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How to Tile a Shower

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One of the best ways to make your home feel more personalized and up to date is by replacing tile in your shower. Tiling a shower yourself is a great way to save money and add value to your home all while adding your own personal touch that you get to enjoy every day. In this article, we’ll cover how to tile a shower, step by step.

Tools You'll Need

Before we get started, gather your supplies. Below is a complete list of tools you’ll need to tile a shower:

  • Gloves
  • Sponges
  • Buckets
  • Mixing drill
  • Trowel
  • Tile cutter
  • Level
  • Tile spacers
  • Measuring tape
  • Marking tool
  • Drill
  • Box knife
  • Clean microfiber rags
  • Hole saw
  • Market
  • Grout float
  • Margin Trowel

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Step 1: Prepare Your Space

Tiling a shower can be a messy job. If you are doing the demolition of your old shower tile yourself, you will want to make sure you protect the work area.

Shut off your AC/HEAT, lay down tarps and floor protection along the walking path, and hang plastic over surfaces where you don’t want fine dust to settle.

If tiling over a tub space, you may want to protect the surface of your tub with a tarp, tub protector, or piece of plywood to avoid chipping and damaging your tub surface.

 In preparation for tiling a shower, the walls above a tub have been demolished and the work area is protected with a tarp and plywood.

Finally, make sure you always wear appropriate protective equipment, like a mask, gloves and eyewear, for your safety when performing the demo of your bathroom.

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Step 2: Wall Prep

When you are done with demolition you will be left with bare studs. These studs play an important role when tiling a shower, and we want to make sure they are all flat and free of high or low spots before hanging our tile backerboard. Not doing so can lead to lippage in our tile installation.

Image shows bare wall studs over a bathtub, in preparation for tiling a shower.

Here is what you need to do to get flat walls for tiling your shower:

Check Studs

Check each stud (up and down) using a level. Make sure you are using at least a 5-ft. level. It’s even better if the level is the length of the stud itself.

Using a level to check all the studs in a shower wall before tiling.

You will want to check along the length of the wall for any studs that are out of plane with your straight edge.

Checking the alignment of wall studs around a tub flange to ensure a level surface before tiling.

If tiling to a tub (like in this example) you will want to also make sure that all studs are touching the top of the tub flange.

Adjusting the placement of shower wall studs so that they are in alignment and touching the top of the tub flange above a bathtub.

Align Studs

If any studs are out of plane or not touching the top of your tub flange, you will need to sister studs together. To do this, simply screw a new stud to the existing stud while making sure the new stud is touching the back of the tub flange or in plane with your other studs.

Screwing together wall studs to prepare the area for installing backerboards for the walls of a shower.

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Step 3: Waterproof the Shower Walls

Waterproofing the shower is a vital step to any shower build. If you want your tile installation to last, you need to make sure your shower is truly waterproof in order to prevent mold growth and avoid costly water damage.

For this demonstration, I am tiling above a tub, so I don’t need to build a shower pan. If you are tiling a stand up shower and need to build a shower pan as well, I highly recommend a complete shower system like the Wedi system I am using here. They have step-by-step installation guidelines, warranties, and require far fewer steps than older/traditional methods for waterproofing a shower.


How to Install a Shower Wall Kit

Measure, Mark & Cut Boards

Starting on the back wall, measure the width of the wall. Mark your measurements on the building panel and use a straight edge to make your cut line.

Using a straight edge to mark the measurements of a shower wall onto a building panel.

Using a utility knife, score along your line. Using two hands, snap the board along the score line and cut the back of the board again with your utility knife to complete the cut.

Using two hands to snap a shower wall building panel along a scored cut line.

Cut Around Fixtures and Flange

To cut around the valve, shower head and tub spout, you can either cut out a square using your utility knife, or use a hole saw bit on your drill to cut a circle of appropriate size. Make sure your shower valve cut is large enough to fit around the valve, but not so large that the finished plate cover won’t cover it.

The hole you cut in a building panel to accommodate a shower valve should be large enough for the valve but smaller than the plate cover.

