Tiling a shower can seem daunting, but with the right planning and materials it can be a DIY project that transforms your bathroom. Properly tiled showers are not only beautiful, but easier to keep clean and prevent water damage. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps of tiling a shower, from picking tiles and laying out your design to proper installation techniques. With careful prep work and attention to detail, you can have a stunning custom shower that will last for decades.
Plan Your Shower Tile Layout
Before picking up a single tile, you need to come up with a layout plan. Measure the total dimensions of the shower walls and floor to determine how many tiles you will need. Make sure to account for any niches, shelves or benches when calculating the tile layout.
Choose Your Tile Size and Pattern
The most common shower tile sizes are 2”x2”, 4”x4” and 12”x12”. Smaller tiles allow for more intricate patterns but require more grout lines. Larger tiles have fewer grout lines but limit the design. For floor tiles, consider a slip-resistant tile or add slip-resistant mats.
Some popular shower tile patterns include:
- Brick pattern: Tiles are offset by half a tile width each row, like bricks on a wall. Easy to install.
- Subway tile: Classic 3”x6” rectangular tiles installed in a brick pattern. Provides clean, straight lines.
- Herringbone: Tiles form “V” shapes. Requires more precision but gives a timeless, elegant look.
- Penny tile: Tiny 1” hexagonal or square tiles cover walls and floors. Provides a vintage, eclectic vibe.
Consider making accent stripes or designs with specialty decorative tiles like glass, stone or metal tiles. Use the shower layout and tile sizes to sketch your pattern on graph paper before purchasing.
Order Your Tiles and Materials
Once your design is finalized, order your tiles and necessary materials:
- Tiles for walls, floor, accent tiles
- Tile adhesive (thinset mortar)
- Trowels, grout float, sponges
- Tile cutting tools like a wet saw or snap cutter
- Caulk and sealant
Order 10-15% extra tiles to account for cuts, cracks and future repairs.
Prep The Shower for Tiling
With your materials ready, it’s time to start the exciting installation process. Proper prep work is crucial for a successful tile job.
Remove Old Shower Surfaces
If tiling over an existing shower, the old finishes need to be removed. Take off tile, fiberglass surrounds, or enamel coatings until you expose the studs and bare shower pan.
Install Cement Board
Cement backerboard provides a sturdy, waterproof surface for shower tiles. Cut boards to fit the shower walls with a utility knife. Screw boards to studs with cement board screws, spacing screws 8” apart across the panels and along seams. Seal all seams with mesh tape and thinset.
Waterproof the cement board with a liquid membrane like RedGard®, applying in a continuous layer over all surfaces per manufacturer directions. Let cure completely.
Build Up Slope on Shower Pan
The shower floor must slope towards the drain to prevent pooling water. Use a level to check for any low spots, filling as needed with mortar mix to create a 1⁄4” per foot slope.
For prefabricated shower pans, check levelness and follow manufacturer instructions for prep.
Apply Waterproofing Membrane
Roll waterproofing membrane like ChloraloyTM over the entire shower floor and 4-6” up walls. Smooth out any air pockets or wrinkles. Seal seams and edges with compatible waterproofing tape. This fully waterproofs your shower before tiling.
Install Shower Wall Tiles
With prep complete, you’re ready for the fun part – installing the tile! Follow these tips for flawless shower wall tiling:
Mix Thinset Mortar
Mix thinset mortar per package directions. Apply to walls with the appropriate trowel notch size, holding at a 45° angle to fully coat the surface. Apply only as much thinset as can be tiled in 10-15 minutes before it skins over.
Set Wall Tiles
Press tiles firmly into thinset, using spacers for consistent grout lines. Use a level regularly to check tiles are plumb. Cut border and specialty tiles with a wet saw or tile cutter.
Follow your layout, starting at the top and working down. Don’t tile all the way to the shower pan yet; leave a 1/8” gap that will be filled with caulk later to allow expansion.
Fill Gaps and Finish Corners
Once the bulk of wall tiles are set, fit in any cut tiles and specialty pieces like borders or niches. Finish inside and outside corners with appropriate trim pieces like bullnose or edge tiles.
Fill any gaps between tiles and cement board with sanded caulk before grouting. Allow tiles to set 24 hours before grouting.
