How to Tile a Tub Surround

Do you know how much money we saved on the kid’s bathroom renovation by tiling the bathtub surround ourselves?

About seventeen hundred dollars!

When we were planning this project we got a quote to see what we were up against.  We were quoted $1,700 just for the labor to install the tile in the new tub area.  That wasn’t in our budget and we knew it was something we could do ourselves and I’m so glad we did because I’m pretty sure I paid more attention to the details that were important to me than anyone else would.  It took us 2 days, but if you do the math, those 2 days were absolutely worth our time.

This was the first time the hubs and I took on a tile job of this size and if we can do it, you can too.  Today I’m going to walk you through the steps and show you how to install tile on the walls of your bathtub surround.
how to tile a bathtub shower surround

Once we set the tub and had the plumbing all figured out we installed hardibacker (cement board) around our tub in place of drywall because it won’t absorb water.  It installs just like drywall, it’s just harder to cut since it is much harder.

A few things to note before you start installing your wall tile…

  • (You probably already did this during the tub install) but double check to make sure your tub is level in all directions.
  • Decided where you are going to start. You will want to take into consideration the size of your tile and the length of your space so that you don’t end up with a really thin tile on the sides.  I started on the bottom closest to the top of the tub and at the wall since my measurements made it so that I would have about 1/2 of a tile at the other end of my row.  This makes for a really nice look.  Take the time to plan it out before you start.
  • This project will go a lot faster if you have 2 people.  The hubs was the tile cutter and I was placing the tiles.  We rented a tile saw and had it set up in the backyard.  I was able to apply mortar to the walls while he was cutting, which made things go faster.

Below is a list of the exact tools and materials that I used and worked well for me.  I received the tile for this project from The Tile Shop and was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to select tile online which saved me a lot of time.  I definitely recommend them.

This post contains affiliate links which means that if you purchase through my link I may receive a small commission.  Thank you for supporting this blog. You can read my full disclosure here.

How to Tile the Walls of a Bathtub

Once your surface is ready you are ready to get tiling!

We mixed our mortar according to the instructions in a large 5 gallon bucket.

 

 

Apply a nice coat of mortar to your wall using a putty knife.

 

 

As soon as you have a row or two worth of mortar, scrape the mortar with a trowel to create your ridges.  (The size of trowel you use matters. Check this resource to learn more.)

how to tile a tub surround

Place your first tile onto the wall and press evenly while giving it a little bit of movement back and forth.  Slide it into place and check to be sure it is level.  Repeat these steps with each tile, using a spacer between each tile to ensure evenly spaced tiles.

On the bottom row, use a spacer on its side to create a space between the tile and the top of the bathtub.

how to tile around a tub

 

When you get to the end of a row, hold a whole piece of tile up and mark where you will need your cut. Once you know the size of that piece you will most likely be using that size for each row, starting with that one on your next row if you are doing a modified subway pattern like we did here. The size of your cut tile may change as you work your way up the wall if your walls aren’t plumb.

how to install tile around a new bathtub

 

When we got to the top of the wall we had to cut each tile length wise to finish the wall. Don’t worry too much about the gap between the top tile and the ceiling.  You will be filling it with grout and it will look nice and finished in the end.

how to tile a tubshower surround

On the next wall we ran into a few things we had to figure out.

The first was creating a clean edge where the tile would stop.  We drew a line on the wall using a level to ensure it was exactly straight up and down.

Then we used tiles that had a bullnose edge on the short side to create a clean edge.

DIY tile installation

On this wall we started each row at the line and worked back toward the corner.
tiling around a new bathtub

When we got to a point where there were no tiles underneath to support the newly placed tiles above, we used a nail (see picture above) to give support until we could come back and work out way down the side of the tub.

how to tile shower walls

When it came time to tile around the plumbing, we held our tile in place to get the height of the pipe and then to the side to get the distance we needed from the edge of the tile.

 

 

 

 

Then the hubs cut a square into the tile according to our marks.

