Covering dated bathroom tile can transform the look of your bathroom. Wainscoting is an elegant and timeless choice that can give your bathroom a fresh, updated appearance. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to cover bathroom tile with wainscoting.

Assess the Existing Tile and Prepare the Walls

Before installing wainscoting, examine the existing tile and wall surface:

  • Ensure the tile is firmly attached to the wall and not loose or cracking. Repair any damaged areas.
  • Clean the tile thoroughly to remove any grime, mildew, or soap scum. Use an abrasive tile cleaner and rinse well.
  • Sand any glossy tile to degloss it and help the wainscoting adhesive stick.
  • Fill any grout lines wider than 1/8 inch with a sanded caulk. Allow it to fully cure.
  • Prime the tile with a masonry bonding primer to aid adhesion. Allow primer to dry completely.

Choose the Wainscoting Style

There are a few common wainscoting styles to consider:

  • Beadboard – Tongue and groove boards with decorative grooves cut into them. Provides a cottage look.
  • Recessed panel – Solid wainscoting panels framed by decorative trim molding. Gives a more formal, elegant look.
  • Shiplap – Wide, overlapping horizontal boards. Rustic and coastal vibes.
  • Battens – Vertical boards spaced apart over wainscoting panels. Farmhouse or craftsman style.

Consider the existing tile style, color, and your bathroom decor when selecting a wainscoting style.

Cut the Wainscoting Boards to Size

Use a table saw or circular saw to cut your wainscoting boards to the desired height. Common heights range from 32-48 inches. Measure the wall height and account for base trim when determining board height.

Cut boards to length as needed to fit the wall dimensions. Leave a 1/16 inch gap between boards for expansion.

Use wood filler to patch any holes or imperfections before installation. Sand smooth.

Install the Wainscoting Frame

Construct a frame to support the wainscoting using 2×4 studs:

  • Mark stud locations on the wall. Attach horizontal 2x4s to the studs at the top and bottom of the installation area using wood screws.
  • Attach vertical 2×4 studs between the top and bottom 2x4s every 16-24 inches. They will provide attachment points for the boards.
  • Use shims as needed to ensure the 2×4 frame is plumb and level.
  • For formal styles like recessed paneling, frame decorative trim pieces around the perimeter.

Attach the Wainscoting Boards

There are a few methods to affix the wainscoting boards:

  • Adhesive – Apply panel adhesive to the back of each board and press onto the wall. Use finishing nails along the top and bottom to hold in place while the adhesive dries.
  • Nail gun – Use a pneumatic nail gun with 1-2” Brad nails to attach boards to the 2×4 frame. Nail every 4-6 inches along edges and every 12 inches in the field of the board.
  • Liquid nails and construction adhesive – Run a bead of adhesive along the 2×4 frame, then press boards into place. Use nails sparingly.

Stagger board seams and leave the recommended gap between each one. Work from the bottom up, cutting boards as needed for outlets and plumbing fixtures.

Finish the Wainscoting

Finish the installation with these steps:

  • Caulk any seams or gaps with colored caulk that matches the wainscoting. Allow to dry.
  • Prime and paint the wainscoting using semi-gloss or high-gloss paint for easy cleaning and moisture resistance.
  • Reinstall existing base trim or install new coordinating base molding to conceal the bottom edge.
  • Seal the top edge with coordinating caulk or trim.
  • Consider adding trim details like chair rails, inside corner molding, or accent bands.

With proper preparation and installation, wainscoting can beautifully refresh your outdated tiled bathroom walls. Enjoy your updated space!

Frequently Asked Questions About Covering Tile with Wainscoting

What kind of adhesive should I use?

Use a high-quality panel adhesive designed for wainscoting and tile. Liquid Nails Subfloor & Deck, Loctite Power Grab, and OSI TeqBond are top choices. Avoid basic multi-purpose adhesives.

How do I work around electrical outlets?

Carefully cut out the wainscoting boards around outlets. Install the board above first, then cut the bottom board to fit around the box. Trim molding conceals cuts. Use an oscillating tool for precise cuts.

Should I remove the existing bathroom tile?

Removing tile is not necessary but adds cost. As long as tile is sound, wainscoting can be installed right over it. Scrape off any loose tile or grout first.

What about moisture getting behind the wainscoting?

Sealing tile grout lines and priming prevents moisture issues. Use an adhesive designed for wet areas. Silicone caulk along the tub edge also helps protect from moisture intrusion.

How high should I make the wainscoting?

The most common height is 32-36 inches. But consider the existing tile height, window and mirror locations, and the room proportions. Anywhere from 24-48 inches is reasonable.


Installing wainscoting over outdated bathroom tile provides a quick cosmetic upgrade. With proper planning and careful installation, you can achieve a designer look without the effort of replacing all the existing tile. Choose a wainscoting style that matches your decor, prepare the tile surface, and affix the boards securely. Add trim and caulk for a polished look. With some craftsmanship and creativity, you can give your bathroom an elegant new feel.