How to Tile a Shower Like a Pro

Transforming your bathroom into a serene oasis often begins with the shower. There’s value in learning how to tile a shower, as bathroom tile is an opportunity to make a bold statement, showcase your personality, and make a longtime investment thanks the level of difficulty to remove or replace. As a key visual and structural component to any shower, tiling is important to get right the first time. And even though it can be a daunting DIY project for any homeowner, few projects have a higher rate of return on investment than a bathroom remodel. So if your bathroom needs to go from drab to decadent on a budget, keep reading for a step-by-step guide on how to tile your shower yourself with a complete list of materials, tools, and hacks to make the endeavor as easy as possible.

Few things add as much personality to a space as bathroom tile.
Few things add as much personality to a space as bathroom tile.
Design: Tami Ramsay of [CLOTH & KIND]({: target="_blank"} Photo: Robert Peterson

Is it hard to tile a shower yourself?

Regardless of whether you’ve got a number of DIY projects under your belt or if you’re embarking on your first home improvement venture, tiling a shower wall can seem like a difficult project to get right. According to Sarah Snouffer from DC-based Third Street Architecture, “Tiling a shower takes patience and attention to detail that can feel overwhelming to the novice. This is both coming from my experience as an architect and tiling my own showers. That being said, there are things that can be done to set you up for success.” These things include tile selection, plumbing placement, and proper waterproofing. It’s important to have your shower wall and shower pan inspected for proper waterproofing, given the risk for leaks and damage if done incorrectly.

How long does it take to tile a shower?

This depends on your level of familiarity with tilework, the size of the space, and how complex the tile design is. Typically, you can expect to spend around three to four full days tiling a shower that has a tub and closer to a full week for larger spaces that require tiling the shower floor. This can go faster if you work with a friend and don’t move any structural or plumbing components.

Where do you start?

When approaching tiling a shower, it can seem overwhelming to know where to start. According to Snouffer, there are three critical foundations to help with the ease of the project. She says, “First is the tile selection. To make it easy, avoid mosaic tile or very large tile on the walls. Mosaic tiles slide down the wall easily when installing and large tiles require temporary supports while the mortar dries. The easiest wall tile to install is within 3" to 14", either height or width. Secondly, make sure to select the plumbing and the placement prior to any installation. Work with your plumber to make sure your plumbing features will align with the tile grout lines. Full tiles should be at the ceiling to avoid small, odd-looking tile slivers; work your way down to determine the location of the plumbing fixture placement. Finally, [you need] proper waterproofing—without this you’ll be removing your hard work and dealing with moisture and potential mold issues.”

Plan ahead to save yourself time and money.
Plan ahead to save yourself time and money.
Design: Tami Ramsay of [CLOTH & KIND]({: target="_blank"} Photo: Robert Peterson

DIY Skill Level: Advanced

Time Required: Approximately three to seven days, depending on size and complexity

Tools & Materials Needed:

  1. Tile backer

  2. Thin-set mortar

  3. Grout (unsanded or sanded)

  4. Tile and spacers

  5. Grout spacers

  6. Tile edging material

  7. Waterproofing membrane (Schluter Kerdi is the most DIY-friendly)

  8. Heavy duty gloves

  9. Prybar

  10. Tile saw or cutter with safety equipment

  11. Bucket

  12. Mixer and drill

  13. Caulk and caulk gun

  14. Tape measure

  15. Laser level

  16. Drop cloth

  17. Tile trowel

  18. Grout float

  19. Hammer

Demo and Stage First

  1. Set up a staging area outside of your bathroom with all of your materials. After this, protect the existing bathroom floor by putting down cardboard or taping down some tarps. Your staging area should also be large enough for you to easily put aside any debris you’ll want to get rid of at the end of the day.

  2. Take down your existing shower hardware. If you’re going to reuse them in your new shower, take care to wrap them in towels and put them away. Leave your shower pan in place, if possible.

  3. Remove your existing shower tile in small sections using the prybar and hammer. Take care to wear gloves and avoid damaging any structural components of your wall. You’ll want to remove everything (existing backer board too) down to the studs.

  4. Patch up any parts of the wall that may have worn down with age. This means making sure there’s no mold or mildew and that the studs are still in good condition. If you need to, remove any remnants of drywall to prep for cement backer board.

Tip: If you encounter a metal mesh layer behind your backer board, cut it away with wire cutters. Now is also the time you would want to bring in a professional electrician or plumber to reroute or do any major structural changes.

Prep the walls

Wall tiling in process
Wall tiling in process
Photo: Evelyn Pierce Smith
  1. Install a vapor barrier before mounting your cement backer board. You’ll have to cut your backer board to fit the shower walls and be mindful to cut out holes for where you’ll install your fixtures. You can mount each backer board panel to the studs with drywall screws and plan to leave a 1/8-inch gap between each panel to seal with silicone caulk and around 1/4-inch between the bottom of the boards and the floor/tub to seal with caulk as well.