Since we are tiling over a tub with a flange, we’re going to notch out the back of the board so it sits flat to the studs. First, score the back of the board to the depth of the tub flange, then fillet the back of the board with our knife, which allows space for the tub flange to sit behind the board.

Creating space for a tub flange along the edge of a building panel, so that the panel will be flush with the flange when it is installed.

Start With the Back Shower Wall

Before hanging the bottom row of boards over the tub flange, add waterproof sealant all along the flange to ensure the seam is watertight.

Adding waterproof sealant along the tub flange before hanging the first row of backer boards for shower walls.

Place your board on the first wall, ensuring it sits flush on the flange and embeds in the waterproof sealant by pressing down firmly along the board and flange.

Pressing down firmly along the building panel and tub flange to ensure a tight seal.

Next, secure the board to the wall. For this installation, I used the approved screws and washers placed 12” apart.

Use the approved screws and washers, 12” apart, to secure backerboard to shower wall studs.

Finish Back Shower Wall

After hanging the first row of boards, and before hanging the next row, add sealant between the board seams and to interior tub corners where two boards will meet.

Adding waterproof sealant between board seams while installing shower wall panels.

Hang the next board, continuing to place screws 12 inches apart. Use your putty knife to spread out any excess sealant along the joints so that it lays flat.

Spreading excess sealant with a putty knife at the seam where two shower backer boards meet.

Install Side Walls

Once you complete the back wall, you can move on to the side walls, repeating the same steps to install the boards. Once you start your side walls, it’s very important that you apply sealant on the inside corner before placing your next board. This ensures a watertight connection between the two walls.


Finish Waterproofing

To waterproof screw holes, use the waterproof sealant and a putty knife. Begin by applying a dime-sized amount of sealant to each screw hole and spreading evenly over a minimum of 2 x 2 inches square.

Finally, along the seams, inside corners, and where the walls meet the tub, add more sealant and spread evenly using your putty knife.

Image showing shower walls above a bathtub that are completely waterproofed and ready for the next steps of a shower tile installation.

Before moving on to the next step, take a moment to check that all screw holes, seams and inside corners are covered evenly with sealant.

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Step 4: Choose Your Spacer and Trowel Sizes

Before deciding on a layout and setting your tile, first choose your spacer and trowel sizes for this project.

An assortment of blue U-shaped tile spacers, also called horseshoe shims, that will be used for a shower tile installation.

Some tile boxes will reference which spacer size you will need for your tile. Make sure to follow their guidelines, as some tiles have variations in sizes and not following this can result in an installation that has uneven grout joints.

There are multiple sizes and types of notched trowels suitable for installing tile, and this image shows a selection of common varieties.

Choose a trowel size based on the size of your tile. Here are some guidelines you can follow for choosing a trowel size:

  • Use a 3/16” x 1/4" V-notch trowel for mosaic tiles that come on a sheet
  • Use a 1/4" x 1/4" square-notch trowel for tile sizes 4” to 8”
  • Use a 1/4" x 3/8” square- or U-notch trowel for tile sizes 8” to 16”
  • Use a 1/2" x 1/2" square- or U-notch trowel for tiles 16” and larger

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Step 5: Plan Your Tile Layout

Starting on the back wall, measure across left to right. Divide that measurement by the tile size plus the spacer size. This will tell you how many full tiles will fit along your back wall.

 Illustration showing where tile will be installed on a shower wall, demonstrating how to calculate how many full tiles will fit in a single row.

Next, find your center point on the back wall and either start a full tile from that center line or place a grout joint at that center line.

Image showing the center line of a shower wall, which is used to plan the placement of the first rows of tile.

If you are doing a pattern, like the offset brick-lay pattern (running bond) for this demonstration, you will want to make sure the layout works for that specific pattern. Since we are doing an offset brick-lay pattern that alternates tile positions every other row, I will be checking how the layout falls for two rows of tile.

Checking the alignment and placement of shower wall tiles across multiple rows of an offset pattern.

