Step by step guide to tiling
Tiling a shower wall is a skilled job, and has a different method to tiling the rest of your bathroom area - but this how to guide will explain the process in detail. The tools you will need for this project are listed in our tiling tools buying guide
Tools & materials required
Prepare your shower area
Assess the quality of your existing shower wall
The existing wall
If you have old tiles fixed to the wall it will be easier to start from the beginning and remove the whole wall, right down to the stud frame. You may need to remove the ceiling and shower tray too.
If you are installing a new shower tray (or re-using the existing one) this is the time to put some waterproof membrane on the floor under the tray. This will stop any moisture that runs under the shower tray from going any further.
Fix a vapour barrier across the stud frame, from the bottom of the shower tray upwards, but not quite to the top of the ceiling. The gap at the top will give any moisture and condensation behind the barrier some space to breathe and disperse. Without this gap you may eventually end up with a rotting stud frame.
The new wall
The best wall material to use for your shower area is cement backer board. Used much the same as standard plasterboard, this board is water and mould resistant and a good strong base for your tiles; just cut it to fit the area, and then screw it to the stud frame. Ensure you leave a small (⅛inch) gap between each board and a small gap between the bottom of the board and the shower tray.
Seal the seams between the panels and the shower tray with decorators caulk. Cut the holes needed for the shower head and controls into the board using a hole saw or hole cutter.
If your newly boarded wall has left a gap between the new wall and the existing wall, use a suitable bathroom filler to tidy up any edges. If you are going to tile over any of the filled gap, paint some exterior primer over the filler; this will seal the filler and also allow your tiles to bond to the wall.
Watch our step-by-step film below showing how to tile a shower, with expert advice and top tips to help you complete the job with confidence. Part one is all about preparation.
Mark up the tiles
Calculate how many tiles you'll need
Most modern ceramic tiles come in packs that cover one square metre. To find how many packs you need, just measure the height and width of the area you want to tile, then multiply the figures to get the area in square metres. Use our handy tiling calculator.
It's a good idea to allow 5-10% extra for cutting and breakages. It might help to draw a rough sketch of the wall and mark all the dimensions on it.
Set out your tiles
Because of the clear grid pattern that's formed by the joints between tiles, it's really important to find the best starting point for your first row. It's no good starting in one corner and working your way across the wall - the corner might not be completely vertical, and you could end up with tiny slivers of tile to cut at the far corner. It's much better to centre your grid on the wall. That way, you'll end up with cut tiles of equal size at the ends of your rows, and your tiling will be symmetrical.
Make a tiling gauge rod
A gauge rod is an essential item for any tiling job. It helps you work out the positioning of your rows, and the size of any cut tiles you might need at the ends of them. A 50mm x 25mm wooden batten is ideal, but any convenient size will do. The rod needs to be about 1.8m long for your shower wall.
Start by laying out a line of tiles, and insert tile spacers between them. Then put the batten alongside, lining up the end with the edge of your first tile. Mark the positions of the tiles and gaps on the rod with a pencil. By numbering the tile positions, you will have a quick means of working out how many tiles you will need in each row.
Vertical tile mark up
Hold your gauge rod so one of its marks lines up with your centre-point on the wall. Step off the tile positions across the wall. Once you reach a corner, you will see if you'll need to cut the last tile in the row to fit. If this is less than half a tile wide, it's best to reposition the starting point.
Reposition your starting point by lining up the rod with the centre-point as before, and then pencilling a new mark on the wall so it falls halfway between two tile marks on the rod. As your starting point for tiling, this will help you ensure that your cut tiles at each end are more than half a tile wide, and that the centre-line of the wall passes through the centre of a tile.
Hold the gauge rod against your new wall mark and use a spirit level to ensure it's truly straight. Then draw a line from top to bottom.
Horizontal tile mark up
When you've worked out the positions of your vertical rows, you can check where the horizontal rows will fall - and see where your first row should be.
Place your gauge rod against the vertical pencil line that you've made on the wall, with its end touching the top of the shower tray. Then put a pencil mark on the wall in line with the top tile mark on the rod. Move the rod up the wall, still following the vertical pencil line, until it touches the ceiling.
