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Shower Tile Installation Tips & Tricks

Installing shower tile isn’t for the faint of heart. This home improvement project will guide you through the three main steps of shower tile installation, including waterproofing a shower, installing tile, and grouting and caulking.

Thank you to DAP for sponsoring this shower tile installation post! All opinions are entirely my own. This post also contains affiliate links, but nothing that I wouldn’t recommend wholeheartedly. Read my full disclosure here.

Last week we talked all about how to tile a floor and now we’re back with more lessons from our bathroom renovation. We’re still talking about tile today, but this time it’s all about shower tile installation.

Man installing shower wall tile and leveling the bottom row with text overlay that says shower tile tips & tricks

There are three main steps to shower tile installation:

  1. Waterproofing the shower
  2. Installing the tile
  3. Grouting and caulking

Fair warning: This DIY project is not for the faint of heart!

Although shower tile installation is a rather labor intensive project, you can definitely save a TON of money by doing this yourself. Do your research and make sure you understand the in’s and out’s of the entire process.

As with any project, count on several trips to a home improvement store throughout the process. 

To get you started, here are the tools we used for this project:

Now that we have the tools, let’s get started!

Shower bath combo with white subway tile and corner of shower shelf showing with text overlay that says how to waterproof a bath tub

Part 1. Waterproofing the Shower

Before installing tile, you definitely want to be sure your shower is waterproofed. 

Contrary to popular belief, grout and tile alone is not waterproof. In fact, they are extremely porous surfaces that will absorb moisture and water. If you do not waterproof your shower, you could end up with a dangerously moldy bathroom that needs another renovation!

To waterproof our shower, we stapled a visqueen barrier directly onto the studs underneath the cement backer board. This protects the interior wall if water were to somehow seep behind the tile, thin set mortar, and the backer board.

We stress here….somehow. Again, if your shower tile is installed correctly, it’s very unlikely that water is going to get back there. However, it could cause a world of issues if it does, so you want to be sure you create a waterproof barrier…ya know, just in case. 

As an additional safety net, you can also add DAP Silicone Max over the screws on the backer board. This helps waterproof where the cement board was compromised.

Attaching visqueen barrier to shower under cement backer board to waterproof a shower

What do you put behind tile in a shower?

A cement backer board serves as a base layer to go behind the shower tile. It has no organic materials; therefore, it is not prone to mold, rot, shrinkage, or decomposition due to moisture. Tile can be directly applied to the backerboard for a durable and stable structure.

When installing tile, you need a backer that is going to accept the thinset mortar, which is how your tile will adhere to the wall. 

This great article from Floor Elf mentions that although cement backer board is not “waterproof” per se, it is “dimensionally stable when wet” – aka it won’t swell up. Cement backer board also provides a great surface for the thinset mortar to grab on to because it has a mesh mat.

You may be wondering if you can just use greenboard when doing shower tile installation. Spruce.com does an awesome job explaining just what “greenboard” is here. You’ll find that, although greenboard is ok for damp areas, it’s NOT a good idea to use it on shower walls that are subjected to a ton of water.

How do you attach the concrete backer board?

After you get your visqueen barrier stapled to the studs, you can attach the cement board using cement board screws where the studs are located and space them out every 6-8 inches. Start your first cement board screw within 1/2” – 2 1/2” from the edge of the backer board (per manufacturer instructions on the Wonderboard we used).

Man drilling screws into cement backer board in shower before doing shower tile installation

Like I mentioned earlier, if you want to waterproof a shower – you can then go over the areas that you added the cement board screws with a dab of DAP Silicone Max.

How do you waterproof cement board in a shower?

Cement panels of wonderboard installed in shower and bonded together at the seams with thinset and mesh tape

Make sure all of the corners and seams of the cement board in the shower are covered with cement board tape, then cover with thinset mortar using the flat side of your trowel. 

This is a good way to bond the two boards together so there is a stable back behind the tile. You don’t want those boards shifting at all once your tile is set, which could lead to cracking.

Seams of cement backer board when doing shower tile installation

Part 2. Installing the Shower Tile

Bucket of thinset mortar sitting in a bathtub with a trowel sitting on it while white subway tile gets installed on shower walls

When selecting shower tiles (if you need some good modern farmhouse tile ideas, you’ll love this post), keep in mind that the smaller the tile is — the more time consuming the job. The shower tile size correlates directly with how intense your installation process will be.

Much to my Logans dismay – I love the look of classic white 3×6 subway tile. So, we had a big job ahead of us.

If you have your heart set on a smaller sized tile look, consider purchasing the tile in mosaics – which means that they will be grouped together on a mat, which makes it a little faster to install. 

