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

By BH&G Editors
Updated November 20, 2020
David A Land

You spend time in your bathroom every day, so why not make it beautiful? Installing tile around your shower or tub can spruce up your bathroom with a more sophisticated look and provide an opportunity to customize the space with your personal style. Choose a bold, colorful tile that will make a statement, or go for classic appeal with a white subway tile treatment. We'll show you how to tile a shower enclosure or tub surround, including tips on achieving a clean look and a waterproof finish. Expect to spend about 20 minutes per square yard to prepare and set the tile, and make sure you're comfortable with using hand tools, a cordless drill, and trowels. Depending on the size of your shower and your expertise level, the project can be accomplished in a few days. Follow these step-by-step instructions to learn how to install tile around a shower or bathtub.

  • Working time 10 hrs
  • Start to finish 2 days
  • Difficulty Kind of Hard
  • Involves Tiling, Caulking
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What you need

Tools
Materials
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How to do it

Step 1

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.

Tiling around 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.

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Step 2

Apply Cement

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

Step 3

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.

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Step 4

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. You'll later fill in this gap with caulk.

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Step 5

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. Use spacers to create a 1/4-inch gap for the bead of caulk.

Step 6

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 to prevent water from leaking through. It also allows for some expansion and contraction of the different materials.

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Step 7

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.

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Step 8

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

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.

Step 9

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.

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Step 10

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.

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Step 11

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.

Step 12

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. When the grout has cured, seal the grout lines.

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