 

 

And we set the tile.

how to cut around fixtures when tiling tub walls

We followed this same process when going around the other plumbing fixtures.  You will want a tight fit, but don’t worry too much if it looks ugly, your fixtures will cover these cuts up nicely.

how to tile around faucets

Look at that!  Who knew we could be so handy?
how to tile bathtub walls

 

How to Grout Wall Tile

Before you grout, you will want to let your tile sit for at least 24 hours, but you will want to follow the exact instructions given on the mortar that you used.

Before grouting, you will want to inspect the lines and remove any large pieces of mortar that seeped out during installation.  Use a metal scraper or putty knife to scrape out any excess mortar being careful not to damage your new tiles.

how to grout wall tiles

Prepare your grout according to the instructions on the package and gather your grouting tools!

Apply a blob of grout to your float and smooth onto your tiles so that all of your grout lines are covered.

I found that moving my float in an X pattern ensured that I had filled each grout line well and didn’t leave any gaps or air bubbles.

You will want to work in one area of about 3 feet by 3 feet at a time.

Once the grout lines are filled, go over the area again with your float removing as much excess grout as possible from the surface of the tiles.

You will not remove all of the grout from the surface of the tiles, don’t worry about it.  You’ll be wiping it off soon.

how to grout bathroom tile

When I grouted where the tub and tile meet, I used a piece of painters tape to protect the tub.

 

Then I grouted like normal and immediately lifted the tape out slowly.

 

Then I dipped my finger in a little bit of water and ran it along the grout line to create a seal and to smooth it out (much like you do when calking.)

how to grout along the top of a bathtub

 

The instructions on your grout will tell you how long to wait before go over the surface with a damp sponge.

Once you are ready, get a clean bucket of water and a large sponge and wipe the tiles to remove the grout on the surface of the tiles. Once your sponge is dirty, rinse it in your bucket and keep going.

You will also notice that your grout lines get smoothed out during this step, so pay attention to smoothing out any blemishes because they will dry this way and be permanent.

how to tile bathtub walls

 

The next day you will still have a foggy residue on your tiles that you will need to wipe clean with cheese cloth.

Grab a wad of cheese cloth and wipe your tiles down to show the finished result.  You will definitely want to wear a mask during this part because it creates a lot of dust.
how to install tile

Once you have your finished surface and have cleaned up all of the dust you will want to let your grout cure according to the instructions.

You will also want to calk around your fixtures and along the top edge of the tub.

Once the grout is cured, you will want to seal the tile and grout using an appropriate sealer for your type of tile.

A few days of hard work (and even eating lunch in this bathtub) later, we have a beautiful clean new bathtub that is a far cry from the one piece yellowish insert we started with!
kids bathroom remodel

So, what do you think?  Have you ever taken on a project this big?
do it yourself bathroom tile installation

Related:  The Kid’s Bathroom Reveal  ||  Modern Coastal Bathroom Source List

 5 Tips for Choosing Bathroom Tile

A big THANK YOU to The Tile Shop for providing the tile for this project!   See my full disclosure here.

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About Corey

Corey is the creative behind Hey There, Home (formerly TinySidkeick,) where she shares easy-to-follow and beautiful home decor and entertaining ideas. Her mission? To make home decor accessible to everyone, even if you don't consider yourself crafty, and to empower people to decorate their homes in a way that they can actually be lived in, not just looked at.

15 thoughts on “How to Tile a Tub Surround

  1. From a professional stand point – nice tutorial! Couple of things tho’ – you need to tape your joints before installation or you can get cracking in the finished tile. This marries the concrete board together and seals the corners. It’s a mesh tape that sticks on and then you put mortar over top of it with the flat trowel. You can spread your mortar with your notched trowel and eliminate the step of putting it on the wall with the flat trowel first. A good tool to have is a pair of pinchers to grab out the little square you cut out on the wet saw. Another good tool is a sanding block to smooth out the cut edges on tiles like your cut bullnose pieces that then meet a finished edge tile. $1700 was a little high but it did probably include the concrete board, mortar and grout? Most contractors include setting materials in their labor.

  2. Dan says:

    Thanks Corey I had it in my mind to start from the top and tile down . Not any more.

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