You can see that our floor tile in this post was a mosaic.

Man installing subway tile walls in shower and holding a level on top making sure it is level

Tips for Tile Installation:

Possibly one of the most important parts of your shower tile installation is making sure things are nice and level.

If you’re installing tile above a bathtub, like we were, you also need to make sure your bathtub is perfectly level. Lastly, be sure that the walls are square.

The bottom row of tile needs to be perfectly level, take your time on this one.

Continue working way up the shower with the tile.

Black shower niche shelf getting installed in shower with black and white cement tiles on back and white subway tiles around.
Modern farmhouse shower niche to hold shampoo bottles with black and white decorative tile on back and white subway tile shower walls

I think my favorite part of the entire bathroom so far is our cute little shower niche. The cement tile on the back of the shower niche adds so much character, don’t you think!?


Part 3. Grouting and caulking

After your shower tile has been installed, wait 24 hours to be sure everything is perfectly dry, and then it’s time to grout. 

How to grout tile

Grouting tile is really pretty easy. Just spread it over the tile and push the grout down using a rubber float held at 45 degrees so it gets in all of the gaps in between the tiles. Then, wipe clean with a slightly damp sponge.

Man spreading gray grout over white subway tile in shower with rubber float

Pro Tip: Be sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions for how long you should let the grout set before wiping with a wet sponge.

How long do you wait to wipe off grout?

We thought 10-20 minutes would be fine and we could come back and wipe it off (just like we had done on our tile floors last week), but NO CAN DO. This stuff had hardened by the time we got back to wiping it off.

We ended up having to come back and scrape the grout of the tiles later and it was a super tedious process (about 3.5 hours of both of us working on it), so be mindful of drying times.

Man's hand using grout scraper tool to clean grout lines on white subway tile

To get rid of the hardened grout, Logan used this handy grout removal tool to scrape the hardened grout off of the tile and clean up the grout lines, while I used a razor blade.

Scraping gray grout off of tile with a razor blade

At this point, you want to take a look at your grout lines and make sure they are nice and clean. 

Fix anything as necessary, then wait at least 2 hours to wash the grout haze off of the tile with a grout haze cleaner. Distilled white vinegar mixed with water works well, too. Roughly mix 3 parts water with 1 part vinegar.

After the grout is complete, it’s time to move on to caulking – the final piece of the project.

How do you caulk around a shower?

Bottle of shower caulk sitting on the corner of bathtub with white subway tile in the background and text overlay that says how to caulk a shower
Bottle of rubbing alcohol sitting on the edge of bathtub prior to adding shower caulk
  • Make sure the area you’re going to seal is clean and dry. We recommend applying rubbing alcohol to the seam to remove any residue.
Painters tape edges before adding shower caulk
  • It’s a good idea to add painter’s tape to both sides of the seam before adding the shower caulk. This will give you nice crisp lines.
  • Cut the nozzle of the Kwik Seal Ultra caulk at a 45 degree angle and load into your caulk gun.
Dap Kwik Seal Ultra getting added in a shower where the bath tub meets the shower wall tile
  • Hold the caulk gun at a 45 degree angle to the joint and gently squeeze the trigger with steady pressure to apply an even and consistent bead of sealant.
  • Move the caulk gun slowly and steadily, filling the joint with sealant.
  • Immediately after adding the caulk, smooth the bead of shower caulk with your finger slightly wet or you can grab a caulk finishing tool.
  • Be sure to remove the tape while the shower caulk is still wet.
Corner view of shower bath tub showing shower caulk lines

Where do you add shower caulk?

When adding shower caulk, be sure to get any joints or corners. Where the bathtub meets the tile wall, where the bathtub meets the tile flooring, all corners, ceiling and in all corners of a shower niche.

Corner of shower with white subway tile and gray grout on the walls and you can see shower niche corner
View of where marble floor tile meets the bathtub filled with white caulk to waterproof a shower
Close up shot of caulk line where the bathtub meets the subway tile wall
Bottle of DAP Kwik Seal Ultra sitting in the corner of a bathtub / shower

As you can see, shower tile installation is a pretty labor intensive home improvement project. Understanding the whole process of shower tile installation will leave you with a beautiful bathroom to be proud of!


Ready for our modern farmhouse bathroom renovation update of the week??

First of all, let me remind you that we’re sharing the renovation as part of the One Room Challenge, which is a bi-annual event where hundreds of bloggers join together to renovate one room in their home and share about it over 6 weeks. Be sure to check out all of the rooms getting renovated here.

