Tips for Properly Tiling a Bathroom


Installing tile in your bathroom can transform it from basic to beautiful. With the right planning and preparation, tiling a bathroom doesn’t have to be difficult. Follow these tips for properly tiling a bathroom to achieve professional-looking results. Proper planning, surface preparation, tile selection, layout, thinset and grout application are all key steps for success.

Select the Right Tile for Bathrooms

Choosing the right tile for your bathroom is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Bathroom tiles need to stand up to water and humidity. Consider these tips when selecting bathroom tile:

Use tiles rated for floor and wall wet areas

Look for tiles rated for residential baths and showers. The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) tests and rates tiles based on their water absorption.

  • Porcelain tile is an excellent choice because it is low maintenance, stain resistant and has low water absorption.
  • Ceramic and natural stone tiles need to be sealed to prevent stains and water damage.
  • Mosaic tiles can add beautiful decorative accents but may require more maintenance.

Pick tiles with coefficient of friction (COF) of 0.5 or above

Tiles with a COF of 0.5 or above help prevent slips and falls when wet. The higher the COF, the less slippery. Porcelain, textured tiles or tiles with grout will provide traction.

Avoid highly polished tiles

Polished tiles can become extremely slippery when wet. Opt for porcelain or natural stone tiles with a honed, textured or matte finish.

Select large format tiles

Larger tiles have fewer grout lines that can discolor. Use 12 x 24 inch tiles or larger on floors. Use at least 4 x 12 inch on walls.

Get extra tiles for future repairs

Set aside 10-15% extra tiles in case you need to make repairs down the road. Keep extra grout as well.

Choose the Right Layout Pattern

Bathroom layouts should be practical, safe and visually appealing. Follow these tips when laying out bathroom tiles:

Use small uniform tiles on shower walls

Small grout lines are easier to keep clean. Use 2 x 2 inch mosaic tiles or 4 x 4 inch tiles on shower walls. Offset them for more visual interest.

Lay floor tiles on a diagonal

A diagonal layout helps tiles appear larger and makes the space seem wider. Line up the center tile with the toilet base or shower entry.

Accent with decorative borders

Use borders of mosaic tiles or specialty trim pieces to accent the tub surround or frame the mirror.

Transition flooring at doorways

End the tile before doorways and transition to another flooring type. Use a tile edge or transition strip between flooring.

Follow linear patterns

Stack bond, herringbone, chevron and brick patterns work well. Avoid complicated patterns like hexagons.

Prep the Surface Properly

Preparing the surface is imperative for tiles to adhere properly long-term. Follow these best practices:

Ensure surfaces are clean and dry

Use a degreaser to remove soap scum and oils. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry before tiling. Test moisture before applying thinset.

Scarify slick surfaces

Lightly sand or etch glossy surfaces like fiberglass surrounds to help thinset adhere better.

Repair cracks and holes

Fill any cracks or holes with patching compound. Use tile backerboard to build out studs or cover drywall in the shower area.

Use a waterproofing membrane

Apply a waterproofing membrane to shower walls and floors according to manufacturer’s instructions. RedGard and Laticrete HydroBan are popular options.

Pick the Right Thinset and Grout

Choosing quality thinset mortar and grout formulated for bathrooms is key for proper installation and preventing failures:

Select unmodified thinset for wall tiles

Unmodified thinset (sometimes called basic thinset) works for most standard wall installations. It provides adequate adhesion without too much flex.

Use modified thinset for floor tiles

Modified thinsets contain latex polymers that make them more flexible and water resistant once cured. Flexibility minimizes cracking.

Match thinset type to tile material

Make sure to use the right type of thinset for the specific tile material – stone, porcelain, glass, etc. Consult manufacturer guidelines.

Choose unsanded grout for tile joints under 1/8 inch

Unsanded grout is preferred for standard wall tile spacing and most mosaic applications. It can flex as the tiles expand and contract.

Use sanded grout for joints 1/8 inch and wider

Sanded grout resists cracking in wider grout lines on floors. It can withstand more abrasion from foot traffic.

Get epoxy grout for excess moisture areas

Epoxy grouts like Laticrete SpectraLOCK PRO provide the highest water and stain resistance for showers and steam showers.

Follow Best Practices for Installing Tiles

Carefully installing the tiles is critical for even coverage and professional looking results:

Plan an organized layout

Dry lay tiles and measure to determine the best starting point. Minimize small cut pieces on outer edges.

