Save extra cash and learn a new skill by tiling your shower. Here’s our complete guide from the first tile to the final sealant.
How to Tile a Shower
Tiling a shower requires basic tools, a long weekend, and a whole lot of precision, but doing it yourself is a good way to save hundreds of dollars on labor and materials.
The process isn’t simple: some skills are required. However, the skills required are better related to patience and precision than learning techniques or strategies taught in trade schools. Fortunately, there are tools help you along with precision – you’ll need to find on your own patience.
Ready to get started? Let’s tile your shower.
Before You Start: Tools & Materials
Before starting, you’ll need to choose your preferred materials including:
Be sure to choose a grout color that matches your tile while also considering how much maintenance you’d prefer in your shower. Tiles are naturally low-maintenance and require little more than a wipe. Grout, even when sealed, is prone to mold and discoloration. It should be taken into consideration prior to choosing colors.
The materials list is simple, but you’ll also need several tools:
Used for drawing initial lines and setting up tile
Drawing initial lines
To cover shower basin
Mixing thin-set mortar
Removing excess grout
Cutting and shaping tiles
Glasses, gloves, etc.
Eight Steps to Tiling a Shower
There are eight steps involved in tiling a shower. The whole process will take you a weekend, but much of that time is spent waiting for adhesives, grout, and caulk to dry in between steps.
Here’s how to set up your first tile:
1. Start with a Center Point
Any tiling project starts with the first tile. When you’re tiling a shower, you’ll start with a center point on the wall and use a plumb line to signal the point you’ve found.
Take your level and measure 13” above the height of your tile and the added grout line. The line drawn between your center point and the new measurement must be level because they’ll serve as the guide for the first row of tiles. Double check the measurement.
2. Tape the Cement Board & Edges
Apply the mesh tape you bought to the seams of the cement board on the walls.
Place a cloth on the floor of the shower to catch any grout or other debris and protect the pan of the shower. Use masking or painter’s tape to mask the edge of the shower pan.
3. Combine the Thinset Mortar
Thinset is the adhesive you’ll add before installing the tile. Often referred to as thin-set mortar or cement, it’s a combination of fine sand, cement, and an alkyl derivative of cellulose (water retaining agent).
Attach a paddle bit to your drill to mix it more efficiently while being sure to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. With most adhesives, you’ll aim to reach a cake frosting consistency. Once you’re there, it’s ready to apply.
4. Slap On the Thin-set Mortar
Once you’ve reached the right consistency, it’s time to apply it to the wall. Use your notched trowel over the area you’ve chosen for the initial tiles.
The best trowel for even application is a ¼” x ¼” trowel. Hold it at an angle (around 45 degrees) to spread the adhesive evenly.
Although you’re looking for an even application, you don’t want a completely smooth surface. Use the notches on your trowel to add grooves to the surface, which will allow for air pockets to develop in the thin-set. These air pockets sound counter-productive, but it boosts the adhesive effect.
Only apply thin-set to areas you’ll tile immediately. The thin-set dries out, and once it does, you won’t be able to apply tiles to it. In fact, you’ll have to scrape it off because simply applying new adhesive will make your tile application uneven.
Not sure if your application is still wet? Press on it with your finger. If it comes off on your finger, you can still apply tile. If it’s dry, you’ll need to reapply.
5. Time to Tile
With the first layer of thin-set on, it’s time to tile.
Start at the reference lines on the cement board and use your level and tape measure to measure out and then mark the first tile place. Put it in place and press it gently to help it settle into the thin-set.
Keep setting the tiles into the thin-set using tile spacers to create grout joints. If you haven’t already chosen your tile spacers, then you’ll do so according to the width you prefer. Some people prefer a razor thing grout line but others like a more traditional size. Narrow tile spacers provide thinner grout lines, and they’re worth considering because they also make taking care of your tiles low maintenance.
Wipe the excess adhesive as you go to avoid scraping it later. Don’t forget to leave the tile spacers in while the thin-set dries and sets.
6. Cutting Tiles
Cutting tiles is part of the process. You’ll cut tiles to size as needed with a wet saw.
You may find that tile spacers don’t fit in well with your tile spacers. When you reach irregularly shaped pieces or strange angles, use cardboard spacers instead. These are DIY cardboard pieces cut into the precise size and shape required for the space.
7. Add Grout
The thin-set must be left to cure. Different manufacturers have different recommendations. On average, you’ll wait a minimum of 24 hours before the shower is ready for grout. Once ready, you’ll remove the tile spacers with a needle nose pliers.
One of the most common mistakes DIYers make is confusing dry thin-set on the outside of the tiles with the rest of the adhesive. Adhesive sitting in the grout lines received far more air than the thin-set sitting under the tiles themselves. Wait the full 24 hours (or more) to ensure the adhesive is fully cured.
Once you’re ready to grout, you’ll start preparing the mixture. You’ve likely chosen a grout color that complements your tiles. Mixing the grout with water leads to some color variations. To avoid changes in appearance, use as little water as you can get away with and mix thoroughly to ensure it’s the same color throughout.
Start by pouring the grout on the tiles. Use your rubber grout float to press it into the joints and fill the joints completely. Work across small areas of a few tiles to ensure the grout isn’t spread too thinly across the joints.
Use the grout float to remove excess grout. Place it at a 90-degree angle and move it diagonally across the grout to remove the leftovers.
There will be grout all over the tiles. Wait for the grout in the joints to harden before using a damp sponge to wipe the grout off the tiles while avoiding the corners, edges, and joints.
After you’ve added the grout and wiped off excess from the tile surface, there’s still more to clean. A hazy film will be left over the tiles. You’ll wait until the grout has hardened to remove it. Once ready, start by taking a damp cloth to the tiles and then using a dry cloth to buff the haze off.
8. Seal and Caulk the Grout
Tiles are low-maintenance, but grout requires some extra help.
Allow the grout to dry for the designated period set by the manufacturer. Once dry, apply the sealer provided by the manufacturer or an alternative sealer. The applicator comes with a tip to make application precise. If you do smear, clean the excess within five minutes.
Let the grout and sealer dry for an additional 24 hours.
Give the tiles a good cleaning once everything is dry to remove any debris before caulking. Use rubbing alcohol to clean the areas where you’ll apply caulk to encourage a greater bond between the adhesive and the tile.
Trim the caulk tube and puncture the foil seal to prepare the caulk tube. Place the gun in the desired area and apply the caulk in a single, swift movement. Remove excess material from the tip after each application.
Be sure to apply it along the whole perimeter of the shower and take particular care around corners.
Don’t worry if you’ve never applied caulk and find it hard to create an even line. Wet your finger and use it to smooth out the lines on each side of the shower to remove build-up and create and even application.
Using your finger provides a more thorough application because it forces excess material into spaces that were otherwise lacking. Be sure to wipe your finger and then re-wet it regularly to avoid making a mess.
Caulking requires accuracy, but it’s also quick work because silicone tends to set quickly. If you find yourself falling behind, you can scrape it from the tile without damaging the seal as long as you don’t cut into the grout line.
Are you ready to tile your shower or another part of your bathroom? Did you find these steps helpful? Share your questions or tips in the comments below.