Using a level, position your ledger board for your first row of tile, starting at least one tile’s height up from the base of your shower. Note where your wall studs are, and screw into studs along the ledger board.

Installing a ledger board near the base of a shower wall, in order to guide the installation of the first few rows of tile.

Important: After removing your ledger board, remember to waterproof the holes with waterproof sealant before you install the final row of tile.


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Step 6: Mix Thinset Mortar

When mixing thinset mortar, always follow the instructions provided by the product’s manufacturer. In addition to mixing, instructions may also require a “slaking” period, which is the amount of time the mix may need to rest. Always check the instructions for the thinset you’re using to see if this step is needed.

The correct consistency for thinset mortar is creamy, neither too thick or too runny, and free of clumps and dry powder.

Once you’re done mixing, check the consistency with your margin trowel. Thinset mortar should be a creamy consistency that is not too runny, not too thick, and free of clumps and dry powder.

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Step 7: Lay Your Tile

We’re finally at the most exciting part! When your thinset mortar is ready to go, it’s time to begin tiling.

Burn Thinset Onto Wall

To “burn in” thinset means to apply a thin layer using the flat side of a trowel, and it’s the first step in laying tile. Place a good amount of thinset onto the flat side of your trowel and apply a thin, even layer along the wall where you will be setting your first row of tiles.

A tile pro applies the initial layer of thinset to a shower wall before installing the first row of tile.


Burning in thinset promotes better coverage behind your tile installation, and is especially important in a wet area like a shower.


Directional Troweling

Apply more thinset mortar to the wall using the flat side of your trowel, and then immediately go back over the same area using the notched side of the trowel. This is called “directional troweling.” All of your notches should run in the same direction, and be parallel to the shortest edge of the tile you are laying. (This ensures that when you press each tile into the mortar, you get a secure hold.)

A tile pro uses the notched side of a trowel to form rows of notches into thinset, ensuring the lines run parallel to the shortest side of the tiles.


Burn Thinset Into Tiles

To get the best thinset coverage and strongest tile bond possible, it is best practice to burn in thinset to the back of each of the tiles you lay. Do this by using the flat side of your trowel to apply a small amount of thinset.

A tile pro uses a trowel to spread a small amount of thinset from edge to edge on the back side of a tile.


Lay First Row of Tile

Place the first tile along the layout line and collapse the thinset fully by moving the tile back and forth in the opposite direction of your trowel lines. This will remove the air from behind your tile and give you the desired coverage for a shower, which is 95%.

A tile pro applies uses her hands to apply pressure to a tile she is installing. Pressing the tile and moving it back and forth slightly helps to collapse notches in the thinset behind it, removing air and promoting a strong bond between the tile and the wall.


Check for Appropriate Thinset Mortar Coverage Behind Your Tiles

As you lay your first row of tiles, you will want to remove a tile to check if you are getting the proper amount of thinset coverage on the back of the tiles. The TCNA states that it is required that tiles in a wet area have a minimum of 95% coverage. That will mean you should not see the notches transfer on the back of your tile; it will look more like mountains if you are getting the right amount of coverage.

A shower tile has been pried off the wall to confirm the correct amount of thinset coverage is achieved during installation.

If you can still see traces of notch lines in the thinset, you are not getting proper coverage. Switch to the next largest size of notched trowel, and try applying the tile again.


Inspect Tiles

After you’ve finished tiling a row in your shower, take a step back and check that your tiles are level before continuing. You can ensure that your tiles are staying level by placing your leveler on the edge of the first row you tiled. You can do this with every row or every few rows and make adjustments if needed.

 tile pro uses a leveler tool to confirm that the first few rows of installed tile are level before proceeding.

Additionally, you will want to check the surface of the tiles to ensure that they are staying flat and free of lippage as you tile up the surface of the wall.

After installing several rows of shower tile, a tile pro uses her leveler tool to check that the surface of tiles are flat and free of lippage.

