How to Tile a Shower or Tub Surround to Spruce Up Your Bathroom

Give your shower or tub a tile makeover with this weekend DIY project. All you need are a few basic skills, the right tools, and this step-by-step guide.

Bathroom with wooden cabinet and subway tile
Photo: David A Land
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 hours
  • Total Time: 2 days
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Utility knife
  • 1 Stapler
  • 1 Hair dryer
  • 1 4-foot level
  • 1 Measuring tape
  • 1 Chalkline
  • 1 Carbide scriber
  • 1 Margin trowel
  • 1 Notched trowel
  • 1 Straightedge
  • 1 Drill
  • 1 Snap cutter or wet saw
  • 1 Nippers
  • 1 Grout knife
  • 1 Putty knife
  • 1 Masonry stone
  • 1 Caulk gun
  • 1 Grout float

Materials

  • 1 Asphalt roofing cement
  • 1 15-pound felt paper or 4 millimeter poly sheet
  • 1 Staples
  • 1 Bucket
  • 1 Thinset
  • 1 Dimensional lumber for battens
  • 1 Backerboard
  • 1 Screws
  • 1 Tape
  • 1 Tile
  • 1 Spacers
  • 1 Caulk
  • 1 Grout
  • 1 Rags
  • 1 Sponge
  • 1 Tile base or bullnose
  • 1 Nylon wedges

Instructions

  1. Waterproof and Prep Layout

    waterproof prep shower layout illustration

    Because a shower enclosure is a wet installation, you must waterproof the walls and the framing. Use felt roofing 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 at least 12 inches above the tub. For a high-end look, take the tile all the way to the ceiling.

    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.

  2. Apply Cement

    applying cement in shower

    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 roofing paper or 4-millimeter poly sheet.

  3. Apply Felt Paper

    applying felt paper to inside of shower

    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.

  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.

  5. Reinforce Corners

    reinforcing corners in shower

    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.

  6. Apply Caulk

    applying caulk along edge of tub

    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.

  7. Locate Grout Line

    locating grout line in shower

    Using a dimensional layout drawing, locate the point on which a horizontal and vertical grout line will fall for your bathroom shower tile. 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.

  8. Apply Adhesive and Tiles

    applying adhesive in shower

    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 shower tiles on the back wall first: Place shower tiles on the prepared adhesive. Start at the bottom of the marked line and work your way up the back wall. Use spacers to hold the shower tiles in place and ensure grout lines stay level. Work carefully to make sure all the shower tiles are level in one area before moving on to the next section. 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.

  9. Tile the Shower Side Walls

    placing tiles on shower wall with grout

    When the back wall of tile is in place, set the side walls with adhesive and shower tiles. Start from the front, leaving space around fixtures. Save the cut tiles for the back corner where the side wall meets the adjoining back wall. Use spacers to keep grout lines even. Tape the smaller cut tiles if necessary to hold them in place.

  10. Install Tile Around Fixtures

    installing tiles around shower fixtures

    Mark, cut, and install the tile around the showerhead and faucets. Depending on the size of the tile and plumbing fixtures, you may want to drill a hole, with a carbide bit, through the tile and slip it over the pipe. Leave at least 1/4 inch around the fixtures and fill that recess with silicone caulk. Let the adhesive cure overnight.

  11. Apply Grout To Bathroom Shower Tiles

    applying grout to tiled shower walls

    When the adhesive is dry, clean the surface and joints of any excess adhesive. Mix grout in your desired color. Apply it to the shower tiles 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.

  12. Remove Excess Grout

    removing excess grout with sponge

    To scrape excess grout off the surface of your bathroom shower tiles, 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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