Tile offers an extensive range of style and design possibilities for your walls and floors. While it may seem that tiling requires high levels of skill to achieve a consistent finish, there are products that can help. With the right preparation and a good leveling system, tiling is a challenge that anyone can tackle.
The following are some of the top picks to consider when shopping for the best tile leveling system for your next project.
- BEST OVERALL: DGSL Tile Leveling System
- BEST FOR WALLS: Spin Doctor Lippage Control System 250 Starter Kit
- BEST FOR BEGINNERS: CJANDEP Replaceable T Lock Tile Leveling System
- BEST FOR PROFESSIONALS: T-Lock Complete KIT Tile leveling system
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Tile Leveling System
While all tile leveling systems perform a similar function, there are variations in how they achieve a level surface, and there are differences in quality. The following are some of the key features to consider when searching for the best tile leveling system.
The main challenge when laying tile is lippage: the misalignment of edges that spoils the finished look of walls and floors. Tile leveling systems combat this by inserting clips between tiles, then applying pressure to pull them into alignment. The method and specific steps of a tile leveling system depend on the product. However, there are two different methods: the clip-and-wedge system or applying pressure using a rotating cap.
The clip-and-wedge method uses a crosshead, which is a plastic clip that sits between the tiles. It has a slot for a wedge. After the wedge is inserted into the slot, pressure is applied either by hand or with special pliers.
Another method involves applying pressure using a rotating cap. There are two variations to this method: tightening by hand or using the special wrench that’s included in the kit.
When selecting a system based on method, be careful when you see the term “T-Lock.” It’s sometimes used to describe the second type of tile leveling system, but it’s also the name of a leading manufacturer of the first type.
Ease of Use
Tile leveling systems are usually quite straightforward, but there are differences based on the ease of use.
The clip-and-wedge system is faster, but control of pressure isn’t as accurate. Care is needed not to insert the wedge too far. If that happens, the tile will need to be lifted and reset. There’s also a difference when it comes time to remove the clips. Systems that involve wedges are designed to break off below the grout line. This can be done after the adhesive has set. So wedges are fast and, once set, can be left until it’s convenient to remove them.
When using the rotating cap system, the use of a hand screw or wrench allows more precise application of pressure so accidental overtightening is less likely. T-pins are a little more forgiving for the beginner, but they take longer to set up. It’s also necessary to return to the job three or four hours later to remove the T-pins, as they have to be removed before the mortar or thinset has completely hardened. If the adhesive sets, the T-pins will be trapped and the wall or floor may be ruined.
Tile and Grout Thickness
With clip-and-wedge systems, the clips are available in different thicknesses. They can double as both tile leveler and spacer, though it’s not necessary. The ⅛-inch clips are the most common size, but for a larger gap and a thicker grout line, there are separate spacers that can be cheaper than buying different clips.
The gap in the clip for wedge insertion defines the maximum tile thickness that can be accommodated, and sizes are often stated in metric units. Usually, these are between 3 millimeters (about ⅛ inch) and 12 millimeters (about ½ inch).
T-pins are a fixed size, frequently ⅛-inch thick. However, they should never be used as spacers, so spacers need to be purchased separately. In general, T-pins allow for tile thickness up to 17 millimeters (about ⅝ inch).
Quality and Value
Tile leveling systems are affordable, but there can be notable differences in price and what is included in a kit.
When making comparisons among products, check the quantity provided and whether the kit includes everything needed to complete the project. Some clip-and-wedge kits include pliers that are usually required for use. The wedges in these kits are reusable, but the clips are consumable items. For kits with T-pins, undamaged T-pins can be reused many times. If buying a T-pin system, it’s important to have tile spacers, but these are frequently included.
Some companies are renowned for their quality, which is based on consistent thickness of clips and reliable shearing that allows for rapid removal.
Our Top Picks
Now that you know more about tile leveling systems, it’s time to start shopping. The top picks are based on the specific features appropriate to each category. Check out some of the best tile level systems below.
At first glance, it’s difficult to tell the DGSL Tile Leveling System from kits that cost two or three times more. Included are 300 ⅛-inch clips, 100 reusable wedges, and pliers. This enables fitting wall or floor tiles from ⅛-inch to ½-inch thick. In principle, it’s as quick and easy to use as other top picks. However, the included pliers aren’t quite as well made, so a little more care is required when working with them, possibly making tiling jobs take a little longer.
With the lower price comes the possibility of less consistent clips, and occasionally these don’t come away as cleanly, necessitating extra work. With careful trimming, though, tile damage can usually be avoided. The DGSL system does offer outstanding value for money.
The Spin Doctor system is unique in that it uses a disposable threaded clip with a reusable spinner that winds down to apply pressure. It takes a little longer to wind the spinner than it does to insert wedges, but an extra tool isn’t required. The large-diameter spinner also applies pressure more evenly and, it could be argued, with greater control.
The design of the clip means it can be inserted not just near corners, as is the case with wedge systems, but also at joints between tiles. Tiles can be more prone to movement on walls, so using additional fixings can help prevent this.
Transparent shields, which fit between the spinner and the tile surface, are available as an extra purchase and give added protection to delicate tile surfaces.
Shower and wet room floors need to slope slightly toward the drain to prevent “ponding,” which is when small pools of water don’t run away properly. Creating that slope while avoiding lippage is a major challenge for inexperienced tilers.
The CJANDEP system offers a convenient solution by inserting a bubble level in the top of each unit. This allows monitoring of how much horizontal movement is needed and adjusting it precisely using the wrench provided. It also can help to create a perfectly level surface if the substrate isn’t well prepared.
The 24-piece metal clip kit is very affordable, but the downside is that it isn’t sufficient for large floor areas.
T-Lock’s high-quality clip-and-wedge tile leveling system is popular with professionals because it allows for both accuracy and speed. Although more expensive than many competitors, the consistent clip size and reliable shear performance provide significant time savings for the tile contractor.
There are 300 clips and 100 wedges in the T-Lock kit. The toe of the wedges has an unusual stepped pattern so they can double as tile spacers. They are quick and easy to remove because they are considerably larger than the small plastic pieces usually used, which is another significant time saver.
Although the wedges can be installed by hand and pliers aren’t necessary, less experienced users may prefer to use pliers.
FAQs About Tile Leveling Systems
After learning about some of the features to consider when choosing the best tile leveling system for your project, some questions might remain. The following frequently asked questions and answers may help solve several common tile-laying concerns.
Q. How do you stop a lippage when tiling?
Preventing lippage can be done by varying the amount of thinset, but it’s best achieved by ensuring the wall or floor is as flat as possible at the outset. Then use one of the tile leveling systems recommended.
Q. How much lippage is acceptable?
According to the American National Standards Institute, ANSI A108.02 says that if the grout joint is under a quarter inch, lippage of 1 millimeter is acceptable. If the grout joint is wider than 1/16 inch, lippage of 1/16 inch is allowed.
Q. How do you clean grout lines when using a tile leveling system?
If using a clip-and-wedge system, give the clip a sharp tap with a mallet to break the upper part free before removing the wedge. If the clip breaks unevenly, use a utility knife with a fresh blade to carefully cut away the remainder. No cleanup is required with T-pins.