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Shower Tile Installation Tips & Tricks

If you’re going to be doing DIY shower tile installation, you need to read this post. It’s full of tips and tricks of how to tile a shower, including how to waterproof a shower and apply shower caulk!

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

So, you think you wanna tile a shower? Let me tell you, this DIY project is not for the faint of heart. You will be working long hours and late nights. Keep the pizza guy on call and the coffee on tap!

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 shower tile installation and especially how to waterproof a shower – which is probably the most important part.

What we used for our shower tile installation:

Let’s start out by chatting about…

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

How to waterproof a shower?

During your shower tile installation, you definitely want to be sure you are going to waterproof your shower. We accomplished this by stapling a visqueen barrier directly onto the studs underneath the cement backer board. This protects the interior wall if water were to somehow get behind the tile, thinset mortar, and the backer board.

We stress here….somehow. 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. 

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

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

Why do you use cement backer board when doing shower tile installation?

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. You also need something that is designed for wet places…because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but showers are wet!

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 handle the seams of cement board when doing shower tile installation?

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

You definitely want to cover all of the corners and seams of the cement board in the shower with cement board tape and 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

Shower Tile Installation Tips & Tricks

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

  • When you are selecting your 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 harder the job. Your shower tile size correlates directly with how intense your shower tile installation process will be.
    • Much to my husband’s 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

  • 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.

Shower Niche Tile Installation

Close up shot of shower shelf with black and white cement tiles and white subway tile border with text overlay that says how to add a shower niche

Black prefabrication shower niche insert installed in between the studs with tile samples sitting in side

We used a prefabricated shower niche insert that was pretty easy to install. All you do is place in between your studs and screw in.

To make sure that your shower niche is waterproofed….(remember your goal here is to waterproof a shower), you will want to add DAP Silicone Max along the edges of the shower niche and in the screw holes.

Silicone getting pushed into gap in between cement backer board and prefabricated shower niche insert to waterproof a shower niche

One of the reasons to use a prefabricated shower niche like the one that we used is that most of them are designed in a way so that the water doesn’t sit in the shelf, the bottom of the shelves are slightly angled so the water falls out nicely, rather than puddling and causing problems later down the road – which is definitely important if you’re trying to waterproof a shower.

Black shower niche shelf getting installed in shower with black and white cement tiles on back and white subway tiles around.

If you follow along on my Instagram stories, you know that the shower niche tile took us a LONG time.

A lot of the hold up was figuring out how to border the tile around the outside of the niche. I wanted something very specific (a picture frame border around the shower niche), which ended up taking us extra time to plan the tile cuts out and make sure the seams were going to line up accurately. Our brain seriously hurt after we got it all planned out.

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!?

Grouting shower tile

After your shower tile has been installed, wait 24 hours and then it’s time to grout. It’s really pretty easy to grout tile, you 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 tile. Then wipe clean with a wet sponge.

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

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

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.

What do you do if your grout hardens too quickly before you wipe it off while doing shower tile installation?

I’ll spare you the drama, but we almost missed trick or treating on Halloween night because Mom and Dad were trying ferociously trying to clean grout off of the tile…meanwhile baby was tired…and hungry…and crying…and our toddler was getting babysat by the T.V. and wreaking havoc all over the house. Ok…so I didn’t spare you all the drama. That’s a fair amount of the drama that was involved.

ALLLLL that to say, 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), but well worth it because….man, those tile lines are lookin’ good now!

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

Logan used this handy grout removal tool to just 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 and wash the grout haze off of the tile with a grout haze cleaner (or just use distilled white vinegar mixed with water….roughly 3 parts water, 1 part vinegar).

How to apply shower caulk

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 would 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 bath tub meets the tile wall, where the bath tub 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, you can definitely save a TON of money by doing this yourself if you’re willing to take your time and do your research.

Hope this post helped you understand some of the in’s and out’s of shower tile installation and especially how to waterproof a shower and apply shower caulk, which are two super important aspects of shower tile installation!


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
  • 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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