Project Guide

How to Tile a Shower Wall

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Strip the Shower
A person removing old tile from a shower wall.

The first step of understanding how to tile a shower is preparing your work area. 

  • Remove all shower accessories and hardware. Leave the shower pan in place if possible, covering it with a blanket or towel to prevent damage.
  • Wear heavy-duty work gloves and remove the tile and backer board down to the studs. If needed, use a hammer, chisel and a prybar. Use wire cutters if you find a metal mesh layer behind the backer board.
  • Remove the wall in small sections to prevent injury or accidental damage.
  • Remove the demo debris and use a shop vac to clean up the remaining tile and mortar dust.
Prep the Wall
Cutting space in backer board for shower fixtures.
  • Install a 4-mil plastic vapor barrier according to manufacturer instructions just above the shower pan before installing the cement backer board.
  • Measure your panels of cement backer board to fit the shower walls on each side. Put on mask and ear protection and, as needed, mark and cut a panel to fit using an angle grinder. Smooth the cut edge.
  • Begin with the length of the shower. Screw each panel to the studs using 1 1/4-inch cement board drywall screws. Install screws every 4 inches along seams and every 6 inches along non-seams, leaving a 1/8-inch gap between each of the panels. Continue on to the rear width of the shower stall.
  • Be sure the cement board is flush with the tile lip of the base. If needed, nail composite shims to the studs behind the board to ensure the fit.
  • At the front width of the shower stall, use a hole saw to cut out the spaces in the backer board where the new fixtures will be installed, then attach to the studs.
  • Seal the gap between the panels with 100 percent silicone tile caulk.
  • Apply a strip of fiberglass mesh tape over each seam and in the corners. Staple into place, then apply a coating of thin-set mortar over all the mesh tape. Keep the application as flat and even as possible to prevent buildup.
  • There will likely be a gap between the wallboard and the edge of the cement backer. Apply seam tape and thin-set mortar to seal the gap. There should be no visible gap between the two.
  • Apply two coats of water-proofing membrane paint over the entire surface you intend to tile, allowing the paint to dry between coats.
  • Fill in any small gaps with a second application of silicone caulk.
Align the Starting Point
A person measuring a shower stall.
  • Begin the bathroom tile installation with the second row up from the bottom. If the shower base is uneven, tiles will have to be cut to fit the last row.
  • Draw a leveled line where the bottom of the second row will fall.
  • Attach a straight board to the backer board along the line. This will provide a straight edge for the tile to follow and help support it while it dries.
Mix Thin-Set Mortar
A person mixing thinset mortar to tile a shower.
  • Mix Thin-Set mortar according to directions.
  • Use a drill with a paddle bit attachment to mix the mortar in a bucket. Allow to set for seven minutes, then mix again. The final mixture should be the consistency of peanut butter.
  • Save time by using pre-mixed Thin-Set mortar. Remove a small amount at a time and reseal the container.
  • Only mix or remove enough Thin-Set for each row you are tiling. Do not let the Thin-Set dry out before it is applied or the hold won’t be strong enough for the tile.
Complete a Tile Row
A person completing a tile row in a shower.
  • Run a damp sponge over the backer board in the area you intend to tile.
  • Spread Thin-Set along the first section of your tile row.
  • Turn over the trowel to the notched side and comb over in one direction.
  • Use a small amount of the excess mortar and spread it onto the back of a tile with the notched side of the trowel. If using small tiles, you can skip this step.
  • Press the tile into the mortar gently but firmly, aligned along your board guide. Wiggle it gently to help it settle into the mortar.
  • Insert a tile spacer then repeat the process to add the next piece of tile.
  • Continue adding tiles to the row until it is complete. When you come to the corner, mark and cut the tile to fit in to the final space.
  • Allow the first row to dry and cure overnight. Ths will help anchor the subsequent rows.
Complete Tile
A person using a tile saw while tiling a shower.
  • Start a new row above the first row and continue setting tile as instructed. Cut as needed with tile snips or a wet saw to allow tile pieces a better fit around shower faucets and shower heads.
  • Periodically check the tile line with a level to be sure they are straight.
  • For exposed edges, set edge trim or bullnose tile pieces in place.
  • Once only the bottom row is remaining, remove the support board.
  • Measure and cut tile pieces to fit the bottom row. Avoid having the bottom of the tile flush with the bottom edge of the cement board. Leave about a half inch of overlap on each tile.
Grout Tile
A person applying grout for shower tile installation.
  • Once the bathroom tile has set and cured for 24 hours, remove the tile spacers.
  • Mix up your desired grout color according to manufacturer directions.
  • Using a runner float, apply grout in small areas at a time. Drag the float diagonally to work the compound into the joints.
  • Let the compound dry for 10 minutes then wipe away excess with a damp sponge, being careful not to wipe it out of the joints.
  • Complete the grout, working upward in small sections.
  • Allow the grout to dry then remove the haze from the tiles with a haze remover.
  • After three days, seal the grout and then add silicone caulk to the corners, edges and floor joints of the shower.

Tip: Considering adding a new glass shower door to show-off your new shower tile.

Once you have acquired the skills to tile a shower, upgrade your kitchen backsplash or install new kitchen floor tiles. Whether you need tile or tools, The Home Depot delivers online orders when and where you need them.  Of course, you can save yourself the time and effort of doing the project yourself. Hire one of our pros for your next tile installation project.