Place Spacers

After you have checked that the first row of tiles have appropriate thinset mortar coverage, ensuring they are flat and level, you can add your spacers. If tiling to a ledger board, you will not need to add spacers to the horizontal grout joint, only the vertical.

After checking that the first few rows of shower wall tile are level, a tile pro has placed spacers in the vertical and horizontal joints before proceeding.

If tiling to a ledger board: You will tile the entire wall and remove the ledger board at the end. Once you remove the ledger board, you will then tile in your final row(s) at the bottom and accommodate for expansion at the tub or shower pan with at least a 1/8” spacer.


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Step 8: Cutting Tile

At some point when tiling your shower, you will need to consider cutting your tiles. I would recommend a manual snap cutter, a wet saw, and some hole saw bits for making your cuts.

  • Manual snap cutter. Can be purchased in various sizes and used on ceramic or porcelain tiles. Note: If you chose to install a mosaic sheet tile or natural stone, a manual snap cutter would not be the best route for you.
  • Wet saw. A wet saw will be your most versatile option. It can get the job done on almost any tile material, the only limitation being the size of the tile you choose to install
  • Diamond hole saw bits. When tiling a shower, you will need a diamond hole saw bit to make circular cutouts in your tiles for shower heads and tub spouts. You can purchase these as an add-on bit to your drill/driver or as an add-on to your angle grinder.

See our article on How To Cut Tile for detailed instructions and helpful tips on cutting different types of tiles with various types of saws.

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Step 9: Finish Tile Edges

Tile edges are present at locations where a plane of tile ends, such as where the drywall outside your shower begins, where a shower niche meets the main shower wall, or around a shower bench. Finished tile edges will elevate the overall look of your shower and give it a more complete finish.  When considering how to finish your tile edges, you have a few choices:

  • Bullnose tile. Some tiles offer matching bullnose styles, which means one side of the tile is rounded and shows no raw tile edge.
  • Pencil tile. Pencil tiles are small, thin pieces of tile that can frame the borders of a larger tile installation. Similar to bullnose tiles, many tiles offer matching pencil pieces.
  • Tile profiles. Tile profiles have become increasingly popular due to their versatility and streamlined appearance. They come in many finishes and colors, making it easy to accent your shower finishes (such as the shower head, shower valve and tub spout) or match it completely to your tile or grout choice.

These are all effective options for finishing tile edges, and your decision will ultimately come down to your personal design preferences. For more information and detailed instructions, check out How to Finish Tile Edges: 3 Go-To Techniques.

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Step 10: Clean Tile Surfaces and Grout Joints

After you have allowed your thinset to cure according to manufacturer instructions, you will need to thoroughly clean the surfaces of your newly installed tiles, as well as the spaces left for grout joints, before you move on to grouting.

After installing shower wall tile and allowing the thinset mortar to cure, a tile pro cleans all surfaces before moving on to the grouting phase of the installation.

Cleaning Supplies

To clean your tile, you will need:

  • Clean bucket of water
  • Clean sponges
  • Dry microfiber rags
  • Grout Brush or toothbrush
  • Pick or utility knife
  • Scrubbing sponge
  • Glass cleaner


How to Clean Tiles Before Grouting

Begin by removing all your tile spacers. If you see any areas where thinset may be sticking out of your grout joints, you can start by trying to scrape it out with the grout brush or toothbrush.

A tile pro uses a utility knife to remove stubborn thinset from grout joints.

If it’s too dry, you may need to use your pick or utility knife. Be careful as you can chip a tile with these tools.

A tile pro uses a grout brush to remove traces of dried thinset from within grout joints.

Next, you can start scrubbing with your green scrubbing sponge. Afterwards, follow up with your soft sponge.

Using a soft sponge to clean traces of thinset from newly installed tiles.

After you finish sponging the shower and it dries, you may notice a film still present. To remove that film, use an ammonia-free glass cleaner or simple green and your dry clean microfiber rag to clean the surface of your tile.  

A tile pro uses a microfiber rag to do a final, thorough cleaning of any film present on the surface of tiles before applying grout.