Grouting Shower Wall Tiles
After allowing tiles to fully cure, it’s time to add the grout. Joints between tiles are filled with this cement-based material. Follow these steps for flawless grouting:
Mix grout to a thick, peanut-butter consistency based on package directions. Let slake for 5-10 minutes, then remix before grouting.
Apply Grout with Float
Holding the grout float at a 45° angle, work grout into the joints, packing it deeply into corners. Take care to fully fill joints.
Wipe Away Excess Grout
Allow grout to firm up slightly, then hold grout float edge flat and scrape diagonally across tiles to remove excess. Sponge the tiles lightly with water.
Final Clean Up
Once grout has dried to a haze, buff tiles with a soft cloth to remove remaining film. Use a damp sponge for missed spots. Avoid wiping too early or you may pull grout from joints. Let cure 72 hours before using shower.
Install Shower Floor Tiles
The floor tiles tie your whole shower design together. Many of the techniques are the same as the walls, but here are some pro tips for flawless floor tiling:
Spread thinset over the sloped shower pan using a trowel sized for large format floor tiles, like a 1⁄2” square-notch. Set tiles from drain outwards in a pyramid pattern.
Use tile leveling spacers when installing floor tiles to ensure an even plane and proper slope. Place spacers vertically between tiles, not horizontally.
Cut Border Tiles to Fit
Measure and cut border tiles along walls with a tile saw. Use a jigsaw for detailed cuts around shower valves and niches. Blend cuts into the layout.
Grout and Seal Floor
Allow floor tiles to cure fully, then grout. When dry, seal grout and tile surface with an impregnating sealer formulated for wet areas. Apply caulk between floor tiles and walls.
Finish Shower Installation
You’re in the home stretch! Check off these final steps for a fully functioning shower:
Install Shower Fixtures
Mount any showerheads, valves, or fixtures per the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure joints are waterproofed behind fixtures. Seal tile edges with a waterproof silicone caulk.
Hang Shower Doors
Measure precisely and hang shower doors according to the installation guide, shimming and leveling tracks as needed. Adjust rollers or guides so the door glides smoothly.
Apply Shower Sealer
After allowing the grout to cure fully, apply a water repellent sealant formulated for showers over all grout lines and the tile surface. This adds water protection and lets you easily wipe away soap scum.
Make It Shine
Remove any remaining grout haze or residue with a tile cleaner. Use a squeegee after each shower to keep walls spotless. Enjoy your stunning, high-end custom shower!
FAQs About Tiling Showers
What tile is best for shower walls?
Porcelain, ceramic, or natural stone tiles rated for wet areas are best for shower walls. Mosaics can be used, but may involve more grout maintenance. Avoid very porous tiles.
How do I waterproof shower tile?
Waterproofing starts with cement backerboard on walls and a sloped mortar bed for the floor. A waterproofing membrane over all surfaces is ideal before tiling. Use waterproof grout and sealants after installation.
What thinset is best for shower tile?
Use a polymer-modified thinset mortar rated for wet areas like bathrooms and showers. It provides a stronger bond and is more water resistant once cured.
How long does thinset take to dry before grouting?
Thinset adhesive needs about 24 hours to fully cure before grouting shower tile. This allows all moisture to evaporate so grout adheres properly.
Can I use regular grout in a shower?
Regular sanded grout is susceptible to water erosion and mold growth when used in showers. Use an epoxy grout or polymer-modified sanded grout formulated for wet areas.
How long after tiling can I use the shower?
Allow the grout to cure fully for 72 hours before exposure to water. This prevents the grout joints from absorbing water too early which can lead to cracks or weak spots.
Do shower tiles need to be sealed?
Sealing tiles is an optional extra protection step. An impregnating sealer formulated for wet areas penetrates pores in the tile and grout, preventing stains and damage from water exposure over time. Reapply annually.
Tiling a shower adds value, beauty and easy maintenance when done properly. Carefully planning the layout, preparing the shower pan correctly, using quality materials, and applying tiles with care will result in a stunning custom shower that lasts for decades. Focus on each step in the process, from layout to prep to thoughtful tile work. Get creative with patterns, textures and colors with accent tiles that reflect your personal style. Take time to properly seal and care for your tilework. With some perseverance and attention to detail, you can have the shower of your dreams!