  2. Make sure there are no gaps between the backer board and the edge of your tub or floor; this means filling any gaps with caulk. You should reinforce each corner of the backer board panels with fiberglass mesh tape. You can staple the mesh in place before applying thin-set mortar over it.

  3. You can also apply waterproofing and crack-prevention paint now over the entire surface that will get tiled. Be sure to do two coats as one serves for crack protection, and make sure to let the paint dry completely between coats.

Tip: If you’re looking for an alternative to cement backer board, you can use tile membrane. It’s typically less labor-intensive to install since it’s lighter, easier to cut, and requires fewer tools.

Start Tiling

The tiling begins.
The tiling begins.
Photo: Evelyn Pierce Smith
  1. Hopefully you’ve got your tile design finalized. If not, now is the time to measure and sketch out a layout of how you’re going to place your tile. If you’re still looking for inspiration, check out these showers or consider hexagonal tile. According to Tami Ramsay of Cloth & Kind, “Picking out tile can be overwhelming given all the options on the market. When faced with space limitations, you can go a long way with using a classic one-inch hexagon tile, which can be high on impact but low on price. Though you can select two color tile patterns already designed to lay out in square-foot pieces, you can also manipulate those tiles by popping out individual hexagons to make the pattern work with your specific space.”

  2. After finalizing your design, mark your grout lines on the wall so you know exactly where and how to lay your tile. This is also a good opportunity to make sure you don’t need to cut a number of little pieces of tile to fill out the space vertically or horizontally.

  3. Follow your tile manufacturer’s instructions to mix together your thin-set mortar and use a trowel to lay the mortar and texturize it before placing the tile. You can also use a premixed mortar if you’d like; they are just as good as mixing it yourself. Just be mindful to not mix too much at once or let it dry out. Only use it in small batches as you tile each row.

  4. Lightly dampen your backer board with a sponge or rag. Place your first row of tile (ideally starting with the back wall), but be sure to use tile spacers to make sure the space between each tile is consistent and wiggle each one into place and firmly lodge them into the mortar. Let the first row dry overnight so they can serve as support for the next rows.

  5. The last bit of your tiling work should be installing the pieces around your fixtures. Cut as needed to install.

  6. Let the thin-set mortar dry for 24 hours; afterward, remove all of the tile spacers and get ready to grout

Tip: Make sure you have at least 10–15% more tile than you’ve measured, so you can easily correct mistakes and errors


  1. Check your tile manufacturer’s recommendations on grout. You can purchase your desired color.

  2. Apply the grout in small sections and be sure to work it into each joint. You can wipe away any excess with a damp sponge. Let the grout dry and remove any excess from the tiles.

  3. Once the grout has set, use a sealant to preserve its longevity, and then wrap up your tiling project by using silicone caulk on the corners and joints of the shower.

Grout is the last but most important step.
Grout is the last but most important step.
Photo: Evelyn Pierce Smith

Other FAQs

What are some common mistakes to avoid when tiling a shower?

Before embarking on the first row of tile, there are a few things to keep in mind. According to Snouffer, it’s important to take the time to plan and research the process. She says, “There will always be things that happen during the process that require a pause and maybe creative thinking—as any experienced DIY’er knows. Planning and making sure the foundation of surface is level, the proper tile back is there, and waterproofing is in place will make the actual tile installation much, much easier.” Other common mistakes to avoid, according to designer Evelyn Pierce Smith, include using glass tile (since it’s the hardest to install) and not prepping the area well. Smith says, “Make sure your surface is completely level and smooth before starting to tile.” She also adds, “Make sure the basin of the shower holds water before starting to tile.”

What is the correct order to tile a shower?

With any DIY project, it’s important to start out with design selections and planning. After that, according to Snouffer, it’s best to go: plumber valves, drains and tubs, tile backer, shower pan or tub, waterproofing, installing tile and edging with mortar/thin-set, grouting, caulking, plumbing, and then installing finished fixtures like shower heads, controls, and trim plates.

What are some pro tips or hacks for tiling a shower?

Unfortunately, there’s no hack that will allow you to skip the tough or tedious parts of this tiling project. So before laying your first tile, the most critical step is getting the foundation for the tiled area ready. According to Snouffer, “Make sure the tile backer is level-pad or adjust the framing as needed to make this happen. The waterproof membrane should not have any folds or uneven surfaces. Play with the dry fit of the tiles to have a game plan of how to start. And lastly, take your time—installing tile itself is not the difficult part but it does take attention to detail.”

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

More Great Stories From AD It Yourself