If you’re just joining us, be sure to go catch up on all of our One Room Challenge posts:

Well, we’re at the finish line of One Room Challenge! I can’t BELIEVE there is only one more week left. We are down to the wire and every day counts at this point. We have a clear plan on how to wrap everything up in time….now we just have to keep our fingers crossed that all goes as planned.

We’ve had a more than a few VERY late nights recently as we have been working on the tile wall above the vanity and the entire shower tile installation. As I mentioned above, the shower niche really slowed us down a bit. And then there was, of course, the great grout drama of 2018.

To do list for the rest of the week is pretty full with installation of the toilet, all accessories, lights, faucets, mirrors….and then he’ll (ya know as Chip would say…) “pass the baton” to me to decorate.

I’ve got high hopes that I’m going to miraculously have time to create some DIY frames and wall art as well…I’ve got the plan in my noggin’, now I just gotta get the supplies and find some time!


Here’s the full to-do list for our modern farmhouse bathroom renovation:

  • Build walls Learn how to build a wall here!
  • Install electrical
  • Rough in plumbing
  • Install exhaust fan/light in water closet
  • Installed insulation
  • Build divider wall for water closet
  • Install pocket door on divider wall Learn how to frame a door in a wall here!
  • Install bathtub drain
  • Hang dry wall
  • Hang wonderboard on walls & lay on floors
  • Texture dry wall
  • Lay tile floors Learn how to tile a floor here!
  • Seal tile floors
  • Grout tile floors
  • Install vanity
  • Install toilet flange
  • Install countertop
  • Tile surround in shower
  • Tile wall behind vanity
  • Install trim & baseboards
  • Paint ceiling
  • Paint walls Learn our favorite interior painting tips here!
  • Install vanity faucets
  • Install toilet
  • Add vanity lights
  • Install bathroom accessories
  • Make DIY wall art (….maybe? If I have time, ha)
  • Hang shelves above toilet
  • Decorate!

Huge thanks to our official sponsors of this renovation!

Dap  |  Avanity  |  The Builder Depot

 

Want more behind the scenes looks at our modern farmhouse renovation?

If you want tons of behind the scenes update on our modern farmhouse bathroom One Room Challenge renovation, the best place for you is my Instagram Stories!! If you want to catch up from the beginning, head over to my Instagram profile and watch here. Be sure to follow our account to see you can see the day to day updates and help us out with decisions like these below…Our IG followers helped us already by giving us feedback on dividing walls for water closets and the floor tile options!

12 thoughts on “Shower Tile Installation Tips & Tricks

  1. Hey Chelsea! Great post! You guys are really rockin the DIY right out of that shower. I’m so impressed. I’m remodeling a bathroom, too…..but I had to hire guys. Boo! Me!! I’m also trying to catch up with your posts that I’ve missed ….and looking so forward to seeing the reveal. Hang in there…. it’s almost Reveal Wednesday!! ~~ Susie from The Chelsea Project

  2. It was a very educational project! I never thought I could do a bathroom, but it turned out better than I expected.
    Thanks so much for your words of encouragement.

  3. Thanks for sharing all these great details! The shower looks amazing! We’re in the middle of a remodel that includes both subway tile (kitchen backsplash) and that cement tile (powder room floor) which is how I’ve stumbled upon your post. I wanted to see if you would share what color grout you used between the subway tile and the cement tile? Any issue with the darker grout staining the cement tile?
    And what size spaces did you use in each case?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi there! We have always used a gray grout for all tile installations (both bathrooms and our kitchen backsplash). I like that there’s a bit of contrast with the gray and that it doesn’t get as dirty as white over time – but also that it’s not super dark, like black, which has a tendency to show any imperfections in the tile or installation. They always stick out like a sore thumb when there is black grout.

      Cement tile can be tricky like you mentioned with sealing/staining. To help, cement tile can be pre-sealed before installing or grouting. Here’s some info about pre sealing: https://www.aventetile.com/pages/benefits-of-pre-sealing-cement-tile

      In our most recent bathroom renovation (seen here: https://www.makingmanzanita.com/modern-bathroom-reveal/) we incorporated a tile that had the exact same pattern as the cement tile in the bathroom shown here but it was actually a porcelain tile not cement so it was a great option.

      For spacers, every type of subway tile that we’ve used in the past had ridges on the edges which prevented the need for spacers and gave us about a 1/16 space just by butting the tiles up against each other. For the cement tile, we used 1/16 spacers I believe.

      Good luck 🙂

      1. Did you use any type of tile “edging” or did you just grout the outside edge around the bullnose? My husband is getting ready to tile a small shower stall and is asking me which I’d prefer. We’re doing 3×6 subway tile with gray grout so it will be very similar. I’d prefer to just have grout I think but is that a pain in the butt to get a nice even line around it?

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