My experience tiling a shower for the first time
There’s no reason why you can’t tile a shower yourself, even if you’ve never done it before. I just did it and I’ve included a lot of tips to make it easy for you to complete your own tiling project.
Tiling for the very first time can be very nerve-racking.
It looks like a simple task but once you start, your wall surface might be uneven and the tiles don’t look straight or adhere properly. Or maybe the grout is messy around the edges and tedious to remove.
It’s enough to make you throw down your trowel in frustration and call in a professional.
But guess what, you can do it! The key to having a successful tiling experience is taking your time and a few other things that we will talk about inside this post.
This is not a how-to tile tutorial but my experience tiling a shower for the first time and the tip/tricks that I learned while tiling.
TILING A SHOWER FOR THE FIRST TIME
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Do you need help planning out how to renovate your shower? See my Start a DIY project workbook to help you get started!
STEP 1: DO YOUR RESEARCH
This part that you are doing right now….congrats, you are already starting the process!
Before jumping into any project you need to have your plan in place. Here are some things you need to decide on:
- What size of shower do you currently have?
- You need to know what dimensions you’re working with.
- How are you going to prep the shower before tiling?
- What backer board will you use?
- What type of waterproofing product?
- Which shower pan or tray?
- SIDE NOTE: There are a lot of different options and I share how we prepped our shower with the Schluter Kerdi system in another post and why I choose this system, click here to go to that post.
- What tiling materials would you like to use?
- Which tile for the floor?
- What type of tile for the walls?
- Will you add any trim?
- Do you have or want any niches, e.g. for soap, shampoo & other toiletries?
- What type of shower faucet do you want?
- You need to know this now because the shower valve will be mounted before the walls (backer board) are installed.
- What tools do you need?
- tile saw
- I will have a list of tools I used below!
- What is the best technique for you to install tile?
All of this information will help you in the next steps!
STEP 2: PREP THE SHOWER FOR TILE
This is a very important step to help you create a waterproof shower and avoid disastrous leaks in the future. See more on how I prepped our shower by clicking this link!
STEP 3: PURCHASE MATERIALS AND TOOLS
Now for the fun part: choosing the tiles that you love!!
TIP: Before going to the store, make sure you know the total square feet of tile you need.
Here is the list of supplies I used.
- wall tiles (I used a tile similar to this 4″x16″ white gloss tiles)
- floor tiles (I used a tile similar to this 2″x2″ hexagon marble tiles)
- any detail tiles (I used glass sheets for our niche)
- PVC tile edging (this is to finish corners or ends of tile)
- tile spacers (I used a 1/8″ space)
- mortar (I had to use this special kind for the Schluter Kerdi System)
- grout (I used Mapei Unsanded Grout in Silver)
- grout liquid (optional but will help the grout to not stain over time)
- 6″ threshold marble (optional can use tile but I wanted no grout lines)
- grout caulk (the grout company will make this to match the grout color)
- a cardboard box or thick paper to fit the shower floor
- tile sponge
- microfiber cloth
- garden gloves (optional – I like using this type of glove when working on projects)
- grout and tile sealer
- tile saw (one that can cut at an angle is amazing)
- trowel (the size will depend on your tile size)
- PVC cutter for trim
- grout float
- paddle drill mixer
- (2) 5-gallon buckets
- One 2-gallon bucket
- step stool (this is the one I used and I don’t know why I didn’t buy it sooner)
- safety glasses
- face mask (for dust)
- ear protection
We bought a lot of our supplies from a local Floor and Decor store but you can also find them at Home Depot & Lowes.
STEP 4: INSTALLING THE TILES
TIP: This step could take at least a week but maybe more (depending on the time you have and size of the shower).
CREATE A TILE LAYOUT
Before you can start cutting any tiles you need to plan out the layout of your wall tiles.
TIP: You want to avoid small cuts (I did not want a tile smaller than 2″ for an end) so use this time to plan your layout carefully. Also, use spacers so you know the exact measurement!
INSTALL THE TILE FLOOR
Next was installing the tile floor. This can be installed a little later if you use a scrap wood board to level the tiles but I did not. Young House Love has a great article sharing how to use a scrap wood board to level the tiles.
Also, I installed the niche tile (now I wish I would have used the same tiles as the floor but it still looks good).
SIDE NOTE: I share more information on how to install the tiles below.
I also installed the Kerdi drain.
After installing, clean off the excess mortar with the sponge and let everything dry for 24 hours before stepping on the tiles.
INSTALL THE WALL TILES
Before starting, cut a cardboard box or heavy paper to fit the shower floor (you will want a 1/2″ gap on all sides). This will help to keep unwanted mortar off the floor tiles.
Next, we need to level the tiles. The first row of tiles on the wall that meet the floor needs to be cut because you cannot guarantee the floor is level. You can use a board to level the second row of tile.
SIDE NOTE: You have to screw the wood board to the wall, which will affect your waterproofing, so make sure to fix that before installing any tiles.
