the organic nature, mastic tile adhesives are not suitable for places with prolonged water exposure. This is because organic materials tend to rot away, and with wetness or moisture they make perfect breeding grounds for mold and mildew. Some people may argue that if you install the tiles perfectly, no water or moisture can infiltrate into the adhesive layer. However, even with a perfect installation, tiles can easily develop small cracks. Even the smallest crack or grout can already cause water infiltration and lead to mold and mildew.

So, mastic tile adhesives are only suitable for dry places. You should use a thinset for wet places.

Mastic Tile Adhesive vs. Thinset: Ease of Use

After seeing the point above, you have probably asked: Why don’t we just use a thinset since it can be used on virtually any place? The answer is because using a thinset mortar is quite trickier than using a mastic.

Mastic tile adhesives are much easier to work with. They can stick well once you hit it to the base surface. They also dry faster. They are easy to use on vertical surfaces. On the other hand, one of the biggest difficulties in using a thinset – at least for an amateur tile setter – is that it dries slowly. Until it is dry and set, the tile can still move out of the place. This becomes a real problem when laying the tile on a vertical surface, such as a wall or a backlash. Nevertheless, once the thinset has dried, it holds up very well.

Mastic Tile Adhesive vs. Thinset: Strength

In general, thinset mortars are stronger than mastic tile adhesives. Being stronger means the tile is less likely to get snapped out of its place when subjected to heavy impacts and forces. Because of that, thinset mortars are generally more preferable than mastic tile adhesives for floors, which often get a lot of pounding from the foot traffic. However, most floors with low foot traffic and walls are fine with mastics because they will not be subjected to too much impact.


The term “tile adhesive” has quite a broad meaning; both mastics and thinset mortars are tile adhesives. A mastic tile adhesive is the oldest tile adhesive that is still in the market, made using an organic plant-based resin acquired from the Pistacia lentiscus shrub. Due to the organic nature, mastic tile adhesives are not suitable for places with prolonged water exposure. They are not as durable as thinset mortars, but are much easier to use because they have better initial stickiness and dry faster. On the other hand, a thinset mortar is basically an inorganic mixture of cement, sand, water, and additives. It is more resistant to moisture and can be used on both dry and wet places. It is also stronger, making it suitable for floors with high foot traffic.