How to Tile a Shower Wall – Step-by-Step Guide

Are you ready to tackle that shower tile project?

In this detailed step-by-step guide we explain how to tile a shower wall. You’ll also learn how to prepare the existing wall and the new wall to ensure the best possible results.

This how to tile a shower guide will take you through the following sections:

  • Preparing the existing and new wall
  • Marking up the tiles
  • Fixing a batten
  • Laying the tiles
  • Tiling internal corners
traditional shower against a blue tiled wall


Before tiling your shower, it’s important to prepare the wall by following the steps below.

The existing shower wall

  • Assess the quality of the existing shower wall. If there’s old tiles fixed to the wall it’s much easier to start from scratch and remove the whole wall right down to the stud frame.
  • If you are fitting or re-using the existing shower tray now is the time to lay down some waterproof membrane on the floor under the tray – this will prevent any moisture that runs under the tray from going any further.
  • By fitting a vapour barrier across the stud frame and leaving a gap at the top, it will give any moisture and condensation space to breath and disperse. You may eventually end up with a rotting stud frame if you don’t leave a gap at the top.

The new shower wall

  • The best wall material you can use for the shower area is cement backer board – this is water and mould resistant and it provides a good strong base for tiles. Cut to fit the area and screw it to the stud frame, making sure to leave a ½” 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 caulk. Use a hole-saw or hole-cutter, and cut holes needed for the shower head and controls.
  • If you find that the newly boarded wall has left a gap between the new and existing wall, a bathroom filler can be used to tidy up any edges.
  • If you are tiling over any of the filled gap, paint some exterior primer over the filler to allow the tiles to bond to the wall.

Tiling your shower wall

Tools you’ll need:

  • Tile scorer
  • Tile nippers or nibblers
  • Diamond-wheel tile cutter
  • Grout spreader
  • Notched spreader
  • Tile saw
  • Tile file
  • Tile snapper
  • Sponge
  • Profile gauge
  • Flat-bed tile cutter

Step 1 – Marking up the tiles

  • Ceramic tiles are usually supplied in packs that cover one square metre. You’ll need to measure the height and width of the area you want to tile and then multiply the figures to get the area in square metres, this will help you work out how many packs you’ll need.
  • Allow 5-10% extra for cutting and breakages. It’s also a good idea to draw a rough sketch of the wall and mark on the dimensions.
  • It’s really important to find the best starting point for your first row of tiles, this is because of the clear grid pattern that’s formed by the joints between the tiles.
  • Don’t start in one corner and work your way across as you may end up with tiny pieces of tile to cut at the far corner. Centre your grid on the wall so you’ll end up cutting tiles of equal size at the end of the rows.
  • Next you’ll need to make a tiling gauge rod to help you work out the position of the rows, as well as the size of cut tiles you might need at the ends. A wooden batten measuring 50x25mm is ideal. It needs to be approximately 1.8m in length for the shower wall.
  • Begin by laying out a line of tiles and place tile spacers between them. Put the batten alongside and line up the edge of the first tile.
  • Mark the position of the tiles and gaps on the rod with a pencil. Number the tile positions so you’ll have a quicker way of working out how many tiles you’ll need in each row.

Tile mark-up – vertical

  1. Hold the gauge rod so one of the marks lines up with the centre point on the wall. Step off the tile positions across the wall. When you reach a corner you’ll see if the last tile in the row will need to be cut. Reposition the starting point if it’s less than half a tile wide.
  2. To reposition the starting point, line up the rod with the centre point and pencil a new mark on the wall so it falls in the middle of the two tile marks on the rod. This will help ensure that the cut tiles at each end are more than half a tile wide.
  3. Check the new wall mark is straight by holding the gauge rod against the mark and use a spirit level. Then draw a line from top to bottom.

Tile mark-up – horizontal

  1. Now you’ve figured out the positions of the vertical rows you can check where the horizontal rows will fall.
  2. Place the gauge against the vertical pencil line you’ve made on the wall, with the top end touching the top of the tray.
  3. Put a pencil mark on the wall in line with the top tile mark on the rod and move it up the wall following the vertical pencil line until it touches the ceiling.
  4. The pencil mark on the wall should line up with one of the marks on the rod, this means you won’t have to cut any tiles for the top and bottom rows. If they 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 tiles you’ll need. It’s best if these are at least half tile deep.
  5. Measure the distance between the two marks on the wall, and make a third mark halfway between them.
  6. Hold the rod so the end is just clear of the shower tray. Move it until one of the marks lines up with the mark you’ve just made.
  7. Make another mark on the wall level with the foot of the rod – this will be your starting point for the first horizontal row of whole tiles.
  8. Use a spirit level and a long straight edge to draw a level line across the wall at this point.

Step 2 – Fix a batten

  • To create guides for positioning the tiles, nail wooden battens to the wall. This will also support the tiles until the adhesive sets.
  • Before nailing them to the wall, check for hidden pipes or cables behind the wall.
  • Take a 50x25mm batten and nail it into the wall with the top edge aligned with the horizontal pencil line. Check it’s straight with a spirit level.
  • Nail on another batten ensuring it’s aligned with the vertical line.
  • Leave the nail heads sticking out slightly so they are easier to take out later.

Step 3 – Laying the tiles

When you’re fitting the tiles ensure you lay them so the faces are level, if any of them aren’t it will spoil the overall effect. Lift any that are too high or low by adding or scraping away the adhesive as you go.

  1. Begin in the corner formed by the two wall battens. Scoop up some adhesive with a trowel and press it onto the wall. Spread it using horizontal strokes using a notched spreader. Hold the blade at a 45 degree angle. Avoid working on more than one square metre at a time, as the adhesive could start to harden.
  2. Place the first tile into the corner between the two battens and press the edges against them and the whole tile firmly against the wall. Next, add a tile above it and one next to it, space them by eye to begin with and push them firmly into the adhesive.
  3. Take some tiles spacers and position them into the angles between the tiles, adjust the tiles as and when needed. You can either push them in firmly and grout over them, or leave one leg of the spacer between two tiles and pull it out once the adhesive has set.
  4. Add more adhesive and tiles until you reach the point where you need to finish off with cut tiles. Wipe off any splashes of adhesive as you go with a damp cloth.
  5. Prise the nails out and remove the vertical batten. Remove any hardened adhesive with the edge of a scraper. Continue this process for the rest of the wall and finish the job off with cut tiles.

Step 4 – Tiling internal corners

  1. You may find the corners between the walls are rarely straight, so instead of cutting all the edge tiles the same size, measure up for each tile separately.
  2. Mark a tile for cutting by holding it over the last whole tile in the row, and then fit another against the wall – mark where it overlaps the one below with a felt tip pen. You could also take separate measurements at the top and bottom of the space you need to fill.
  3. Once you’ve cut the tile make sure it fits, any small adjustments can be made with a tile file. If you’re only tiling one wall, leave enough room for a grouted joint at the corner.
  4. To put adhesive on the back of a cut tile use the narrow end of a notched spreader. Press it into position so it’s level with the next one.
  5. Once you’ve completed one wall, move onto tile the next.

Step 5 – Let the tiles dry

Finally, let the tiles dry for 48 hours – this ensures the adhesive has bonded to the cement backer board.

Fit an electric shower, install a thermostatic mixer shower…

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