You can create a level line on the wall for where the top of the first tile would be. I did not want to adjust my waterproofing system so I decided to do it this way. Then, I cut each tile to fit within the space below the level line to the floor, minus the spacer size. For example: if your measurement from the floor to the level line was 3″, I would subtract 1/8″ (my spacer size), giving me 2-7/8″ for my tile size.
TIP: Measure both ends of where a tile should be because they could be different, meaning you need an angle cut (which is not as hard as it seems).
Once all the bottom tiles are cut, you can start installing your tiles.
Here are the basics of installing tiles on a shower wall:
- Mix your mortar according to its instructions – the paddle mixer helps!
- TIP: Only mix a little at a time because you want only enough mortar for about 20 minutes; less is better in this case!
- Trowel the mortar onto the wall. I am using a 1/4″x1/4″ for my 4″x16″ tiles; be sure you are using the correct trowel for your tile.
- Install a tile with spacers. Test how your mortar is covering the tile by removing it and checking the coverage on the tile back; it should completely cover the back of the tile.
- TIP: Do most of your tile cuts before mixing the mortar for the section. This will save you time and prevent the mortar from hardening in the bucket.
- After installing your first batch of mortar, wipe the tiles with a damp sponge and clean between the tiles if needed (this will save time later).
- SIDE NOTE: You will notice that I am messy when tiling, in other words, my tiles are not the cleanest. Luckily, they did clean up nicely later.
- Move to your next mortar batch and install more tiles.
SIDE NOTE: I used the 6″ marble threshold across the shower curb. This was installed in the same way as the tile. Make sure to slope it slightly toward the shower so the water does not collect on the tile but runs towards the drain.
FOR AROUND THE FAUCET
You can use a tile saw to cut tile around a faucet by marking the tile where it needs to be cut. Then, cut lots of straight lines to the markings and break those cuts away from the tile. Tilt the saw blade up to help!
You can also purchase a diamond drill bit hole to cut through the tile.
FOR PVC TILE EDGING
STEP 5: GROUTING THE TILES
After all the tiles have been installed, let them dry for at least 24 hours (you don’t want your tiles moving and not adhering to the wall because you touched them). Once the mortar has dried, it’s time for grout. Grouting is actually my favorite part of tiling because I find it soothing.
TIP: If you’re not sure about sanded or unsanded grout, consider this: if you have a space of 1/8″ or less, use unsanded grout so the sand does not scratch the tiles you are using.
BEFORE adding any grout, clean the spacing out around your tiles to remove any mortar. You can use a flat head screwdriver, razor knife, or a grout remover tool.
- Mix the grout according to the brand instructions; use the paddle mixer to mix the grout. Again only mix a small amount.
- TIP: Use the grout liquid to help the grout from staining over time.
- Apply the grout to the gaps. This is done by using a grout float at a 45-degree angle. This helps the grout get into the grooves plus it helps to remove the extra grout.
- Using a damp sponge, wipe the tiles to remove the extra grout. You will have two water buckets: one to wash the dirty sponge and the other has clean water to clean the tiles.
MAJOR TIP: When you start applying the grout, apply to an area for 15-20 minutes. Then stop and clean the first half of the area with a damp sponge (remember the two buckets). After washing the first half of the tiles, apply more grout but only for 10 minutes. Then, go back and wash the rest of the first tiles. Once those are washed, apply more grout (again only 10 minutes). Then, wash the tiles that were grouted during the last 10 minutes. Continue this process until you need to either create more grout or you have finished grouting.
WHY I RECOMMEND GROUTING THIS WAY
After applying grout, it needs to sit for about 15 minutes before cleaning (see your brand for instructions on the exact time). But please learn from my experience and DO NOT apply more grout then you can clean in 5 minutes.
If it takes more time then 10 minutes, the grout starts to harden and becomes very VERY hard to clean.
I found that applying the grout as I explained above was the easiest way to keep the project moving smoothly.
TIP: I used a timer when applying the grout to make sure I did not apply too much at one time.
Once all the grout is installed and cleaned, let it sit for at least 24 hours. You may notice after letting it dry that there is a haze on the tiles. Take a dry microfiber cloth and wipe the tiles. This will remove the haze (you might have to go over the tiles a couple of times).
STEP 6: SEALING THE TILES AND GROUT
I recommend that you seal the tiles and grout with a sealer. This will help protect both the tile and grout. Apply according to the package instructions.
Another thing I would recommend is caulking all the corners and edge of the shower, use a caulk that is the same brand and color as your grout. Use painters tape to give you two straight lines and apply the caulk between the two.
These extra steps will help seal your shower so you don’t have to worry!
STEP 7: FINISHING TOUCHES
Now it’s time to install the shower faucet and the shower door/curtain. We decided on a glass door but we had a professional company install the glass.
And that was my experience tiling a shower for the first time. I hope that this will motivate you to tile your shower too!