The pencil mark on the wall should line up with one of the marks on the rod, meaning that you won't have to cut any tiles for the top and bottom rows. If the marks don't line up, you'll need to look at the mark on the rod below the wall mark (halving the distance between them will give you an idea of the size of the tiles you'll need). As with the vertical rows, it's best if these are at least half a tile deep. If they're narrower than this, make a mark on the wall in line with the next mark down on the rod.
Measure the distance between the two marks on the wall, and make a third mark exactly halfway between them. Hold your gauge rod so the end is just clear of the shower tray. Then move it until one of its marks lines up with the mark you've just made. Next, make another mark on the wall, level with the foot of the rod. This will be the starting point for your first horizontal row of whole tiles. Use a long straightedge and a spirit level to draw a perfectly level line across the wall at this point.
Fix a batten
It's a good idea to use wooden battens nailed to the walls as guides for positioning your tiles. They'll also support them while the adhesive sets, so they won't slide down the wall.
After checking for any hidden pipes or cables behind the wall, nail in a 50mm x 25mm batten with its top edge aligned with the horizontal pencil line. Remember to double-check that it's straight with a spirit level (you may need to use more than one batten to span the wall). Then nail on another, aligned with the vertical line. Again, check for pipes or cables first, and use a spirit level to make sure it's upright. It's also worth leaving the nail heads slightly sticking out, so the battens are easy to take out later.
Lay the tiles
When you start laying the field tiles, it's really important that you lay them so their faces are level. If any of them aren't even, it'll spoil the overall effect. Lift any that are too high or too low, adding or scraping away the adhesive as you go.
Start in the corner formed by the two wall battens. Scoop up some adhesive with a trowel and press it onto the wall. Then spread it with horizontal strokes using a notched spreader. You'll need to hold the blade at an angle of about 45 degrees. The ridges ensure there's an equal amount of adhesive behind each tile, which will make it easier to get them all level. Try not to work on more than one square metre at a time, as the adhesive could start hardening before you've put all the tiles in place.
Place your first tile into the corner between the two battens, pressing its edges against them and the whole tile firmly against the wall. Then add the tile above it and the one next to it, spacing them initially by eye and pushing them firmly into the adhesive.
Put tile spacers into the angles between the tiles, and adjust the tile positions as and when needed. You'll find that plastic tile spacers make it easier to get even joints. Push them in firmly so you can grout over them. (Or you could simply put one leg of the spacer between two tiles and pull it out once the adhesive's set.)
Carry on in this way until you've tiled the area over the adhesive you've put on. Add more adhesive and tiles to the wall until you reach the point where you need to finish off with cut tiles. It's a wise move to wipe off any splashes of adhesive with a damp sponge as you go - if you let it dry it'll be very difficult to take off.
Remove the vertical batten by prising the nails out. You may find you need to take off hardened adhesive that's spread from under the tiles. If so, you can do this pretty easily with the edge of a scraper. Carry on adding field tiles to the rest of the wall - after that, you can finish the job off with cut tiles.
Watch our step-by-step film below showing how to tile a shower, with expert advice and top tips to help you complete the job with confidence.
How to tile internal corners
Corners between walls are hardly ever completely straight. So resist the temptation to cut all the edge tiles to the same size - you'll probably find that some don't fit. Instead, you'll need to measure up for each tile separately.
One way you can mark a tile for cutting is to hold it over the last whole tile in the row, and then fit another against the wall - marking where it overlaps the one below with a felt-tip pen. Or you could take separate measurements at the top and bottom of the space you're going to fill.
After you've cut the tile, check to see that it fits - you can make any small adjustments with a tile file. If you're also going to tile the next wall, you don't have to be totally accurate as the edges will be hidden by the tiles on the other wall. If you're only tiling one wall, make sure you leave enough room for a grouted joint at the corner.
Use the narrow end of a notched spreader to put adhesive on the back of the cut tile. Then press it into place so it's level with the next one. Use joint spacers if you need them.
When you've finished one wall, you can go on to tile the next. When you're cutting edge tiles, be careful to get a neat grouted joint where they meet the tiles on the facing wall.
Leave the tiles to dry
Let the tiles set for 48 hours. This will make sure that the adhesive has bonded to the cement backer board.
Watch our step-by-step film showing how to tile a shower, with expert advice and top tips to help you complete the job with confidence. The final step involves grouting and sealing the tiles; watch the video below.