19 Things You Need to Know about Shower Tile Installation (Pro Tips)
In this post I’ll show you how to plan, cut and install your shower wall tile and shower floor tile more efficiently and effectively than most professionals.
Included are 19 solid shower tile installation strategies I have learned over the years to increase my tiling efficiency and quality.
I include everything from mixing thin set mortar and installing your tile & trim, to installing levelling clips, and grouting.
Shall we begin?
First Install Tile Trim
Tile edge trim installation is always my first step before installing wall tiles.
I suggest that you NEVER attempt to wedge the trim under the vertical leading edge of your wall tiles while you are installing them. There are so many things that can go sideways with this strategy if you don’t have a lot of experience setting tile.
Instead, you should determine the distance (horizontally from your tub or shower pan edge) where you would like your wall tiles to extend. This is where you will mount your tile edging.
I would suggest that you try to place your edge trims in a position that will allow you to lay one complete horizontal row of tiles with no tile cuts, if possible.
Now draw a vertical pencil line on both sides of your shower enclosure to trace where you’ve chosen to mount your trims.
Then simply glue them in place using a tiny amount of polyurethane adhesive every 6″ or so along the trim.
Further secure the trim to the wall with 6-8 wafer head screws to allow the trims to follow the undulations in the wall (as long as they are not too severe). The screws are removed the next day when the adhesive dries.
For a more detailed account of this procedure, refer to my post on Tile Edge Trim – How to Choose It and Install It (Updated).
Sort & Pre Cut Shower Tile
I always prefer to cut, install and grout the shower base tiles before cutting the wall tiles. Having a finished floor surface makes it easier to cut the bottom row of wall tiles, which is the most difficult and the most important row.
Compared to the shower walls, the shower base is a fair bit easier to cut and install because it’s horizontal, the area is usually much smaller than the walls, the tile size is often smaller so levelling clips aren’t needed, and the perimeter tile cuts don’t need to be very accurate.
As such, the sections below are focussed mainly on sorting and cutting wall tile, but they do apply to the shower base tiles as well.
Rest assured that shower base tile installation techniques are the first I will cover in the Tile Installation section later in the post.
Sorting Tile is Important
If your wall tiles are anything like the ones I installed on this job (see image), you’ll need to sort through them to ensure that you don’t mount two identical tiles next to each other. It is an easy mistake to make when you are focussed on installation.
Whether or not there is a repeating pattern in your tiles, it is always a good idea to sort through and number each tile in the sequence they will be installing in.
I know this sounds laborious and it most certainly is, but I wouldn’t start any tiling job without numbering all my precut tiles. These will become the base tiles for every shower wall.
Shower Back Wall First
After the shower base tiles are installed, the first step is to cut and install the large back wall tiles first (more on tiling strategy later). This will make it easier to match the grout lines on each of the two side walls when it comes to cutting and installing those tiles.
The back shower wall is also the largest, and you want as little work (and worry) as possible on this wall. It will after all, be the most important focal point of all your tile work.
Shower Back Wall Tile Cutting
When installing these all important back wall tiles, the bottom rows must be solid and straight, if you want all the rest of your rows to line up.
That means that cutting and dry fitting at least the first couple of rows is super important before you start laying your tile. This will sometimes require a creative use of shims against the shower base to get this row just right, since most shower bases will not be perfectly flat or straight along this edge.
You won’t regret spending some extra time on this because the spacing, levelling and alignment of all the rest of your tile work on the shower wall surround will depend on this.
You will always be better off and have a less stressful tile installation experience if you pre cut as many rows as you can before you start laying tile on this wall. Personally, I try to cut all the rows to length before mixing any mortar.
The back wall tiles are much easier and less stressful that the side walls because the edges will always be covered by the side wall tiles.
For this reason you can get away with cutting the third and higher rows on the fly if you absolutely refuse to cut all the tiles beforehand 🙁
However, I really don’t think it’s ever wise to cut any of the side wall tiles on the fly.
Shower Side Wall Tile Cutting
The shower side wall tiles should only be cut after the back wall tile has already been installed.
The installation of the shower back wall tiles is important at this stage in order to precut the shower side walls tiles accurately. As such, tile cutting must be approached in a slightly different manner than the back wall.
You will be making finished tile cuts on the corner tile of every second row (assuming you have a staggered tile pattern). That means that these cuts must be ACCURATE and SMOOTH.