Once you are done cleaning, double-check you have not missed any chunks of thinset in the grout joints that may protrude and hinder your grout from filling up a joint completely. If you do see spots, repeat the steps in this section for that area.

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Step 11: Grout Your Tile

After you have finished cleaning your tile and checking for any built-up thinset left over from tiling, you are ready to grout.

Before you begin, you will need to mix up your grout. When mixing grout, always follow the instructions provided by the product’s manufacturer. In addition to mixing, instructions may also indicate how long the grout will need to sit on the wall before beginning your first clean.  Always check the instructions for the grout you’re using before beginning the grouting process.

Begin by placing some grout on your grout float using your margin trowel.

Using a margin trowel to add grout to a grout float, in preparation of grouting a newly tiled shower wall.

Apply grout to your tile walls, starting with the short side of the grout float.

Using the short side of a grout float to apply grout to shower wall tile.

Go back and use the long side of the grout float to really fill up the grout joint and wipe away a majority of the grout from the surface of your tile.

Using the long side of a grout float to fill grout joints and wipe away the majority of excess grout from a tiled shower wall.

Continue with these steps for the entire shower, paying special attention to inside corners to make sure they don’t get filled with grout. These areas need to be left clear for expansion, and will be filled with silicone later.

A tile pro points at an interior corner grout joint in a shower, which will need to be free of grout in order to properly fill with silicone later.

If needed, use a grout brush with some water to clean any grout from inside corners before it dries.  

Using a grout brush to remove excess grout from inside corners before it cures.

Once your walls are grouted, let the grout dry for the specified time allotted by the grout of your choice. You can check if the grout is dry by touching it with your finger.

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Step 12: Clean Surface Grout

Once the grout is dry, use a clean damp sponge to begin the process of cleaning the surface of your tile. Using circular motions, clean the surface of your tile, flipping your sponge and rinsing in clean water periodically.

A tile pro uses a damp sponge to perform the initial cleaning of a wall of tile in a newly grouted shower.

Continue these steps until all the surface grout is cleaned off your tile.

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Step 13: Remove the Grout Haze

Once your initial clean is complete, your shower will end up with a sort of film on the surface. This film is called “grout haze.”

After the initial cleaning, a layer of grout haze remains on this newly tiled shower wall.

To remove the grout haze from your tiles,  grab two buckets of water, a clean sponge, and a dry microfiber towel.

After years of practice removing grout haze, my best tip is to use two buckets during this step: one for dirty water, and one for clean. To keep the water in the second bucket clean, I only wring my sponges out over the dirty water bucket.

A tile pro demonstrates her method for using two buckets of water to quickly and efficiently wipe remaining grout haze from the surface of a newly tiled shower wall.

Here’s how it works: I dunk my dirty sponge in the dirty water bucket and wring it out. Then, I dunk the same sponge in the clean water bucket and wring that excess water out over the dirty water bucket, too. This ensures I am only applying clean water to my walls, which cuts down on the grout haze.


Begin cleaning by using a damp sponge on the surface of your tile. Follow up each section that you have sponged with a dry microfiber. Repeat until all walls are complete.

A tile pro wipes the grout haze off of a newly installed tile shower. You can see a clear different between the tile she has wiped clean, and the haze on the rest of the tile.

Once all walls are cleaned and dry, you should be able to see if all grout haze has been removed. If you have stubborn grout haze, you can follow up with a grout haze remover.

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Step 14: Seal With Silicone

The final step in the process of tiling a shower is to silicone the changes of planes for expansion. We are using a silicone sealant that matches the grout and placing it where the walls meet the tub and on the inside corners.

Applying silicone sealant where the tiled walls above a shower meets the edge of the tub below.

First, lay a generous bead of silicone. Next, spray ammonia-free glass cleaner on the bead. This helps to stop your silicone from sticking to the surfaces around the area you are working in.

Ammonia-free glass cleaner helps stop silicone caulk from sticking to nearby tub surfaces.