Apply thinset with proper trowel size

Use a trowel sized per manufacturer specs to achieve the right thickness after tiles are pressed in.

Embed tiles uniformly with consistent pressure

Set tiles firmly into the thinset using a consistent motion and pressure to avoid lippage between tiles.

Check tiles periodically for proper coverage

Periodically lift a tile and inspect thinset coverage on the back. There should be 95% or more coverage.

Allow thinset to cure fully before grouting

Give thinset adequate time to cure per manufacturer instructions before grouting to prevent dislodging tiles.

Tape off walls and floors when grouting

Apply painter’s tape along countertops, baseboards and corners before grouting. Remove before it dries.

Clean grout haze right away

Use a grout sponge and clean water to scrub off haze. Change water frequently to prevent smearing.

Make Cutting Curves and Holes Easier

Cutting tile for outlets, pipes and irregular edges takes practice. Pro tips can help:

Mark measurements accurately

Measure and mark the center point of holes three times to ensure proper alignment when cutting.

Use hole saw drill bits for plumbing fixtures

Attach a hole saw bit to your drill matching the pipe size to cut clean openings.

Invest in a quality wet tile saw

A good wet saw with a diamond blade makes straight cuts easily without chipping the tiles’ edges.

Cut curves with tile nippers

Use nippers to nibble away small fragments of a tile’s edge to form curves for built-in soap dishes.

Smooth sharp edges

Use a whetstone, rubbing stone or abrasive pad to smooth any sharp edges on cut tiles.

Grout Care and Maintenance

Grout plays an important role. Follow these tips to keep grout clean and in good shape:

Seal grout annually

Sealing grout prevents stains from soaps, oils and humidity. Reapply sealant made for grout yearly.

Use grout caulk at corners and changes of plane

Caulk where walls meet floors or corners instead of grout. Caulk handles movement better than grout.

Clean grout with pH balanced cleaner

Use a pH balanced cleaner designed for grout and avoid harsh chemicals. Let it sit for 5 minutes before scrubbing.

Re-grout if cracks exceed 1/8 inch

Dampen grout with water before applying new grout. Match the original grout color if possible.

Repair pinholes with grout caulk

Fill tiny holes in grout lines with silicone caulk that matches the grout color. Smooth with a damp finger.

FAQs About Tiling Bathrooms

What tile is best for a bathroom floor?

For bathroom floors, porcelain or ceramic tile is best. Porcelain is more durable and water resistant. Textured tiles with a coefficient of friction (COF) of 0.5 or higher provide grip when wet. Large format tiles 12” x 24” or larger have fewer grout lines.

How do you waterproof bathroom walls before tiling?

Before tiling, apply a waterproofing membrane to shower walls according to the manufacturer’s instructions. RedGard, Laticrete Hydroban and Custom Building Products RedGard are popular liquid membranes that create a waterproof barrier when cured.

Should bathroom floor tile go under toilet?

Yes, it’s best to install bathroom floor tiles under the toilet. First, cut holes for bolts in the tile where the toilet will be secured. Setting the toilet on top of tiles creates a more hygienic surface without nooks and crannies for bacteria and gunk.

What thinset is best for shower walls?

For shower walls, unmodified thinset is the best choice in most cases. Unmodified provides adequate adhesion for wall tiles while allowing a little movement as the tiles expand and contract minimally with humidity and temperature changes. Use white thinset for white marble or glass tiles.

How long does thinset take to cure before grouting?

Check the thinset manufacturer’s guidelines, but most unmodified thinsets cure in 16-24 hours before grouting. Cure time depends on temperature, humidity and air circulation. Test by firmly pressing a tile – it shouldn’t indent the thinset if ready for grouting.

Should sanded or unsanded grout be used in bathrooms?

For most wall tiles, unsanded grout is preferred for bathroom applications. The fine grit in sanded grout can get stuck in crevices of textured wall tiles. Sanded grout is recommended for floor tile joints 1/8 inch and larger due to higher durability and resistance to cracking.


Tiling a bathroom successfully requires careful planning and preparation. Following proper techniques for layout, surface prep, tile selection, thinset application and grouting will help ensure your new tile stays beautiful for years to come. Pay attention to details like sealing grout and using caulk at changes of plane. Investing in quality porcelain tile and the right tools like a wet saw also makes the installation process smoother. With some patience and these tips for properly tiling a bathroom, you can achieve a professionally finished look.