But there’s no reason for stress……
Because your tile trim and the back wall tile will already be installed, all of these rows will be easy to measure and cut to length.
Accurate Tile Measurements Are Critical
To do this, all you need is a 2′ – 3′ spirit level and pencil/ Sharpie to draw horizontal lines on these walls, lining up with the grout lines on the back wall tiles.
Then simply measure horizontally along the lines you just drew, to calculate the measurements for the last tile cut (don’t forget the grout lines).
I suggest measuring both the top and bottom of each row so you can confirm whether a 90 degree cut is appropriate for the last tile cut. Remember that these cuts will be visible so if the back wall tile is not plumb, you may have to adjust the angle of your corner tile cut to compensate.
And for those of you that are not comfortable with all those measurements and calculations ( like me! ), you can always hold a tile up against the wall and against the tile edge trim piece. Holding a spacer against the opposite vertical tile edge will allow you to mark out every tile in that row.
Your tiles need to be measured and cut accurately for sure..…. but not perfect. Make it easy on yourself and cut an additional 1/16″ off the corner tile to account for any mortar stuck between the vertical spacers, and errors in your cut. As long as you don’t cut your tile too long, you can adjust the vertical grout lines in that row to adjust for a slightly large corner gap.
And because you have marked all your rows, you can always hold up each row of tile after cutting, to check your tile sizes, and how accurate and clean your cut is. This is highly recommended, especially for novice tilers.
Corner and Ceiling Joints
Corner Grout Line?
It is totally up to you if you want to leave enough space for a grout line in the corner, but I would suggest you do not. I think it looks better without one, and remember that the corner should also have a silicon bead regardless.
I think that the corner silicon bead in your shower is always a good idea and it has become a standard in the industry, so you might as well use it to your advantage. You can find many colors of silicon out there and there is no shame in using this bead to cover up some of your imperfections. Professionals do it all the time. 🙂
If you choose to include a grout line in the corner, I must tell you that this is a VERY difficult line to grout flawlessly, and it’s very time consuming compared to the rest of the grouting. Also…. you could easily end up with voids in your grout work that must be fixed.
You should also keep in mind that this grout line will not likely look perfect no matter how skilled you are at cutting those corner tiles. Trust me, it will look way better if you cut them as tight to the corner as possible.
What About the Top Row?
Now you’re wondering…. What about the top row? Don’t these corner tiles on ceiling need to be ripped so the last tile row can be installed?
The answer is no….… not right away anyways. I recommend that you cut all the tiles to length before you start tiling, including the top row. You can rip this last row to width when you get there.
Pre Bond Your Ceramic Tile
Like I mentioned earlier in the Choosing Your Shower Tile post, it would be best if you pre bonded your ceramic tile before installation. Pre bonding is partially sealing the back of the tile so it does not absorb as much water out of the mortar.
The way I do this is with a 1 to 5 mixture of Weldbond to water. I usually get a large bottle with a screw lid, pour in water and Weldbond, seal the lid and shake vigorously for a couple of minutes.
Get a small sponge roller and tray and roll the mixture onto the back of every single tile you will be using in your project. You can set the tiles immediately after bonding if you like, but it actually works better if you leave the tiles to dry overnight before installing them.
A great test to see how well this works is to apply some mortar to a test piece of backer board and lay one tile with the bonding agent applied, and one that has not been bonded. Wait about 15- 20 seconds and then simply remove the tile from the backer board to see what I mean.
A dry flakey, poorly hydrated layer of mortar will remain on the back of the unbonded tile. In contrast, the mortar on the bonded tile will be adhering extremely well to the back of the tile and the substrate. It will also appear smooth and well hydrated on both surfaces.
Cutting Holes in Porcelain Tile
As I mentioned in the tiling tools post, diamond studded hole saw bits are the best tools when cutting all the smaller holes into porcelain or ceramic tile. But this technique can be a bit tricky and it requires a bit of skill, so pay attention!
Mounting these bits on a regular hand drill and using it to cut holes in tile is not a great idea in general, especially if you’ve never done it before.
Most hand drill spins too slowly and your hand is too far away from the cutting blade to have any decent control. This instability can cause the bit to skip out and ruin the surface of the tile you are cutting.
Angle grinders can cut much faster and are much more comfortable to operate with these diamond tile cutting hole saw bits.
Hole Cutting Technique
If you want to cut efficiently, make sure that you irrigate the ar