The last step is to use a caulking tool to press the silicone into your joint and slowly remove any excess, being sure to wipe the tool often to avoid the silicone from spilling over on your tile or tub surface.

The final step of tiling a shower is to make sure all planes of expansion have been filled with silicone sealant.

Allow your silicone to dry for at least 48 hours before turning your shower on or installing your shower fixtures.

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Costs to Consider When Tiling a Shower

  • Tile material

    Different tile materials come with varying price tags. Porcelain and ceramic tiles are popular options for maximizing a project budget, because of the wide variety of price points and styles available. Other materials, like specialty tiles, handmade tiles and natural stone tiles, are typically associated with higher material costs.

  • Tile quantity

    Measure your shower space accurately to estimate the number of tiles needed, including a slight overage for cuts and repairs. It is a safe bet to estimate that you’ll need at least 20% extra tile for overage. If you are doing a special pattern, add an additional 10%. To figure out the quantity needed, multiply the length and width of each area and add them together to get the total square footage. To add overage, take that number and multiply it by .20 or .30. Add together square footage and overage to calculate total material needed.

  • Labor costs

    Hiring professionals ensures quality, but adds to expenses. Get multiple quotes and consider experience and reputation. Make sure to check reviews, get references, and check for credentials before hiring a professional to tile your shower.

  • Surface preparation

    Properly preparing the shower substrate is crucial for durability. Waterproofing, repairs, and leveling may be necessary. If your shower requires additional preparation due to wavy studs, or floor leveling it can add costs to your total tile shower budget both in labor and materials.

  • Additional materials

    Grout, mortar, waterproofing membranes, and sealants contribute to overall costs. These products are required when tiling a shower so be sure to add them into your budget calculations when saving up to hire someone to tile your shower or to tile it yourself.

  • Design complexity

    Intricate patterns or designs increase labor and material requirements, impacting costs.

  • Maintenance and longevity

    Consider long-term maintenance and durability. High-quality materials may cost more initially but require fewer repairs over time.

Installing Tile on a Shower FAQs

  • Can I tile over existing tiles?

    Yes, but it's not always recommended. Ensure the existing tiles are firmly adhered to the wall and in good condition. Consider the additional weight and thickness of your new tile when tiling over existing tiles.

  • Do I need to waterproof the shower walls before tiling?

    Yes, it's crucial to waterproof shower walls to prevent water damage. Use a waterproofing membrane or cement board and apply a waterproofing sealant.

  • How do I choose the right grout?

    Consider factors like tile spacing, color, and location. Epoxy grout is durable and resistant to stains and moisture, making it ideal for showers.

  • Should I seal the tiles after grouting?

    Yes, sealing the tiles helps prevent water penetration, stains, and mold growth. Use a high-quality penetrating sealer suitable for your tile material.

  • How long should I wait before using the shower after tiling?

    Wait at least 24 to 48 hours for the adhesive and grout to cure properly before using the shower. Follow manufacturer instructions for specific drying times.

  • Can I cut tiles without a tile cutter?

    Yes, you can use a tile scorer and nippers for small cuts or rent a wet saw for more precise cuts. Practice on scrap tiles before cutting the actual ones.

  • How do I deal with corners and edges?

    Use bullnose tiles or trim pieces to finish exposed edges and corners. Measure carefully and plan ahead to ensure a clean and professional-looking finish.

  • What should I do if I make a mistake while tiling?

    Don't panic. Depending on the severity of the mistake, you may be able to remove and replace individual tiles or make adjustments during grouting. Proper planning and patience can help minimize mistakes.

  • How do I maintain tiled shower walls?

    Regular cleaning with a mild detergent and soft brush or sponge helps prevent soap scum and mold buildup. Avoid abrasive cleaners that can damage the tiles or grout.

  • When should I consider hiring a professional instead of DIY?

    Consider hiring a professional if you lack experience, the project is complex, or if there are structural or plumbing issues involved. A professional can ensure proper installation and minimize the risk of costly mistakes.