How to Tile a Shower Enclosure or Tub Surround

Give your shower or tub a makeover with tile. With just a few basic skills, it's an attainable weekend project.

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You spend time in your bathroom every day, so why not make it beautiful? We'll show you how to spruce up your shower enclosure or tub surround with new tile. Expect to spend about 20 minutes per square yard to prepare and set the tile, and make sure you're comfortable with hand tools, a cordless drill, and trowels. 

Beautiful Bathroom Shower Tile Ideas

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What You Need

  • Utility knife
  • Stapler
  • Hair dryer
  • 4-foot level
  • Tape measure
  • Chalkline
  • Carbide scriber
  • Margin trowel
  • Notched trowel
  • Straightedge
  • Drill
  • Snap cutter or wet saw
  • Nippers
  • Grout knife
  • Putty knife
  • Masonry stone
  • Caulk gun
  • Grout float
  • Asphalt roofing cement
  • 15-pound felt paper or 4 millimeter poly sheet
  • Staples
  • Bucket
  • Thinset
  • Dimensional lumber for battens
  • Backerboard
  • Screws
  • Tape
  • Tile
  • Spacers
  • Caulk
  • Grout
  • Rags
  • Sponge
  • Tile base or bullnose
  • Nylon wedges

Before You Begin: Waterproof and Prep Layout

Because a shower enclosure is a wet installation, you must waterproof the walls and the framing. Use felt paper with cement backerboard but not with greenboard or waterproofed gypsum board.

A bathtub introduces additional challenges. If the tub is level, set a full tile at its top edge. To help hide the awkward appearance of an out-of-level tub, make the bottom row of tiles at least three-fourths of a tile high.

For a shower enclosure, extend the tile and the backerboard at least 6 inches above the showerhead. For a tub surround only, install the backerboard and tile 12 inches above the tub.

When tiling around a tub, mark the first layout line at the vertical edge of the tile next to the tub. Follow the order shown in the diagram to snap the rest of the lines. If the tub is level, start with a full tile at its rim. If it is not level, start the first row of full tiles at least three-fourths of a tile above the rim.

Start by Preparing the Substrate

Step 1: Apply Cement

Apply asphalt roofing cement to the flange of the tub. This is the place where most tub and shower surrounds fail, and water that gets into this joint will migrate upwards and down into the floor. The asphalt cement seals the tub to the waterproofing felt or 4-millimeter poly sheet.

Step 2: Apply Felt Paper

Cut a piece of felt paper long enough to turn all corners and cover the surface in a single run. Apply asphalt mastic to the studs, then staple the paper, warming it with a hair dryer before pressing it into the corners. Overlap top pieces on lower ones and seal overlaps with asphalt mastic.

Step 3: Cut and Fit Backerboard

Cut backerboard so its edges will be centered on the studs and fasten it to the studs with backerboard screws. When fitting backerboard above a tub, leave a 1/4-inch gap between the bottom edge of the board and the tub rim.

Step 4: Reinforce Corners

Reinforce the corners of the backerboard with fiberglass mesh tape. Skim-coat the tape with thinset, let it dry, and sand smooth. Repeat the process, feathering the edge of the thinset. The spacers create a 1/4-inch gap for the bead of caulk.

Step 5: Apply Caulk

Caulk the gap at the bottom of the backerboard with clear or white silicone caulk. The caulk seals the joint between the tub and backerboard and allows for some expansion and contraction of the different materials.

How to Recaulk Your Shower

Then, Install the Tile

Step 1: Locate Grout Line

Using a dimensional layout drawing, locate the point on which a horizontal and vertical grout line will fall. Hold a 4-foot level on both planes and mark reference lines. Then snap layout grids whose dimensions equal the width of the tiles and grout joints.

Step 2: Apply Adhesive

Tack a batten on the bottom of the wall, if necessary, and prepare enough adhesive to cover the number of layout grids you can lay before the adhesive begins to set up. Set field tiles on the back wall first. Don't set tiles around fixtures yet.

Editor's Tip: To keep the first row (and all that follow) level, tack a 1x batten to the backerboard one full tile width above the tub. Cover the tub with heavy paper to protect it from damage it might incur as you tile the wall.

To keep the first row (and all that follow) level, tack a 1x batten to the backerboard one full tile width above the tub. Cover the tub with heavy paper to protect it from damage it might incur as you tile the wall.

Step 3: Start on the Walls

When the back wall is done, set the side walls. Start from the front, leaving cut tiles for the back edge at the corner of the adjoining wall. Tape the tiles if necessary to hold them in place. Remove excess adhesive from the joints; let it cure.

Use Our Calculator to Find Out How Much Tile You'll Need

Step 4: Install Tile Around Fixtures

When the adhesive has dried overnight, cut and set the edge tiles and remove excess adhesive from the joints. Then mark, cut, and install the tile around the showerhead and faucets. Leave at least 1/4 inch around the fixtures and fill that recess with silicone caulk. Let the adhesive cure.

Step 5: Apply Grout

When the adhesive is dry, clean the surface and joints of any remaining excess. Mix grout and apply it with a grout float, forcing it into the joints in both planes. Let the grout cure until a damp sponge won't lift the grout out of the joints.

Bonus: Learn How to Paint Grout

Step 6: Remove Excess Grout

To scrape excess grout off the surface, hold the float almost perpendicular to the tile and work diagonally to avoid pulling the grout from the joints. Dampen a sponge, wring it out thoroughly, and clean the surface twice, smoothing the joints. Scrub off the haze with a clean rag.

Install a Prefab Shower Pan

Step 1: Build a Frame

Using a dimensional plan for the shower stall, build the 2x4 frame, making sure it's plumb and square to the surrounding walls. Use blocking to support the plumbing stub-ins.

Step 2: Install Pan

Set the pan in place and check it for level in both directions. Attach the drain to the pan and to the drain line, and test it for leaks by pouring buckets of water down the drain. Most pans have a flange that fits tightly against the wall. Install the backerboard 1/4 inch above the flange, and caulk the joint with silicone caulk.

Bonus: Frame a Shower Bench

Step 1: Measure and Frame

Make sure your plan for a bench includes exact dimensions. Measure each framing member before cutting and fastening it. Mistakes in shower stalls are certain to leak. Frame the rear wall of the bench first, then each front wall.

Step 2: Waterproof the Bench

Cover all the framing with a waterproof membrane and backerboard. Caulk all seams with silicone. Tile the seat surfaces first, followed by the wall tile. Use bullnose for the edges or round the field tile with a masonry stone.

Step 3: Grout and Seal

When the mortar has cured, grout the joints and clean the tile. When the grout has cured, seal the grout lines.

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